American Idol First Result Show Full of Heartbreak

February 19, 2009

Tonight marked the first results show of American Idol’s eighth season, but instead of sending just one or two contestants home the night ended with only three survivors.

The show started liked it has many times before.  Ryan welcomes us, telling us that an unprecedented 24 million votes were cast.  He introduces the judges (four this year) and the contestants sing a group number – “I’m Yours.”

After Ryan does a recap of the night before, we are shown the three stools.  But these stools aren’t for the bottom three as they have been in years past.  Instead these stools are for the first three of the Final 12.

Despite all the hype, the show is full of heartbreak.  It was just sad to watch one after another told they are going home.  Even though I wasn’t impressed with many of them Tuesday night, it was painful to watch one disappointed face after another when they got the news. 

Each of the contestants staying got to sing an encore of his/her Tuesday night performance.

The first to take up residence in the precious stools is – no surprise – Alexis Grace.  She proved last night that she has come a long way from her audition.  And in a night full of train wrecks for the females, she was clearly the best of the night.

The announcement of the next survivor was the biggest suspense of the night.  Ryan called up both Michael Sarver and Anoop Desai and told them that one of them would be returning.  It turns out that only 20,000 votes separated the pair so it was really a close call.

When Ryan announced that Michael would be staying, I actually stood up and did a happy dance.  I definitely think both gentlemen would be a good addition to the Final 12, but there’s something about Michael that just stands out for me.  I hope that Anoop will be back in the Wild Card Round.

The final seat came down to Danny Gokey and Tatiana Del Toro.  Normally the decision would be clear cut, but given Tatiana’s staying ability anything was possible.  In the end talent won out over drama – Danny stays.

We also learned that the American Idol Experience has opened at Walt Disney World Resort and that all seven past Idol winners were on hand to perform at the opening. 

Speaking of past performers, Season 7 finalists Carly Smithson and Michael Johns were on hand to perform a duet to “The Letter.”  I thought they both sounded great, but when they sang together Carly overpowered Michael so much that you could barely hear him.

I am happy to say that I called all three of the survivors – Alexis, Michael and Danny.  The results of Tuesday’s poll had two of the three – Alexis, Ricky and Danny.

Next week we see the second group of 12.

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Alexis Finds Some Soul during Idol’s First 12

February 18, 2009

The auditions are in the bag and Hollywood is but a faint memory as American Idol begins to whittle down the Top 36 to our Final 12.  Tonight, the first 12 contestants pull out all the stops in their first live performance and Alexis Grace comes out swinging.

Alexis proves she's got a little soul.

Alexis proves she's got a little soul.

This year, the road to the Final 12 is quite different.  The Top 36 (not 24) announced after Hollywood have been divided into three groups of 12.  Over the next three weeks starting tonight, each group will perform once in a two-hour edition of American Idol.  The following night all but three – the top male performer, the top female and the contestant with the next largest amount of votes — will be sent home, leaving us with a total of nine performers.  Then in the wild card round three performers will be brought back to round out the Final 12. 

Anyone else think this process is confusing and convoluted?  Me too, but this is what we are stuck with.  Now on to the performances of the First 12.

The Great

When I first saw Alexis Grace in the Louisville audition, I knew that she had a powerful voice, but I wondered if she was going to have what it took to be a great performer.  Tonight she came out of her shell and proved, as Randy put it, that she had some soul.  Alexis put a nice bluesy feel to her version of Aretha Franklin’s “I Never Loved a Man.”  She is definitely a contender.

Also pleasing the crowd tonight was fan-favorite Danny Gokey.  He proved that he has a nice voice taking on “Hero” by Mariah Carey and earned the praise of three of the four judges.  But I tended to agree with Simon that it was a good performance, but not fantastic.  To me, it just seemed like a weird song choice for him.  However, Danny was still the best of the guys we saw.

