American Idol Top 10 Recap: Stayin’ Alive

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In a 2-hour telecast of “American Idol,” many things can happen. Quite a few things, really. And when said telecast includes results as well, as will be the case for every episode this season, even more stuff can happen. Thursday night’s outing included Jeff Gordon, dripping ice cream cones, a dress whose size and scope comes second only to Bjork’s mammoth frock at the 2004 Olympics (it became a literal covering for the entire field of athletes, because it’s Bjork), an incredibly random appearance by an aged Kenny Loggins…well, I’m getting ahead of myself a bit here. Point is, things were a bit crazy. But that’s “Idol” for you, of course. What went down, exactly? If you’ve somehow navigated the minefield of Internet spoilers and this is your first chance to know what happened on Thursday night’s telecast, I won’t spoil it for you, yet. We’ll get to all that…

  • Adanna Duru, “Love You I Do” (by Jennifer Hudson; from Dreamgirls): In the mentoring session with Nile Rodgers (he of…Chic fame?) and in-house mentor Scott Borchetta, they told her to work on the bridge. (I like how they take time to be specific on things this season. It kind of shows to me that they’re invested and paying attention.) She indeed seemed to have taken their advice…and really, I felt like Adanna nailed the notes very, very well. She is coming a long, long way from her lack-of-vocal-control past. She really keeps impressing me with how much she improves week to week. I may have had the stunning Jessica Sanchez performance of this song from Season 11 on my mind, and Adanna wasn’t quite up to that incredibly high standard if I’m being brutally honest, but she most certainly came to play, with some really nice energy to add to her very fine vocals. The judges seemed to mainly focus on little things she can work on, which I thought really indicated the level of quality she’s settling at…they’re pointing out those little things because they know that she can handle them, and if she does work on all that, she can really continue soaring. I’m definitely loving Adanna more and more every week. Good job, America, on keeping her in.
  • Daniel Seavey, “Lost Stars” (by Adam Levine; from Begin Again): OK, good feelings gone. I take any kind words back, America, because…what the heck? Moving on from the voters’ perplexing decision to keep Daniel in the competition in the first place, I…well…yeah. I am quite a fan of “Lost Stars.” It’s a gorgeous song, Adam Levine sounds great on it (Keira Knightley’s version is terrific as well), and I suppose I made at least some attempt to be optimistic that Daniel had chosen it, because a fresh, well-written song like that could only help him, right? Nope. Nope, nope, nope. Last week, I responded (vocally) with a hearty “I shall not!” to Daniel’s “I want America to dance with me.” This week, his opening falsetto notes of “oh oh” prompted an audible “oh no” right on cue. (These moments just happen, I guess.) That falsetto was just…ouch. He’s 15. I can understand perfectly well why that would be an issue for him. But that doesn’t mean we can give it a pass, or let him stay any longer on this show when he’s clearly not ready for prime time. (And yeesh, Daniel actually pointed out after that he wanted to “show off” his falsetto. I wouldn’t want to show off that kind of weakness, buddy.) That wasn’t his only issue. His loud parts were incredibly strained…when he held a note and had to belt it, his tone just withered and died. He was under pitch at times. One place I can give him credit (I have to find something good about this) is something Keith noted, where he replaced Adam’s big high falsetto part in the bridge with his own melodic adaptation, which worked much better for him than using the original notes would. (I think that part would have been the stuff of my nightmares had he tried to do Adam’s version. Shudder.) So…there was that. Ugh, I feel like I’m piling on him too much, but yeah. He’s clearly out of his depth. This does not need to go on much longer. Girls, just stop it. (I’m talking to the squealing ones on the broadcast that Daniel went over to greet, at Ryan’s behest, but I might as well be talking to everyone voting for Daniel.) He needs more time. Not on this program, mind you, but off letting his voice settle, finding his way as an artist, and just growing. Having it all try to happen on live television, in the space of a month or two, in the pressure-cooker “Idol” environment, will not work. There are too many other talented singers this season for this to go on.
