Idol Thoughts — 02.09.10

What was the most satisfying thing about last night’s episode of American Idol? That’s an easy one for me. How quickly the pretenders were identified and eliminated.

It was this season’s first Hollywood Week episode. The task: turning the number 181 into 24. As in, reducing the 181 contestants invited to California to the 12 women and 12 men that will make up the Top 24.

Entering stage right to help with this “mathematical problem” was the  night’s biggest story of all: the debut of Idol‘s newest judge, Ellen DeGeneres, who appears more contender than pretender. Aside from making Idol the television show with the highest percentage of stars with capital “G’s” in the middle of their last names, Ellen quickly offered this zinger (sure to be the first of many): “Hollywood is disgusting. You should put on some shoes.” With that quip to a barefoot contestant, an interesting irony became apparent. Idol replaced someone unintentionally funny (Paula Abdul) with someone intentionally.

Much of the discussion today will be about how Ellen did last night. I haven’t been a big fan of messing with the original chemistry. But change is inevitable. So Paula is gone. Simon Cowell is going. And Kara DioGuardi is just…there. From what we saw last night, Ellen was honest and direct (but kind with her criticism), nurturing, and above all, funny. Ellen says she wants to be the voice of the fans. She has the potential to genuinely bring something new and entertaining to an already successful formula.

That should be a big relief. We’ve seen situations like this go bad before. But Ellen’s no Dennis Miller, a seemingly unwelcome guest in the booth at odds with the viewers needs during those Monday Night Football broadcasts.

Now, to the singin’ from last night. Let’s start with those “pretenders.” I’ve tried to tag them in these blogs through out the auditions: people who were advanced based on personality and backstory over their abilities. Well, the deadweight was cut loose. Goodbye Motown-singing, street-hustla Skiiboski, Italian lug Amadeo DiRocco, Miami beatboxer Jay Stone, and grown-up Barney and Friends cast-member Erica Rhodes. And, no, Jersey Shore wannabes Bernadette and Amanda Disimone, the show doesn’t, as you claim, “need you.”

And it’s not Hollywood Week without some chokes and fails. Vanessa Wolfe, the small town Tennessee girl who demonstrated some country quirkiness in her Atlanta audition couldn’t find the confidence I suggested she’d need to advance, sounding nervous and not too great on an almost unrecognizable version of Blind Melon‘s “No Rain.” Vanessa got the slo-mo, dragging luggage, walking-away montage.

And there was Maddy Curtis, who I pointed out was the second best 16-year old at the Boston auditions. Well, that sadly proved true as poor song choice and a tentative performance detracted from Maddy’s otherwise pure singing voice. So Maddy goes home while the better 16-year old from that Boston audition, Katie Stevens, advances, turning in a smokey rendition of Stevie Wonder‘s “For Once In My Life.”

Several singers have excellent shots at the Top 24. Andrew Garcia, “the Latino Danny Gokey,” performed my second favorite cover-version of Paula Abdul‘s “Straight Up” (check out punk band Halifax‘s version for a transformational experience). Casey James, who took off his shirt in auditions at Kara’s request, is turning into the ringer I suggested he might be. Turns out Casey’s a pretty solid blues guitarist and vocalist. Lily Scott, who we apparently saw for the first time last night, gave a genuine and original take on Ella Fitzgerald‘s “Lullabye Of Birdland.” Jazzy and quirky, is Lily another Megan Joy from Season 8? Well, Megan was annoying as hell. So, no! I say Lily is probably everything Megan was supposed to be, but wasn’t.

Also with great odds of making the Top 24 are waitress Didi Benami, who sang a Kara DioGuardi song. (How soon before Idol contestants show up doing Ellen Degeneres dances? I’m just sayin’.) Janell Wheeler, who transformed Estelle‘s “American Boy” into a convincing earthy, country ditty. And Crystal Bowerson, the dreadlock chick from last week’s Road To Hollywood audition episode. This is a real singer. Great vocal on Aretha Franklin‘s “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman.” Crystal has her own style. But that doesn’t mean she couldn’t benefit from a little makeover. And teeth whitening. I hate picking on something like that. It’s just…really noticeable.

They weren’t shown last night. But they did advance, and I say Ashley Rodriguez (pretty singer from Boston auditions who sang Alicia Keys) and Todrick Hall (The Color Purple) are likely Top 24-ers.

Anyone else from last night’s episode not mentioned by name here is in my “on the fence” category, and still has stuff to prove during Hollywood Week to advance. At least, that’s what I think. How about you? Leave a comment.

Greg Valentine
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