Saturday, 25 February 2012

Twenty Five, Not Six Times Four

With a strange twist at the end of tonight's programme my headline for the last post wasn't strictly accurate! You'll see what I mean at the end of this article and maybe can figure out what's going on better than I can can. Part two was a straight continuation of last night's ending where you knew Adam Brock was getting through but the producers had said "Hey, here's a great idea: that guy Adam looks a mess and is wailing a lot about how He Must Sing and all that so let's leave the audience watching him plead overnight...'

Once that long drawn out affair had ended we moved on swiftly to the equally un-Idol-looking Jeremy Rosado who sings well, really well. In fact, one of the best guys, vocally. He's a nice guy too that had been supporting teens Eben and David Leathers a lot throughout the dreaded Hollywood stage and he deserves his place on the big stage Live Shows. These guys are all so different that anything can happen and it's no easy predicting who will fall at the first few stages. Jeremy is also just a teen still at 19, although he looks nearer 30 at the moment. No doubt the makeover team will transform him soon.

Shannon MacGuire is only 16 but you'd find that hard to believe listening to her and watching this great singer and performer. I'm not totally convinced of her talent, though, and she's in a tough group of initially similar and very impressive girls. It'll be a close call as to how she gets on from here and copes with the competition. another year she might have sailed through to the Top 10 but this year much is down to that makeover team and where she positions herself.

Skylar Laine could be one of the strongest country girls and definitely is the one who comes across as the most passionate. She has a great personality too and is so natural. Once again, though, she has one particular very tough competitor in Baylie Brown - and there'll only be room for one as the shows progress which is going to make for fascinating viewing.

I don't know what it is about Hallie Day but we get virtually nothing about this girl, just a glimpse of an earlier performance. She's brilliant, looks good and I can only imagine that the producers have reckoned that she's going to around for a long time so don't think we need to see much of her now.

The same goes for Chase Likens, the very good-looking country crooner boy, apparently through without so much as a note for our benefit. He is also pretty much unopposed with the demise of Richie Law, the other guys not, well, not so far, venturing on his territory so the whole of Texas will be behind him.

Aaron Marcellus is the younger version of X Factor USA's Leroy - very decent, likeable guy who teaches music, hits the notes right and will be totally reliable on Live Shows. I'm really not sure where he fits in to this Idol thing, though, and suspect he may exit somewhere in the middle and not be noticed that much with so much else going on around him.

DeAndre Brackensick we finally met properly in Hollywood where he was quite amazing in his group and, again, he shows off his super range, spot-on notes and unique style that could well blow several of his competitors away. He's Adam Lambert in curls - a superb singer and simply has to be in the Live Shows.

We're now down to the very last few and, with just one place remaining for the Top 12 girls they bring on Shelby, Ariel and Hollie Cavenagh together. Hollie is another that we have seen so very, very little of but is very, very talented. She is one of the best this Season. As she gets through and the other two don't she can't do the ecstatic jumping up and down thing much or really celebrate as much as she's obviously like to while they're being comforted and this is all a bit odd. At least now she'll be guaranteed a fair amount of TV time and my feeling is that she'll be around for a long time in what could well turn out to be the Hollie, Hallie and Haley Show.

The last of the boys to make the Top 12 is a choice between two teens Eben Franckewitz and David Leathers. They come on together and we get that awful moment when Eben gets through and David doesn't and Eben tries to restrain from going over the top but can resist a bit of celebration and David looks gutted. Understandably. It's the right choice although Eben will need to develop pretty rapidily to bring a personality to the show that can compete with the likes of Reed, Heejun and others. His singing is almost perfect and he could do the choir boy stuff better than any of the others. Recent weeks have shown that he may be able to perform too in a way that you wouldn't expect from the clean-looking kid and this could bring out the girls' votes big time if he can carry on developing some appeal in the Live Shows. He's the one guy that the makeover team can leave alone as he looks cute enough already.

So, just as we thought that was it - and the list matched the Rumours - the producers pulled a surprise move that I hadn't seen coming on any of the spoiler sites so, presumably, they've been caught out too! In an obviously hurried addition to the broadcast we get four contestants' images on screen with the message that one of these will also be performing in the first Live Show, making it a Top 13 Boys now. the choice is between Jermaine Jones, a low, low voiced crooner who got smacked around by, and sang Righteous Brothers with, Richie Law, who is also on the list. That'll please Heejun. About as much as it would Chase. Then we have diddy David Leathers, last seen looking very glum in the preceding paragraph, who is an X Factor USA Astro minus the rap and attitude. Completing the foursome is Johnny Keyser, someone who impressed me all the way through and always seemed to be totally reliable, especially in the Hollywood round when he performed well  and came across as an all-round good guy. Who will they choose? Johnny would be my choice on talent but he's not that different to some of the guys there already. Richie could be needed as they're low on country guys but he really didn't sing that well. David seems too young and nervy which leaves big ol' slow guy Jermaine as the likely and probably unlucky Number 13.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

