Tuesday, June 10, 2008

American Idol Highs and Lows

Yeah, still working on getting the recently-concluded AI season out of my system. Here are the highs and lows of Season Seven.


No American Idol season wrap-up would be complete without a list of some kind. So I made two of them: my favorites, and my least favorites. I decided to include all the performances starting with the Hollywood Round, and I've included Finale and sing-outs as well. Unfortunately, no audition piece made my jaw drop this year, unlike in season five, the only season to do so (see Taylor Hicks and Paris Bennett, both of whom sang twice and were amazing in both). But I found out that I am easy to please and so, without further ado:

Michael Johns – Bohemian Rhapsody (Hollywood Round)

I missed Michael's audition, and with my sister's constant buzz about him, I was prepared to hate him. Imagine my surprise when he sang Bohemian Rhapsody with conviction, and hit all the right notes.

Carly Smithson – Alone (Hollywood Round)

I was never a fan of Carly, she of the constant screech and wail. But I must say I liked her take on a song that Carrie Underwood IMPRESSED ME SO MUCH with. The fact was she phrased the song her own way, and that made all the difference.

Josiah Lemming – Grace Kelly (Hollywood Round)

There was so much hype about this kid that, even though I missed his audition, I was compelled to seek it on Youtube. I thought the British singing accent would grate, but I found it endearing (especially since he said he knew no other way to sing). I loved his rendition of Grace Kelly. It was vocally interesting and, by accompanying himself on keyboards, made himself adorable. Unfortunately, he got cut at the Chair, and that made me sad! But I think he's doing well on his own. I heard he got signed, so I'm looking forward to that.

David Hernandez – In The Midnight Hour (60s Week)

David H was the AI type that usually does well on the show, since he had the typical big voice that many of the other male finalists this season did not have. Except that he was my least favorite. Not only was he not likeable enough, he had this irritating tendency to slow down the tempo of a song even though it was a fast number (see "I Saw Her Standing There" on the first finals week). But judging on performances, this one was my favorite of his. Apart from it being a terrific song choice for his kind of voice, his slowed-down type of singing was perfect for this song, as he drew out the chorus to sweet effect.

Garrett Haley – Breaking Up Is Hard To Do (60s Week)

He may have been one of the first ones eliminated in the semifinals, but I will admit that I loved this rendition of his. He stood out to me on the basis of personality (despite having only heard from him that week), and by being among the first to connect to the emotion of a song – a recurring theme for this season. I was really sad to see him go so early (sort of like how I felt when Judd Harris was voted off in week one in season 4).

Jason Castro – Daydream (60s Week)

His performance captivated me instantly. Add to that, his video package showcased his good nature, and the show's very first guitar appearance made an impact. Need I say more? See earlier blog post on this.

Jason Castro – Hallelujah (80s Week)

As I mentioned before, he sang Jeff Buckley and went straight for my heart. The praise from the judges made my heart swell. To me, this was his best performance throughout the whole season, and the best performance of the season BY ANY CONTESTANT. It had the beautiful vocal, depth of emotion, and solid stage presence that is required of any American Idol showstopper (see Fantasia's Summertime, and Bo's Whipping Post). Plus the fact that he had EVERYONE, from the studio audience to those in front of their televisions, pleasantly surprised to even hear that song sung on American Idol. His performance was both an unexpected surprise and a beautiful revelation.

Brooke White – Love Is A Battlefield (80s Week)

Her unplugged version of this Pat Benatar rock song was a pleasant surprise. And her unique voice that broke in all the right places gave it a beautiful twist.

Brooke White – Let It Be (Lennon-McCartney Week)

On a week where the finalists were sweating out over how to make these iconic songs "their own", Brooke showed them that sometimes it is best to just "let it be". David Cook said it best when he complimented the performance, saying it was "organic". The raw emotion that she displayed in the last moments of her performance was deeply touching, and added to the power of the song.

Chikezie – I Saw A Face (Beatles Week)

This was one of my favorite Beatles songs EVER, and it got Chikezie in my good graces for the time being. He gave it a unique spin (bluegrass! punk!) that complemented the song's tempo, even though his vocals faltered towards the end. It did sound familiar, coming off the wildly successful bluegrass rendition of She's A Woman the week before. But I loved this one because I love the song, and his version did not take anything away from the original.

Michael Johns – It's All Wrong But It's All Right (Dolly Parton Week)

One of the sexiest vocal performances ever on American Idol (neck-and-neck with Mandisa's I Don't Hurt Anymore)! It was bluesy and soulful – two words that were never used on Michael Johns before. He turned a sentimental country song into something more sophisticated and desirous.

Michael Johns – Dream On (IGB Week)

My favorite Aerosmith song ever. Despite what the judges thought of it, I thought it was an amazing vocal. Of course there was a problem with the falsetto scream. Even Steve Tyler had problems with it! And to try to perform such an iconic scream just invited comparisons to the original. But I listen to it over and over and I it still amazes me. And he gets points from me just by choosing the song itself.

