What do I do with Jessica Sanchez? First, she just has to sing my musical pet peeve. Then she forces me to eat humble pie.
When people aren’t butchering it, “I Will Always Love You” is a song of haunting beauty. Yes, it’s the mother of all musical clichés. But clichés are born when someone plumbs a universal truth and then distills this into an expression so recognizable, so undisputable, that the rest of us simply adopt it.Most wannabes shriek when they do a Houston. Jessica is not Whitney. She’s a petite Asian sylph, not a statuesque African-American goddess. She obeys Jimmy Iovine’s advice to go easy on the vibrato, holds the notes steady – causing Mary J. Blige to yelp! – and then glides to the finish, eyes blazing with hunger and no small amount of steel.
Up until the last line, she and Skylar Laine are about even. Then Sanchez sweeps away memories of all those power runs in a magical ending with three of the longest, most dulcet notes ever heard on the idol stage. As the last one glides into some tropical Paradise dream, the camera caresses Jessica’s face, with its sideways glance and triumphant smile, the arched neck showing off that strong jaw. Contrast is part of Jessica’s allure. Part diwata, part gamine. When the audience starts cheering, she is once more a kid, hands-over-mouth giddy, all of 16 and stunning now that she’s ditched the big hair and tacky matronly outfits. Mom ought to give the stylists a big blowout – that royal blue column and that very natural make-up highlight her strengths. Here is Eve of the Orient before the fall, with a prescience that hints at the blend of joy and sorrow that are every woman’s birthright. (And just about every adult male will tell you the nose-wrinkling just adds to the charm. )
Bottom line: #1 It’s still karaoke but you tell me how to turn this warhorse upside down and I’ll filch the Idol trophy for you. If this is karaoke, I’ll take it like vitamins. Next time, I want her to turn a song inside out and then strut around in jeans and show everyone she can blast us with a teen anthem.
Rank #2 For originality, 18-year old feisty ‘lil mama Skylar Laine gets top marks, reconfiguring the hokey “Where Do Broken Hearts Go?” into a country anthem. She starts with a piquant, heavy nasal twang that works because of impeccable phrasing. Laine builds up into what’s probably the female equivalent of a war cry. It starts with a growled threat (“I’ll never let you go”) and bursts into something so irrepressible I’m tempted to stand on a chair and whoop for this pocket Venus.
There isn’t a shrill note here; it’s all power welling up from the place that birthed the chi. About time American red-state radio features someone who’s not solely about broken hearts (Willie Nelson doesn’t count; he’s an immortal.). Dolly’s growing old; there’s need for a heroine not quite bent over with angst. Laine’s almost an archetype, the sturdy pioneer woman who can dispassionately dissect assorted setbacks but capable now and then of a primal scream. When faced with trouble, you’ll want this woman by your side. And this is AMERICAN Idol. Never estimate the power of values in the US of A.
She should keep the big hair – and those hoop earrings with saucer-like dimensions. The Idol fashion gods did her a big favor with that white jacket over a black knit tank bedecked with gold trim, all atop slim, patterned jodhpurs. I can’t recommend a song for the skylark but she seems to have unerring musical sense anyway. Maybe, “Mississippi goddamn.” Imagine if this self-confessed “redneck”pulls off a Nina Simone song!
Bottom line: I’m having a hard time choosing between Sanchez and Laine. In in terms of showcasing songs, the Filipino-American has the advantage. When it comes to emotional authenticity, I think Laine has an edge. But what a lovely thought – a finals with these two women.
Rank #3 Philip Phillipsis a tantalizing mix of boy-next-door looks coupled with the scruffy charm of a young Bruce (more “dirt” than Dave Matthews). It’s too early in the game to see if he has the same depth. But he rocked out “Superstition” and showed ferocity absent in his earlier performances. What a liberating howl that is! There’s a secret crazy in this shy guy and you kinda get why he and Heejun are such good buddies.
Bottom line: I doubt there’ll ever be another David Cook on Idol but Phillips brings his own brand of excitement to a show that sometimes deteriorates into pageantry.
Rank #4 Colton Dixon doesn’t have the best male voice in Idol’s Season. He does have the young girls’ votes. (Honest now, you think the tweens would vote for Jeremy? They’ll go for this glamorous but not-quite-so-scary older guy. Hmmmm, that makes me ancient.)