  • Rayvon Owen, “Stayin’ Alive” (by the Bee Gees; from Saturday Night Fever): OK, I spent too long on that. I get into it sometimes, I guess. So…this is how you do a falsetto, people. I’m still quite a fan of Rayvon’s tone and voice. He is incredibly, incredibly talented, and one of the best pure vocalists we have left in this competition (Sarina-Joi, may your “Idol” dreams rest in peace). Seeing as I’m such a fan, you wouldn’t be surprised to discover that I really enjoyed this performance. It was a bit of a rebound after last week, and I really dug the groove that Rayvon had going. It was a nice little shift from the original, and it fit his voice well. I noticed some fleeting pitch issues, in particular on his downward runs (that shift from falsetto has to be tricky), but I didn’t mind those too much, and there was some excellent riffing on that “I’m going nowhere” part. (He was jamming nicely with bandleader Rickey Minor, who Rayvon gave props to, all classy-like, afterwards.) The judges had some good points to make. Harry noted that Rayvon’s rearrangement of the song was cool…but that he needs to find some lyrics to really chew on. (This theme came up throughout the night with Harry.) Keith and J.Lo pointed out that he needs to work on engaging the audience even more. As big of a Ravyon fan I am, I will admit he hasn’t exactly stood out and really caught fire yet in the finals, and with a field this deep, he really needs to do so. But I am really enjoying his performances, and he’s making progress, and that’s reason enough for him to stick around for quite a bit yet.
  • Nick Fradiani, “Danger Zone” (by Kenny Loggins; from Top Gun): It’s probably not the best sign for me and Nick that when he was declared safe, I was a bit disappointed and knew that there would be voting-related carnage later. I still do like Nick…but he’s become quite expendable for me at this point. He just hasn’t managed to break out yet, and last night certainly didn’t do him too many favors. It’s never a bad performance that he gives, but it’s never one of my favorites either. “Danger Zone” was a better song choice for him than last week, and he did alright, sure, but the bridge was a bit sketchy and muddled, and he seemed to be getting lost somewhat, for the latter part of the performance. On top of that, I think I’m becoming less and less of a fan of his vocal tone. It’s just not working for me as much as it used to. Keith advised Nick afterwards to be more comfortable and keep loosening up, and J.Lo kind of echoed that by saying he’s still in his head a bit too much. Harry pointed out that “Danger Zone” isn’t great shakes lyrically (thank you!), and that Nick should pick something he can dig into more. All good things that Nick can work on, I agree…but it’s worrying me that at this point, while I don’t mind if he stays, I also don’t mind if he goes. Yikes.
  • Joey Cook, “Mad World” (by Michael Andrews & Gary Jules; from Donnie Darko): I will start this very directly. Joey has become my absolute favorite. She’s had a few weeks of stellar performances, and this one was no exception. Now, to some, the very mention of this song on “Idol” brings back sharp memories of Adam Lambert’s landmark performance of it in Season 8. I remember that performance quite well (Season 8 was the first season I watched “Idol”), and I agree it was one of Adam’s best…but I was never, ever a fan of Adam that season, and thus I was never that attached to his version of “Mad World” as his followers are. Whether you worship his performance or not though, you’ve got to give it to Joey…she really did a terrific job with it. Her voice fit the song so well, her emotional commitment was powerful and beautifully done (I really saw the song in a new light thanks to her interpretation), and it was just…ahhh. Gorgeous. There wasn’t much rearrangement going on, but she did what “Idol” contestants always want to do…make the song her own. I really liked J.Lo’s comparison of Joey to the incredible Sia…I can really see the similarities there, and that gets me excited. As Keith said so charmingly in his Australian accent, Joey is a real “ahhh-tist,” and I can’t wait to see what she does next…both on the show, and (I’m going here, y’all), post-“Idol” in what’s sure to be a very exciting recording career.
  • Tyanna Jones, “Circle of Life” (by Lebo M & Carmen Twillie; from The Lion King): I feel like I’m referencing a lot of ghosts of “Idol” seasons past in this recap, so apologies about that little crutch I seem to be resorting to, but indulge me in at least one more flashback. Season 13, Majesty Rose. She was good. Really good. Nice song choices, good voice, fun vibe. Considered a frontrunner. Then came Top 11 Week…Songs from the Movies. (Yeesh, these parallels are scaring even me…) She sang “Let It Go” from Frozen (using the exact arrangement and style from the movie). And it did not go well at all. She didn’t get eliminated that week, but she never fully recovered from that debacle, and was gone a few weeks later. What does this all have to do with Tyanna? She, too, took on a straightforward rendition of a Disney song, in this case “Circle of