American Idol finished unveiling its top 24 contestants last night. After an interminable Tuesday night that seemed more like the Idol production of No Exit than anything even remotely resembling entertainment, last night wrapped things up in relatively speedy fashion as the judges exercised their last threads of power before turning everything over to the capricious whims of the American public. Tuesday, we got to watch the four of them huddled over a conference table (fascinating entertainment!) and then last night, they sat in comfy chairs on the stage at the Kodak to deliver the news to the nauseous performers. Who had made the cut? Who was being sent home?
There were some attempts to stir up some suspense. Would the final female spot go to teenaged black country crooner Haeley Vaughn (um, am I the only one who thinks of All My Children whenever they mention her name?) who has gotten HOURS of screen time or would it instead go to Tori Kelly, a lovely young woman that I feel like I had never seen for a second before last night. Wouldn't it have been a little more suspenseful if, instead of Tori, the other possibility had been Angela Martin who was truly the big shock of the night? (Seriously, the producers were clearly pushing for us to root for Angela with her multiple trips to Hollywood, her multiple tales of heartache and adversity. If anyone needed American Idol, it was Angela, and yet there was Kara hugging her and telling her that she had not made the cut.) Same with the "Who's the last man?" cliffhanger. Was there anyone sitting at home who thought Andrew Garcia was going to be sent home? Sure, Thaddeus Johnson had gotten more screen time than Tori Kelly and was memorable for his refusal to be "Bubbly" when the band started playing the wrong song. But with Andrew Garcia as the other contender, it didn't seem like a mystery as to which one would advance. There were several other men who made it through without the fawning screentime Andrew Garcia got. If it had come down to Thaddeus and, say, Alex Kelly? Or Jermaine Sellers? Now those would have been a case where you could see the judges going either way. Missed opportunity on the part of the producers, I have to say.
Let's take a look at our top 24 and size up their chances for the future. Idol has this year returned to the semifinal format that it used for several years -- 12 men and 12 women who will be whittled down week-by-week until we get the group cut in half with 6 men and 6 women. From there, it's anyone's game. This is Idol's attempt at gender equity, an idea that, I believe, sprang out of season 3 where there were so many amazing women (Fantasia, J-Hud, LaToya London, Diana DiGarmo) and not so many amazing men (George Huff anyone? John Stevens?). They went back to a less restrictive environment last year and ended up with a more male-heavy season with only Allison Iraheta being much of a contender for the ladies. So of the lists below, only half of the men and half of the women will make it to the big show, and the decision lies with us.
The semifinalists below are listed in terms of the ones I think have the best shot at cracking the top 12.
The judges repeatedly said last night that this was a strong year for the ladies, and this list bears witness to this. There aren't a ton of really solid contenders for Kris Allen's tiara outside of one or two. Entry into the top 12 may largely come down to personality or the cute factor, which is unfortunate because it may allow some weaker men in while stronger women are sent home. We'll see....
1. Andrew Garcia: This guy is, right now, the strongest shot the guys have at the title. He's like this perfect blend of Kris Allen and Danny Gokey -- folksy vibe with some mighty chops. (Oh, God, I sound like Kara!) The worry I have is that he doesn't necessarily LOOK the part of an Idol with his neck tattoo and I wonder how America will respond to an Idol with his rough background. (Remember, he's the one whose parents were in gangs.) He is a real talent, though, and I can't wait to hear him perform again after that amazing "Straight Up" from Hollywood Week, Day 1.
2. Mike Lynche -- Is Mike Lynche the next best singer? No, but he has the best story, and Americans are suckers for a good story. Big Mike is the guy whose wife went into labor DURING Hollywood Week. He stayed and kept America updated on the progress of his wife's cervix and the baby's arrival throughout the Hollywood episodes. If the editing is to be believed, Baby Lynche was born seconds before Daddy took the stage for the group performance. Mike seems like a really likable guy, has a good voice, and maybe can be the one to really break the curse African-American men seem to have on this show. Since Ruben Studdard won in season 2, there hasn't been a black man who could be viewed as a real contender -- or at least there hasn't been one allowed into the final 12. (Ju'not Joyner, people!) Maybe Mike is the one. Or maybe not. Maybe staying up late with baby will ruin those pipes and send him packing.
