Idol Top 7 reprise: No Jessica ‘moment’


First things first. Filipinos in the Philippines have no business voting in American Idol.  That’s just the kind of shortcut that leads to charges of gamemanship.

That’s “the art or practice of winning games by questionable expedients without actually violating the rules,” according to Merriam Webster, or “the use of ethically dubious methods to gain an objective”.

Somebody explain, please. Many took offense last week because they believed — right or wrong — that issues of race pushed Fil-Mex-Am Jessica Sanchez to the bottom of the pool of seven. So why do we think unscrupulous means are okay to salvage national pride? I hope it doesn’t fan a backlash against poor Jessica. Compatriots in the US getting carpal tunnel syndrome for the sake of Jessica is okay. PH-based Pinoys trying to pull a fast one on the system is just plain wrong.   (For the updates go to the bottom of this post.)

SOUL

Tonight, we have each finalist singing a Billboard Number 1 hit (from 2000 onward) and an old “Soul” tune. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has the best definition of the latter genre:

“Music that arose out of the black experience in America through the transmutation of gospel and rhythm & blues into a form of funky, secular testifying.”

Soul can be sublime or just shrill cacophony. The temptation to indulge in trills and runs, grunts and growls, and any number of vocal tricks, could result to caricature  when a singer focuses on form and loses sight of the communion that underpins all gospel music.

NO MOMENT

So does a second try lead to a Jessica ‘moment’? Does Jessica cause an epiphany among reluctant Idol votes?

Nah. Jessica dishes out more Jessica. Which, basically, means some whistles of admiration for those clear, sweet tones and a lot of scrambling for a hold on the slippery slope of emotional connection.

It doesn’t help that for her first song, Jessica is in a drab, drab, matronly outfit and sporting horrid, morning-after-a-drunken-binge hair. It’s sweet sixteen free-falling into mid-life crisis. Did someone tell her she’d get the tween votes by pretending to be a frazzled mom?

And what’s in the Fil-Mex-Am divalette that unleashes the Jung-ian fantasies of Idol’s stage designers? First, they drizzled the stage with doors. Now, we have umbrellas floating across Jessica’s little patch of heaven.

“Falling,” by Alicia Keys has been done to death in singing tilt but it does have lyrics a grade 6 kid will understand.

I keep on fallin’ / In and out of love / With you
Sometimes I love ya / Sometimes you make me blue / Sometimes I feel good
At times I feel used/ Lovin’ you darlin’/ Makes me so confused

The passion J-Lo feels doesn’t reflect on this side of the TV screen. Maybe because I can barely see Jessica’s eyes ‘neath all that hair. There’s no wrong note, no false emphasis. There’s just nothing that tugs at the heart or the loins — or the mind.

She does better with Otis Redding’s “Try a Little Tenderness”. Actually has a gorgeous start. The second verse turned turgid, like a lounge performance at some Holiday Inn. But when she hit the chorus, Jessica cut loose and almost out-growled Elise Testone — and to better effect.

I’m no great fan of embellishment for embellishment’s sake. Here, it looks authentic. It IS her experience and hell, she’s showing genuine expression for once:

oh she may be weary / them young girls they do get wearied / wearing that same old miniskirt dress / but when she gets weary/ you try a little tenderness
oh man i know shes waiting / just anticipating / the thing that you’ll never never possess
no no no/ but while she there waiting / try just a little bit of tenderness /that’s all you got to do

now it might be a little bit sentimental no/ but she has her griefs and cares / but the soft words they are spoke so gentle / and it makes it easier to bear /oh she won’t regret it / them young girls they don’t forget it / love is their whole happiness / but its all so easy / all you got to do is try / try a little tenderness

It’s an “old”song with rather ironic lyrics. But I’ve given up on Jessica being 16; she’s just so different from her peers. For this, she gets the highest respect from lots of us. American Idol is about love, about the fever of adoration, so it’s still touch and go for her. She can take comfort, however, that respect and admiration usually outlive manic love.

Jessica doesn’t steal hearts tonight, but that last, fierce “tenderness” gives enough capital for safety. Hopefully. But I won’t bet on it.

HONOR & DIGNITY

If America still sends Joshua Ledet to the bottom 3, they might as well close down Idol.

Joshua is in perfect form, vocally, both in Fantasia’s “I Believe” and Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come”. He also comes cloaked with a dignity that no amount of humiliation by tone-deaf tweens will ever shake.

But more than that, Joshua comes with a history. He comes with Memory, with the collective soul of every one who’s ever been told that color or gender or religion or status means the end of the line. There is disappointment in those eyes, lots of pain, some fear. Above all, there is faith. That things come to pass. That tomorrow will be better. That the cruelties are not a reflection of him but of the people who do not know any better. This is Truth, hard and eternal.

This is Joshua’s night. He pays respect to the burdens of the ages, absorbs them, distills them and then shares these with us — gives honor through his restraint. The ending IS an ending, a climax, a closure.

Whatever happens tomorrow — I don’t think there’s the same kind of organized frenzy for Joshua as there is now for Jessica — will not change that fact that tonight, this young man stood way above the rest of his peers.

