American Idol Top 9 Recap: In The Air Tonight

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Last night while watching “American Idol,” I was admittedly very tired. I was running on precious little sleep due to a paper I had to do the night before, etc. Thus I can be forgiven in thinking that the following things that began last night’s “Idol” 80s Week telecast were just a very, very bad dream:

  • David Hasselhoff singing a horrid medley of 80s hits (“617 songs” according to Harry) to us, as only the Hoff can. (Just because he can, though, doesn’t mean he should…)
  • The return of the dreaded group performance (apparently they did one last week?), a questionable take on “Karma Chameleon” with this week’s mentor Boy George in tow.
  • By far the weakest finalist of the group being declared safe first, then giving a substandard performance as usual.

Yeah. I presume that Fox and “American Idol” want more people to watch their show. They want to reclaim a bit of their former glory, they want some more cultural relevance again. Starting off your program, however, with David Hasselhoff’s off-key, awkward warbling, a group performance that no one ever wants, and your weakest contestant, will do none of those things, “Idol.” Thankfully things get better from there…but I think I’m safe in saying it wasn’t the most consistent night last night. There were some great moments, though, and we’ll get to those. After David Hasselhoff’s series of unfortunate events performance interminable torture whatever the heck he did, and a group performance in which the solos were thankfully live, but the harmonies most certainly weren’t, we started off with:

  • Daniel Seavey, “You Make My Dreams” (Hall & Oates): My notes were rather optimistic here: “And…Daniel starts. This is going to be a very rough night.” OK, I was kidding about that optimism thing. I’m getting increasingly worried each week that Daniel is unsinkable. He gave probably his worst performance to date last week (and that’s saying something), went pretty early in the show to boot, and yet last night he lived to sing again just fine. I don’t know what to say about this that I haven’t said before, but yeah. I will repeat one thing, that this all needs to stop. Yes, he did much better this week than he did with “Lost Stars,” but the thing about Daniel is that “much better” still means a pretty below-par performance. The whole song felt like a glove that didn’t quite fit for him. He once again tried to “show off” his falsetto notes, and they sounded just as wimpy and off-key as they have before. His voice actually cracked at one point. (Nitpicky, but that’s what you get when you don’t give a 15-year-old time for his voice to settle.) His choreography was awkward…that whole bending to meet the screaming girls in the audience thing was just painful. The judges ended up commending Daniel for his improvement over his last outing, but advising him to loosen up and look more natural. Nothing about his voice, but maybe they’ve just run out of things to say. I’m hoping that going first, combined with the kinder comments from the judges, will put Daniel in danger (heavy criticism tends to activate the fanbase more), but at this point, I’m getting a bit beaten down by all this, and thinking we may need a miracle for that to happen.
  • Quentin Alexander, “In The Air Tonight” (Phil Collins): Ah, Quentin. Just what the doctor ordered after, you know, all that happened previously. Boy George and Scott Borchetta offered some great advice for Quentin in the mentoring session (by the way, Boy George, despite my misgivings, proved to an outstanding mentor, very involved and funny with lots of spot-on coaching for the contestants), to work on breath support to improve his pitch. A very logical thing, but very important as well, and I feel it really helped Quentin last night, as his pitch was improved. The arrangement wasn’t as adventurous as some of them have been in the past for Quentin, but his vocals were terrific, and he really worked to create an excellent mood for the song, one that brought it out of the doldrums the original finds itself in (sorry, but it’s kinda true). He definitely brought it last night. I was quite in agreement with the judges, who said things like Quentin having the “cool factor on 1000” (J.Lo), and also that more uptempo stuff might be a nice change of pace for Quentin, even though these songs are great as well (Harry). I’m also concur heavily with Boy George’s assessment, relayed by Ryan, that “he’s workin’ it up there!” I wouldn’t have put it quite that way, but I dig the sentiment.
  • Joey Cook, “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” (Cyndi Lauper): Oh, Joey. What happened here? The pieces were all together nicely…Joey, albeit dressed as (her words, not mine) “Madonna in space,” picked a song that seemed to play to her strengths…playful, energetic, a bit quirky. But from the beginning, it just wasn’t working at all, and it seemed like “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” wasn’t such a great choice at all, at least the way she did it. The pace was too frenetic, her pitch and tone was wonky, and it all just felt very off. She had a few good moments here and there, but for the most part, this was quite the misstep for Joey, and it was sad. The judges echoed my sentiments, with comments that she seemed distracted and that it was inconsistent. I thought J.Lo made a very salient point when she advised Joey to make sure she looks at whether a song fits her voice first. Joey seems to have done well at that so far, but it appears she needs some reminding. I hope Joey’s built up enough goodwill the past few weeks to be able to get past this setback, but seeing how the voting’s gone so far…OK, let’s just stop that thought now, shall we?
  • Tyanna Jones, “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” (Whitney Houston): The reality show cover of this song dearest to my heart is still this gem from the third season of “The Sing-Off,” but Tyanna did quite a nice job with it, and the fact that she can take on Whitney Houston without breaking much of a sweat is pretty darn impressive. I felt this was a great comeback for her. She had excellent vocals, stayed on pitch for the most part (there were some sharp moments, but they didn’t distract too much), and she seemed much more confident up there than she did last week. I also liked the arrangement…it made the song a bit more current, but in a good way. “There we go,” I said in relief afterwards. The judges reminded her to get out of her head, and not let the critiques she received last week rattle her too much. I have faith that Tyanna can indeed keep climbing up in the competition, and I’m glad the voters were smart enough to keep her around despite last week’s misstep.
  • Jax, “You Give Love A Bad Name” (Bon Jovi): One of my favorites of the night. It’s always a treat when Jax is at the piano…she really excels there. I do wish she’d stay there for the whole time, because when the full band kicks in, things are still great, but the magic always seems to dissipate a tiny bit. Her vocals were outstanding, though I do agree with the judges in that she got a bit drowned out by the band towards the middle. I commented in my notes about her dynamic shading…that really made a nice effect, along with her excellent riffs on the melody. And that part where she kicked the piano bench? Nice. I’m lovin’ me some Jax right now, for sure…it’s nice to see she’s back on track.
  • Nick Fradiani, “Man In The Mirror” (Michael Jackson): On 80s night, Nick was the only one actually born in the decade, though he appeared not to remember much from it (he was a toddler, after all), judging from his video package in which he marveled along with the rest of them at the 80s gadgets they had for them to play with. The mentors had good reminders for Nick about connecting with the audience more. I don’t know if that quite happened last night, though, until the latter half of the song. For some reason, I was comparing this performance to Kris Allen’s rendition from Season 8 (despite the fact that at the time I saw that, I wasn’t a fan of him yet), and it didn’t quite match up to that standard, but…I don’t know. Nick probably has it in him to give more fire and more passion in his performance (like Kris did, if we’re staying with the comparison). That it took him until the breakdown at the end to start breaking out of his shell more is a bit of a concern, though it does also signal that there is potential there. He’s in tune, he has the experience, but his voice always seems tentative and that seems to make his tone a bit unappealing. I want to root for Nick again, I really do, but he’s still on that lower tier for me, and it will take a true standout performance by him to change that.
  • Salt-N-Pepa came. (To be bracingly honest, I didn’t actually know they were women. I need to pay more attention, I guess?) They performed “Push It,” of course, and while their two backup dancers were a bit perplexing and distracting, it wasn’t a bad few minutes. There were a few shots of the contestants and the judges dancing…Rayvon was painfully awkward, hopefully on purpose. Harry was hilarious. And then J.Lo slapped his rear end. So that happened.
  • Clark Beckham, “Every Breath You Take” (The Police): Now this was the performance of the night. Heck, it was one of the best of the season. I noted last week that Clark might have not had much to do with the decision to take “Sunday Morning” all-acoustic, but judging from the fact that he kept it to just piano and voice this week, maybe he was more in the driver’s seat arrangement-wise than I thought. This was absolutely stunning. Like the judges noted, he really brought the pain out in the song, a different take than the lyrics imply. Keith said it was a “journey chordally, meodically, and emotionally,” which was quite spot-on. He had some gorgeous reharmonizations in the piano line, his vocal choices were superb, and while I could hear a tiny bit of strain in his upper range, this was all so fully realized and committed that I was completely drawn in. Clark hit it out of the park, last night, without question, and while he still has things to work on, after last night, I’m very much looking forward to what he does next. (Fun aside from my notes: “I would buy this. Heck, I will buy this.” That I did on iTunes just now.)
  • Qaasim Middleton, “Addicted To Love” (Robert Palmer): It was up in the air whether last week’s Judges Save would keep Qaasim in the competition a bit longer, but he ended up staying around one week more, and I’m happy about that. I thought this was a solid song choice for Qaasim. His vocals were quite good, an improvement on the past, and towards the latter half of the song he brought in some more of his trademark movement and energy without compromising those vocals. I loved the breakdown towards the end. Really, I just dug it, and thought it was a nice way for Qaasim to show off a bit of a different side. The judges agreed. We’ll see how this fares with America next week, and I’m hoping the news will be good.
  • Breaking with precedent, Ryan announced an “official” Bottom 3 this week, with Rayvon, Maddie, and Adanna landing there. Sniffle. Not cool, America. Not cool. The last one to perform?
  • Rayvon Owen, “Everybody Wants To Rule The World” (Tears for Fears): Rayvon is unarguably one of the best voices still in the finals, let’s put that out there right now. That said…I agree wholeheartedly with what the judges and mentors are trying to get out of him. He’s been too safe for quite some time now, even as I’ve really enjoyed his performances. Boy George and Scott tried to get him to break out of his shell more and not make everything so ‘pretty,’ but Rayvon (somewhat worringly) decided to bypass all that and give…a very nice performance, a very strong vocal as always, but it didn’t quite pop for me. The arrangement was too straightforward to do Rayvon any favors, and while Harry rightly noted that he dug into the lyric more this week, it never really completely soared. J.Lo was quite on point to urge Rayvon to leave his comfort zone, as that’s how he’ll grow. I want him to grow. I want him to grow quite badly. I hope there’s time enough for him to do so, and that he does it fast, because he’s not going to be able to coast like this much longer, not with Daniel on the loose (sorry) and quite a bit more talent besides him left in the competition.