The Good

Brent Keith decided to show off his country side by singing “Hicktown” by Jason Aldean and he might actually have a career in country music.  He sounded good, but as the judges said he chose a safe song.  The performance was fun, but we didn’t get to hear anything that really showed us Brent’s potential.

Also putting in a decent performance was Anoop Desai who chose to sing Monica’s “Angel of Mine.”  Personally, I thought the song was all wrong for him.  I like Anoop better we he does upbeat songs, like “My Prerogative” that he sang in Hollywood.  Simon told him that the song was “a bit too grown up” for him.

Wrong song choice put several good singers in jeopardy.  I’m not sure the Gavin McGraw’s “I Don’t Want to Be” was the best choice for Michael Sarver.  He did a decent job with the song, but I don’t think it highlighted his talents.  However, he seemed to really have fun with his choice.  I’m just hoping it will be enough to keep him in the game. 

On the other hand, Anne Marie Boskovich put a country flair to “A Natural Woman.”  Personally, I prefer the soul of Aretha’s version, but unlike the judges, I think that this rendition worked for Anne Marie.  She is no Aretha, but she has come a long way from her audition and I thought this performance showed that.

The Mediocre

Unfortunately, not everyone had a good night.  Jackie Tohn led off the show with “A Little Less Conversation” by Elvis Presley.  She put her own twist on the song, but it just didn’t compare to the King.  I give her credit for making the song her own, but the growl in her voice just didn’t work with this song.

On the other hand, tonight we finally got to find out that Ricky Braddy has a nice voice since we didn’t get to hear him during either of the two previous phases.  He sang “A Song for You” by Leon Russell and sounded good.  But, alas, I have no investment in him and by the end of the show I’d forgotten all about his performance.

Also not having a great night was Stephen Fowler.  No, he didn’t forget the lyrics again, but it’s not a good sign when Simon says he wished he did.  When Stephen started singing Michael Jackson’s “Rock with You,” I had images of the Love Boat.  The performance improved and turned out to be a fun song, but it just wasn’t enough.

And last on my list of mediocre was drama queen Tatiana Del Toro.  But tonight she was reserved and tried to sing “Saving All My Love for You” by Whitney Houston.  I wanted to hate it, but she didn’t do half bad.  But you can’t choose a song by Whitney and not be compared and Tatiana just didn’t measure up. 

The Bottom

But no episode of Idol is complete without at least one train wreck.  Tonight we had two – and bad song choice was the cause.  Casey Carlson tried to take on Police’s “Every Little Thing She Does is Magic” while Stevie Wright sang “You Belong With Me” by Taylor Swift.

Unfortunately, it looks like nerves got the better of the both girls.  They both had weak beginnings and at best sounded like karaoke.  It’s a shame because we have heard much better performances from both.

So the first set of 12 is behind us.  Who will be the lucky three to stay?

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February 12, 2009

It was do or die time on American Idol as Hollywood Week came to a close and the judges informed the final 54 who made the cut for the Top 36.  Among the surviving were three that have been very visible during Hollywood Week — drama queen Tatiana Del Toro, funnyman Nick Mitchell and the emotional Nathaniel Marshall.

This final round played out slightly different than in past years.  For starters, the cut was down to the Top 36, not 24 as in years past.  And some contestants who were borderline had to perform in a sing off with one other contender in which only one survived.

Louisville and Phoenix tied for the audition city the produced the most finalists – seven each.  San Francisco and New York City also had five contenders each.

Twenty-three was the magic number for contenders – nine of the Top 36 were that age.  The next two most popular ages were 16 and 27, which had five of each.

But what you really want to know is who made the cut.  So without further ado, here is your Top 36.

Annop Desai, the 21-year-old college student that we first met at the Kansas City auditions.  We caught a glimpse of him in Round 1 of Hollywood and last night he sang “My Prerogative.”

Von Smith sang “Over the Rainbow” in his Kansas City audition.  But we haven’t seen the 22-year-old singer since Hollywood’s Round 1.