Life.” She, too, has quite the frontrunner status. And, I’m really sad to say, she, too, had a bit of a stumble Thursday night. For the first time since her audition, she experienced serious pitch issues. Rather uncharacteristically for Tyanna, she was flat a good chunk of the performance. As Harry noted, she seemed to be trying too hard. There were some good moments, sure, but for the most part…ouch. Now, I really, really hope the parallels to Majesty Rose’s journey don’t keep going on, because Tyanna has proven to be incredibly talented, versatile, and engaging, and we simply can’t afford to lose her yet. (You took away Sarina-Joi, America, don’t you take away Tyanna too.) But I do admit, this performance has me worried that there could be danger up ahead if Tyanna doesn’t have a really strong rebound next week.
  • Jennifer Lopez was the big guest performance this week, singing a song from the upcoming film “Home” (hello, tie-in) called “Feel the Light.” The whole thing was rather obviously pre-taped, and I was never entirely sure if she was singing live, but I’ll be darned, she sounded much better than she usually does. The song wasn’t amazing, but she did alright, and it was a rather classy affair for J.Lo. And her dress…very trippy. It changed colors. It served as a screen for scenes from the movie. And it…well, it covered what it needed to, thank heavens. (As for what she wore at the judging table, on the other hand, I’ll just quote Harry’s brutal but funny and true joke earlier on in the night: “It’s Movie Night, and Jennifer’s dress is rated NC-17!” Ouch, Harry.)
  • Quentin Alexander, “You’re The One That I Want” (by Olivia Newton-John & John Travolta; from Grease): His video package involved llamas. Just wanted to put that out there. Moving on from that…Quentin certainly changed up this song quite a lot. Nile and Scott’s observation was astute: “He made it important.” I love Grease, and “You’re The One That I Want” is one of the film/musical’s showstoppers. But although Quentin’s take on it stripped all its glitz and glamour away, he kept the song’s power intact. That opening was 1-800-Totally Riveting…I wrote in my notes (don’t judge me), “I’ve certainly got chills that are multiplyin’.” (Ba dum cha.) I do admit when Quentin got louder, his pitch went slightly off the rails, but those softer, more intimate moments…wow. Incredibly captivating. You go, Quentin. You go on and keep doing your thing.
  • Maddie Walker, “Let’s Hear It For The Boy” (by Deniece Williams; from Footloose)(I’m fairly positive that Maddie was going more off the country cover by Jana Kramer, from the 2011 Footloose remake, than off the original.) I was admittedly somewhat distracted during Maddie’s song, because my signal kept cutting in and out, but I really didn’t think it was too bad. But…I will say it wasn’t too great either. Maddie is another one of those middle-to-bottom-of-the-pack players, and this performance kept her there. Still, I thought she stayed on pitch fairly well, though she went flat on the ends of phrases, and her final notes were off-key as well. I thought she had a good energy. Considering she couldn’t rehearse for most of this week (or attend the mentoring session with Scott and Nile) due to illness, she didn’t acquit herself too badly. That said…she always does kind of seem underwhelming. The judges agreed, with Harry going with particularly pointed criticisms, saying Maddie isn’t demonstrating a clear identity, and that the performance seemed “pageant-y.” Keith called her out a bit on song choice. With a double elimination looming next week, Maddie could be in real trouble, but if she’s lucky enough to stick around, I still see a lot of potential here, potential that I hope she’ll have the chance to fulfill.
  • Kenny Loggins’ radar must have picked up on all the talk of him Thursday night (“Danger Zone” AND Footloose), and he stopped by to perform the title song from the latter film. And…wow, his voice has not aged terribly well. It was a bit painful. I couldn’t hear most of the latter half well because my signal was acting up again, but yikes. His teasing of Harry afterwards about Harry’s earlier comment that “Danger Zone” was lyrically lacking did give me a chuckle, though.
  • Clark Beckham, “Sunday Morning” (by Maroon 5; from the Cheaper By The Dozen 2 soundtrack): Cheaper By The Dozen 2? Really? Quite a stretch, I must say. Some quick research let me know that the acoustic version of “Sunday Morning” was included on said soundtrack, which makes sense why Clark went unplugged on us. (At least he didn’t regale us with another song from that soundtrack, like “Will The Circle Be Unbroken?” or the “Bridal Chorus” by Wagner.) Yeah…Clark is back. It was a wise, wise choice to stay without the band for the whole song (even if it probably wasn’t an entirely original idea). I feel often like the band must feel sad or complain or something when a singer wants to do a song without them, because so many end up starting acoustic and it’s amazing, then the band kicks in and it’s pedestrian. Clark kept it just to him and his guitar, and reminded us all why we like him so much. Terrific vocals. Excellent shift of the groove (again, not Clark’s doing, but still). That high note wasn’t entirely necessary at the end, but he nailed it all the same. Good job, Clark, by picking something remotely contemporary for once, and doing it well. Keep this momentum up, boy.