3. Casey James -- Casey initially seemed like a joke contestant. Remember he is the poor guy who was sexually harrassed by Kara and Posh Spice, asked to take down his hair and remove his shirt at his Denver audition. Tres jolie, Coco. Tres jolie. Once Casey got to Hollywood, though, he demonstrated some significant talent with a raspy, bluesy vibe reminiscent of a rough-around-the-edges Kenny Wayne Shepherd or Johnny Lang. Or to put it in Idol parlance, he's a more attractive Taylor Hicks. He seems like a good guy that America can cling to. My sis points out his resemblance to Bucky Covington, but I would like to remind her that Bucky made it pretty far in the competition, so there!
4. John Park -- John had a great Chicago audition, although, again, he is perhaps better known for being yet another victim of sexual harassment hilarity when Shania Twain's comment about his "bottom end" was turned into frat house guffawing by Randy. John, though, was virtually invisible during Hollywood Week, which could be a concern. He received almost zero screen time. With the notoriously short attention spans Americans have, can John survive to the top 12? He's going to have to bring a lot of that bottom end to his performance.
5. Tyler Grady -- Tyler is cute. He's rocking a 70s, wannabe-Morrison vibe. Girls need a cutie to vote for, and Tyler may be the one this year even though to me, he's just a less attractive Justin Guarini.
6. Lee Dewyze -- I'm honestly putting Lee in here because he's a Chicagoan, he's older, and I feel no real love for any of the other men in the 12 here.
My "alternate" vote would go to Todrick Hall, a kind of arrogant seeming kid who has worked with Fantasia. He's got a sparkle about him, though, and he could really make a run for the top 12 with some dynamite performances over the next couple weeks.
As for the rest of the guys, I'm probably the most annoyed with the inclusion of Aaron Kelly. Aaron is a kid who forgot his lyrics multiple times during Hollywood Week. He seems like a talented kid, but he also seems a bit immature and fragile. He's a kid who could have benefited from sitting it out for a year and then coming back next with with a more mature voice and ego.
I will be honest in saying I have no idea who Joe Munoz or Jermaine Sellers really are. Sellers had a good audition (as you can see here), but has not really registered with me since then. And I keep confusing the emo stylings of Tim Urban with the emo stylings of Alex Lambert (That name has to be fake, right? Is he like the straight Adam Lambert? Like in a drag show where it's Lisa Minooli instead of Liza Minelli? This is a "drag" version of Adam?). And yes, I realize that I could be dismissing our future Idol without a moment's hesitation by writing these four guys off so quickly. Kris Allen was virtually nonexistent at this point last year (and my friends may remember that I wrote him off pretty quickly, too). So maybe it's in their best interest that I predict that Joe, Jermaine, Tim, and Alex will be sent packing pretty quickly.
This is a particularly strong year for women, yes. As I look at this list, I see 4 or 5 women who could very well be standing on the Kodak stage in May crooning some god-awful Kara DioGuardi tune. It could be a battle amongst these women, all of whom seem quite nice and even a bit fragile. Could another Christina Christian collapse be on the way? Pretty please??
1. Didi Benami Picking a favorite among these women is really tough. When it comes down to it, I'm not sure Didi Benami is my favorite vocalist, but she may have the best chance in terms of presenting a package. I give her the slight edge over Janell Wheeler despite the fact that I worry about Didi's emotional fragility. Didi seems just a touch more mainstream, and I can easily see Janell going the country route. Yes, we loved our Carrie Underwood, but the country route hasn't paid out so well since Carrie.