The One Where We Meet At Least One Of Series 11's Top Ten

This is the big round. 15 of the Top 24 are chosen in this first part of two programmes at the Green Mile. The 12 girls and 12 boys who will appear on the Live Shows and forever have the Series 11 tag, however well they do, will be revealed. Compared to earlier years and X Factor's Judges' Houses round, Steven Tyler, Randy Jackson and Jennifer Lopez are handling this really well. Good comments and judgments with, so far, at least, no Louis Walsh oddballs or Paula-Nicole emotional pleading for someone they fancy. The Top 24 is finally chosen and now I can remove the 'spoiler' alerts at last.

Jen Hirsh is first through. Her song was strange for such an important audition. Jazzy but not that impressive. She's quite confident and should be reliable and will perform well and naturally. With the right tracks she might surprise us but she's not an Idol yet.

Creighton Fraker is second through. He's a reasonable sort of guy with a good voice and, again, should be a reliable performer but, unless he has something new to bring to the tv shows, I'm not sure he'll be around that long.

Joshua Ledet is third though and one of the better final auditions. This guy sings well and is just a natural rythm guy who even sings his thanks to the judges when he gets the news. There's some tinniness in his voice at the top end but plnety of nice tone and he can add shade rather than simply belting it out like many others. A good choice. Now will the public take to him?

Haley Johnson is a very photogenic cover girl for the show that we've only started to see more of. A nice girl, confident attitude and, yes, a great voice. We'll see plenty more of her all right. The camera just loves her.

Elise Testone seems older than the other girls and gives us an earthy, bluesy, very professional performance. Mature but looking very good, she'll be a great contribution to the show and is one who should add some colour and, hopefully, some rock and roll excitement in amongst the more predictable stuff from some others.

Reed Grimm has an amazing 'quirky charm'. I'm quoting Ryan seacrest there as I couldn't put it any better myself. He is one of the few who have a back story that backs the idea of him being a star rather than some sad story or irrelevant something or other. It seems that he was brought up by a family who all sang and danced and you get the feeling he's never done anything else! I like this cheery and cheeky chracter and he'll be great fun to have around over forthcoming weeks. I have a feeling voters will love him as long as he doesn't take tracks he's given completely off the wall (or rails!). An excellent choice.

Erica Van Pelt has been a mobile DJ which you'd never have guessed from her quite traditional and almost 'normal American slightly older girl' appearance. She looks like she should be doing washing powder ads. She ventures into Elise's territory with a low voice and I have no idea what her final audition song was. I get the feeling she just edged into the final 24. The judges may have taken a chance and, whilst she'll be reliable and not one to worry about putting on the stage, much will depend on the tracks she gets and she may be one of the early departures.

Chelsea Sorrell is a good-looking country girl we haven't seen much of so far. Nice girl who I can see appealing to an audience and who may be able to break out of the pure country field into something wider. She'll have tough competition, though.

Baylie Brown will be one of those competitors, possibly even more good-looking but maybe a little weaker on stage when performing. So they're equally balanced but my feeling is they're both vulnerable to someone we've yet to see get through. More about that next time.

Heejun Han, of course, has to be through. we've already realised that this guy has that certain something that appeals to viewers. His battle with Richie Law (who we saw eliminated just previously) got us all on his side and the arm-wobbling seems under control now and the hoodies should be consigned to the bin. We don't hear much of his final audition but enough to know that he's not at all bad. His singing is a bit boring but he's going to be a big draw for the show and is one nice guy that we'll enjoy watching (if not listening to) for a while.

Colton Dixon didn't even intend at the outset to audition but was persuaded to join his sister when she started. She got eliminated in the Hollywood second cull and we now get a very clever and passionate Fix You by Colton as his final audition. That was possibly just what he needed to impress the judges. He could be popular on the Live Shows. A little uncertain as to what he'll do and where he'll take songs but a good choice.

Jessica Sanchez is a young one, just 16, but you'd never know as she is one big singer and has guts and style and very good indeed. I'd like to see her doing more modern stuff but that was still one stand-out audition. She's emotional and maybe a bit of a risk but if she can hold it together she is going far.

Phillip Phillips is through too. We don't hear a great deal of him but, with guitar on the stage, he has a raw, unusual way to deliver tracks and it'll be interesting to see how he shapes up against his obvious rival, Creighton and the extent to which he is overwhelmed by the force of Reed's personality. A very likable chap but not sure how long he'll last.

