When aliens finally come to Planet Earth — and if you’ve watched Battlestar Galactica or Contact, you know it’s just a matter of time — let’s hope the Cylons don’t judge the pop-cultural significance of American Idol based on its February 28, 2013 installment.
There are a thousand sleepytime metaphors I could call on to describe the tedious proceedings — gentle sheep leaping over fluffy clouds, the swooping descent of the Lunesta butterfly, a tin-soldier-esque lineup of the last letter of the alphabet (Zzzzzz) — but why not just speak the ugly truth of the episode: The final 10 guys competing for a spot in the Season 12 semifinals proved truly, depressingly unworthy of even nipping at the heels of past contestants like Matt Giraud, Anoop Desai, Michael Johns, Paul McDonald, Stefano Langone and Joshua Ledet (just to name a few) — none of whom managed to make it to their respective season finales.
Meanwhile, the show’s misguided insistence on gender parity — 10 men and 10 women advance to the Season 12 voting rounds, with only five each advancing to the finals — feels more and more like the barely seen iceberg about to sink the Titanic of reality TV cruiseliners. Three quarters of the men who’ll be competing in next week’s extravaganza aren’t worthy of bringing Candice Glover, Kree Harrison and Amber Holcomb their afternoon beverages!
Anyhow, before this recap is sunk by a tidal wave of rage and negativity, maybe it’s best for me to jump to the set list (complete with letter grades) for the Thursday-night show. I’m going to do my best in this recap to make no mention of the judges’ critiques, since this time around they were collectively as authentic, organic and relevant as Jennifer Lopez singing without the help of Auto-Tune:
Mathenee Treco: Elvis Presley’s “A Little Less Conversation” | Those who don’t learn their Idol history are doomed to repeat it: And unfortunately for Mathenee, he chose the kitschy, word-packed ditty that TKO’d no less than future chart-topper Chris Daughtry from the competition back in Season 5. To be fair, I appreciated that Mathenee actually brought some movement to his performance — it proved a welcome respite from the “stands at mic, raises hand during glory notes” style favored in these early rounds — but alas, dude just didn’t have the vocal dexterity to keep pace with the rapid-fire wordplay of Elvis’ original. Plus, Mathenee lacked the range to hit some of the song’s high notes, which intermittently turned his lyrical demands for “a little less bite, a little less bark” into poodle-being-stepped-on screeches. Oh, and the final nail in the coffin was shaped like Mathenee’s backwards baseball cap. (Gah! Srsly, Mathenee? Maybe that flies in the Bahamas, or a frat house, but not on the Idol stage. And if it’s a matter of being “hair challenged” — like myself — let Bruce Willis be your spirit animal. Dude is bald — and still damn hot!) Grade: C-
Gurpreet Singh Sarin: James Morrison’s “Nothing Ever Hurt Like You” | I’m pretty certain I haven’t experienced anything as astonishingly flat as the notes in Gurpreet’s big-stage debut since Ryan Gosling bared his abs in Crazy, Stupid, Love. On a scale of one to CTRL+ALT+DEL, this was a fatal system error. Grade: D-
Vincent Powell: Lenny Williams’ “’Cause I Love You” | Wait — Vincent used to be a background singer for Whitney Houston? And the Idol powers-that-be didn’t bother to share that intel till now because why? (I know, I know…insanity is asking the same basic questions of a reality TV producer and expecting different results.) Anyhow, Vincent wound up giving a solid, old-school soul vocal that was as rooted in the ’70s as macramé plant-hangers and floral-print polyester. There were moments — like that 25-second (approximate) glory note — where I felt like Vincent was serving more affectation than a genuine display of emotion, but I don’t think he missed a single note, so I’m gonna quit my quibbling here. Grade: B
Nick Boddington: James Morrison’s “Say Something Now” | Nick was one of the few Season 12 guys who headed to Vegas looking like a genuine threat to win the whole chimichanga, but in front of the big studio audience, his nerves seemed to get the best of him, and his clear and powerful tone gave way to a quivering glob of uncertainty (complete with a wayward falsetto interlude). Perhaps even worse, Nick’s song choice was as uninviting as a piece of cold, dry toast with coagulated butter: I know, I know…a lot of folks dig James Morrison, but just like female contestants’ recent obsession with Jessie J, I’m confounded by so many guys gravitating to James Morrison. I mean, hasn’t anyone noticed his songs don’t have any actual hooks? Grade: C+
Josh Holiday: An original song called “Better With You” | Look, all the credit in the world to Josh for eschewing conventional Idol wisdom (woohoo!) and performing one of his own compositions so early in the season. Yeah, the lyrics were a wee bit underwhelming, but the melody was pretty, and wasn’t it more exciting than watching yet another guy break out the cat o ‘ nine tails and administer a beating to a dead horse like “Against All Odds” or “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me”? The real problem with Josh’s song — and I found it fascinating that not a single judge had the courage to say it — was that he simply didn’t sing it very well. The falsetto notes were far beyond Josh’s range, and I’d bet there’s never been a more dismal closing note in any Final 40 grouping from prior Idol seasons. No, seriously, I’d actually take a bet on that. Winner gets a new pony! Who’s in? Grade: D+
