First Group of 12 2.17.09

2/17/09 – First Group of 12

Tight Black T

In order to “freshen things up,” AI has brought back a format we have not seen since Season 3. Instead of 24 contestants, we now have 36. They’ve divided the 36 into three groups of 12. From each group of 12, three contestants will make it through: top male, top female and the next highest vote getter (male or female). Then, after the three groups of 12 there will be three wildcards picked by the judges to round out the top 12. What does this mean? It means that you have one chance to impress the American public. No pressure at all. Rolleyes So was this pressure the cause of last night’s poor performances? For most of the contestants, poor song choice did them in – and even the good performances weren’t stellar because song choice. “It was like the Lite FM show tonight,” Season 4 Finalist Constantine Maroulis said on American Idol Rewind. “I didn’t realize that was the theme, but these were some of the worst song choices in Idol history.” Who knew I’d agree with Constantine!

The wrong song parade started with Jackie Tohn and Elvis’ “A Little Less Conversation.” I know the girl has a good voice, but it was nowhere to be found in this gimmicky performance. I enjoy Jackie’s spirit and enthusiasm, and as she herself said, she is an entertainer, but I don’t see this performance helping her move on.

Ricky Braddy was the invisible man during the early weeks of Season 8 – so I was pleasantly surprised to find out that he has a very good voice. Braddy had one of the best vocals of the night singing Leon Russell’s “A Song for You.” Simon said he lacked personality, but I disagree. I thought he had good connection with the camera and the audience. The problem for Braddy is that last night was the first time anyone has seen him and I’m not sure he made enough of an impression to get through.

A “dirtied up” Alexis Grace was up next, singing “I Never Loved a Man.” There is no doubt that the little girl has soul, but I’m not sure she had enough soul to handle that song. It may just be my prejudice since I am a huge Aretha fan. That said though, I think she did a good job, and definitely has the vocal ability and presence to make it to the top 12.

Brent Keith, who showed his soulful style during his audition, tossed it aside for the comfy confines of country music. He played it very safe singing “Hicktown,” and sadly for him, I think he’s headed back there.

Stevie Wright impressed me with her audition song “At Last,” but the judges thought the song was too old for her. So what does she decide to do – she goes to the complete opposite end of the spectrum, out of the realm of good music and chooses Taylor Swift. WTF My viewing companion and I continually yelled “make it stop, make it stop,” at the TV during her performance. We could have turned down the volume, but what fun would that have been? Wink

Ah Anoop, how disappointed we are. His oft off-key and boring performance of “Angel of Mine” saddened me. Anoop has a wonderful voice, and I have enjoyed getting to know his abilities via videos of his college a capella performances on YouTube. I do think he still has a chance of making it to the top 12. As Simon said, people like him.

As for Casey Carlson, I’m not sure she should have been in the top 36 to begin with. She chose “Every Little Think She Does is Magic” by the Police. No one, and I mean no one, covers The Police or Sting. I don’t think it’s because they are icons, I just think that the songs are specifically written for Sting’s voice and style and they cannot be sung by anyone else. Not only were the vocals horrendous, but I was completely put off by the faces this girl was making. This is saying something coming from a woman who loves the king of odd performance faces!

I was optimistic about Michael Sarver. Again, song choice played a role in my feelings about his performance. Sarver chose “I Don’t Wanna Be” by Gavin DeGraw, not a favorite of mine. Many other AI contestants, including one of my favorites, Elliot Yamin, have sung this song. But it always comes across like the singer is just yelling the lyrics. Such was the case last night. But on this weird night, it turned out to be one of the better performances.

Anne Marie Boskovich gave a draggy, soulless performance of “Natural Woman.” There’s no doubt she has a good voice, but she’s a robot.

Stephen Fowler was the clearest evidence that poor song choice can bury a good voice. The voice we heard in audition and the early rounds in Hollywood was nowhere to be found in Michael Jackson’s “Rock with You.”

