“American Idol” Vegas Showdown: God Bleh The Child

God, I love this part of American Idol. I love spending two hours on a weeknight exalting young chanteuses like mall-brand Aphrodites and sentencing losers to an eternity in Jimmy Iovine’s jean-jacket dungeon. That’s quality time with the TV for me.  

We saw ten ladies trill for the attention of the increasingly articulate judges on Wednesday, and five of them were booted before the night was over. So satisfying! Take your Charlotte Russe stylings and head back to Branson, losers. You can pick up that extra shift at Dave & Buster’s after all.  

Now, some general advice for the competing ten women we saw on Wednesday: Matter more. I’m blown away by anybody who seeks a career in entertainment and expects to be applauded for sheer technical skill. You also need to be special, and being special has to matter to you. Have you heard of Madonna? She mattered (and MATTERS), and it has nothing to do with a stuttering, try-too-hard rendition of “God Bless the Child” featuring “passionate” hand gestures stolen from a 1996 Toni Braxton video. She mattered because she was urgent and confrontational and there and herself, and if you’re a contestant on American Idol, I expect you to do the same — while adding some titillating high notes to the mix. It’s not desperation. Command and stagecraft are part of being entertaining. Entertain me. 

Frankly, we heard so much competent but uninspired vocalizing from the majority of these performers that I wondered if we’d wandered into an audition for Jordin Sparks’ backup singers. I didn’t see the urgency in some of these ingenues. I know it’s controversial to grade performers based on star quality and not vocal prowess, but honestly, we have enough fine singers. What we need now are sorcerers. Sorceresses, especially. 

Spoilers ahead: I’m ranking the ten performances of Wednesday night, and after each performance I’ll say whether the judges elected the featured performer to the top five. Like Mariah Carey reading the Soundscan numbers for her album Charmbracelet, be prepared to weep.  

10. Kamaria Ousley: Kelly Clarkson’s “Mr. Know It All”

This is the truth: If I watched on Idol on mute, I might’ve guessed that Kamaria gave the best performance of the night. Seriously. Stage command? She had it. Genuine finger-wagging coolness? Convincing! Girl should’ve costarred in the “Doo Wop (That Thing)” video. It was there, the miseducated stank. I also liked Kamaria’s business-casual harlequin outfit, including the shoes that Mariah Carey slobbered at. (Tell me you also squealed when Mariah deadpanned, “I love the shoes. But be careful, because I have some of those and they broke in the front.” Is this woman Dorian Corey or what?) The makeup was applied like rubber cement, but I forgave. The real problem here was the vocal, which sounded to me like a quaky, dicey, warped twang that you don’t emit on purpose. She was hurting the whole time, and it hurt. Points also deducted for choosing this Kelly Clarkson song, because it has to be one of the simplest and least showstopping hits in her bubbly-ass oeuvre. Kamaria, I rooted for your spirit. But you buried that spirit and your vocal control in a dark place, probably where they keep the tapes of season nine. 

Judges’ Verdict: Eliminated.

9. Brandy Hotard: Travis Tritt, “Anymore” 

I remember this being pretty. WHICH IS WHAT I HATE. No more pretty! Less pretty, please! Look, Brandy, you can’t just be a cute moon-faced Ali MacGraw. You can’t just grin through a Travis Tritt song that doesn’t matter. You can’t pretend I’m going to vote for that. I bet you don’t even believe I’m going to vote for that. You really weren’t thinking at all, Brandy. And now I’m not thinking about you. :( 

Judges’ Verdict: Eliminated

8. Jenny Beth Willis: Trisha Yearwood, “Heaven, Heartache, and the Power of Love”

Jenny Beth Willis wore a black-and-pink cotillion gown that looked really current, if you believe time stopped in 2003 at Hot Topic. It was an Evanescence-approved “glamor” item, and it didn’t bring me to life. Nor did Jenny Beth’s totally un-momentous version of a mid-tempo Trisha Yearwood tune (kill me). She had one resonant final note, but the rest was a pink-and-black wash of congeniality and awful smiles from a student body president. I actually enjoyed her perky energy out of the gate, but I became less sympathetic once I realized her song was boring, her stage presence wasn’t engrossing, and her entire appeal amounted to “cute.” Also: Country music is worthless in 2013. Don’t aspire to be a part of it, children. 

Judges’ Verdict: Eliminated. 


7. Tenna Torres: Natasha Bedingfield, “Soulmate” 

Congrats to Tenna Torres for achieving what I believe is the wiggiest hair disaster in American Idol history. Girl looked like a prehistoric Shirelle embalmed in Vaseline and Crayola dust, and it didn’t help that she enunciated and over-gestured like an exasperated RuPaul’s Drag Race also-ran. The judges enjoyed her goopy sincerity, but I couldn’t appreciate that thanks to her dreadful, unthinkable song choice. If I’m not mistaken, she selected a Natasha Bedingfield non-hit with lyrics including, “Most relationships seem so transitory!” Transitory, guys. That’s how relationships seem. Couldn’t Tenna have just gone with “Unwritten” or my favorite Bedingfield deep cut “Single”? Something with energy and not a ghastly adjective called “transitory.” This performance was competent, but contrived in too many obvious, compensatory ways. I wish Keith had called that out, but he saved that for other performers who didn’t deserve it as much. Tsk. 