That means that we had to (rather unceremoniously) say goodbye to Maddie Walker and Adanna Duru, without getting to hear them sing (lame). Maddie, I have to admit, had kind of run her course with me, but I wouldn’t have minded seeing her a bit longer. Adanna, on the other hand, it seems like she’s gone too soon. She was really improving each and every week and grabbing me more and more, and she did a really solid job last week, so it’s perplexing as to why the voters booted her. I wanted to see her keep growing, and although I love Rayvon a lot, she might have been a better choice to stay because of him (though I hate having to choose between the two in the first place), since she’s had such a compelling arc over the last few weeks. Sigh. Except for the blessed week where Daniel goes home (I’m a horrible person, aren’t I?), this is going to be quite painful this next month or two, isn’t it? Keith was right on when he said last night’s eliminations were “like a javelin to the heart.” Also, America, please stop voting out all the girls. I’d rather like to see a female winner again here, thank you very much. (And we have three excellent candidates for that still left…hello, Joey, Tyanna, and Jax.)

My favorites: Clark, Jax, Quentin, Tyanna, and Qaasim.

My pick to go home: Oh, you know who already…Daniel, of course, or Nick (sorry) if we can’t get what we all really want.

They’re still keepers: Joey (don’t do it, America, don’t you DARE think about it) and Rayvon (who still needs a chance to step it up)

See you next week with another fresh recap, and see you even sooner than that with more great music here on Harmony Avenue. (I’m hoping to get a nice Song Sampler of the Day up today, or perhaps a Throwback Thursday post. Watch this space.) Thanks as always for reading, and be sure to comment!

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