The scary point in the night came when a very subdued Tatiana Del Toro took the stage. Her performance of “Saving All My Love for You,” had good and bad moments, but the Stepford version of Del Toro was what made the biggest impression on me. Which was the act, I wonder? Fear

And of course, in typical AI fashion, they saved their golden boy for last. Danny Gokey’s song choice, Mariah Carey’s “Hero”, was nearly as bad as all the others, but in this case, his voice saved him. People, the rasp is going to kill me. I am a whore for the rasp!

My picks to move on: Danny Gokey, Alexis Grace, Michael Sarver.

Lil’ Dawg

Jackie Tohn: Very energetic and enthusiastic. Vocals were a bit off, but I think it may have been partly because of the bad song choice (A Little Less Conversation).

Ricky Braddy: I think he has a pretty good voice, but I was kind of bored.

Alexis Grace: I agree with Simon and Paula that she has SO much soul for such a small girl. Hopefully she’ll go far.

Brent Keith: I don’t mean to sound like Simon, but it was just bad karaoke.

Stevie Wright: PITCHY! TERRIBLE! WHAT WAS SHE THINKING? Very bad song choice, very poorly done.

Annop Desai: I is disappointed. Sad I loved Anoop. Hopefully this doesn’t ruin his chances. Cry

Casey Carlon: You can’t cover The Police. It’s just not something you do. Very bad.

Michael Sarvar: It wasn’t terrible. Certainly better than most of the other people tonight.

Ann Marie Boskovich: She has a good voice but there is absolutely NO emotion behind it.

David Fowler: Bad, bad, bad. Bad song choice, bad vocals, just bad.

Tatian Del Toro: Her voice is good and I am nervous about how calm she was. I feel like that wasn’t really her!

Danny Gokey: I’m sorry Anoop my love but this one goes to DANNY! Amazing. I Puffyheart rasp.

My three picks to move on: Danny Gokey, Alexis Grace, and Anoop Desai.

Seacrest’s Hair

Ahh, the Top 36. Ahh, two hour stinkin’ episodes. Well, let’s start with Seacrest, who is wearing an ugly sweater and for some reason has dark brown hair! Augh!! He talks to the judges, Paula looks like she’s had work done, there is some vaguely inspirational yammering and then Simon doesn’t remember what we’ve changed the format to this year, segueing into Seacrest attempting to explain and really not clearing up anything for us.


Jackie Tohn, who is “Miss Personality”, chooses “A Little Less Conversation.” This Elvis hit did not become a hit until, hmm, roughly 2000? It reminds us of Hampster Dance. Jackie is dressed like a “Grease” extra. The song starts out Dusty Springfield, ends Janis Joplin, and in between is cluttered and full of yelling. The nice judges say she’s a “performer and entertainer,” while Simon and we say she’s “ungainly and clownish”. Yeesh.

Ricky Braddy talks about chicken fingers or something, and we see a clip of him from Hollywood, singing an Alicia Keys song. Our first thought is “Elliott” and then he says he’s going to sing “A Song For You” and our next thought is “Elliott Wannabe”. The performance wasn’t bad, save the high notes at the end that seemed hard for him to reach and a bit off — but it also wasn’t anything we haven’t seen before. Randy and Kara love it, Simon cites his lack of charisma.

Alexis Grace still has her “dirty look” pink hair, and her lipstick is much too red and distracting (uh, slutty, that’s the word) while she sings “Never Loved A Man.” Thank God for a woman who can belt without her voice going all gravelly! She’s sexy just on the edge of trashy, we love the lower parts, and Simon likes her so much he compares her to Kelly Clarkson. Paula even almost makes sense in what she has to say. Alexis’s parents are awesome old hippies. She wins, show over.

Wait, no. Brent Keith is up next, singing “Hicktown”. He’s got no energy, and certainly not the amount of energy the song demands and deserves. He’s also got no enunciation. We had an elementary school music teacher who would put on Alexis’s red lipstick and kiss the cheeks of any kid who didn’t enunciate. Obviously Brent didn’t have her, because he has mush-mouth. Can we mention here that we totally missed seeing those snazzy screensaver backgrounds during the off-season? Anyway, when even Paula thinks it was a safe song, you’re in trouble.