Brielle Von Hughes is the last confirmed Top 24 choice in the first part of the programme. She's another young girl with bags and bags of natural talent. This one also has determination and just goes for it each time. So very much will depend for her, though, on how they dress and make her up, the songs they give her and how she distances herself from the other girls in this tough field. One year she might have been the one and only young great singer and performer with an earthy, natural talent. This year she has competition. It'll be interesting, or a disaster.

The first part ends with David Brock saying how he must sing. He has a big voice but shows in his final audition an nice touch. His Georgia alst week was impressive and propelled him this far. This audition was messy in places and I don't think he's Idol material. The judges have their doubts too but he'll be through.

That's fifteen. Nine to go.

Friday, 17 February 2012

The One Where We See All The Buddies But No Sign Of Hollie As They Sing And Dance Fifties

Music from the 1950s! That should be interesting. And now we do get to hear what virtually all of those remaining can do. I say virtually all because so far there has been no mention that I've noticed of at least five girls, including the Hollie, Hallie, Haley real stars from earlier weeks. We do get another H, though. Yes, good old Heejan, this time in his other hoodie, looking nothing like an American Idol at all but more like a grandmother in Little Red Riding Hood.

Everyone is asked to get in groups again but this time they have far more time to prepare and have the benefit and control of coaches.

Skylar, Colton and Chase Likens, finally getting some airtime, and Cari did Dedicated To The One I Love which I must admit I thought was a 6os track but never mind. It was good but Cari gets dropped there and then. That was tough. It set the scene for a show that would be very dramatic and, knowing who's still to come over the next couple of hours, we're in for some tears and surprises. All credit to Colton and the new guy to us, Chase, who were faultless and not exactly in their comfort zone. Nor was Skylar who I felt got through because of what she'd done before.

The second group are the three small people and one big one. David Leathers, Ariel Sprague and Gabi Carruba towered over by Jeremy Rosado. Rockin' Robin so suited the young ones and, to be fair, Jeremy did a fine job too, just looked odd. That was a great performance by all four with Ariel standing out for me. All four get through.

Erica, Angie, Adam and Shelby form the next group and get Balls Of Fire. Now that's not an easy song but they put on a good show too. There's a lot of talent here. Adam was clearly in the lead and in his comfort zone but Angie shone with her style and Erica to a lesser extent with her jazz input. Angie is very different and a star but I'm not sure she's Idol material. Shelby was the weak link and may have been very relieved when all four get through.

Schyler Dixon (Colton's sister), Mollie and Brielle Von Hugen appear next as a threesome in what look more like 40s Land Army uniforms than 50s but what do I know. Why Do Fools Fall In Love was wonderfully presented and seemed faultless but Mollie can't have pleased the judges and she gets sent home.

We get told half a dozen or so more go and then, yes, at long last, we meet Haley Johnson, teamed up with Reed, Elise Testone and Eben. This should be good. They sing The Night Has A Thousand Eyes and Reed gets the limelight at the start, setting a superb standard and Elise adds a jazz touch in her section. Haley takes over and takes the track down a completely different road - but a good road still - before handing over to Eben. Eben sounds more like a girl than some of the girls but gives it his all and somehow they all blend amazingly well. Eben was the only one to seem a little uncomfortable, the others having that wow factor and they're all straight through. No problem. Reed is quite remarkably good.

Richie seems to have lost his hoodie partner and has trouble finding anyone to work with. He eventually teams up with Jermaine Jones, a big guy with a low voice and that's about all they have in common. Richie is a pain in the arse to listen to and seems to have difficulty getting on with anyone. However, that's not a necessary quality to do well as they'll all be on their own soon enough if they do get through. Make It Easy On Yourself was a tough number but they did it pretty well. Jermaine was right in his element and stood out, again Richie was the weaker link but not that weak and Mr Chalk and Mr Cheese both get through.

Frustratingly, we then get the briefest glimpse of one of my hot tips, Hallie Day.

What we do hear is really, really good. She shines in five seconds, and Baylie Brown simmers in the same period. We get a first glance at Chelsea Sorrell who seems brilliant too in a marvellous group but there's just no time to tell any more. They all, clearly, sail through. You just have to take the hint that the producers reckon we'll be seeing plenty of them later on. Hope so.

Deandre Brackensick appears, also for the first time, with Jessica Sanchez, another conspicuous by her absence from our screens with Candice Glover. Here's talent and a half as they do Over You. It's a difficult song but Deandre has an amazing range and vocal control. Jessica comes over really well too and if anyone might go it would be Candice, although they all did well. As it is, they're all through.

