Last night we heard our top 12 female contestants take a stab at songs written before any of them were born. On American Idol ’60s night always leaves something to be desired; most contestants strip the fun and soul from the melodies of their chosen classics and deliver performances worthy only of the soundtrack to a Gap ad. But while confidence flaunted in Hollywood often fades in front of millions of viewers, several contestants held their own and delivered fantastic performances. Let’s take a look:
First up was Kristy Lee Cook. Remember her? She nailed “Amazing Grace” back in Philadelphia, bombed her first audition in Hollywood, but then sang “Amazing Grace” for a second time in the “lightning round” and the judges let her through. A timeless classic no doubt, but I’d like my American Idol to sing more than one song. According to her pre-performance biographic interlude, Kristy’s in it to win it to buy back her horse, which she sold to pay for her flight to the Philadelphia auditions. Her performance of “Rescue Me” had about as much charisma as Whoopee Goldberg’s version in Sister Act (not much). At the rate she’s going, she may want to start considering guinea pigs. Or fish.
While the stereotype might be that larger black singers have robust, soulful voices, the reality is they have a range of vocal personalities — or so noted adorable plus-sized model Joanne Bargella. Duh. Kudos to her for wagging a finger at a racist corner of the music industry, but her timing was off. She stepped onto the soapbox just before her forced, insecure, yelled version of Dionne Warwick’s “Say A Little Prayer,” a failed attempt to imitate someone else’s voice. Ironically, other songs by Warwick might have highlighted her strengths, but the damage was done. Randy hated the first half. Simon hated the second half. I hated all of it.
Blonde birthday girl Alaina Whitaker just cracks me up. Her animated, cheerful performance had her “sailing to the next round” according to Simon, which is exactly what she wished for on her 17th. (Well, that and some new shoes from her parents.) Her interview with Seacrest was terrifically awkward, highlighting the youthful naiveté hidden behind her mature good looks and powerful voice. Happy birthday, Alaina! After a stellar performance, you deserve one hell of a day, and some sick new Steve Maddens from the mall.
I finally warmed up to Amanda Overmeyer last night. After weeks of not getting her, it suddenly dawned on me that she isn’t that bad after all. It felt like the sort of epiphany one might have in middle school, when you realize you’ve been hatin’ on the new girl just because she’s new, and not because she actually smells. Now don’t get me wrong, I still think she’s a one trick pony: her scat-heavy performance last night sounded like everything else we’ve heard from her but without as many words. But her playfulness made her seem younger than ever (maybe even close to the 23 years she’s admitted to), and the warmth of her personality shone through. So OK, Amanda, I think you’re cool for now. But if you show up in those frumpy Raggedy Ann jeans ever again it’s all over.
Brook White is still hanging onto the goody two-shoes shtick, assuring America it ain’t going nowhere. But does anyone care? Personally, I like her because she can sing and has great hair, not because she avoids violent movies and having fun. Ironically, given all the hype, her rendition of “Happy Together” actually didn’t sound that happy to me at all, but she smiled and looked cheery enough. I’ll attribute that discrepancy to nerves. Simon said that her performance of “Happy Together” sounded like a vintage commercial for “washing up liquid,” words that Ryan Seacrest latched onto and twisted into a disgusting joke about Simon’s bodily fluids. Did anyone else catch that? Awkward.
Alexandrea Lushington is obviously the thinker of the group. Paula and Randy both adored her “relevant” interpretation of Blood Sweat and Tears’ “Spinning Wheel.” While everyone else was out partying, Alexandrea clearly stayed home pouring over those pregnant-with-poetry lyrics. Let’s try to unpack her interpretation of this classic, shall we? Featured on her T-shirt, a history lesson: a glasses-wearing girl daydreaming about the Stars and Stripes. A true illustration of the era, given that American students in the ’60s thought about America so much, and this was a song written in the ’60s! And what were they pondering? Peace. Hence, the single peace-sign earring. The suspenders infused the look with a bit of her fun-loving edge. They were wacky, but weren’t the ’60s all about being yourself anyway? Moving onto the performance, Alexandra was the only contestant to start her song at the top of the staircase, shimmying her way downward as she sang, “what comes up, must go down.” Clever! Alexandrea was “up,” and then she came down! She totally embodied that idea! And what about all those circular motions she was making with her shoulders? You guessed it — spinning wheels! In her own words, “if there’s music, I’ll find it.” And apparently, if there’s context or meaning, she’ll destroy it.
The best performances of the night were no doubt saved for last, starting with Asia’h’s rendition of Janis Joplin’s “Take A Piece of My Heart.” “Hey, that was Amanda Overmeyer’s song!” Nothing tops Janis (sorry, Manders), and what I liked about Asia’hs performance was that it didn’t attempt to do so. She brought her own style and energy to the song, letting her bubbly personality show. She’s got a killer voice and will clearly stick around for a while longer.
Another favorite of mine is Syesha Mercado. Syesha was a working actress in Miami (dinner theater?) before she left for Hollywood, and did she ever play the role of sick victim last week, overcoming her “ailment” to deliver one of the best performances of the night. Her rendition of “Tobacco Road” last night was top-notch as well, proving her one of the most consistent contestants of the bunch.
But no one shined brighter than Ramiele Malubay. What’s not to love? She’s adorable, spunky, humble, and boy, can she sing. Randy described her performance of Dusty Springfield’s “You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me” as classy. Indeed, Ramiele avoided the usual Idol strategy of trimming every bar of a song with as many ornamental trills and shrieks possible, opting instead for more subtle performance that crescendoed into a killer ending. Not as subtle: her choice of shoes, which blazed as bright as she did. My only hope is America appreciates her fresh approach and eclectic style.
I may have to start writing an entirely separate blog to dissect the Carly Smithson controversy. Have you heard the scoop? Apparently my dear Carly has a (not so far in the) past life as a recording artist under the name of Carly Hennessy. Swooped up by a record label at the age of 17, Carly already has a career, comprised of professionally produced records and music videos. Unclear as to who flopped first, the record label or her, but many fellow Idol bloggers are up in arms about her failures. Is her new name and tattooed look a calculated tool to steer viewers away from her first attempts at stardom, or just the product of her marriage to a tattoo artist? As yet I’m undecided. With all this buzz about her, you’d think she’d choose to sing something a bit less bizarre then the cabaret classic “The Shadow of Your Smile” She sounded great as usual, but at this point I’m more interested in the back-story than her voice.
Tune in tonight to find out whom America hated!
– Amy Beecher