American Idol Season 12 Review “Semifinalist Round, Part 1”

Vegas, baby, Vegas! Yep, thank God, it’s finally time, and you know what? These new rules are alright by me all around. This time around, the folks at “American Idol” had the right idea. I wasn’t so sure about some of the rules, especially the whole producers-picking-out-the-groups thing, but I like the new Vegas rules, for the most part.

For one thing, it gets us to the live performances on a soundstage in front of a live audience quicker- always a good thing after the post-audition burn-out. For another, it puts the performers up on a stage with a band at their disposal to do whatever song they want- a great opportunity to see what these folks are made of. By moving up that aspect, it’s really starting to feel like things are moving forward in earnest, and a lot sooner than they would have under the old rules.

The new setup requires groups of ten to perform, with five receiving instant elimination. Each group- the girls and the guys- goes twice, with each of the ten getting a two-hour show to perform. The only real quibble I have about this is how which ten goes when is determined. I’m guessing it’s the producers again, and the problem I have, which arose tonight, is that depending on the quality level of the performers, some good people could go home if they choose poorly.

After all, literally half the group is taken out in one fell swoop. What if one group of ten features more talent than another and someone that deserved the chance- and might have gotten it, had they been in the right group of ten- gets clipped simply because they have to be, as per the new rules? I do feel that happened tonight, and yet, given the choice between that happening and the old Vegas system, I do prefer things this way, overall.

Let’s take them one by one, with the instant results as we get to each performer to save time. See? I can do new things, too! Let’s start with the obvious ringer in the first group, consisting of ten ladies this time around. Ladies first and all that, I guess. Is that a new rule, too?

My favorite going in was far and away Angela Miller– and that goes for the entire competition, I might add. It’s remarkable to me that a mere week or so ago, she had barely registered with me. That all changed for me, and everyone else, I suspect, when she made the ballsy decision to perform an original for the last round of auditions. It killed, and she rocketed to the top of my list.

As far as I’m concerned, tonight sealed the deal for me. If she put out a CD/download/whatever tomorrow, I’d buy it. I’m in. If it weren’t for the fact that some other ladies showed some real promise as well, I might go so far as to say she’s already the one to beat. As it stands, I do think that, as unfair as it sounds. Feel free to call me on it when I’m inevitably wrong. I’ve never once predicted the winner successfully. Oh well- maybe she’ll break the bad streak. My luck is looking up lately- I did predict “The Voice” winner correctly. Honestly, though, isn’t it time a lady won this thing?

Angela Miller could totally do it. She did a knock-out performance of Jessie J.’s oft-covered Nobody’s Perfect and made me actually forget I’d heard it a billion times. Great vocals…and how about that outfit? Hubba, hubba. She looks like a mash-up of Miley & Allison Williams, and I definitely mean that as a compliment. Okay, off the soapbox- let’s take a look at the other girls.

First up at bat was Jenny Beth Willis. A teen in a cute pink-and-black dress, she did a song I’d never heard, which turned out to be Trisha Yearwood’s Heaven, Heartache and the Power of Love.” It wasn’t a horrible selection, and Keith seemed to like it, but it was a little shaky, if I’m being honest. She’s pretty adorable, but so are a lot of girls. Throw a dart in Hollywood and you’ll hit a cute girl. (The writer of this article does not endorse throwing darts at unsuspecting ladies in California.) This is about the voice, no pun intended.

Jenny hit a helluva last note, but it proved not to be enough in the long run and she ultimately sent home. She might just be okay, though in real-life. She has appeal and she’s not a bad singer. If she capitalizes on the moment ASAP, she might just do alright for herself, especially in country music, which is clearly what she wants.

Camp Mariah survivor Teena Torres was next, and you just know MC was thrilled at the prospect of holding that over everyone’s heads, if Teena did well for herself. I also liked the prospect of having a slightly older contestant in the running, someone who had really paid their dues. At 28, which is, like, 40 in music industry years, Teena definitely qualifies. She almost squandered her chances with a boring song, Natasha Bedingfield’s Soulmate– and don’t get me wrong, I do like NB. How can you not? Even Emma Stone caved before the earworm that was Pocketful of Sunshine.”

Fortunately for her, I’m guessing having MC in her corner didn’t hurt matters. She owes that girl for the horrors she must have suffered. It’s a wonder she doesn’t have PTSD or something, waking up in the middle of the night singing in notes only canines can hear. Well, MC heard your clarion call, sweetie, because you made the team! Yay you! Now, do something about that hair, girl, because when Nicki calls you on your hairstyle…not a good thing.