David Oliver Willis: Peggy Lee’s “Fever” | Oh hey, it’s a guy who got 11 total seconds of screentime since January, and he’s giving the absolute best vocal of he night! What do we do with him? Well, we have Nicki tear into him like a cat with a can of Fancy Feast, telling him he’s like a wayward relative breaking out his acoustic guitar before Christmas dinner. To which I say, I’d welcome a relative who had the skill and the confidence to take a well-worn golden oldie, rework it into a sexy blues jam, and deliver it with pitch perfection. No, David didn’t make “Fever” into a big, range-y extravaganza — I’m just gonna pretend Keith didn’t dip into Randy’s thesaurus and talk about the lack of “moments — but just because you’re singing in front of MariahCarey doesn’t mean you pile on the unnecessary embellishments. After all, in many instances a simple pine tree with white lights can be a far more stirring sight than a full light-up nativity flanked by Santa and his reindeer and a giant-scale inflatable SpongeBob, yes? Grade: B+
Bryant Tadeo: Billy Joel’s “New York State of Mind” | I’m not going to pretend that Bryant’s performance was the kind of show-stopping delight that can catapult a singer from cannon-fodder to front-runner (a la Allison Iraheta’s “Alone,” to name one example). But the handsome, snappily dressed fella colored nicely inside the frame of Billy Joel’s original, didn’t try to stretch it into an awkward shape or beat it to death with the melisma stick, and displayed a quiet confidence that I’d have happily tuned in to see for another two or three weeks. That, however, wasn’t the kind of situation for which the judges were looking. So maybe next season Bryant can course-correct and drop some flirtatious comments to Nicki or gut a classic song and toss its melody and entrails into the SwayBot pit. Then we’ll see about the semifinals, kiddo! Grade: B-
Burnell Taylor: John Legend’s “This Time” | I really enjoyed Burnell’s audition to “I’m Here,” and thought he sounded pretty promising in Hollywood Week as well, so it stands to reason that I may return to his fan base in the future. But there was something strange about his tone on “This Time” that just didn’t sit well in my ear (or my other ear, for that matter). Maybe I got distracted by Burnell’s geek-chic bowtie makeover. Or maybe it was his “Mariah on Red Bull” hand gestures. Yo, for me for you, though, it was just ai’ight, dawg. [Side note: Help me, it’s way past my bedtime and I think some kind of evil spirit is trying to make me morph into Randy. To my hubby, if you’re reading this and you notice Haley Reinhart’s indispensable Listen Up! has been deleted from our iTunes, you know what to do: Bring in an exorcist!] Grade: C+
Lazaro Arbos: Keith Urban’s “Tonight I Wanna Cry” | No, Lazaro, I wanna cry, because after listening to your grisly Keith Urban cover — liberally peppered with bum notes and a total lack of breath support — all I can think is how your spot in the semifinals should’ve gone to Juliana Chahayed or Rachel Hale or Jett Hermano (or even Shubha Vedula or Isabelle). You’re cute as a basket of puppies, and you’ve got a heartstring-tugging backstory, and I wish you every success in life, but the problem is you’re not even remotely ready for the rigors of this competition. And no amount of eggshell-walking by the judges — Nicki telling you you “played it safe, but in a good way” or Keith saying you have a “spirit that burns through your vocal” — is going to make it otherwise. I wish they’d had the courtesy to cut you tonight — which would’ve given you a shot to return next season — but I guess it’s not part of the masterplan. Le sigh. Grade: D-
Cortez Shaw: David Guetta & Sia’s “Titanium” | Oh, and I know I said I was trying not to discuss the judges’ feedback, but Keith’s summation of Cortez’s performance was equal parts fascinating, astute, and absurd. For sure, he had a point that Cortez’s slowed-down arrangement of the massive dance hit was “incredibly unforgiving” and that, when he did find the correct note, he actually sounded pretty great. But how come no one pointed out that right from the opening verse, the song was pitched far too high for the handsome student’s instrument. Listening to the guy stretch in vain to reach the soaring peaks of “Titanium” was like witnessing a feeble octogenarian trying to grab a jar of jam from the top shelf in the grocery store. The task is impossible, the embarrassment factor is high, and it’s probably going to end with broken shards of glass and besmirched deliciousness. Maybe the judges put Cortez through based on his prior work — or maybe they advanced him because he’s hot (aka “an interesting artist for today’s scene,” according to Randy Jackson, but I really wished they’d dropped the pretense that somehow this was a performance worthy of a Top 10 finish (and a spot on the Idol tour). Oh sweet hell, no. Grade: C+
ADVANCING TO THE SEMIFINALS: Vincent, Lazaro (wha?), Cortez, Burnell, Nick
ELIMINATED: David (srsly?), Bryant, Mathenee, Josh, Gurpreet
Anyhow, with that, let me turn things over to you. What did you think of the fourth and final Vegas round of American Idol Season 12? What did you think of the judges’ decisions? Who was your favorite? Did David get robbed? Was Lazaro the recipient of the Danny Gokey Backstory Gold Medal? Take our poll below, then sound off in the comments, and for all my Idol-related news, recaps, interviews and videos, follow me on Twitter @MichaelSlezakTV!