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

On the second group of ten contestants on the latest “American Idol,” we turned our attention to the men. I liked that this season has separated the men from the women and alternated between the two from week to week, and I like that they’re handling the Vegas round by alternating within the week, instead of doing it on a week-by-week basis like they did with the Hollywood round. I think in HW, with so many contestants still in the mix, that made perfect sense and I liked the change of males one week and then females the next, but now that the race is really heating up, it also makes perfect sense to tighten up the game even more by switching within the week.

I also think there are some who prefer one group to the other, especially this early in the competition. I’ve made no secret that I like the ladies more when it comes to pop, country and R&B, and I’ve no doubt that there are plenty of people who love the fellas just as much in the same way. So separating the two until we’ve narrowed things down to a much more manageable twenty also makes sense.

Don’t get me wrong- I do like some of the guys, too- but I can honestly say that more of the ladies have grabbed my attention this year, even before seeing some of the group in earnest. However, I’m more than willing to be swayed, especially on the chance that there’s someone who might have gotten short shrift earlier on, in terms of television exposure. Hey, it’s happened before and it’ll likely happen again. Some folks just need a little time to warm up.

As with my previous article, here you get instant results! Let’s take them as they come this time out. First up, there was Paul Jolley, a perfectly nice-seeming fellow, even if he didn’t exactly live up to his name with a cover of “Tonight I Want to Cry” by our own Keith- the first of two risky suck-ups of the night to Urban. I’ve always had mixed feelings about people pulling the whole covering-one-of-the-judges thing, or even covering a former “Idol” contestant. Even if it’s good, it smacks a bit of desperation, no matter how sincere it’s intended.

This time around, it wasn’t great but only so-so, which was reflected in the judges’ votes later- which resulted in the only split vote in the semi-finalist competition thus far. Jimmy Iovine broke the tie in favor of Jolley, who clearly dodged a bullet. Given that one of those main votes likely came from Urban, maybe Jolley’s gambit worked. This time.

In the interest of saying something positive about Jolley, I will say that I agreed with some of the judges’ assessment that country music could use a few more male singers not afraid to explore their upper register than typically do- which Jolley did indeed do, if not entirely successfully. At least he tried, and I guess that accounts for something.

Other contestants might try a similar move on down the line in regards to covers of “Idol” judges or artists, make no mistake, but the only one that I’d be interested to hear would be a cover of Nicki’s…well, anything by her, really. That might be something to see, depending on who did it.

Johnny Keyser was up next, who is, you might recall, one of the main guys that sent Nicki to drool-land. Even MC got into the act a bit, with apologies to the old ball & chain, for the first of two times this evening. But just because he looked a bit like that guy from “Weeds” doesn’t mean he can sing. That’s not to say he was terrible, just that, not unlike Jolley, he was a bit snoozy.

Only the ladies’ fawning wasn’t quite enough to save him, which is, I think a good sign, especially given some of the other results tonight. It was a relief to see that simply having a pretty face wasn’t good enough in the long run, resulting in Keyser ultimately getting the boot. This bodes well for the future, despite some dubious choices on both the guys and ladies’ ends.

That also applied to J’DA’s performance, which I’ve no doubt Simon would have called something like a nightmarish cabaret performance by a horny kitten, which it totally was. I don’t hate JDA, and I have no problem with a out-and-proud gay in the competition- Adam Lambert was a lot of fun, let’s be honest, even when he was borderline ridiculous in his delivery sometimes- but even AL would have been, like, “Um, you might want to tone that down a couple-hundreds notches, sweetie.”

He did, of all things, Adele’s “Rumor Has It.” Keith wasn’t wrong in that it was perfect for the likes of Vegas- it was something to see, alright, and definitely got the panel’s attention, after the near-stupor they were undoubtedly in after the first two auditions. But it was also theatrical in all the wrong ways, I’m afraid- though Amanda Palmer might want to do a duet with him or have him dance in a shadow-box or something. Whatever the case, he did not make the cut, which is a relief. Better luck next time with your token gay contestant, “Idol.”

Kevin Harris was next, and he was from my own neck of the woods, in Alabama. Would he be the next Ruben Studdard? The fact that his nickname was “Butta” (as in “a stick of…”) boded well…until Harris went with another snoozer: Bryan Adams’ somewhat-insipid “Everything I Do (I Do It for You).” I don’t hate the song, it’s just one of those songs you heard to death so much back in the day that, even years later, you shudder just a little bit.

I didn’t shudder for “Butta,” in a good way or any other way, for that matter, and neither did most of the judges, save Nicki. This led to the line of the night, when Randy summed up his and Nicki’s difference of opinion on Harris and his song and why there was such a discrepancy on the same performance in the following way: “It was the same song, just at different times on our lives.” That song also brought a premature end to my fellow Bama boy’s hopes and dreams, as he didn’t end up making the cut.

