'American Idol' Recap: Kree Harrison Surges to the Front in Lackluster Round

Kree Harrison on American Idol

OK, there's four episodes of this to get through, but I'm going to try to only say this once: not a fan of the new "American Idol" Las Vegas format.

In recent years, the competition took a few handfuls of contestants to Sin City right after the Hollywood round, cutting the field even further before reaching the live shows in which about 24-25 singers performed for America's vote. It was another sidestep before the more meaningful part of the show, but it worked.

In 2013, "Idol" has changed to allow 40 singers -- 20 male, 20 female -- to Vegas. But rather than show the highlights of the round and get closer to heading back to California, this year they're shining a spotlight on all 40 contestants. Over a four night period, 10 singers will perform an evening, with the judges cutting the group to just five each night. It's filmed in front of an audience, giving it a feel of live show lite.

But there's a reason the show whittled down its contestants to a smaller number before letting them loose on the general public with a performance of an entire song, all eyes on them. Some of these singers, while good, aren't up to the live show standard, we'll call it -- either not yet or not ever.

So over the next few episodes, the name of the game for me is this: did your performance sound and feel like something I'd expect in the past top 24 or even top 12 rounds? If so, great. If not, ugh.

Here's a quick look at the 10 ladies who took to the stage Wednesday.

Jenny Beth Willis - "Heaven, Heartache and the Power of Love"
Country singers, while few and far between on "Idol," often show quite a bit of promise. Willis really didn't. I'm not sure if it was a bad choice of a Trisha Yearwood song or what, but the whole package was not there at all. Her singing was jerky, though she had the country twang down OK. She's 17, so there's time for improvement with age. If her last note is any indication, there's hope. But this was just not the way to start the night.

Tenna Torres - "Incompatible"
The judges -- or at least Randy -- proclaimed that the night had officially started once Torres was through. Well, it was a step up from Willis, so I guess he was sort of right. What Torres did best was connect with the song, or at least give the outward appearance she was doing so (and this was a problem with many singers... more on that later). She seems suited for bigger ballads, but I worry the public will tire of her if she does this same type of song each week. Also, not a fan of the higher notes. But the judges enjoyed it, so what do I know?

Adriana Latonio - "Ain't No Way"
OK, HERE'S where the show really began. Latonio, the first contestant from Alaska (at least to make it this far), is a budding young star. She's a five-foot-tall Filipino who commands the stage with an infectious presence, and she knew how to really take her time with "Ain't No Way." With more of a diva-esque voice, she could be phenomenal. For now, she's certainly good enough at this stage. Funny thing is, that confidence she seems to have onstage isn't as prevalent after her performance; she appeared surprised the judges liked it so much.

Brandy Hotard - "Anymore"
Hotard showed promise during the audition rounds, but whatever she had there just wasn't a thing Wednesday. Even before the judges noted it, I already felt she wasn't connecting with the Travis Tritt song, which is a lot sadder than she showed. In fact, Hotard smiled almost the whole way through. If you're smiling all the way through ANY performance, it runs the risk of being considered no more than a pageant-esque showing. Plus, a lot of the notes just weren't there. We're 0-2 on the country girls so far, I'm afraid.

Shubha Vedula - "Born This Way"
Vedula started off the Lady Gaga tune on the piano, which I thought was a definite step in the right direction. Then she got up from the piano and pandered more to the crowd. Naaaaaaaah. I would have preferred the artist feel of Vedula staying piano-side, delivering a more intimate take on the song. Instead, we got her trying to send it to the stars. Next.

Kamaria Ousley - "Mr. Know It All"
A singer with a background in singing, well, background for artists such as Diddy-Dirty Money is going to go hard to get oneself out of the shadows and into the spotlight, yes? Ousley tried that, but I'm thinking the background is best for her. I don't know if it was just a bad song choice, but Ousley couldn't hit the notes on the head to save her life. Not even on key a lot of the time. It's the kind of performance that causes me to question why we let 40 singers on this type of stage.

Kree Harrison - "Up to the Mountain"
FINALLY, someone I can talk about with glowing admiration. It might be the ill effects of Ousley's performance still lingering, but Harrison really jumped out for the first time as a bona fide contender. Vocally, she's one of the best, with a voice that tends toward country but could go many ways. Only thing I'm waiting for is the stage presence. If she wants to win, she'll need to connect with the audience a bit more than she did. But after the things I've seen thus far, she's golden.

Angela Miller - "Nobody's Perfect"
Everyone loves them some Angela Miller if you've been watching the show since the first auditions. She's got a strong voice and already has an artist quality to her, particularly after her performance of her original song, "You Set Me Free," last week. That's kind of all anyone talked about even after her spot Wednesday. Miller was good, but not up to that standard. Almost trying too hard. But again, the judges couldn't stop talking about her last performance. So you could kind of tell they weren't as into it, but they still love her, so that's a thing.

Isabelle - "God Bless the Child"
I had high hopes for Isabelle, but she turned out to have a similar problem as Brandy Hotard: she wasn't connecting with the song. Her vocal was nice, but again, very pageant-esque. It was still a solid showing, but as I watched, I figured she was on the bubble in terms of moving on. Pretty much needed a bad showing from Amber Holcomb.

Amber Holcomb - "My Funny Valentine"
Turns out Holcomb brought the fire, which wasn't a good sign for Isabelle from the start. After flying fairly under the radar before now, Holcomb turned in a commanding performance, showing off occasional control of her voice while doing some impressive vocal runs. She's not up to par with Miller or even Harrison, but on a night of such disappointment, we'll take it. Gladly.

After Holcomb's performance, the judges convened to decide who would be heading home. My guesses at the time: Isabelle, Willis, Ousley, Hotard, Vedula. Going through: Holcomb, Miller, Harrison, Torres, Latonio.

I don't really even need to mention who ended up going through; just look above. Fairly predictable.

So five of the girls' top 10 are set. The rest will be announced next week, but first, we've got some boys to send through tonight.

Other observations:

  • Nothing, unless you want me to go on about how I'm not a fan of this new format again. We shouldn't be hearing performances like Kamaria Ousley's or Jenny Beth Willis's on such a stage. That simple. I'm worried about the next three episodes.