Colton picks well and does justice to Stevie Wonder’s “Lately” by singing it his way. That’s emo rock for you, a tad less gritty than what David Cook dished out but with more edge than Kris Allen and Lee Dewyze.
Randy Jackson is right, there are a couple of shaky low notes – when he sings, “strangest feeling” in the first line. But there’s something of the wounded young wolf in the deep-set eyes of the surviving Dixon sibling, and that’s proven tempting to women through the ages. Even the skunk hair sort of grows on you and his lean lines just add to the slightly grungy charm. David Cook he ain’t but that sweet falsetto that surprises in the end is as effective in the age of the metrosexual as any full-blown rock howl.
Bottom line: Bilge is spot on. Colton doing Colton is the best guarantee of a good showing.
Rank #5 “I Wish” Joshua Ledet’s hands don’t flip around so much. But other than that, there’s nothing wrong with his snappy ditty. Vocally, he’s way ahead of the rest of the guys. The scatting is flawless. He has rhythm but doesn’t quite relax to the beat. There is a mincing pattern as he moves across the stage towards the band.
Ledet obviously can move but lacks the funk, which is a little bit like salsa in that you need to tighten up the limb before shaking it loose.
Bottom line: If just 5% of Reed’s wackiness seeps into Joshua it will be praise-the-lord-take-it-to-heaven with this lovable talent. I love gospel but he shouldn’t go all-out churchy on Idol.
Rank #6 The thing with Erika Van Pelt is, I feel happy when she sings. Yeah, even when she’s not giving it her all, as Jennifer oft complains. Besides, over-singing is dangerous for someone with the power and grit of Erika. You want to serenade the audience and then make them gasp; you do not bludgeon your way into an Idol crown.
She delivers “I Believe in You and Me” with depth and intelligence. No unnecessary movements and bombast. The face and the voice combine in a narrative arc with a maturity perfect for the song. There are equal amounts of wryness and serenity and that means more than cheap theatrics.
Bottom line: My only complaint really is her dress sense. I don’t think she’ll win, unless the younger women fall under the pressure of this competition, but we should have a couple more weeks to enjoy this artist.
Rank #7 Heejun Han will never be able to enunciate English properly, not in time for the Idol finals. Let’s get over that. Then again, fewer Amerasians can boast of the blend of dutiful-son-rakish-pal charm that seeps through Heejun’s every pore. And really, he does have a good voice — not as unique as the top male contenders this year, more like the slower rush of deeper waters.
He doesn’t try to showboat with “All In Love Is Fair”. What he does serve up — a wistful meditation on love’s ironies — should appeal to a lot of tender souls.
Bottom line: He won’t be American Idol, but he’ll probably the next sitcom star. And there were some camera angles here that make me think he could be one heck of an Asian romantic lead, one who make girls laugh and then gasp in a split second.
Rank #8 DeAndre Brackensick has a much better voice than Heejun, certainly a broader range. He also has sexy, feline moves, that gorgeous hair and a face as beautiful as it is male (no matter his sexual preference, of which I know nothing about).
Only an idiot would make a mess of “Master Blaster” and DeAndre isn’t that. But while he burned up the stage, it was a performance too calculated for the reggae beat and social themes of his song: “Everyone’s feeling pretty/ It’s hotter than July/ Though the world’s full of problems/ They couldn’t touch us even if they tried/ From the park I hear rhythms/ Marley’s hot on the box/ Tonight there will be a party/ On the corner at the end of the block… You would be jammin’ and jammin’ and jammin’, jam on/ They want us to join their fighting/ But our answer today/ Is to let all our worries”
I was expecting a joyous fox and got, well, Glee. That’s not bad. Just not good enough.
Bottom line: He should stop singing too pretty, DeAndre should. Not be too precious. Be a bit more of a devil.
It’s not just because Hollie’s like white bread dunked in milk. She smiles at the strangest moments in “All The Man I Need”, makes out like she’s following a sick, green videoke ball. And in the parts where passion ought to be bubbling all over, her face is blank, just blank.
That little girly doll dress is cute but what Hollie needs is gravitas. But she’s blonde and pretty, so…
Bottomline: Anybody who can sleepwalk through “Reflection” won’t be taken seriously in this corner. She’ll go through but should choose songs about sunshine and summertime (aaah, that’s a good one, she should do the Faith Hill song) and maybe some of those more wistful hymns.
And I won’t talk about the rest, except to wish Jermaine Jones the best of luck. He did better than Jeremy Rosado but the latter probably has more young fans.