Alex Wagner-Trugman won a sing off against pal Cody Sheldon for his spot.  During the Phoenix audition, Alex told us about how he taught himself to sing in a closet, but had to stop because the mold made him sick.  Since then we haven’t seen the 19-year-old college student.

Adam Lambert was in the cast of Wicked before he auditioned in San Francisco.  But we only got to see the 26-year-old stage actor perform once during Hollywood – in Round 3.

Taylor Vaifanua’s parents moved back to the mainland so that the 16-year-old high school student could get her break.  She impressed the judges in her audition in Salt Lake City and we got a glimpse of her again during as a member of the Rainbow Coalition on group day in Hollywood.

Jasmine Murray came to the audition in Jacksonville with a lot of family support among her sisters.  But the 16-year-old high school student has wowed me during every round of Hollywood.

Arianna Afsar is the 16-year-old who told us in Phoenix about the Adopt-a-Grandfriend program she started.  While she was impressive during her audition, we haven’t seen her perform during Hollywood.

Casey Carlson is a 20-year-old bubble tea maker we met in Kansas City when she sang “A Thousand Miles.”  We got to see her again during Round 3 where she struggled with lyrics.

Megan Corkrey, a 23-year-old font designer going through a divorce, auditioned in Salt Lake City, but we haven’t seen her since.

Mishavonna Henson, the 18-year-old we met for the first time in Round 3, audition in Phoenix this year.  Last year she made it as far as Hollywood before getting cut.

Stevie Wright was told by Simon in her Phoenix audition to grow some teeth.  We haven’t seen the 16-year-old in Hollywood to know if she’s taken that advice to heart.

Joanna Pacitti was recognized by Kara during her Louisville audition as having had a previous record contest.  But the 23-year-old struggled with lyrics during the Hollywood Round 3.

Felicia Barton got a last minute reprieve and got added to the Top 36 after Joanna got disqualified.  Felicia auditioned in Louisville, but we haven’t seen the 26-year-old bar singer and mom during Hollywood.

Kendall Beard hasn’t had much screen time.  The 23-year-old college student auditioned in Puerto Rico

Kristen McNamara, who auditioned in Louisville, beat out Jenn Korbee in a sing off.  The 22-year-old survived the group day drama to sing Kelly Clarkson’s “Because of You” in Round 3.

Alexis Grace, the 20-year-old stay-at-home mom wowed us during the audition in Louisville, but we didn’t get to see her again until she took on Carrie Underwood’s “Before He Cheats” in Round 3.

Scott Macintyre, the visually impaired pianist, auditioned in Phoenix.  But the 23-year-old looked very comfortable behind the keyboard when he performed in Round 3.

Lil Rounds told us about a tornado that hit her home when she auditioned in Kansas City.  Since then the 23-year-old customer service representative and mom of three has proved that she’s a vocal powerhouse with performances in Rounds 1 and 3.

Jessie Langseth beat out Frankie Jordan in a sing off.  Unfortunately, the sing off was the first time we’ve seen this 25-year-old perform.  She auditioned in Kansas City.

Allison Iraheta is a 16-year-old who auditioned in San Francisco, but we haven’t seen her in Hollywood.

Danny Gokey recently lost his wife and auditioned in Phoenix with his friend Jamar Rogers who got cut tonight.  The 28-year-old music teacher has had solid performances through all three rounds of Hollywood.

Ricky Braddy is a new face.  Although the 25-year-old auditioned in Louisville, tonight is the first time we’ve seen him.  We have not yet heard him sing.

Matt Giraud, the 23-year-old dueling pianist, auditioned in Louisville.  During the group round he was part of the impressive White Chocolate group and he sang “Georgia” in the third round.

Ju’Not Joyner auditioned in New York City, but the first time we got to see the 23-year-old was in Round 3.