Next up, Adriana Latonio, an Alaskan Filipino, which sounds like a sitcom waiting to happen- or at least a reality show. Hey, they did it for Palin– not that it worked, mind you. She had the brass snowballs to take on Aretha, the Queen of Soul, don’t cha know. Keith felt the night had begun for him, and the rest felt she was polished, poised and made the song her own, no mean feat. Honestly, I thought it was a bit of a snooze, but I guess that’s just me. Also, what’s with all the slow songs? Why so serious, ladies? Is there a new rule about actually smiling?

Oh wait- there is. Or so it would seem with Brandy Hotard, who committed the cardinal sin of smiling too much during a country weeper by Travis Tritt. Mariah gave her a pass on being upbeat, thinking the solid performance made up for it- she was right, I didn’t even notice the smiling thing. The rest did though and chastised her for not being emotionally connected, with Nicki saying it was too pageant-like for her. Ouch! Well, at least they liked her outfit. Out she went, not entirely undeservedly, in the grand scheme of performers.

(On a side note, Keith is inside Nicki’s head! Eek! What will Nicole say? And wouldn’t that be the weirdest threesome this side of um, Einstein, Snooki and Ann Coulter? Ugh. Give me a minute to clean out the mental image that conjured up.)

Shubha Vedula was next. Let’s take a minute to say her name over & over because it’s so much fun! Shuuuuubhaaaa Veduuuuula, to infinity and beyond! I love it. I love her, too. Of all the performers, she far and away took the biggest risk, by deconstructing and reassembling Lady Gaga’s “Born this Way” from the ground up. Starting it as a piano-driven ballad, not unlike the live version Lady G. herself does live with Poker Face,” she then went mid-tempo with it, before a sweeping finale.

It never quite took off, admittedly, and she did get a little run-happy as Randy pointed out, but I thought it was the most ambitious audition of the night. I dare say it was my favorite because of that, and I’d even include Angela in that assessment. It was bold, brash, and just the sort of thing this competition needs more of.

Naturally, she was cut. Sorry, miss, this is “American Idol,” we don’t allow that sort of originality here! Take that crap over to “The Voice”! I did love that Nicki called it a mash-up of (speak of the devil) Christina Aguilera and Psy. What the what? Admit it, on paper that sounds kind of awesome. At least it beats Psy and Madonna. I’ll miss hearing your name Shubha, You coulda been a contender.

Kamaria Ousley was next and she semi-lived up to her name, but in a bad way, in that she was ousley-ed. Err, I mean ousted. She did a somewhat challenging song, Kelly Clarkson’s Mr. Know it All,” which was at least pseudo-upbeat compared to most of the night’s selections. Alas, it was also a bit off, pitch-wise, delivery-wise, and in terms of her making a connection to the song itself. Her outfit was cute too, but it didn’t save her anymore than it did Brandy. Oh well, back to Dirty Puffy Ditty-Ville or whatever.

Kree Harrison was next and what’s this? No cute outfit? How dare she! Looking like she just rolled out of bed, she sang like it, too- as Nicki noted when she said, accurately, that Kree sounded like she was “making love to the song.” Nothing wrong with that. Hey, at least it got my attention. It got everyone else’s, too, and Kree made the team. Now get thee to a makeover, girl!

In the unfortunate position of having to follow Angela was Isabelle, who’d like to buy a last name, if she could only afford one. Formerly overweight and the butt of a lot of bullying as a teen, a now relatively svelte Isabelle was dressed to kill and looked great, though I’m sure Hollywood would disagree. Screw those people- she’s a hottie. Suck it, prom!

Isabelle dared to take on another queen, Miss Billie Holiday, with a decent take on God Bless the Child.” She also did a solid for BFF Kree, shouting her performance out, possibly at her own expense, as she was sadly given the boot. This and Shubha are the best examples of people who might have made it if they’d made the other half of the team. Of course, we haven’t seen those other girls yet, so it remains to be seen how fairly divided they truly are.

Last up was Amber Holcomb, who made it to Vegas last year, only to get cut. Her confidence much improved in her own estimation (though the judges felt there was still room for more improvement), she did a slick version of My Funny Valentine that I thought was boring, but which the judges ate up. Honestly, though, it might just be the song, as the performance was fine. Whatever the case, as she came so close to the finals last year, I certainly don’t begrudge her for getting through this one. She became the final member of Idol’s version of the Fierce Five.

So, what did you think of the girls that survived this round of “American Idol”? Did the judges choose wisely, or could they have let some keepers go prematurely? Do you think we’ve seen the last of the also-rans? What did you think of the new rules? Let me know in the comments!