2. Janell Wheeler But I would not at all be surprised to see Janell advance to the finals. She's like Brooke White with more talent. She's gorgeous and has a beautiful voice. My concern with her, outside of the country thing, is also whether she is up to the challenge. Hollywood Week left her hoarse and sick. What will the top 12 do?
3. Lilly Scott I love Lilly. She has such a wonderful, pure voice with this delightful quirky vibe. I don't know how America will react, though, to that quirky vibe. I think Lilly is in need of a good stylist. Her hair is a fright, her fashion sense is limited, and Americans can be really harsh on stuff like that. I'd hate to see Lilly go the way of an Amanda Overmyer where her style keeps America from embracing her.
4. Crystal Bowersox Crystal is my favorite of the women, but as a potential "rocker" she has a tougher road than anyone else. America does not like rocker chicks. Just ask Ryan Starr, Amy Adams, Vanessa Olivarez, Gina Glocksen, Amanda Overmyer, Carly Smithson, Alexis Grace, Allison Iraheta . . . . The thing is that, with the exception of maybe Allison and Carly, Crystal is way more talented than the other rocker chicks who've made a charge for the title. She also has a vulnerability that those other women were lacking. I admit I am completely charmed by this little Janis Joplin wannabe and suspect I may be making a lot of calls on her behalf.
5. Lacey Brown Lacey was stopped just short of the top 24 last year, being denied the spot that was instead given to Megan Corkery. Good choice, judges. Lacey seems like a fun, talented woman who is perhaps best equipped to hold her own in the face of the juggernaut presented by Didi, Janell, Lilly, and Crystal. There's a maturity about Lacey, too, that will serve her well in terms of dealing with the pressure of the gig. She seems like maybe the emotionally strongest of the bunch. I do feel like her voice seems a bit affected at times, but that may not be an issue.
6. Katie Stevens We like precocious, wildly talented teenagers. Katie fits the bill. She's cute, she's got a grandma with Alzheimer's. She may be the sixth woman in.
Alt: Haeley Vaughn Or it may be Haeley. Now, I will say the same thing about Haeley that I said about Aaron Kelly. I think the judges did a disservice by putting her in the top 24 this year. She needs a little more time to age and mature and to get a better handle on her voice. A couple of her Hollywood Week performances seemed shaky at best with some wonky notes popping up throughout. Haeley, though, seems very cute and sweet and there's a certain novelty about a 16-year-old black girl singing Carrie Underwood songs. She has a sort of Mandy Moore vibe about her, and her little lisp is endearing. I just think that she needed another year.
Of the other women, Paige Miles and Michelle Delamor seem like total strangers to me. I feel like I've never seen them before in my life. In Paige's case, that may be true since a youtube search for her pulls up absolutely nothing. Ashley Rodriguez reminds me too much of Jordin Sparks, and I am still raw from Jordin winning in the season that should have belonged to Melinda Doolittle. (Seriously, what was America thinking?!?!????!???) I honestly can't get over Siobhan Magnus's Punky Brewster-inspired wardrobe, and I felt like the snippets we saw of her final Hollywood Week performance we shouty. As for Katelyn Epperly, well, it seems like she's the recipient of this year's "pretty girl" slot. Every year, the judges let through some pretty girl whose vocals are weak but who makes up for it with legs, face, hair, boobs, et cetera. Compared to most of the women on this list, Katelyn is a seems like a real lightweight. Would it be that shocking to see her make the top 12? Probably not -- we like cute girls, and the show does have a history of those girls making it further than they should (think Kimberly Caldwell, Julia DiMato, Lisa Tucker, Kellie Pickler, Haley Scarnato). Katelyn could be a Katherine McPhee in disguise, but we really haven't seen anything to indicate that to us at this point, so I'm more than willing to write her off.
Next week is where the real fun begins. I'll do my best to post quickly after each performance episode. I know that for some of my readers, this is their only American Idol information, so I will do my best to keep you informed. And if you don't care about American Idol, sorry.