How far we’ve come. Well, not really—we’re still on our couches, where we started. But Thursday’s American Idol—which compacted into two hours what in past seasons has taken several weeks—was undeniably dramatic television, rife with emotional triumphs and crippling defeats. From the remaining 24 contestants, a brutal 14 cuts were made, as voted by you, the Jordan Dorsey-rejecting public. The victims were then made to sit on the stage, waiting to hear if they would be one of the six allowed to “sing for their lives” for a few Wild Card spots, chosen by the judges. Those performances were intense, I gotta tell you. It was as if Robbie and Kendra were suddenly jesters in Jabba the Hutt’s court; one flat note and they’d be lunch for the Rancor. (Why am I making Star Wars references? I’ll stop. But Ryan Seacrest is about the same size and temperament as a Jawa.) Finally, after much faux-deliberation and one underwhelming J-Lo video (which you chose the ending for—good job, America!), three finalists were spared. To paraphrase The Simpsons, you could actually pinpoint the second when Clint Jun-Gamboa’s heart ripped in half. So at long last, we have our Top 13, and I must say, it’s a strong group of contenders. Let’s meet them again, for the very first time, in the exact order they will be eliminated in the coming weeks. (Margin of error: ±12)
I guess I’m sort of confused by Haley’s inclusion in the Top 13, but here she is, as voted on by many, many people? Haley is the very definition of at-sea entertainment to me. Her voice is okay, smoky and soulful, but her performance style is just awful and filled with affectations—guttural growls, finger wags, cheesy knee-dips. This slot really belonged to Lauren Turner, but I guess she just didn’t have “the look.” Shame.
Ashthon was a judges’ save, which suggests to me that she has yet to really capture America’s hearts. She’s sweet and comes off as a little naive, and she can definitely belt, but there’s a roundness and warmth missing from her tone that you find in better divas. (Naima has it.) Among the remaining worthy contenders, I just think Ashthon seems the most vulnerable at this point. Let’s hope she just keeps going for it, because her diva-hatchling performance instincts have so far served her well.
She’s pretty, she’s classy, and she has a pure, strong voice. She’s also unabashedly courting the Latino vote. That’s a smart move. (16 percent of eligible Idol voters are Latino, according to the most recent Idol Census.) Unfortunately, she’s also a little bland. This is where the cuts start getting painful.
No matter how many times I see them, I never fail to be startled by this guy’s teeth. There is such thing as too-white, people! But Paul definitely brings “his own thing” to the competition, to quote [insert any Idol judge’s name here]. How much of that "thing"—scratchy lullabies—we actually want is another question. I kind of see his niche being more in the realm of “really successful jingle session singer” than in “full-fledged pop star.” Then again, he seems like a nice guy. Ninth place seems appropriate.
The good ol’ basso profundo from North Carolina has managed to open a whole lot of doors by singing about lockin’ them, baby, but his one-trick horse-and-pony show can only take him so far. And where’s Simon when you need him, to point out that the guy delivers a song like he’s 17 going on 70?
Gasp! Yes. As we’ve been reminded dozens of times already, Jacob isn’t actually a singer—he’s just a conduit through which God can interpret Luther Vandross ballads. But God’s days are numbered. Jacob's amazingly over-the-top, flaming (with religious fervor) gospel interpretations will provide some amazing Idol moments this season, but his journey will ultimately end here. Then God will become angered and destroy the universe— so in a way, Jacob will be the de facto winner! WTG, Lusk!
Great voice, great presence, just 16, and emotionally attached to a brightly colored Sesame Street cardigan. What more can I say? Her name rhymes?
Kelly Clarkson approves, and Lauren's sheer amount of screen time suggests that the producers see her as the Anointed One, but will the “natural”—like Thia, also just 16—connect with audiences? It’s a little too soon to tell.
If Season 10 of Idol has had a legitimate “moment” so far, it belongs not to Pia Toscano’s “I’ll Stand by You”—which was very good—but rather Naima’s gorgeous take on “For All We Know,” a heartbreaking Donny Hathaway song about farewells. It was enough to save this exotic flower, a mature and fascinating performer who almost seems like she wandered into the wrong frothy pop competition. In just two songs, she’s already launched a career.
There’s more than a little Leona Lewis in Pia, who planted a stiletto in the ground on Girls’ Night with a performance that demonstrated powerhouse vocals, emotional maturity, and a woman who's ready to command the spotlight.
I was shocked that this dude wasn’t voted into the Top 10. He’s got pop star written all over him, and he's a rare crooner’s tenor that, thanks to Bruno Mars, is currently in vogue. I dare you to stare into those chocolate-pudding-cup eyes and not want, like, 10,000 of his babies.
Despite the amazing female talent this year, two men will be left standing come the finale. I wasn’t sure about James until Guys’ Night, but the guy sold a Judas Priest song within the first, jittery minutes of live competition as if he's been doing this all his life. He might not be as theatrical as Adam Lambert, but he’s got the chops, and America is still smarting from that miscarriage of shrieky-rocker justice.
You could call Casey cockily confident, but in his talking-head interview, in which he described his look as that of a lazy, unwashed shlub who would never amount to anything, I realized that this guy just isn’t buying the Idol hype. And why should he? He’s a ridiculously talented showman from another era, another universe even. This guy is the long-lost love child of Charlie Mingus, Tom Waits, and Seth Rogen, and he’s going all the way.
Who are your favorites so far?