Jorge Nunez impressed the judges with his accent during the Puerto Rico auditions.  We also saw the 20-year-old during Round 1.

Brent Keith is a traveling musician who auditioned in Louisville. However, we haven’t seen the 28-year-old during Hollywood week.

Stephen Fowler auditioned in New York City, but we didn’t get to hear him sing until the first round of Hollywood.  While Round 1 was impressive, the 26-year-old struggled during Round 3.

Nick Mitchell has entertained the judges since his New York City audition with alter ego Norman Gentle.  We saw the 27-year-old don the persona again in Rounds 1 and 3 and apparently the judges like it because they told him they expected to see it during the rest of the competition.

Jackie Tohn’s start in the music business began at a young age when her father taught her the piano.  And although she carried a guitar to the audition in New York City, we did not see the 27-year-old actor/singer use it when she performed in Round 1 of Hollywood.

Tatiana Del Toro auditioned in San Francisco with a creepy laugh.  Since then the 23-year-old singer/actor/model has brought nothing but drama to Rounds 2 and 3.  She left this round with a ring from Paula.

Nathaniel Marshall beat out pal Jackie Midkiff in a sing off.  The 18-year-old auditioned in New York City, but we didn’t see him for the first time until Round 1 where he begged the judges for a reprieve.  Despite the drama of the group performance he survived to perform in Round 3.

Jeanine Vailes auditioned in San Francisco, but we have yet to hear the 27-year-old sing.

Kai Kalama plays music at night so he could take care of his ailing mother.  The 26-year-old auditioned in San Francisco and performed during Round 3.

Anne Marie Boskovich actually auditioned twice in Jacksonville.  After her first try, Simon told her to come back and show them who she really was.  We’ve also seen the 22-year-old nanny perform in Rounds two and three.

Kris Allen auditioned in Louisville, but the only time we’ve seen the 23-year-old perform was during the White Chocolate group performance.

Matt Breitzke took a chance from his family responsibilities to audition in Kansas City.  The only other time we’ve seen the 27-year-old welder perform was during the group round.

Michael Sarver auditioned in Phoenix.  Since then we’ve seen the 27-year-old roughneck sing in all three Hollywood rounds.  He’s my favorite male contender.

From here, the contestants will perform in groups of 12.  First up are Casey, Stephen, Jackie, Ricky, Anne Marie, Brent, Alexis, Michael, Stevie, Danny, Tatiana and Anoop.

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American Idol Launches Season 8 in Phoenix

American Idol Launches Season 8 in Phoenix

January 14, 2009

After nearly 15 minutes of fluff, American Idol opened its eighth season with auditions in Phoenix, Arizona in 106 degree heat in tonight’s two-hour premiere.

We were treated to a flashback sequence of the last seven seasons and a recap of last season’s finale where 55 million Americans watched 97 million votes tallied to name David Cook the newest American Idol.  But this is old news, on with the new.

After a montage of nameless hopefuls and an ode to the desert, we were introduced to the newest addition to Idol, Kara DioGuardi who will be take up residence as a fourth judge.

But a new addition doesn’t mean that life on Idol has changed much.  By the third on-screen audition, Paula and Simon were at each other’s throats after he made a dig about her song “Straight Up” and she responded by flipping him off.

Seeing this example of life as a judge, Kara jumped right into the fun the second day when she told a bikini-clad contest to “hang on a minute, bitch.”  And Season 8 is off and running!

Let’s just talk a minute about Ms. Bikini, because I’m sure she’s going to get a lot of press.  Model Katrina Darrell banked on her assets and her gimmick got her a ticket to Hollywood.  You can’t fault the girl for that.  But she’s not going to be able to wear a bikini throughout the whole season and insulting a judge is not the best way to win points in the long run.

But Katrina’s talents weren’t the only ones in question tonight.  In these auditions episodes I’m never surprised by the number of people who butcher songs – everyone overestimates their talents once in a while.  However, I was honestly surprised by the number of these people who listed music-related careers as their profession.

