We're back with in-progress blogging on "Idol." Notes on the women's performances, which was a huge disappointment and a terrible way to start the show, begin after the jump.
Introducing the women, most of whom I have no memory of whatsoever. Ryan explains the rules, introduces the judges: Ellen first, then Randy, Kara and Simon. New seating arrangement: Kara in the Paula spot, Randy between Kara and Ellen. Simon believes it's a year for the "girls" and watched the rehearsals. Kara and Randy speak, and Randy is awash in meaningless cliches. Ellen tells the contestants to be everything they could possibly be. Ryan brings up the seating arrangement; Ellen says she is sitting far away because "Simon wants me." Faux tape of Simon getting handsy.
Songs are hits from the Billboard charts -- a gimme category.
Paige Miles is first up. Song: "All Right Now." Terrible, breathy, tuneless start, and even the chorus is subpar. Big-vocal finish not enough to make up for what went before. My grade: D. Simon says she has the best voice of all the "girls" but that he would not have chosen that song because "it's a wedding singer type song." Kara disagrees, calls the song "brilliant" and "you slayed those verses." Randy kind of agrees with Simon and Kara, iffy about the song choice but loves her big voice. I think we're hearing judgments based on rehearsals, not what she just did. Ellen says "you were so there" and "you sounded fantastic" and notes that she had worried based on the rehearsal! And I am already shaking my head at the judges.
Ashley Rodriguez. Leona Lewis's "Happy." Fair start, struggles before the verse is over, good authority but no range; butchers the "happy." Another D from me. Kara says "there were some nice moments" but "there were definitely moments that weren't great." Randy says Kara "is absolutely correct" and it wasn't good to invite comparison to Lewis. Ellen agrees and that she'd like something with "a whole different vibe." Simon says "this isn't going particularly well for you," calls it "clumsy" and he didn't like the arrangement. He thinks she could be in trouble.
Janell Wheeler. Heart's "What About Love." Ah, big cheese. But needs a big voice, and she is stumbling during the verse and lacking power on the chorus. Did someone tell the contestants not to oversing tonight? But this is the third ho-hum-minus performance, and possibly the worst so far. D minus. Randy says it wasn't his favorite song choice and it's hard to bring something unique to such a huge song. Ellen loved the choice and thought she sang well except for some moments. THE JUDGES ARE DEAF TONIGHT. Simon says she gave 100 percent effort and delivered 65 percent, but there were moments he liked, and he thinks she will survive this week. Kara likes her but the song was too big for Janell.
Lilly Scott. "Fixing a Hole." Huh? Accompanies herself on guitar. Oh, my God, this is a truly horrible start to a terrible song choice. Then it gets a little better, as she demonstrates some interesting vocal moves, but I am generally not pleased and am dropping another D. Ellen thinks "that's what we're talking about" -- surprising song choice with great voice. Simon says "the best we've had so far." But he's still not feeling much star power. Kara says she's believable and "you come from your heart" and that everyone will remember her tonight. Continuing a sense that the judges are trying to be kinder this season. Randy says she's like "a real indie artist."
Katelyn Epperly. "Oh, Darling," second Beatles cut of the night. Weird facial expressions, but the closest we've gotten to good, classic singing. Well, except for her "cri-i-ied." Not great, but I don't hate it. Well, except for that last note. C, but waiting for a judge to say "karaoke." Simon says it was messy but he likes her and the song choice was good, even though "you're going to need an awful lot of work." Kara says "you know your voice very, very well" and she "improved the song." But she doesn't like the makeup and wants her to look more natural. Randy liked that she "paid attention to the tone" and didn't do a lot of runs, and disagrees with Kara's fashion judgment. Ellen thought it was interesting and "you have a great voice" although "the girls are all strong."
Strange conversation with Ryan re Kara's comments in which Katelyn is very diplomatic but Kara suspects Katelyn thinks she's a "bitch." Kind of nasty-paranoid of old Kara.
Haeley Vaughn triples the Beatles connection with "I Want to Hold Your Hand." Trying to make it different; I find the arrangement somewhat interesting, and am mildly impressed by the mid-song yodel. But so much of this is screechy. D plus. Kara has technical issues but "you have fun" and she makes up for what she can't do vocally. Randy likes her boldness but the high notes are not pleasing. Ellen says "you just shine" onstage and "you have a great voice" and "I enjoyed it." Simon thought it was "verging on terrible" and "a complete and utter mess." Which is just about the first time I have agreed with a judge tonight. Ryan tries to start a fight between Simon and Ellen, and Ellen obliges, saying "if it was a mess, it was a hot mess."