Scott, Clayton, Adam and Curtis give us Jailhouse Rock. Now this is not the best at all and all four could be at risk. Curtis is the one that doesn't make it but I wouldn't expect the others to last much longer. It didn't help that I couldn't tell one from the other, no-one really coming over as fabulous.

A few more brief glimpses see several more through, including Joshua and Shannon who were excellent in their group as far as we could tell from what we get to see.

Another group gets a long lecture on semi tomes and harmonies whioch seems a bit over the top and ends with what I reckoned was a wrong decision but, with so much talent already through, it probably wouldn't have made much difference.

Laura Gray, Wendy Taylor and Mathenet Trecor do Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow. Wendy I have not noticed before and she sounds fabulous. Laura over does the emotion in a big way. Mathenee has big ears, looks uncomfortable but sings well. Laura has a Duffy feel about her presentation and maybe shouldn't try so hard. The two girls get through and Mathenet is rejected. I wasn't expecting that, as anyone who has glimpsed at my 'Rumours' page will know!

Heejun gets more airtime again as we learn that he looked up the coach, Peggy, on YouTube. As she is so renowned for shouting and bullying the contestants in a good but damn firm way I don't really know why he needed to and it didn't make much difference. He was in a great group with Reco Starr, Jairon Jackson and Phillip Phillips. Reco was the only weak link and even that was only marginal. Heejun did, in fact, do really well as I Only Have Eyes For You was right up his street, just the right range and tempo for his style. Jairon Jackson has consistently performed well and this was another first class efoort. Phillip was out of his comfort zone but managed to take the track into a place where he was more comfortable but only for a couple of lines, interestingly. Much less exposure tha the other three for him. They all, however, not only impress the judges but Peggy too - now that's success!

The last group is Creighton, Aaron, Nick and Jen Hirsh. An odd-looking band with the three guys looking distinctly ungroovy in glasses, Nick especially so. They also seemed sharp, too, and a touch disappointing with only Aaron and Jen shining through by the end. Jen was in a league of her own overall but only Nick gets the bad news, Creighton and Aaron joining Jen through.

The judges still need to cut more, though, to get down to the 42 they need so they bring everyone back and remove another 30 odd.which was pretty harsh for those who had so recently been celebrating.

The only real shocks are to see Gabi Carruba, Johnny Keyser and Jairon Jackson go. They had seemed sure-fire entrants at least to the penultimate stage before the Live Shows and I had them down as Top 40 (or 42) material.

Those left represent one major bag of talent. There is no clear stand-out still but several girls are looking so good and Reed Grimm has to be feeling confident after such a natural and seemingly effortless day or two. Deandre, Heejun, Colton and Chase would be his closest challengers as things stand at this stage but, so far, one of the girls, even those we've hardly seen, like Hallie and the mysterious Hollie, Skylar and Jen Hirsh still showing the way seem the most likley next American Idol.

Thursday, 16 February 2012

The One Where Jen Gets Bingo, Only Skylar Does Country and Reed Plays The Drums

Finally we get to see and hear what some of the better contestants can do. I counted group or single performances by 15 of those who make the final 24 which still leaves 9 of whom we only get the briefest glimpse (and I'm not sure we even got that for two). Part 3 carries on from the previous night when they were all trying to make groups, some successfully and some not.

Things start reasonably enough with Jennifer and Carrie from the first five girls getting through and then all five of AaronCreightonJen Hirsh, Reed and Nick getting through easily. Brielle, Joshua and Shannon get through in the next but the annoying All American Beefcake Kyle doesn't which, judging by his attitude to the others, would have been a popular decision.

Mathenet survives in the fourth group where Amy Brumfield's efforts to get over illness don't and so it's back to her tent again.

Then we get three girls who forget their words who don't proceed further and get told of a bundle more who didn't and do get through but with no idea who they are! In the next group we get to see it's Alicia (I'm a cop, d'ya like cops?) who has stayed up almost all night and tries hard but it doesn't work. A chap called Christian who we haven't seen before comes across well but fails to impress the judges. These are tough times. As we head for the break cue a door closing and, yet again, Alicia gets a bundle of publicity. I should ahve mentioned that, on being rejected, she did a quick ad for herself as a personal security guard and that will have helped her career, I'm sure. Just not her music career.