Next up was Chris Watson, who had a great sort of neo-Lenny Kravitz look going on that also got the ladies going. Alas, it was a quick trip to nowhere, as he squandered his chance on another sleepy-time special, Otis Redding’s “(Sittin’ on) The Dock of the Bay.” Love the song in this case, but you don’t dress to kill and then come out and do a song best known for a jaunty whistle. Unless it’s maybe Flo Rida. Home he went, once again crushing the dreams of sexy men everywhere who, you know, just wanted to be loved, people! For once in their lives!

Out of nowhere came a contestant named Devin Velez that might have dressed like a bit of a dork- hello, sweater-vest!- but more than made up for it by bringing the voice. The crowd loved it, the panel loved it, and everyone praised him for throwing in a little of his heritage, by bringing the Spanglish. I’d have to say that this was the one guy I really liked, and when it seemed like he was about to get cut, I was not amused. Thankfully, wise minds prevailed and he made the team. Go team!

Elijah Liu brought quite the background to the stage as well, as he was part-Mexican and part-Chinese. Though everyone acknowledged his stage presence and girl appeal- Nicki even said she wanted to have his babies!- they also admitted that his vocals were shaky at best on his rendition of Bruno Mars’ “Talking to the Moon.” He ended up somewhat dubiously making the cut. I would have preferred to see Chris get another shot, if only for the outfit- hey, I can be superficial, too, people! Whatevs, “Idol.” He ain’t got a prayer, unless America’s tone-deaf. There’s no auto-tune in live singing, bro. Enjoy your stay, because it won’t be long before you are talking to the airport to book the next flight, if there’s any justice in the world.

God help us all, next up was Charlie Askew, who looked awfully pleased with himself for his full-frontal-assault on poor Elton John’s “Rocket Man.” What did Elton ever do to you, “Nature Boy”? Everyone called it “brave,” which I guess is right, if you include that outfit and those on-stage moves. I enjoyed the novelty of Askew early on, and liked that he embraced his weirdness. There may well be an oddball next-gen Beck-type thing (or at least Daniel Johnston) happening on down the line if the right person takes an interest in the guy, who does seem like a halfway decent fellow, even if I hear the “Bilbo Baggins” song in my head every time I see him. Who doesn’t love a Hobbit?

Remarkably, he got a pass, too, which is either a testament to how weak the competition was or how desperate the judges were to have someone at least moderately interesting on the final team. I won’t completely count him out- the right song choices and he could squeak by a few more weeks- but no way is he winning this thing, either.

Jimmy Smith took the stage next, another contestant I had an association with; having lived in Franklin, Tennessee a few years back myself as well. Some great talent from out there, including Paramore, Kings of Leon, and Miley Cyrus; plus lots of country, including “Idol”-vet Carrie Underwood and our Keith-y, who makes his home there with his wife-y, who you might have heard of. Smith made a nod to the man himself with the second Keith cover of the night, by way of Radney Foster, who got a shout-out for his efforts.

Keith and MC approved, but Nicki and Randy almost conked out. Unfortunately, so did I. So much for what little I have in common with this bunch. Apparently, someone didn’t like him that much, either, because he was cut in the end. Oh well.

Last in line, thank God, was Curtis Finch, Jr. I almost would have welcomed his over-the-top rendition of “Superstar” by the Carpenters via Luther Vandross, but I remain a bit dubious of his action with the whole group thing and poor Charlie. Just because he’s 50 pounds soaking wet doesn’t mean you have to pick on the guy. Also: not very Christian, Mr. Gospel Youth Choir. (Oh wait, I did it, too. D’oh!)

That wouldn’t have mattered if he brought the goods, and he essentially did, but it was all a bit overdone for me, personally. Just because you can do impressive runs doesn’t mean you should do all of them in the space of a few minutes. Thankfully, most everyone acknowledged this, while ultimately praising him, which seems appropriate, given his day job. Randy was right on about Curtis needing to “young it up” a bit, but also to rein it, too.

Curtis got through, and I’d have to say he deserved it, any dubiousness I might have at his table manners aside. Like he said, this is a competition, and he’s not here to make friends. To each their own, I guess.

All in all, a pretty shaky showing for the guys overall. I gave the guys the benefit of the doubt, but I remain fully convinced that a woman is almost certainly going to win this thing. Of course, we still have twenty more competitors to see, so I’ll hold off any fully-committed opinions for now, even though I still remained convinced that Angela Miller going to win this bad boy. We shall see.

What did you think of “American Idol” this week? Like someone more than I did? Think I wasn’t hard enough on others? Feel free to share your opinion below in the comments section!