American Idol: Season 15, Episodes 11 & 12

If the show ever returns, they’d better cut out – or severely cut down to size – Hollywood Week. This ‘farewell season’ of American Idol might be a blessing in disguise. When (yes, when) FOX realizes they made the mistake of cancelling the singing pinnacle of American culture, Idol could really reinvent itself.

A Real Idol
If the show really is about an ‘Idol’, and not just another ‘singer’, then I would make Hollywood Week a real Hollywood Week. Now they sing in groups and with a band. Things they’re going to do during the live shows anyway. No, an Idol should be able to do more than just sing. There’s wardrobe, makeup, promotion, interviews, media, concept albums, the National Anthem, putting on a show, making statements, act, music videos, dealings with managers, the business side of things, etcetera. That’s what a week in Hollywood should be about. Singing, sure. But what about all the other stuff that a true Idol should know how to do?

Episode 11
Maybe they’ll finally take the ‘Idol’ part of American Idol seriously when it makes a comeback in a few years. Now, we’re at season 15, episode 11. Solo Round for the first 12 contestants of the Top 24. At the end of episode 12, five of them will be sent home by Harry Connick Jr, Jennifer Lopez and Keith Urban. First up – again – is Stephany Negrete. She sings ‘Mama Knows Best’ by Jessie J, but something’s missing. Some might call her performance(s) professional, I’m inclined to say clinical. Or even ‘cold’. The difference between her and Mackenzie Bourg couldn’t be bigger. He’s gone for the ‘making the girls swoon’ approach, with ‘Say Something’ by A Great Big World. One piece of advice: change the glasses. They’re either too big or too far up his nose. I don’t know exactly what it is, but time to get some new ones.

The Kanye Trials: Indulgence
Harry doesn’t like the harp. Jennifer loves it. I do, too. Jeneve Rose Mitchell plays and sings ‘Angel’ by Sarah McLachlan and it’s beautiful. Fortunately, the theatricality is only present in her face this time, not in her voice. Jenna Renae sings ‘My Church’ by Maren Morris. It’s pitchy, shouty and throaty. James VIII picked a Kanye West song. Kanye – who auditioned for Idol a few weeks ago – apparently didn’t survive Hollywood Week. James plays ‘Love Lockdown’ with red cheeks from staying out in the sun too long, and white areas where his sunglasses used to be. He’s a little too casual, chill, bordering on indulgence.

A Spell
Sonika Vaid hasn’t come this far for nothing. The girl surely can sing. But no one has to put her on a pedestal; she does so herself all the time. I don’t think I’ve seen an Idol contestant who’s so full of herself as she is. Even with a personality like that, you can go places. She sings ‘Safe & Sound’ by Taylor Swift featuring The Civil Wars, and it’s flawless. Annoyingly so. Gianna Isabella takes on ‘I Put a Spell on You’. Idol wants to make us believe it’s by Annie Lennox. She may have recorded it at some point, but it’s not hers. Anyway, Gianna shows, once again, that she’s a lightweight. Her lack of experience is obvious. She does have a chance, though, because Emily Brooke totally screws up ‘I am Invincible’ by Cassadee Pope. Maybe she rehearsed too much, maybe sang the song in a lower register than she should have. Fact is, it was not good. I’d hate to see her go home because of this.

Song Choices
Also struggling with her voice: Avalon Young, who’s doing the Bieber song ‘Love Yourself’. It does raise an eyebrow; the Idol music choices tonight. I know most of the contestants still standing haven’t even turned 20 yet, but come on. Is it because music’s available everywhere, that no one bothers to go through their parents’ record collections anymore and familiarize themselves with good tunes?

90 Second Show
Jordan Sasser isn’t just Celine Dion obsessed, he’s got a thing for turtles, too. A big thing. I’m starting to believe there isn’t one hairstyle that suits his head. For Dion’s ‘All By Myself’, he’s turned his hair into a wave, as if he were a 1980 female fitness instructor. His voice is shaky, too, and his timing’s way off. Thomas Stringfellow plays Radiohead’s ‘Creep’ and does a nice Thom Yorke imitation. But you’re not at the karaoke bar, Thomas. His obligatory guitar playing makes matter even worse. The jury likes it, though. For no other reason than his perfect stage name? They’ve saved the best for last: La’Porsha Renae. She gets her Tina on, with ‘Proud Mary’ and it is fantastic. This is exactly how you do it. This is what a 90 second show should look like.

Episode 12: Lauren Alaina, Nick Fradiani & Ruben Studdard
Duet time. Every contestant sings a song with a familiar Idol face. The adorable Lauren Alaina (season 10) sings ‘Flat on the Floor’ with Emily Brooke, who’s not on her game this week, and ‘I Hope You Dance’ with Mackenzie Bourg. Sparks are flying between Alaina and the latter. Nick Fradiani (season 14) sings ‘Man in the Mirror’ with Thomas ‘Deer in Headlights’ Stringfellow. After imitating Thom Yorke, Stringfellow now does a Michael Jackson impression. Fradiani sings his own song ‘Beautiful Life’ with Gianna Isabella, who looks like a 15 year old fan girl next to him – even dresses like one. Ruben Studdard (season 2) takes Stephany Negrete under his wing. It’s Beauty and the Teddybear, singing ‘Superstar’. Together with Avalon Young, he sings ‘Flying without Wings’. That’s more like Teddybear with Mosquito buzzing around him.

Caleb Johnson, Scotty McCreery & Fantasia
Caleb Johnson (season 13) tackles ‘Skyfall’ with Sonika Vaid, who looks very uncomfortable. Not, as Harry says, ‘adorable’ in any way. He sings ‘Gimme Shelter’ with James VIII and that’s a clever song choice. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a bad version of the Rolling Stones classic. It may also be the first time I’ve seen James perform this openly. Scotty ‘turn the lights down low’ McCreery (season 10) sings his own song ‘See You Tonight’ with Jenna Renae. It’s time she pulls that frog out of her throat, really it is. Together with Jeneve Rose Mitchell, he sings Montgomery Gentry’s ‘Gone’ and it’s crazy. Wild. Bizarre. Out there. Total fun. Mitchell pulls out all the stops and it’s highly infectious. Fantasia (season 3) pairs with La’Porsha Renae for Ella Fitzgerald’s ‘Summertime’. It makes you wonder who’s the contestant and who’s the former Idol winner? Where Emily stepped down this week, La’Porsha’s stepped up. Big time. Fantasia has the dubious honor to sing with Jordan Sasser, too. He’s got the voice and range, but there’s just too much missing.

After the performances, it’s time to get down to business. Only 7 can go through to the next round. The judges reveal the ones who are safe: La’Porsha Renae, Sonika Vaid, Avalon Young, Gianna Isabella, Thomas Stringfellow, Mackenzie Bourg and Jeneve Rose Mitchell. I would’ve traded Gianna for Emily, to give her a second chance, and Thomas for James. Next week, same recipe. Just a little prediction, if I may. I think Trent Harmon, C.J. Johnson, Lee Jean, Tristan McIntosh, Jenn Blosil, Dalton Rapattoni and Manny Torres go through, but I’d like to be surprised.

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