'American Idol' Las Vegas: Carnage Hall
Strong female competition leads to agonizing cuts as sudden death rounds begin
Viewers hadn't really seen her before Wednesday's episode, but Amber Holcomb vaulted into contention with a "My Funny Valentine" that may have been a week late but dazzled the judges in the first Vegas sudden death round.
According to my doubtless imprecise calculations, seven of the 40 quarterfinalists haven't yet been seen in an individual spotlight through the auditions or Hollywood. Traditionally, that's a huge handicap for those who make it into the finals. But the unseen are getting their chance in the new sudden death Vegas rounds: four episodes of 10 singers apiece, performing and waiting to see which half goes through to the semifinals.
Ten girls kicked off the proceedings Wednesday, four of whom were "newcomers." It was a smart format: After each performance, all four judges commented, giving us our first chance to gauge the quality of their opinions and expressions of same in a competitive situation. After all 10 sang, the judges called them up one by one to render the final verdicts. Adding two extra weeks of direct competition to the semifinals and abbreviated finals (just 10 instead of the usual 12 or 13 contestants) seems like an excellent plan.
One of the unknowns, Jenny Beth Willis, was awarded the unlucky opening slot. One of three country stylists on the night, she sang Trisha Yearwood's "Heaven, Heartache and the Power of Love" most shakily, frequently wandering off-key, showing some power but little control. Keith liked it; Nicki didn't; Randy had a rare moment of astuteness when he labeled the performance "jerky," saying Jenny Beth wasn't in sync with the band; and Mariah was hedgingly positive. (The four commented in the above order all evening, often leaving Mariah little to say – not a bad idea in theory – but she coped with it well. All four judges were perceptive and articulate, a stunning turnaround from past seasons; Nicki and Keith were the most incisive.
Tenna Torres, who, like the other non-country singers, adopted a pop or R&B diva/interpretive singer mode (no rockers or folkie types so far), surprised with "Soulmate" by Natasha Bedingfield. It's a rather pretty ballad that she sang in a torchy, ornate style that worked. The judges were all enthusiastic, though Nicki advised Teena to "lose the hair" (meaning wear it shorter, I guess).
Adriana Latonio, a newcomer from Alaska, went total diva on Aretha Franklin's "Ain't No Way," adding new levels of overwrought syllable-stretching. I was less than thrilled, certainly less thrilled than the ecstatic judges.
Country singer Brandy Hotard reached back for Travis Tritt's "Anymore" and did a nice job with it vocally. However, the judges harped on her "emotional inconsistency," as Keith put it, citing a pageant-like, inappropriately smiley approach to a heartbreak ballad.
Teenager Shubha Vedula started her version of Lady Gaga's "Born This Way" at the piano, where she probably should have stayed, according to the judges, instead of segueing into an odd, busy arrangement that flirted with rock, Indian/Middle Eastern tones and such. I thought it was one of the more interesting performances; Nicki damned it as a "mash-up of Christina Aguilera and Psy" and Randy thought there were too many runs – an odd perspective considering there were a marathon's worth of runs from several other contestants.
Little-known Kamaria Ousley, a background vocalist for artists such as Diddy Dirty Money and Ledisi, stumbled with her song choice, the lightweight Kelly Clarkson hit "Mr. Know-It-All," which she valiantly tried to Beyoncé up, to little avail. True to "Idol" tradition, the female judges warbled on about how good she looked before delivering the bad news about the performance.
Kree Harrison, the last country singer of the night, picked "Idol" favorite "Up to the Mountain," by Patty Griffin, and gave it a major case of the runs, though I have to admit she executed them powerfully. Keith called her a "natural-born singer" and praised her "effortless" delivery; when Randy's turn came, he called her a "natural-born singer" and praised her "effortless" delivery. Useful as ever …
Angela Miller, who triumphed in Hollywood with an original song, may have peaked too soon, since the judges wanted to talk more about that than her version of Jessie J's "Nobody's Perfect." That's understandable, considering the dubious quality of the Jessie J song, but Angela sang it skillfully if overdramatically and earned her praise (plus a subtle admonition from Nicki not to overdo it).
Isabella, previously celebrated for a dramatic weight loss, went retro with Billie Holiday's "God Bless the Child," giving it a big, brassy vocal. Not bad, but not up to the best of the night. Randy distinctly disliked it ("old-fashioned," he said), and Mariah had reservations about the arrangement, correctly suggesting that more intimacy would have worked better.
Amber Holcomb, a returnee from last year who hadn't been seen this year, continued the antique theme with "My Funny Valentine," using a sparser arrangement but delivering the most embroidered vocal of the night. The judges were absolutely spellbound.
During the break before the judges announced their decisions, I divided the contestants into "Yes" and "No" columns based on the judges' earlier comments. It was pretty easy to predict that Jenny Beth, Kamaria and Brandy would be history, and Shubha also seemed to have too many negatives. That left six positive reactions and only five affirmative slots. I figured Amber, Angela, Kree and most likely Tenna were no-doubters, leaving a battle between Adriana and Isabella for the final spot.
The producers structured it slightly differently: Isabella was called up fifth and given a no, as had Brandy and Jenny Beth before her, so it turned out – after Kamaria was duly rejected, and Amber, Angela and Kree joined initially approved Tenna in the top 10 girls – that the final showdown was staged between Adriana and Shubha. Based on the judges' comments, this match-up seemed singularly unsuspenseful, and indeed it was Shubha who got the boot.
Eliminated: Jenny Beth Willis, Brandy Hotard, Shubha Vedula, Kamaria Ousley and Isabelle
Best performance: The judges wouldn't agree, but I thought Tenna's combination of vocal skill and unexpected-but-smart song choice made for the evening's topper.
Shakiest winner: I'm afraid there's a distinct surplus of divas, and Adriana's Jessica Sanchez Part II impression seems the most dispensable.
Ten guys undergo the torture Thursday. I have to say, this is good stuff.
"American Idol" airs Wednesdays and Thursdays at 8 p.m. ET/PT on FOX.
What a bunch of BS this show is...a girl that has talent, beauty and style, let alone a great voice they send home for an OLD Fashioon arrangement, that is not judging the person but the idiots on the show who picked the song and arrangement, HOPE she gets picked up like Jennifer Hudson did!!
THIS WILL BE THE LAST NIGHT I WATCH THIS SHOW
THE VOICE IS MUCH BETTER
I didn't finish my last post, hit the post button to soon, sorry for that. Back to talent shows. Do it the way in was done in the fifties and have a live talent contest on air with the viewers picking the winners. Give lots of singers a chance to show off their talent to the country. Do it fast, one after another with out all the sad stories to hype up the singer. Let them do their thing for the people. We don't need, out of date, lost, no talent judges, who don't know anything. The people, know who is the best, so power to the people. Keep your," Hollywood" crap, in Hollywood. All these talent shows American Idol, The Voice, and all the others just suck so much, OMG,OMG,OMG, they suck so much, i can't stand it. The show is about the singers not the a/holes that hype it up! Give the singers a little help and you will get the true new talent out there.
JANELLE ARTHUR ... THE EVENTUAL WINNER.
U HEARD IT HERE FIRST N FOREMOST.