Judges’ Verdict: Survived! Whaaaat.

6. Isabelle: Billie Holiday, “God Bless the Child”

OK. If you’re going to be a single-named superstar, you have to sort of act like one. Isabelle’s naturally full tone is impressive (and lovely) enough, but she had the stage presence of an irritated babysitter. Bizarrely, I think she picked the correct song and actually had the voice to deliver it in a successful way — but either she couldn’t hear the band well or became preoccupied trying to make a Billie Holiday standard sound more “impressive” (?!), because she took too many liberties with its classic melody. It lost all meaning, and suddenly I was Isabelle’s irritated babysitter, cleaning up her Tonka trucks and yelling at her for scribbling all over my mural of Billie Holiday. Now she’s crying. That’s it, Isabelle, it’s nap time, no Lunchable for you. 

Judges’ Verdict: Eliminated

5. Shubha Vedula: Lady Gaga, “Born This Way”

So, get this: I didn’t love or even like this performance. I have always found Shubha annoying, what with her knock-kneed stage theatrics and frantic arm-waving and about-to-pee “energy.” But I can’t fault her for her dogged attempts to be original and entertaining, even if Nicki Minaj was COMPLETELY correct when she described her presence as a hokey hybrid of Christina Aguilera and “the Gangnam Style guy.” The obvious truth is, Shubha turned “Born This Way” into a one-of-a-kind performance, and it started off brilliantly with her studied, dramatic work at the piano. Unfortunately, then she hopped off the bench like Jerry Lee Lewis and started gyrating her eel ass again, and that felt particularly weird against the band’s arrangement, which was effing funereal. What started as a tasteful ballad turned into songless whooping-and-wailing — albeit tuneful whooping-and-wailing — and she lost the thread of the song’s message. The performance was a failure, but you could see that she cared about establishing a singular presence. Among Wednesday night’s singers, that was almost a singular achievement in itself. She could’ve grown on us, I think. 

Judges’ Verdict: Eliminated.

4. Adriana Latonio: Aretha Franklin, “Ain’t No Way” 

Some great things this girl cared to do: Strut a little. Make eye contact with the audience like a comely cat. Sing well. Remain nervy from start to finish. Adriana will certainly get lost among the competing contestants in the coming weeks because her personality and talent aren’t distinct enough, but for this performance, she hit most of the notes in Aretha’s classic and gleefully watched those scintillating moments smack the judges right across the face. That I can applaud. That’s an Aretha tactic AND a Madonna tactic.

Judges’ Verdict: Survived!

3. Kree Harrison: Patty Griffin, “Up to the Mountain”

Not bowled over by Kree Harrison’s ensemble, even though it was definitely meant for a bowler. Seriously, a baggy pink polo shirt? What is this, picture day at a fraternity? The girl also needs to do more than wander around the stage like she’s giving The Last Lecture. PROCLAIM and POUNCE, woman! You can and are allowed to do it. But she certainly sold the vocals on “Up to the Mountain,” which is fast becoming an Idol standard. It was notttttt as good as Crystal Bowersox’s 2010 version, but Kree still has time to rack up some more exciting moments — even though I sense she’ll end up in 9th or 10th place like past generic belters Erika Van Pelt and Pia Toscano.

Judges’ Verdict: Survived!


2. Angela Miller: Jessie J, “Nobody’s Perfect”

I have to tell you, I don’t really get Jessie J. She is a fabulous live singer, but all her songs sound like strings of cliches wrapped together over a not-particularly-clever beat. Angela Miller did JJ’s “Nobody’s Perfect” some justice, as she pierced all the right notes, led up to a satisfying climax, and tottered on volcanically high heels. Good for her. She did what she set out to do, and she validated the talents we all knew she had. I would’ve appreciated a great push forward (and so would the judges, apparently, since all they did was compliment her on her self-penned song “You Set Me Free” from Hollywood week), but for now, her talent level keeps her at the top of the leaderboard. 

Judges’ Verdict: Survived!

1. Amber Holcomb: Rodgers and Hart, “My Funny Valentine”

Do you know who this girl is? I don’t. Seems nice enough. And also awesome.

To me, she was the undisputed champion of the night, even though 1) I am allergic to the name “Amber” and 2) this dame dared to take on the same arrangement of the greatest performance in American Idol history, Melinda Doolittle’s flawless take on “My Funny Valentine.” That is some nerve, little Miss. But thankfully, Amber is a gorgeous, teeny-weeny Serena Williams clone with a saucy attitude and a funky confidence. You wouldn’t compare this performance to Melinda’s because this girl is her own cool, hand-twirling girl. To be honest, of all the performers in tonight’s rally, she was the only one whose very presence said “star” to me. She peered left. She raised an eyebrow to the right. She strutted up. And back. And smiled. And worked. She worked up there like a star. My favorite vocal moment of the night was when she trilled, “When you ooooopen it to speak…” I am finger-snapping and vogueing and hooting just remembering it! To be fair, I’d be finger-snapping and vogueing and hooting anyway, but it was nice to have a new reason. Yes to this gorgeous glamor girl with the sweet voice! Yes to her! 

Judges’ Verdict: Survived!

Your turn: Who ruled? Who didn’t? And is it really a girls’ season?