The general landscape of male contestants on "American Idol" this season has certainly changed in comparison to previous years. In the past, the show was often dominated by a guy or guys who sang lighter rock or adult-alternative fare and who played guitar. Those guys ended up winning, too; the exception to the rule has been Scotty McCreery, who slots into the country genre.
While a few of that type of performer existed in the competition in 2013, virtually all of them are gone. The closest to that distinction is Charlie Askew, and he's odd enough to still be far removed from guys like Kris Allen, David Cook and Lee Dewyze.
In other words, if you've disliked what the show's become in past years from a frontrunner standpoint, it might be time to give "Idol" another chance.
While the boys that performed Thursday night by no means had showstopping performances that will be remembered here in a few weeks, the mere fact that they're such a change of pace is refreshing. The best tend toward the soul and R&B variety, a genre that hasn't produced a female victor since Jordin Sparks and a male since Taylor Hicks and Ruben Studdard. That's going a long way back.
But to get to this point, cuts had to be made. Here's who performed Thursday night and how they did.
Mathenee Treco - "A Little Less Conversation
I, like many, don't always agree with the judges -- and we started off on the wrong foot right off the bat. I enjoyed the power in Treco's voice and the simple fact that he was really going for it, something that's been preached to do rather than to hold back and try to sail through to later rounds. There was a lot going on and it could be sensory overload at times, but Treco's range was stunning. I'm not saying I would have put him through or not, but I liked it more than the judges, who just felt that he was trying to please them rather than really connecting.
Gurpreet Singh Sarin - "Nothing Ever Hurt Like You"
For someone who most certainly stood out in the competition in the weeks leading up, the Turbanator really gave a letdown of a performance. He's always been soulful, but Thursday he went for a pop arrangement sans his guitar. It definitely looked and sounded like mediocre karaoke. Sarin said he wanted to change it up a bit from previous performances, but if it ain't broke, you don't always need to try to fix it.
Vincent Powell - "'Cause I Love You"
Powell did what I think Mathenee Treco was trying to do: a song that shows off some great runs and a fantastic range while still connecting and entertaining. I don't remember much from Powell before, but I'll sure remember him now. That falsetto in particular is the kind of vocal tool with which stars are born. He's definitely along the lines of Joshua Ledet, which could send him far.
Nick Boddington - "Say Something Now"
By outward appearance, one might expect Boddington to be more in line with the adult-alternative genre in which many recent "Idol" winners have found a place. He's, however, establishing himself as more of an artist. Though he didn't play the piano this time around, Boddington still connected fairly well with James Morrison's "Say Something Now." It wasn't overly impressive, but he also has a falsetto that's going to come in handy as we roll forward. If he can supply a similar vocal while also playing an instrument onstage, look out, because that'll be a real package.
Josh Holiday - "I'm Better With You"
Josh Holiday started out flawless last night. Taking a seat behind the piano, he dipped into a mellow original tune, creating an intimacy with his hushed vocal. Then he decided to get up from the piano and try to bring it home. Problem is, once he got up, all was lost -- not just the moment, but his vocal, which deteriorated. Had he remained at the piano, I'd be singing a different tune.
David Oliver Willis - "Fever"
Willis was the hope for the competition for anyone who really enjoys some blues rock in the vein of Michael Kiwanuka and Gary Clark Jr. He doesn't have an amazingly strong voice, but he has enough chops to give "Fever" a nice bluesy lean. But while it introduced Willis to many, it wasn't a memorable-enough introduction to keep people interested. It needed a moment or two, and that never came. Solid, but nothing further.
Bryant Tadeo - "New York State of Mind"
Hawaii's Tadeo probably gave the best performance he could Thursday night; take that as you will. His connection with viewers really stuck, and his vocal was near-flawless, especially with its tone. That said, not a lot happened aside from a good vocal; while it was quite good, it wasn't memorable. That's the issue Tadeo faced: good in the moment, but not unforgettable like some.
Burnell Taylor - "This Time"
What Burnell Taylor does exceptionally well is establish himself as an artist really in his zone. I think we can expect his style of R&B to persist throughout the show, and that's not bad at all; while I hear John Legend (whose song he performed), I also get some Frank Ocean and Miguel vibes in there, and am already very, very interested in the kind of album he'd make. He's matured as a vocalist since his audition, and now he's giving knockout performances. Of the 10 tonight, here's the guy to watch. He'll be doing something whether he wins or not.
Lazaro Arbos - "Tonight I Wanna Cry"
When Arbos starts a performance, he's rarely intriguing, and I think that has to do with his lower register being a little behind everything else. Once he can show off the higher notes on a song's chorus, he really excels, and Thursday was no different. His take on Keith Urban's ballad was memorable once it hit the chorus; his voice can be really extraordinary and star-quality once it hits that portion. I just hope he doesn't falter too much before that moment, because that's what could put him in trouble.
Cortez Shaw - "Titanium"
Last performance of the night -- real exclamation point on the show, right? Well, most of the time, but after superb showings from Taylor and Powell, Cortez Shaw was relegated to mere runner-up status despite putting in a nice vocal with a great range. Plus, he actually sang a newer song that was actually on the pop charts not too long ago, which just wasn't really a thing last night. So he gets major props for that from the start. I don't know if his vocal's strong enough to keep him going far, but once he hits notes like that last one, you know something's there.
Following Shaw's turn, the judges deliberated over who they'd keep and who they'd send home. In a perfect world, I'd've preferred Taylor, Powell, Boddington, Treco and Arbos, but I figured they'd replace Treco with Shaw. Turns out, that was correct, and we said goodbye to Josh Holiday, Mathenee Treco, Bryant Tadeo, David Oliver Willis and Gurpreet Singh Sarin. Some of those guys just had bad song choices, but you have to go hard every week with great songs, which is what the five going through really excelled with.
Overall, 10 men and 10 ladies move on to face the voting public next week. If you followed along last year, you know I like to rank things, so here's a pre-voting show power ranking of the contestants by gender. I'd love to hear yours, too -- throw them in the comments, if you'd like.
1. Burnell Taylor
2. Curtis Finch Jr.
3. Elijah Liu
4. Vincent Powell
5. Devin Velez
6. Lazaro Arbos
7. Nick Boddington
8. Charlie Askew
9. Cortez Shaw
10. Paul Jolley
1. Angela Miller
2. Candice Glover
3. Zoanette Johnson
4. Kree Harrison
5. Breanna Steer
6. Aubrey Cleland
7. Amber Holcomb
8. Adriana Latonio
9. Janelle Arthur
10. Tenna Torres