We're rounding the turn, and I am still waiting for a performance I really like. Where is all this depth and fabulousness the women are supposed to have?
Lacey Brown. "Landslide," a little bit Nicks, a little bit Chicks, but not good enough to risk comparisons to either. Very labored, talky more than singing, and not fitting well with the background harmonies. D as in dammit, is this all they've got? Randy thought it was terrible and "pitchy all over the place." Ellen thought "you're better than that." Simon thought it was "quite depressing" and she hasn't worked out who she is. Kara says "you usually hit those notes" and the song choice was bad -- wanted Sixpence None the Richer.
Michelle Delamor, who seems to get a lot of stage-chat with Ryan before her video and performance. Alicia Keys' "Fallin'." That is one crazy risk to take. She's pleasant, but Miss Alicia is a force of nature and yet another singer you don't want to be compared to. This is very -- to note Michelle's resume -- corporate-singer. Steady, but a bit dull. C minus. Ellen thought it "amazing" but admits it was "safe" and "seemed easy" and "you have more in you" -- which adds up to Paula-esque. Simon did not have a "wow" moment but thought it was enough to get through. Kara says she's "very commercial looking" and, though good, had moments that were not great; she wants more believability. Randy says it was a "pretty good job" but "take some risks, man."
Didi Benami, "The Way I Am." Very reminiscent of the original, which is tricky stuff, and she doesn't always master it. But I'd like to hear her try some other things, and I don't hate this, when I have hated so much tonight. But still, no thrills. C-ish, C minus-ish, I just don't care much about it. Simon says there are too many people trying to sound like Adele and other singers, and "I thought the song was dreary" and he's missing "a spark." Which is true. Kara thinks the song is good but "you're creative ... you have more than just your tone." Randy echoes earlier Simon in asking "where's the star factor?" and calls it "sleepy." Ellen once again hears a great voice but found it "a little low-key."
Another break. I think Randy and I will grab naps.
Siobhan Magnus, who does not know what "dark horse" means. Chris Isaak, "Wicked Game." Whoa, really low at the start. I like her voice a lot, but this is an odd approach to this song -- reverential? And too slow. But I'd give it a C just because I like her voice. Kara would not have picked that song and thought it was "nasal at times" but she likes her. Randy says it was "definitely a tough song" and liked her Stevie Wonder cover during Hollywood better, although Siobhan improved. Ellen "loved it" and loved "how mysterious you were." Simon thinks she's "a funny little thing." Liked but didn't love it, and didn't think it was as good as her Hollywood Stevie, either. Rambles about it being a dark song and whether Siobhan is a dark person, and actually quizzes Siobhan a little. Ryan cheerleads for her in a big way.
Ohio's own Crystal Bowersox (and I had written "Ohio's own" before Ryan said it). Alanis's "Hand in My Pocket." Guitar and harmonica, and she plays both. Very capable, endearing, and not trying to match Alanis exactly. In a tedious night, a nice departure that still worked musically. C plus. Randy's not sure it was the right song for her but "I like you . . . I like that honesty." Ellen thinks "you add something fresh to the show." Simon likes her but "there are thousands of you doing this outside subway stations." Crystal nails him a bit on the freshness issue by noting they don't allow original songs on the show; Simon admits she is "refreshing." Kara says she's good but didn't see greatness she has seen before, and -- seconding Simon -- urges that she not be "just a coffeehouse performer."
Katie Stevens to close -- and by doing so, getting an implied endorsement from the producers, who don't want to end with something sucky. And who appears to have enough voters in her own family to survive for weeks. Song: "Feeling Good," a big, big "Idol" cliche, and she's not good at the start. I can see why they thought this was the song to end with -- big voice -- but she's really wobbly when it comes to being in tune, and there's no payoff. A snore, really. C minus. Ellen thought she had a great voice but "it was very conservative" and she wants her to be fresh and current; "I want you to be 17." Simon absolutely agrees and "it started to become annoying." Of course, they're both missing the way that older people also vote on this show. Kara is actually more to the point when she notes that Stevens was pitchy -- and that on playback she will realize "wow, I was not in key." Randy recalls Jordin Sparks, but this "was just too old for you."
Gosh, what a tiresome, tiresome show.