CONNECTION

Skylar Laine is about Jessica’s age and doesn’t have the latter’s impeccable notes. But what she has is character and a knowledge of self that is both scary and admirable. So she turns zero-fashion sense into a lovable quirk and makes a badge of courage of those nasal tones.

She is also a natural story-teller and transforms Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” into a rousing anthem for dem folks from the country music states. And she shares this in so inclusive a manner that you forget there is blue and red. There is only this girl with the belly laugh, someone with delightful secrets and perfectly willing to let us in for the ride.

Jessica will sell records. Skylar will fill arenas. And she’ll sell those records, too.

So will Phillip Phillips, who can turn a song inside out like nobody since David Cook.

He’s a classic, Phillip is, a throw back to those taciturn heroes of yore. You get a feeling every week he’s preparing for High Noon.

But he’s also got a perfectly modern groove and tonight he is frisky and playful and skims through all those half-notes in Usher’s “You’ve Got It Bad” like Don Juan would with the ladies’ hearts.

A very smart arrangement, sensuous with a touch of the blues and a hint of jazz, yes accessible enough for the kids. This is the best he’s ever sung; the voice is strong, controlled, down to the seductive whisper.

But he really sizzles in “Midnight Hour,” ditching his guitar, shimmying all over. He flashes megawatt grins and just all-around sex appeal. It’s the kind of performance that causes Dads to lock daughters in their rooms — and then turn around to discover Mom has clambered out of the window.

When he hits, “I’m gonna wait till the stars come out to see the twinkle in your eyes,” you can imagine a sea of girls rushing towards Georgia. Also, he seems positively joyful tonight. Is Heejun back in town?

The young men — and their older sisters and moms — are for Phillip. This scruffy guy who can blush, wears a Henley and gets christened Da Bomb will survive Colton’s tweens. Shares top dog status tonight with Joashua.

HANGING ON

Uh oh. Tough luck for Jessica. Hollie just staged a comeback. Kinda.

Cavanagh’s finally showing her tough side. Nothing wrong with her cover of Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep” — it’s the kind of song that makes her furrowed brows seem profound. She does nothing much to Adele; there’s still very little creativity in Hollie. But her fans like her because she’s a mimic with a good, strong voice and that’s what we get — plaka with half of Adele’s fire. But it could just get her through. It’s not a disaster for once.

Hollie, however, totally misses the point in “Son of a Preacher Man” and is back in the clueless state that mistakes volume for emotional depth.

Colton Dixon, on the other hand, over reaches with “September”. Whatever possessed him to transform fun into emo? And in the wrong key, too.

Still, Colton rocked Gaga’s “Bad Romance”. Yes, even in the low notes where he managed to sound like the robot brother of that girl from Glee. Colton in black , striped tails and crimson leather pants. A cross between an innocent vampire and some whorehouse impressario, right up to the splash of red on the blond locks. And an all girl band! Very clever guy, very strategic, Colton is. Just a little too slick. But what do tweens know? They’ll probably keep him safe, too, which would be truly bad lack for…. awwwww.

As for Elise Testone, one couldn’t have it worse. 1) Phillip follows your performance. 2)Your dog is dying and you ask Ryan if that’s what he wants to hear for cheap thrills? 3) You sing “No One” and even all the fans blowing translucent panels every which way can’t make up for the lack of sensuality.

I though she had great vocals on Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On” but ruined it with the usual affectations and a silly, literal choreography that raised nightmare images of Steven Tyler’s casting couch.

But here’s what will really send Elise home tomorrow: 1) Her sour look in the face of criticism — while Colton was cool; 2)That disastrous confession about over-thinking the songs. Oh, and 3) the equally disastrous admission of her small-time “lounge” roots.

Update: With riffs on DialIdol numbers

Just read this blog that parses out numbers, percentages and raw data included, from DialIdol.com Simply put, the author, hughc, says factoring staying power on the basis of percentages isn’t enough. That ups the margin of error. One has to look at the raw numbers — meaning the actual numbers of votes cast, and not just the busy signals.

For this week, this is what it says:

“One thing to notice this week is that Jessica jumped from the bottom of the busy percentage to the top and is now duking it out with Hollie, Elise and Joshua for the highest busy percentage. If you look at the raw numbers, though, Hollie has far and away the most busy signals, almost 1,300 already which is much more than Phillip had last week (the one with the most busy signals). That means Hollie’s fans are power voting via telephone quite diligently this week and she is probably pretty safe.  Elise and Jessica also have almost 1,000 busy signals so far tonight, so I bet they are pretty safe too. The contestant with the lowest actual number of busy signals right now is Skylar Laine with only 249 and Colton only has 266 despite having over 6,000 votes. It will be interesting to see what the final numbers are tomorrow morning after the west coast people get to vote.”

Now, that’s interesting. Possible reasons:

1) Hollie has consistently been getting a huge bloc of votes.

2) Jimmy Iovine’s guilt-trip riff must have hit Elise’s hometown peeps.

3) On a very good night, Phillip can swamp Colton’s wall.

4) Where are Skylar’s country folk? My guess: Their aspirational side will go for Hollie. Maybe they want to hear you sing of heartache but look like a winner. And Hollie does have a voice could easily switch to country and then there’s that face and form. Country’s piss and vinegar side naturally gravitates to Phillip.

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