While it may seem like a tired thing to say, 2013's "American Idol" girls really are on the money. Measuring up was going to take a superb effort from the 10 remaining guys to even be mentioned as part of the conversation.
They tried, sure. But all told, give the continuing advantage to the ladies.
There certainly were some bright spots during Wednesday night's 10-man showdown, but the best came from the same contestants who have impressed week in and week out. And at this point, it's tough to look at even the frontrunners on the boys side and say, "Yeah, that's a potential winner," aside from perhaps one Burnell Taylor. After all, it's down to the voting stages. One cannot merely take talent into the equation; likability and chances of certain demographics really latching onto a particular singer or singers are now a factor.
That's the issue with the men over the ladies: standing out enough that the show's younger audience will take hold. For example, while Curtis Finch Jr. has turned in performance after performance of top-notch talent, will his style be easily embraced by the voting public like Joshua Ledet last season, or will he and fellow gospel/R&B crooner Vincent Powell struggle to find a sizable following?
Check out a recap of each performance below to see what the deal is. As with the girls, the list is ranked from my personal favorites to least favorites.
1. Curtis Finch Jr. - "I Believe I Can Fly"
Finch sang the soaring R. Kelly classic, because of course he would. He has a wide-ranging, soulful voice, as well as the chops to tackle a fairly tough-to-sing song. As usual, he hit a home run, starting the song off low-key before crescendoing into a fierce climax. Props to R. Kelly as always, but Finch did it just as good. The performance earning a standing ovation from all four judges, pretty much shooing him into the top 10, because if he misses the top 10 vote, they'll find a way to get him in. My main worry at this point is that his schtick could grow tiresome if he does the same type of ballad every week, but I can't deny such a masterful rendition.
2. Burnell Taylor - "I'm Here"
After performing "I'm Here" (from "The Color Purple") as his audition song, Taylor brought it back in a big way, showing how he's matured as a vocalist and performer even since last summer, paving the way for a big performance that was the night's first big moment. His tone is so recognizable from the get-go, and he recalls some of today's budding R&B/neo-soul stars as well as artists in the genre from the '90s. Though Finch beat Taylor in my eyes this week, I think Burnell edges Curtis in youthful relevancy, and I'm always excited to see where he'll head next. Still the main hope for the guys.
3. Devin Velez - "It's Impossible"
If there's a sleeper pick in the guys group, it's Velez. Transitioning effortlessly between English and Spanish, Velez brings a multiethnic side to the show, providing a potential star from the show in multiple languages. You can tell he's not even to his fullest potential just yet, but on "It's Impossible," he was almost completely pitch-perfect, showing off the exemplary vocal tone that's had everyone talking. That said, I'd love to see more stage presence.
4. Vincent Powell - "The End of the Road"
Haha. Possibly relevant song title. Anyway, Powell returned from his show-stopping previous performance to take on Boyz II Men. Unfortunately, he wasn't as on as I think many expected him to be -- including the producers, who slotted him in the "pimp spot" at show's end. He showed flashes of brilliance, particularly with an insane falsetto. But he wasn't right on during the verses, for instance, and that's what hurt him. Still, the bright spots shone through for me and established him as a contestant still to watch, though the lack of a knockout turn could hurt him.
5. Lazaro Arbos - "Feeling Good"
Arbos hadn't been where I'd've liked him to be the last few weeks, and admittedly the realization that he was doing "Feeling Good" worried me, as it has been done so much and might seem like a rehash of old. But Lazaro worked it out, mainly due to the unique vocal style he presents, but also because, for the first time all season, he really commanded the performance, sounding in complete control and exceedingly relaxed. Judging by the audience reaction, though, he was probably going to stay regardless of how his part went.
6. Nick Boddington - "Iris"
Though one of my favorite contestants for a few weeks now, Boddington hasn't impressed to the extent he did at first. His cover of "Iris," done behind a piano, was pleasant and could be a nice staple of his live set if it isn't already, but there was little 'wow' factor, and the performance itself was fairly forgettable. His higher register seemed a little off in comparison to past shows, too. Just not what I expected from him.
7. Paul Jolley - "Just a Fool"
Last night, Keith Urban asked the question to Jolley that's been on my mind for weeks: what kind of genre does he see himself fitting in? Paul's gone the country route most of the year, and he wants to be a pop-country artist, but I've never heard much of it in his vocal, which has little-to-no country feel to it. He gave his best performance so far by doing an Christina Aguilera song, sounding right at home at the beginning especially, turning in a performance that started off intimate but gained intensity. Randy Jackson prefers the former. I agree.
8. Charlie Askew - "Mama"
A lot of people loathed this. Loooooathed this. The judges were included, laying on the hurt after Askew's performance of the Genesis song. But you know, I didn't hate it. In fact, I thought it was one of Askew's best vocals in weeks; I've been very vocal about my dislike of his Gotye and Elton John turns. It started off messy, but I liked Charlie's intensity on the chorus, and I am in love with his high notes when he really hits them squarely. I saw a lot more potential here than I had in previous weeks, but the judges weren't about it AT ALL, bringing the young man to tears, later noting that, "The only reason I smile so much is because I feel like I have to." It was an emotional roller coaster of a few minutes, and you have to wonder if Askew is going to be OK, regardless of the outcome.
9. Elijah Liu - "Stay"
This feels like something out of "Mean Girls," but they're trying to make Elijah Liu, rather than 'fetch,' happen. We all get that Liu has the boyish good looks to sway a younger crowd, but his vocal is just not fully there yet, needing more time to mature to the point that he can be a powerhouse superstar -- and I won't deny he has the potential. He's just not for this competition right now, but never underestimate the power of a subpar contestant with a younger demographic appeal.
10. Cortez Shaw - "Locked Out of Heaven"
While I commend Shaw for actually doing an upbeat number, it's apparent that he's more at home with the ballads. His take on the Bruno Mars tune wasn't horrendous, but it had no moment, and he sounded like he was struggling to hit some of the higher notes the right way. If there's anyone who's likely a sure bet to go, it's Shaw. He simply hasn't done anything to warrant considering him as one of the show's best, and a so-so "Locked Out of Heaven" just isn't going to cut it. Nice dance moves, though!
While I'd be happy with my top five being the five to move on, I highly doubt it'll work that way. Expect Finch and Taylor to be the only sure bets, with Velez and Arbos also likely additions. The fifth spot should go to Powell, but don't be surprised if Elijah Liu pulls in a big vote. Boddington, Askew and Jolley have outside shots, but I doubt we'll be seeing Shaw through at all.
Tonight is the results show, live at 8 p.m. Tune in to see the top 10 -- that is, if they make it just 10 and keep themselves from announcing a wild card.
- Reality Check