Stevie Wright was told to be younger, so she overshoots it and picks a Taylor Swift song, “You Belong With Me.” She might have improved the song just by having that nice deep voice, except the song totally doesn’t work with a contralto and she struggled with a melody that really isn’t that difficult. Song choice is so important, as we are rapidly learning again this year. We think it was just a hot mess, but Simon was seriously overly harsh on a 16 or 17 year old (Ryan says 16, but didn’t the caption at the beginning say 17?). And, uh, did Jackie hug Stevie’s mom up there?

Anoop Desai keeps up the oddball choices with Monica’s “Angel of Mine”, showing off his high range. We can almost imagine his a cappella buddies blooping and popping in the background… perhaps we spent too much time around a cappella groups in our own college days. He probably just killed some teenyboppers, and we really loved that tenuto arpeggio in the middle. Pretty sexy, actually, for a guy that looks like an IT nerd. Randy and Kara think he was sharp, in the musical meaning of the term, but we think they need to listen to the playback.

Casey Carlson looks like a clean Amy Winehouse and picks the Police’s “Every Little Thing…” You should know right now that we hate any song with more than four words in the title. We wrote in our notes that she totally fell flat — and then Kara said the exact same thing! No energy, and seemed out of sync with the band. Terrible song choice, and it went on forever. For. ev. er.

Michael Sarver seems very happy tonight, perhaps he got some before the show. His wife is cute. He is awkward with the mic and his song, “I Don’t Wanna Be” starts out slow (it is “pick songs Elliot sang” night) but he picks it up with the first chorus. We’re with Randy this time in that it was perhaps not the best song choice, but we really do like him. At this point, we noticed that Paula and Kara seem to be sharing a mic — are we right about this? Is the economy so bad that they couldn’t install a fourth mic?

Ann Marie Boskovich (we are back to attempting to spell her name correctly) picks “Natural Woman”. We didn’t realize she’s a demo singer, must’ve missed that originally, and what is with all the brunettes with long limp hair this year? Anyway, we find her between-note transitions awkward, there is a weird echo on the audio and we find the technical aspects of her vocal worse than the performance itself. And then she slams Sara Bareilles!? Hm. The worst Simon will say, for some reason, is that the song is “old fashioned”. Well, honey, the song is younger than you…

Stephen Fowler is apparently Michael Jackson, as he says “Rock With Me” best shows off who he is as an artist. We barely notice when he starts the song, which is bad enough, but then the tempo seems way too slow and he is absolutely not engaging us. He might actually be trying for “laidback R&B guy” but this isn’t the way to do that. He says he’s not comfortable without his piano, which is too damn bad. There’s no room for it on that stage. Simon says it’s “pointless”. Indeed.

Tatiana Del Toro is, unfortunately, actually really good with “I’m Saving All My Love For You”. In fact, we would go so far as to say she’s the first person on Idol to actually not destroy a Whitney song. We know, it pains us too. She understands dynamics. She knows how to hold a mic. The judges are afraid to admit to anything but “moments” being good, but a moment is defined as 1 and 1/2 minutes, which is exactly what the contestants get at this stage. The judges are also afraid of this new, demure Tatiana, because it seems like the eye of the hurricane. And all of a sudden, her PR accent starts to come out? Hmm. I sense vote pimping…

Danny Gokey is in the pimp spot and, in our opinion, wastes it by continuing to be Mr. Secular Inspirational Song Guy. If he makes it into the top 12, he’ll start breaking out the church songs, mark our words. It will be “On Eagle’s Wings” every week. But maybe you like that sort of thing? Anyway, he picks “Hero” this week, includes a bit of Jamar’s jumpy phrasing (perhaps in tribute) and is oddly not raspy all of a sudden. Why? The song is very pretty, but it doesn’t do what it’s supposed to do. The nice judges are psychotically in love with him. Simon says it’s “good but not fantastic”, as well as “heavy-handed”. We are very much in tune with Simon this year, and we are probably as jaded and, er, atheist as Simon, too.

Our own personal top three are Alexis, Anoop, and Tatiana (shut up). But we think that Danny, Alexis, and either Anoop or Michael will move on.

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