Oakland-resident Shawn Vasquez, Oakland listed musician as his job.  But I think Dionne Warwick might disagree after hearing his version of “I’ll Never Love This Way Again.” 

Performer Aundre “Xray” Carawy professed that music was his thing.  He might want to rethink this claim after getting four vetos from the judges.  

And Tears for Fears’ “Mad for You” was butchered by music student Will Kunick.  Stay in school Will.

Many others with be remember for more than their meager vocal abilities.  Tuan Nguyen, the Michael Jackson fan with the gigantic Afro showed us that you can combine ROTC moves with tap.  We still aren’t sure if that’s a good thing or not.

Randy Madden, the Axl Rose look-a-like who works in an office, proved that just because you look like a rock star doesn’t make you one.

A heart-to-heart pep talk with fan and songwriter hopeful Lea Marie Golde showed us that Kara has a softer side.

And of course, we learned the lesson that auditioners still can’t seem to grasp – asking to perform another song doesn’t change that resounding no to a yes.

But Phoenix wasn’t all duds.  The four judges found a few diamonds in the rough – 27 in fact.  And we got to see 11 of the winning auditions – three the first hour and eight the second.

The first to grab a golden ticket was Emily Wynne-Hughes who sang “Barracuda” by Heart.  Her mom, singer Patty Wynne-Hughes probably isn’t surprised by this accomplishment, but the rest of Emily’s all-girl rock band will be because she didn’t tell them she was putting her membership in the band on hold for a chance on Idol

Sixteen proved to be a “golden” age for J.B. Ahfua, Arianna Afsar and Stevie Wright.  J.B. is hoping that his ticket would be his chance to change his life.  He’s 16!  How much life has he had to want to change it?

Arianna, who definitely could cash in on the cute factor, picked a perfect song with for her voice and age with “Put Your Records On.” 

And Stevie’s – yes she was named after Stevie Nicks – bubbly personality made me want her to go onto Hollywood even before I heard her rendition of Etta James’ “At Last.”  After I heard her sing, she because my favorite female of the night.  Simon told her she needed to “grow some teeth” if she’s really going to compete.

Bartender Deena Brown also had plenty of personality to go with that bluesy sound she had when she sang “Sitting on the Dock of the Bay.”  It’s a good thing she got her ticket if not she was going to come back next year for this “once in a lifetime opportunity.”

Some of our better auditions were a bit of a surprise just because the voice just didn’t seem to match the person in front of us. 

Roughneck Michael Sarver’s rendition of “Thank You” by Boys II Men proved that just because you have the fifth most dangerous job in the world doesn’t mean you don’t have a soft side.  He was my favorite male singer of the night, but I have to say that I secretly expected him to sing “Leaving on a Jet Plane” and then announce that he was headed to outer space to save the planet from an astroid.

High school student and horror film producer Cody Sheldon showed us that he has a lighter side with “Wonderful World” by James Morrison.  Cody’s friends told Ryan that Cody has “wanted this for a really long time.”  It’s a good thing Cody made it this time because at 17 he’s all but washed up.

Meanwhile college student Alex Wagner-Trugman, 19, overcame a case of mold sickness after teaching himself to sing at night in a closet to produce a perfectly pitched (according to Randy) rendition of “Baby, Come to Me” by James Ingram.

The only contestant of the night to squeak by with only two votes, including a tie breaker by Simon, Brianna Quijada gave us a new nickname for the Brit that we all love to hate – Simy.

And closing out the evening was the touching audition of blind pianist Scott MacIntyre.  Although he might be visually impaired Scott’s audition of “And So it Goes” by Billy Joel proved that he’s musically capable.  This guy’s got lots of potential.  His biggest challenge will be building a stage presence without his piano.

Although the first hour looked a little thin, Phoenix came through with some interesting talent with a lot of potential heading for Hollywood.  One city down, seven more to go.


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