On this season of “American Idol,” there are apparently two kinds of contestants: singers and performers.
At least, that was the case Thursday night, when 10 of the top 20 boys took to the Vegas stage to proclaim their worth to the judges. Certain singers were, well, singers, while others, though decent vocalists, pandered to the crowd rather than focusing on a whole package good enough to move on to the next round.
That said, while the previous night’s girls were fairly straightforward in terms of who eventually went through, the men were a lot tougher to pin down. You had the surefire bets going in like Curtis Finch Jr., but there were also many unknowns, and not just unknowns in the sense that they were never really featured on the show beforehand, like Kevin Harris.
Here’s a look at all 10, followed by the results from Thursday night. As with last night, one of my personal wishes was that the performer would turn in something I felt like I might hear in the top 24.
Paul Jolley – “Tonight I Wanna Cry”
Jolley started off the night by singing one of the judges’ own songs. Must be weird, eh? Jolley handled Keith Urban’s ballad OK; nothing great, but nothing bad. The problem is that he’s a bit boring, lacking the performer’s chops many of his fellow contestants possess. I’m also not sold on him being within the country realm, but I’m starting to warm up to him a bit in that regard. Just your average opening performance: not god-awful, but nothing spectacular.
Johnny Keyser – “I Won’t Give Up”
I was talking to my ladyfriend about a week ago about how I was so surprised Jason Mraz’s “I Won’t Give Up” hadn’t been done on “Idol” last year or at all, because it just seems like one of those tunes tailor made for this show. Johnny Keyser listens to my private conversations, apparently – and on second thought, maybe he shouldn’t have. My biggest issue with Keyser was that he didn’t show off enough range, something you’re certainly not going to get from the song’s chorus. Vocal wasn’t bad, it just went nowhere.
JDA – “Rumour Has It”
As the second contestant this week going by but one name, JDA came out in a big way, providing a theatrical version of the Adele hit. He’s one of the aforementioned performers, for sure. His audience connection was top notch, his performance mesmerizing. The vocal? Eh. Nothing killer, despite having a decent voice, as evidenced during Hollywood.
Kevin Harris – “(Everything I Do) I Do It for You”
While we’d seen Harris prior to this episode, we never got a real chance to hear the 28-year-old father sing. His vocal is splendid and smooth, extremely suited for R&B or soul. His problem was, like Jolley, he’s not much of a performer. No audience connection at all. It was certainly nice to finally hear him perform, but it just didn’t do much for his chances of moving on.
Chris Watson – “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay”
Watson was another small mystery leading up to the episode, getting very little camera time before then. He seemed like a singer with great potential, but his performance of the Otis Redding classic was extremely lackluster. That said, he did seem to have a good connection with the crowd, so if he’s already a showman, he just needs to work on the voice. There were a couple bright spots, but most was forgettable.
Devin Velez – “Listen”
In instance number two of gender-bending song choices, Velez went with this Beyonce number. But unlike Jda, he sang part of his in another language entirely: Spanish. I honestly didn’t expect it from the 18-year-old Velez, but his Spanish tones are actually more charming than his English. Still an incredibly solid vocal; he was one of the best raw vocalists of the night.
Elijah Liu – “Talking to the Moon”
Elijah Liu reminds me a bit of a younger Bruno Mars, so him singing one of the superstar’s songs was fairly seamless in my eyes. My issue is that his vocal was not up to par, tending toward incredibly shaky. You can tell there’s some great talent there, something the show is probably going to try desperately to tap into. But for now, Liu is having trouble getting the most out of his voice. I’m almost positive there’s more in there.
Charlie Askew – “Rocket Man”
In one sense, I love Charlie Askew. I think he’s hilarious and can relate to quite a few of his mannerisms. BUT THAT VOCAL. I was up front with my dislike of his Gotye rendition last week, and I’m not much of a fan here either. The voice that was there during the auditions is a bit shaky now, unable to find solid footing. But like Heejun Han last season, he may not be the best singer, but he’s certainly one of the most entertaining and is incredibly likable.
Jimmy Smith – “Raining on Sunday”
Another Keith Urban song?! Dayum, boys. Paul Jolley’s performance wasn’t great, but it was miles ahead of Jimmy Smith. I said from the beginning that Smith wasn’t suited for country music, and yet he kept singing it, with diminishing results. It wasn’t bad along the lines of Kamaria Ousley the previous night, but it was down there with Kevin Harris in terms of the most lackluster, average, fairly boring shows of the night.
Curtis Finch Jr. – “Superstar”
At least we can always count on Finch to give us something good. Seriously, the guy barely has to try at this point; he’ll sail through to a point deep in the competition before he’s really challenged. He’s the perfect balance of a singer with unmistakable vocal talent and a performer who knows his way around a stage and how to connect with audiences. Mariah Carey was brought to tears, which might be a bit drastic. But compared to the other performances, it was in a class of its own.
After Finch’s performance, five were eliminated from the usual 10 to be sent home. After a tie-breaking vote from Jimmy Iovine, the field was set. Finch, Askew, Liu, Velez and Jolley (they were mixed on him) went through. Harris, Keyser, Watson, Jda and Smith said goodbye. Nothing too surprising, though I could have easily seen a slightly different group going home.
Check back next week, when the final two episodes of the four-episode “sudden death” round air.
- The five I expected to go through were Finch, Liu, Askew, Keyser and Velez. Despite an underwhelming performance, the judges just seemed so sold on Keyser that I didn't think they'd eliminate him before the Hollywood live shows.
- I was also surprised at Jda's lack of inclusion, as I felt he could add a lot to the broadcast in terms of performance. But I guess they only wanted one such singer, and that distinction went to Charlie Askew.
- Though they moved on, I think Paul Jolley and Elijah Liu may be sitting ducks at this point. They really need to improve their vocal in order to receive any kind of major fan voting support.