Jason Castro – Somewhere Over The Rainbow (IGB Week)

The week the Swaybots fell captive to the ukulele. It's hard to imagine that he just learned how to play it that week. But such are the powers of Jason Castro. This was the week (apart from the Semifinals 80s Week) where his was the best performance of the night. Although it was a night when seemingly everyone else brought their D- and even F-games, this performance still wowed me.

David Cook – Always Be My Baby (Mariah Carey Week)

This was my favorite Mariah Carey song, and I was really skeptical how a guy could sing it. Especially if that guy was David Cook. But he literally blew me away with an awesome emo rendition of the song. It showcased his performing smarts: he managed to hide his vocal deficiencies in the first part of the song by immediately going into it with the electric guitar, and he built up to an emotional crescendo towards the end, inviting all of us to soar with him. While he was known for covers of covers, this time, he was his original self and he was damn good. I liked him after that.

Jason Castro – I Don't Want To Cry (Mariah Carey Week)

I, too, was afraid as to how Jason was going to perform that week. And when I realized he was in the pimp spot AND going after the brilliance that was Always Be My Baby, I got even more nervous. But the performance was magic and beautiful and, most importantly, clever. Jason didn't try to go after the bells and whistles; he made up his own. And he succeeded. The best part was in his video package, when he said he chose the song because he liked the melody. It revealed to us for the first time that Jason does not choose songs based on what he could do with it (i.e. suit his voice, was in his range, etcetera). He chose songs because he liked them. And that explained why he was able to be so emotionally invested in all of his performances. He finally revealed that he's a musical snob. And a genius.

Jason Castro – Forever In Blue Jeans (Neil Diamond Week)

Like Paula said (before the gates of hell was unleashed), Jason showed a BEAUTIFUL lower register. And the song was perfect for him – it was quirky, and it had great guitar lines.

Brooke White – I Am I Said (Neil Diamond Week)

Her time was obviously up, but she awed us one last time with a pretty piano performance of this song. It was not in the league of Let It Be, but it did show us why we love her in the first place.

Syesha Mercado – Hello Again (Neil Diamond Week)

For the first time in so many weeks, Syesha managed to impress me with a performance. Sure, it was inconsistent in spots. But I remember being genuinely surprised with the very first line. She sang it straight, and strong, and clear, and precise. There was a hint of emotion underneath that slowly faded away as she gave in to her usual theatrics. But the initial part of her performance was admittedly lovely. That strong first impression never really left my mind for a while.

Jason Castro – I Shot The Sheriff Reprise (Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Week)

My heart was slowly breaking while he did this. And I think his was, too, when he sang about them taking him home. But it reminded me of the attitude and pluck that he displayed the night before, to Simon's genuine consternation (and Jason's genuine bafflement as to why Simon would even question his song choice). His reprise was the only sing-out I liked, due to the emotion behind it, and the bravado before it ("We're doing the Marley one, what's going on?").

Jason Castro – Hallelujah Reprise (Finale)

People thought it was a backhanded compliment to let Jason sing solo on the Finale (either they love him for it, or they just couldn't find someone else to sing a duet with him). But I am thankful for small joys such as this. He reprised his best performance ever to an even LARGER crowd, reminding everyone why he got this far. And I'd like to think of it as the show reaffirming my choice of Hallelujah as the single best performance of any contestant this season.

I noticed that my favorite performances were mostly based on my favorite songs by certain artists. It seems that I really took song choice seriously when I decided if I liked a performance or not.

Anyway, I didn't like to rank my favorites, since there were so many that I could easily get bogged down with the details, and since some really don't compare with each other. But I can easily choose my top four based on the criteria of vocal, emotional intensity, and stage presence. Ranked from absolute best to fourth: Jason Castro's Hallelujah (Semifinals 80s Week), Michael Johns' It's All Wrong But It's All Right, David Cook's Always Be My Baby, and Brooke White's Let It Be. (Yep, there’s my ideal Final Four right there.)


Because they are human, I will desist from further criticism. But this is a list that I have thought about, and I really tried very hard not to skew the list, but it really can’t be helped. Some of the performances were rather good vocally, and that the real issue lay with something else entirely (e.g., the intention, or what happened immediately following the performance). At any rate, I’m not expecting many to agree with my choices here. These are my opinions, and mine only:

David Archuleta – We Can Work It Out (Lennon-McCartney Week)

Kristy Lee Cook – 8 Days A Week (Lennon-McCartney Week)

Kristy Lee Cook – God Bless the USA (IGB Week)

All of Andrew Lloyd Webber Week

David Cook – Baba O' Reilly (Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Week)

Syesha Mercado – A Change Is Gonna Come (Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Week)

David Archuleta – With You (Top 3 Week)

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