  • Jax, “Grow Old With You” (by Adam Sandler; from The Wedding Singer): The final performance slot before somebody had to sing for their life was between Jax and Qaasim, a tough break if there ever was one. Jax scored the last guaranteed ticket to next week, and she rebounded nicely from last week’s performance with a very unconventional choice…a lilting ballad from an Adam Sandler comedy (sung by Sandler himself, of all people). I hadn’t heard this song before, but it was a surprisingly solid choice for Jax, and a good idea to go a bit low-key. Her vocals were a bit breathy, I’d have to say, but very good for the most part. It was all a bit too cutesy at points, but there were quite a few incredibly lovely moments. Who knew you could wring pathos out of a song from The Wedding Singer? The judges really appreciated Jax’s performance as well…Keith was concise with a hearty “oh yeah!,” J.Lo said it played well into her “vocal quirkiness,” and Harry said her risk paid off, and that it was lovely, sweet, and personal. He advised her to be careful not to rush on notes, which was sound advice, though being the last one safe, I can totally give Jax a pass on any rushing through the song she might have done. It looks like Jax is back on track, and that’s very comforting to see.
  • That all meant that Qaasim Middleton had to sing for his life. Hmmph. My notes upon realizing he was the lowest vote-getter (but that Jax was safe) read like this: “Jax! Whew. But crap. Qaasim. Aargh! Emotions.” Yeah. I was conflicted. I’m a big fan of Qaasim and his high-energy brand of performing, and even though he wasn’t the greatest last week, I think he can cut it vocally much more than people give him credit for. His song choice for this week was “Come Together,” by the Beatles (from Across the Universe). It was a much better song for him, I think, than “Jet.” (Funny how he’s gone McCartney two weeks in a row. Didn’t realize that until now.) And…wow. I don’t know what he didn’t do during his save-me performance. He strutted around the stage. Went up to the judges. Pulled out an actual joker card (I kid you not) during the line “Got to be a joker/He just do what he please.” Basically, Qaasim put in everything, plus the kitchen sink, plus another for good measure. Behind all that craziness, though, was a solid vocal, and heck, I was most certainly not sure what I had just witnessed, but it was assuredly entertaining and compelling. I wasn’t sure at all if that would be enough to save him, though, and this is Top 11 Week after all. Harry started out saying it was the “best performance of the night” (interesting), and then faking us out a bit, before he announced that…Qaasim would be their Judges’ Save! Wow. I didn’t expect that. I did recommend last week that they should use their Save early since there’s so many good people this season and they’d have to watch good people go home anyhow, but I honestly didn’t think they’ll play that card, that early. Did Qaasim deserve the Save? My notes sum it all up pretty…succinctly? “He got the Save? Whaaat? Nice. But whaaat? Well, that happened quickly.” I’m fine with him getting it. Really, I am. (Sarina-Joi would have been a better choice, but you can’t really use it on Top 12 Week, so…fine. #stillmourning) But it’s still a major curveball, and will make things much more interesting from now on. (Hopefully it’s the good kind of interesting.)

I’ll change up my predictions/etc. this week a bit, partly because it appears they won’t be doing a Bottom 3 this year, due to the elimination format.

My favorites: Joey, Clark, Jax, Adanna, Quentin, Rayvon, and Qaasim.

My picks to go home: Daniel (duh) and…I’d have to say either Nick or Maddie.

America, don’t you dare let her go: Tyanna. (Hey, she was the only one left out. And just reminding everyone how we need to treasure her talent and keep her around.)

Whew. And that’s it for this week on “American Idol.” Next week brings us a double elimination (yikes!), 80s Week (meh), and mentor Boy George (oh…kay). Should be a party, that’s for sure. Sorry for getting this recap up so late, but I doubt it’s your primary source of “Idol” information, so you were probably doing just fine anyhow. Thanks so much for reading, and I’ll see you quite soon with more Harmony Avenue music goodness.

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