For years, "American Idol" has been plagued with the "same old, same old." No matter what year you watch since about season seven, the end result of the show is often the same, with a similar singer making similar music with a similar instrument winning the hearts of many -- or, at least, many teenage girls.
It's too early to say if 2013 will be much different, but the chips are beginning to fall in a manner suggesting that "Idol" might produce some fresh new talent in the new season -- and the girls haven't even taken the Hollywood stage yet.
As such, the cuts from Hollywood Thursday night were the most potent yet. Early favorites faltered and singers with definite discernible talent were sent home, throwing the remaining 28 onto as level a playing field as there's been in recent memory. While a few do indeed stand out, there's no Phillip Phillips or Adam Lambert that you're 99.9 percent sure is going to be going to the finals by year's end.
During a solo performance round in which contestants could, for the first time all season, play instruments if they so chose, Curtis Finch Jr., Nick Boddington and Burnell Taylor continued to showcase immense talents and potential star qualities. On the other hand, it was the #endoftheline for almost half of the 43 singers.
Among them was Matheus Fernandes, whose diminutive stature made him an underdog from the start. But despite a few stellar performances, his take on "Stronger (What Doesn't Kill You)" didn't stack up against the other competitors, despite an emotional delivery. Nicki Minaj in particular felt like Fernandes was referencing his height a bit too much. "You don't have to milk that ever again," she said before his sad, but sort of expected, elimination.
Nicholas Mathis ended his performance on his knees in a heartfelt "Locked Out of Heaven," but his vocal wasn't as fantastic as it was as part of Charlie Askew and Curtis Finch Jr.'s Wednesday night group (yep, he was the unnamed guy who was sympathetic to Askew's illness, as opposed to Finch). Like Frankie Ford the previous night, he took his elimination particularly tough, calling himself better than many of the singers that had already made it through.
Not all took their eliminations with a side of tears. Micah Johnson, who dazzled with a strong vocal despite a speech impediment, simply didn't do enough with Randy Travis's "I Told You So" to warrant saving him. Papa Peachez, who earlier called a lot of the contestants "more or less puppets," continued his downward slide with a downright boring, slightly monotone "You and I." Nicki was piiiiissed, incredulously asking her fellow judges why he was singing the song and noting that his "flame is now completely burned out." Both were sent packing. Peachez finally admitted that "Idol" "isn't the competition for me." If you don't like singing other singers' songs, then yeah, I'm not sure what you thought you were getting into to begin with.
Thursday night's "Idol" did have quite a few early favorites go through, a few of which did so through what I'll call the "Joshua Ledet effect." Last season, the third place finisher established himself as a major front runner with a take on Christina Perri's "Jar of Hearts" during Hollywood week. This year saw Curtis Finch Jr., Burnell Taylor and Marvin Calderon all take on the tune, all with positive results. Finch in particular hopped up the theatrics (as he tends to with any song); he's a real showman who comes off very sure of himself, but has a good enough voice (maybe Ledet lite -- not as shouty, but similar) to back up his personality -- for now. And Taylor's was my favorite of the bunch, really excelling in his higher register. I get a small Frank Ocean vibe from him at the moment.
Devin Velez has also established himself as a force to be reckoned with after having little face time in the auditions. The 18-year-old took on "What a Wonderful World" with real restraint, holding back at the right moments and not trying to do too much with a song that's, honestly, best served simple.
In the instrument-playing realm, Nick Boddington and Gurpreet Singh Sarin impressed with keys and guitar, respectively. Boddington in particular continues to show that his elimination during last season's Las Vegas round was either unneeded or perhaps a blessing in disguise, as he seems to have gotten even better. Grace Potter and the Nocturnals' "Stars" sounded great with him playing as well as singing; I got a real artist vibe from him in that moment that I feel we will keep seeing this year.
But, as far as unpopular opinions go, I wasn't feeling Lazaro Arbos and Charlie Askew.
The former hasn't had a spell-binding performance since his audition, and I'm beginning to wonder if he has enough experience to really shine if he continues on, because raw talent may only get you so far. The latter was absolutely praised by the judges, and I liked his clever intro to Gotye's "Somebody That I Used to Know," but I didn't think his voice suited the song on the chorus; I'm wondering if his strengths lie in classic rock. But his "I glorify weirdness" comment is incredibly promising, so I definitely haven't given up on him.
Even after all the cuts, 28 still remain, with eight more eliminations to come before the live show cast is finalized. The producers are holding off on that revelation until next week, after the girls get the chance to take the stage. Tune in next Thursday to get the complete roster, but I'd imagine Askew, Finch, Sarin and Boddington are among the surefire locks.
- Jimmy Smith is troubling me because I can't decide what format I can see him singing. Right now, his voice has a slight Rascal Flatts quality that leads me to believe he could do some country songs in that vein if he gets more of a twang.
- Other contestants still in the competition not mentioned above: Johnny Keyser, Vincent Powell, Mathenee Treco, Jda, Adam Sanders, Cortez Shaw, Paul Jolley.
- Other contestants out of the competition not mentioned above: Gabe Brow, Nate Tao, Sanni M'Mairura.
- Contestants not listed above whose status I really want to know: David Leathers Jr. No mention this episode! What gives?!
- Paul Jolley was incredibly nervous before his performance, the first of the show. Nicki wanted "professionalism" from him from here on out... we'll see where that goes.
- Seems like the audition rounds might be done for the boys; the show seemed to indicate that the eight cuts made next Thursday will be based on their performance up to then. Hard to say if there's going to be any sort of Las Vegas round this year, too.
- Gurpreet makes a face or motion that is so GIF-worthy each episode. I need to start documenting these.
- Reality Check