The first live performance of American Idol, Season Nine last night was anything but riveting. At times, I felt myself wishing it would end already. At times I felt like just switching the channel over to the Olympics, or Lost, but I was already DVRing Lost, so that could wait.
As the Top 12 Women performed, the night held one disappointment after another, with some bright spots.
One major disappointment, which I hope will improve over time, was new judge Ellen DeGeneres. Through most of the night she maintained her “deer in the headlights’ look and offered very little in the way of actual critical criticism or helpful advice to the contestants. Some of her comments were just very generic and vanilla. Normally, I like Ellen, a lot. I think her talk show is funny and I think she is funny. I’m not looking for humor or for her to make us laugh. I’m just looking for a reasonable critique and she didn’t provide one. I was, and still am, pulling for her to do well on Idol. I hope that this was just first live night nerves and that she improves over time.
Now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk about the singers. For the uninitiated, as I’ve done in seasons past, I’ll put them in categories of Good, OK, and Bad, then at the end I’ll tell you who I think is going home.
Here’s the first problem of the night: No one was spectacular. Call it opening night jitters or whatever, but in a rare Idol moment, there were just no standout performers. So, in no real particular order:
Crystal Bowersox – Crystal sang a very good version of Alanis Morissette’s Hand in My Pocket with feeling and soul. What made it so good was that you could tell that she was really telling part of her story, not just singing a song. Playing the guitar and harmonica simultaneously a la Bob Dylan or Tom Petty gets her bonus points. However, she loses a couple of points for getting weak in the chorus toward the end, but overall, a pretty solid performance.
Michelle Delamore – Michelle started out on the wrong long note of Alicia Keys’ Fallin’, and I thought, oh-oh, this isn’t going to be good. But, she self-corrected and it was near flawless the rest of the way. The biggest problem was that she tried to sound too much like Alicia Keys and didn’t try to make the song her own. She seems to have the voice for it, almost. She seemed to shy away from the long, higher notes. She can probably hit those, but she needs to believe that she can hit them.
Katelyn Epperly – I thought Katelyn was pretty good during her auditions, but was never overly impressed with her. I thought she was very good last night. Part of it was the sheer surprise of her song choice. She chose Oh Darling! by The Beatles, and she rocked it. In the original, Paul McCartney’s voice is very raspy and rough, and Katelyn got her voice to do the same. At times, it seemed that she was almost screaming, but I think that was a function of it being such a difficult song to sing. The judges were harder on her than they should have been.
Lilly Scott – In yet another Beatles song, Lilly surprised everyone with the little known Fixin’ a Hole, from Seargent Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, and in what has become the judges’ mantra, she made it her own. It was different, and like her, a little quirky. But very good. And she gets definite props for towering over Ryan Seacrest and making a short joke.
Katie Stevens – The judges (and other blogs I’ve read) have given this young lady a hard time over her song selection, and have put her much lower on their lists, but I have to say, her choice of Michael Buble’s Feeling Good was a very good choice for her low, sultry voice. Yeah, she’s only 17, but she has a special set of pipes on her. With an instrument like she possesses, there’s no reason why she can’t sing some Buble’. And oh, by the way, she did a great job with it. It’s not like she screwed it up, like others who make some very poor song choices.
Siobhan Magnus – Plain and simple, this girl has got a good voice. Her version of Wicked Game by Chris Isaak was soulful and deep, much deeper than you would expect from a 17-year old.
Didi Benami – First, I’m glad she has finally gotten control of her emotions and stopped crying. That was becoming a distraction. Now, she reminds me quite a bit of last season’s Megan Joy but isn’t quite as good. And she proved it again with last night’s The Way I Am by Ingrid Michaelson. A good performance, but not a great one.
Paige Miles – Paige started off the show with a mediocre performance of Free’s It’s All Right Now. But first we got to hear how she wanted to be on Idol because she’s a day care teacher and was tired of wiping snot from kids’ faces. That was one of the more touching backstories. Thanks. Her voice was fair, but no where near strong enough to cover a Paul Rodgers song.
Ashley Rodriguez – Ashley performed right after Paige, and to be honest, what I heard from her in the auditions, I had great hopes for. And, in the interest of full disclosure, she’s from the next town over from where I grew up, so I have a rooting interest. Her performance last night was yet another disappointment in a long night of many. She sang Leona Lewis’s Happy, and let me tell you, we weren’t. She didn’t seem to be in the right key, and she was all over the place with the tune. If she’s lucky enough to still be here next week, she better improve, and fast.
Janelle Wheeler – I don’t know what it’s going to take for Idol contestants to learn: Don’t sing songs that are too big for you. Maybe the judges should step in once in a while and actually advise them. This is one of those times. Janelle has a great voice, one of the best voices of the women, but it is nowhere near powerful enough to pull off singing ANYTHING by Heart’s Ann Wilson, like she tried to do with What About Love last night. Yeah, she stayed in tune, but the power that that song requires was sorely missing.
NOTE: Heart, Mariah Carey, Celine Dion, and Whitney Houston should be on a short list (with maybe one or two others) that should forever be banned on Idol, for the contestants own benefit.
Since there are only two left at this point, it should be painfully obvious as to who I think is going home on Thursday night.
Lacey Brown – I hoped after being dropped from the show last season at the last possible moment, that Lacey would have seized the moment and done much better in her first live appearance this year, but alas, it was not to be. She chose Fleetwood Mac’s Landslide, and it was just plain boring. She added nothing to it, and if anything, made it worse. She was pitchy and off-key. I hope that if she miraculously makes it through this week that she drastically improves, because I really liked her voice during the audition rounds. Yet another disappointment. Somehow, I don’t think she’s going to get another chance.
Haely Vaughn – No Idol contestant has mucked up a Beatles song this badly since Country Kristy Lee Cook sang Eight Days a Week. What young Haely did to I Wanna Hold Your Hand had John Lennon spinning in his grave. Yeah, the judges want the contestants to make the songs their own, but they don’t want them to destroy them in the process. And sadly, that’s exactly what Haely did. The judges didn’t help matters any by telling her “Every time you take that stage, you come and you have fun.” (Kara). Or Randy saying, “I know you’re only 16 but there’s great possibilities with you because you’re so bold.” Simon at least told her “It was a complete and utter mess.”, But then Ellen ruined it by saying, “If it was a mess, it was a hot mess.” What? It was awful. This is who they passed up Angela Martin for? Are they kidding?
I hope the guys do better tonight. And I hope Ellen does better as well.