American Idol: Advice (and Fantasy Set Lists!) for the Season 11 Top 9
Strengths: His voice has explosive power and the kind of raw, unadulterated soul that’s all too rare on the radio anymore. But don’t just call him a Gospel balladeer; his rendition of “I Wish” proved he’s funky and versatile.
Weaknesses: Recent Tweet saying he plans to stay in the “CHURCHY GOSPEL” lane could lead to a premature exit. Versatility is crucial to Idol success, while full-throttle holleration can grow old when it’s not mixed with subtler, less-intense performances over the long and arduous Idol season.
Dream Set List: Lorraine Ellison/Bette Midler’s “Stay With Me”; Yaz’s “Situation”; Tamia’s “Stranger in My House”; Macy Gray’s “I Try”; Hercules & Love Affair’s “Blind”; Eurthymics’ “Missionary Man”
Strengths: She’s Season 11’s sole country survivor, and her rendition of “Stay With Me” marked her as one of the most natural entertainers in the show’s history. Powerful, brassy voice remains a little underrated, too, as far as we’re concerned.
Weaknesses: As Jimmy Iovine pointed out on Top 10 results night, her momentum has slowed just a bit. Needs to reignite the party with some of her gun-slingin’ bad-girl personality — and showcase her blues-rock roots — pronto!
Dream Set List: Tom Petty’s “Don’t Do Me Like That”; Reba McEntire’s “You Lie”; Everything But the Girl’s “Missing” (would be amazing as an acoustic, country jam); Guns ‘N Roses’ “Sweet Child of Mine”; Pink’s “18 Wheeler”; Juice Newton’s “Queen of Hearts”
Strengths: He knows who he wants to be as an artist, and that artist is pretty radio-friendly, to boot. Has hardly missed a note since the live shows began, and combined with a willingness to take risks with song choices, his confidence is on the rise.
Weaknesses: It can be a fine line between “artist” and “poseur” on the Idol stage. Colton needs to maintain his sense of humor in interviews, and occasionally bring some of that energy to his music, to keep casual fans enamored of his charms. Playing up his romantic side wouldn’t be a bad idea, either.
Dream Set List: Mariah Carey’s “We Belong Together”; Yes’ “Owner of a Lonely Heart”; Franz Ferdinand’s “Take Me Out”; Billie Myers’ “Kiss the Rain”; New Order’s “Blue Monday”
Strengths: Has a monster voice reminds us of J.Hud — but unlike that Oscar winner, Jessica hasn’t had any trouble with pitch or stage presence during her Idol run.
Weaknesses: Got spanked by the judges for failing to rein in her vibrato during “Turn the Beat Around,” and her youth/lack of life experience occasionally makes her performances more impressive than stirring. Needs to avoid “inspirational ballads” and veer into more soulful, left-field territory. Can’t be afraid of uptempo tracks, either, no matter what lousy advice Steven Tyler gives her.
Dream Set List:Terence Trent D’arby’s “Sign Your Name”; Sade’s “Pearls”; Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter”; Dolly Parton’s “What a Heartache” (seriously, this could be her own personal “I Will Always Love You”); En Vogue’s “My Lovin’ (You’re Never Gonna Get It)”
Strengths: As he proved with his Buddy Holly cover during Vegas week and Stevie Wonder’s “Master Blaster,” he’s can muster up the pipes and the charisma to match anyone in the competition.
Weaknesses: When he’s not connecting with a song, DeAndre can be as uncomfortable to watch as a deer in the windshield. To avoid that, he should steer away from material that demands an emotional depth beyond his teenage years.
Dream Set List: Fine Young Cannibals’ “She Drives Me Crazy”; The Bangles’ “If She Knew What She Wants”; Talking Heads’ “Burning Down the House”; Supertramp’s “The Logical Song”; Prince’s “1999”; Taylor Dayne’s “I’ll Be Your Shelter”
Strengths: With her raspy tone and emotional delivery, she’s the sole woman in a sea of Season 11 girls. Relaxed performance style and piano skills also set her apart from many of her competitors.
Weaknesses: Still struggling to navigate the “stay upbeat!” edict of the Idoloonie Nation — both in terms of her response to confounding themes and set lists (see Whitney Houston week) and on-camera responses and facial expressions. And frankly, a little can-do-it spirit will serve her well the next time she’s faced with a Songs You’d Never Sing in Your Real Life theme.
Dream Set List: Sheryl Crow’s “Leaving Las Vegas”; Lady Gaga’s “Paparazzi”; Coldplay’s “The Scientist”; Jane Child’s “Don’t Wanna Fall in Love”; Concrete Blonde’s “Joey”; Carly Simon’s “That’s the Way I’ve Always Heard It Should Be”
Strengths: Has a big, powerful instrument and she knows how to find the drama in a song. Lack of early exposure has allowed viewers to discover her at their own pace; plus, the Idoloonie nation loves an “improvement” story arc. Adorable Brit-next-door personality helps, too.
Weaknesses: Occasional troubles staying on pitch show she doesn’t always know how to harness her power; plus, she has yet to stray from “big diva ballad” territory since the live shows began. Desperately needs to show more creativity and boldness in the song-selection department.
Dream Set List: Kate Bush’s “Wuthering Heights”; BoyKrazy’s “That’s What Love Can Do”; Robyn’s “Show Me Love”; Mamas and the Papas’ “Dedicated to the One I Love”; Justin Timberlake’s “What Comes Around Goes Around”
Strengths: He’s been the most daring (and successful) at song rearrangement this season. Solid guitar skills, appealingly gruff local, and good looks don’t hurt, either.
Weaknesses: Seems to be developing an unfortunate attitude that straying from the gray t-shirt zone compromises his artistry. Plus, his rearrangements tend to make everything he covers sound a little samey-samey. Tackling a sexy song or covering a female artist would be a nice way to shake things up.
Dream Set List: Grace Potter & the Nocturnals “Paris (Ooh La La)”; Yeah Yeah Yeah’s “Maps”; George Michael’s “Freedom ’90”; The Doors’ “Hello, I Love You”; Keith Sweat’s “Make U Sweat”
Strengths: One of the funniest, most memorable personalities in Idol history; he’s also got a buttery smooth tone and a definite soulful streak — qualities for which he doesn’t always get credit.
Weaknesses: Occasional pitch and diction problems are problematic in a particularly deep, consistent group of vocalists. Needs to prove he can succeed on something other than a ballad, and find a way to translate his wit into his music.
Dream Set List: Weezer’s “Beverly Hills”; Dusty Springfield’s “The Windmills of Your Mind”; Portishead’s “Sour Times”; Edie Brickell & New Bohemians’ “What I Am”; Jewel’s “You Were Meant for Me”
AMERICAN IDOL: The Final 9: Clockwise From Top L; Colton Dixon, Elise Testone, Phillip Phillips, Heejun Han, DeAndre Brackensick, Josh Ledet, Hollie Cavanaugh, Skylar Laine and Jessica Sanchez. CR: Michael Becker / FOX.