Let’s look on the bright side of American Idol‘s controversial and unprecedented decision not to allow viewers to have any say in the outcome of its Farewell Season semifinals:
* There’ll be none of the “What is wrong with America?”/”I’m moving to Barcelona!” outrage over the Idoloonie Nation’s dubious voting patterns that we experienced, for example, on The Season 9 Bloodbath That Claimed Lilly Scott, Katelyn Epperly and Alex Lambert.
* Reduced risk of carpal tunnel syndrome due to frenetic online and smartphone voting.
* Increased risk of decision-making stress causing the first signs of fine lines and wrinkles on the face of 46-year-old Jennifer Lopez. (Oh, come on, just one or two — so we know she’s not on a recon mission for a super-sexy alien race coming to turn us into In-N-Out burgers.)
* And most importantly, I have to admit it’d be hard mustering up a lot of enthusiasm to get my app on for more than one or two of the 12 vocalists who performed on Wednesday.
(For the uninitiated, here’s how the semifinals will work: On Feb. 10 and 17, we’ll see pre-taped performances from 12 contestants apiece, with the judges eliminating five singers on the Feb. 11 and 18 results shows that will also include contestant duets with Idol All-Stars. The resultant Top 14 will be whittled down — again, mainly by the judges — during the Feb. 24 and 25 episodes, with viewers saving some Wild Cards to complete a Top 10.)
But enough with the stall tactics… let’s get to my letter grades and reviews for the first 12 semifinal performances of Season 15:
Stephany Negrete, “Mamma Knows Best” — Grade: B- | Like the judges noted, Stephany has all the necessary ingredients — voice, looks, energy — but like a Ferrari with a Hyundai engine, this one never got out of the cul-de-sac, at least from a lyrical-interpretation standpoint.
MacKenzie Bourg, “Say Something” — Grade: A- | MacKenzie may not have the strongest set of pipes in the competition, but (like that chick with the ankle socks in the ZZ Top video) he knows how to use ’em. His crumbling upper register perfectly fit the angst and heartbreak of the lyric, and made him a mortal lock to advance to the Top 14.
Jeneve Rose Mitchell, “Angel” — Grade: B- | Harry may have been right in telling Jeneve that she shouldn’t have played the harp during her Sarah McLachlan cover, but I disagreed that the instrument messed with her emotional connection. My big gripe was Jeneve’s baffling shifts in tempo: Like Goldilocks aced with two bowls of porridge, the performance was too fast, then too slow, but never exactly in the pocket. That said, she definitely deserves to advance.
Jenna Renae, “My Church” — Grade: B- | The final chorus definitely slipped through Jenna’s fingers like a slippery trout through the hands of an arthritic angler, but she brought more gusto and fire to the stage then the four vocalists who followed her combined — and shouldn’t that be enough for a trip to the Top `14?
James VIII, “Love Lockdown” — Grade: C+ | I appreciated James’ attempt to give Kanye’s radio hit a blues-y rearrangement, but unfortunately, he reduced the track to what felt like a two-note range and delivered it with the enthusiasm of a fourth-grader giving the class a report on “What I did over my summer vacation.”
Sonika Vaid, “Safe and Sound” — Grade: B | Sonika needs to watch out for excessive breathiness at the top of her vocal range — and for allowing her nervousness to play across her face — but her T.Swift cover was heartfelt, supple and mostly in tune.
Gianna Isabella, “I Put a Spell on You” — Grade: C | To be fair, Gianna probably ranked in the top third of the night’s performances in terms of hitting her notes, but there was an offputting lack of maturity to her delivery that left me like I’d heard nothing more than a noisy collection of notes, signifying nothing.
Emily Brooke, “I Am Invincible” — Grade: D- | I think the less we say about this next-level vocal catastrophe, the better…
Avalon Young, “Love Yourself” — Grade: B+ | This wasn’t Avalon’s cleanest vocal — I detected some hinkyness at the top of her range — but she delivered her Bieber cover with such ease and specificity that I couldn’t help but fall beneath her spell. Could the bookend to Kelly Clarkson have a penchant for baggy sweatshirts and no makeup? Perhaps!
Jordan Sasser, “All By Myself” — Grade: D+ | Word of warning to all future
Idol reality singing contestants: Don’t attempt to scale Mt. Celine unless you’re certain you won’t run out of air and botch half the notes when you get to the peak. Even worse for Jordan (whose new haircut was a major style upgrade), his vocal approach was absurdly overwrought.
Thomas Stringfellow, “Creep” — Grade: C- | First, I’ll say something nice: Thomas’ Radiohead cover contained 50 percent fewer squeaks and hiccups than the last time he was foisted onto our TV screens. That said, his painfully affected pronunciations — “You’re so very special” became “You’re so very spatial”!; don’t even get me started on how he delivered the word “feather” (aka “fay-thor”) — rendered his sweet tone irrelevant and sent this performance to the ninth circle of self-parody.
La’Porsha Renae, “Proud Mary” — Grade: B- | Look, unless there’s an ice pick coming out of your left ear, there’s no possible reason you could say La’Porsha doesn’t have a deliciously rumbly tone and near-perfect pitch. But watching her dress in Tina Turner fringe and replicate the famous diva’s dance moves — without any attempt to move the arrangement out of a pure karaoke space — was a depressing misstep for a woman who, as Harry noted, should make her rivals want to either improve or simply drop out of the Season 15 race. If La’Porsha’s not more careful with song selection, however, she could wind up being the one who makes a hasty exit.