Eben, Ariel, Gabi, David Leathers (the young ones) and an older guy called Jeremy are all through in one of the better and well-organised groups. In complete contrast we then get a poor young girl called Imani who faints and appears to have lost hope of joining her group who redo their act to take account of that. Just before they go on she returns and wants to perform so it's almost understandable that they make a mess of it with only Johnny Keyser, one of the real experienced professionals in the field, virtually single-handedly holding the whole thing together. He deserves to get through and Imani faints again at the end of their performance. That gave the judges a tough decision to make as she wasn't at all bad and, in the circumstances you might have expected them to give her one more chance. However all credit to them, they made the point that it only gets tougher from here on and she was out.

There are several more indicated as going through that we don't see and then we get the final group, the extraordinarily pompous Richie Law trying to tell Heejun, Jairon and Phillip Phillips what to do. Heejun seems to have really appealed to Jennifer with his husky voice but the sound of anything beginning with b a or p in the lyrics from the Korean was clearly not as annoying to her on the stage set as it sounded on my tv set. Jairon did very well and Phillip was excellent, these three showing up the Cowboy who was not at all good after all the hype! For all that they all get through and we get some odd scene of Heejun, with tongue so much in cheek they both seemed to bulge (or maybe that's just the way he looks anyway) offering an apology for remarks he'd made about the Cowboy the night before. Hilarious.

We hear that Erica, Adam, Hallie and Elise also get through but with little clue as to who they are and that ends that day.
At last, in the second section of this show, we see several performing with an 'Idol band'. We meet Joshua who is good, very good and, for the first time, Colton Dixon who returns after failing to make it last year. Colton has nice shades, a natural talent. Phillip Phillips has an earthy voice that sounds way older than he looks. He has a unique and natural talent too and provides an interpretation of the tracks that is his and his alone.

Jen Hirsh is very professional and we see her in her element at last - excellent, quite different to many of her competitors and delivering Georgia On My Mind in style. She can do gentle and heavy, mixing seamlessly and effectively the two. Steven says "Bingo!"

Creighton Fraker shows us he's good but a bit off-tune for my ears. a clear talent, though, and apart from trying too hard and screeching a bit, that was not a bad version of What A Wonderful World.

Reed Grimm seems to have lost his nerve after being so confident in the past and we're led to believe that he had intended to sing on his own but was instructed that it had to be with the band. This bothers him and we get several minutes of him with a vocal coach just a few minutes before he's due to perform and, oddly, he calls his mum who sounded to me as though she would have simply told him to get on with it and stop being so stupid had someone not told her she'd be broadcast to several million. After all that show, Reed was brilliant, playing the drums in the band by way of compromise with the musical director and giving us an absolutely spot-on performance of Georgia and making us wonder just whether all the preceding stuff was one good act. Compare that to the fainting girl and you can see who gets through and why.

Shannon MacGraine follows. She's been great in the past but didn't sound so good this time and was heading for a disappointing performance but eventually, when she stopped trying so hard, she was considerably better and finished in excellent style and impressed the judges.

Skylar Laine had suffered from exhaustion the evening before and been taken to hospital but still insisted on getting her act together and appearing on stage. She was the first country girl we've heard and did a great job. a really great job. I was full of admiration for her, not just in getting up and performing but in doing so as if nothing had happened. Steven, unusually, says how good she is, too, at the end. Apart from a Bingo remark for Jen Hirsh earlier, no judges really gave such obvious preferences.

Rachelle breaks the run of star performances by messing up the words. She gets over that and has a nice voice and attitude but couldn't avoid her nerves flowing through her performance and was disappointing.

At the end we hear Adam Brock, a good singer with a big voice but weak at the top end when he sounds very tinny. His low roar, however, is quite appealing and that's what the judges seem to like. He doesn't look like Idol material, though, but has a mature attitude and will be around for a while yet.

The show closes with the division of the remaining people into four rooms. Three roomfuls get through and one doesn't. We say farewell to Britany Kerr and Rachelle as well as one or two others that previous shows had featured as interesting but I didn't spot any particular favourites in that room. The big and most painful cuts will be next as, presumably, they're whittled down to those that will be appearing on our screens and appealing for our votes, not just those of the judges in Las Vegas.

Saturday, 11 February 2012

The One With A Cowboy and Heejun's Reservations

If you missed this hour of American Idol then don't worry. If you recorded it and are worried about hearing who does or doesn't get through here then don't worry. This edition had nothing but videotape of contestants wandering around, practising dance steps or harmonies and several being ill. Highlights were Richie Law as one of the Cowboys and Heejun's hoody having reservations about daddy dancing and Alicia Bernhardt thinking it was a good idea to yell "I'm a cop!" followed by "I wanna do Joy To The World" and looking surprised when people ran away.

You really do have to wonder why on earth they insist on this crazy 'group round'. Some of the smarter people who thought they knew what was coming had already formed into groups with friends from one or other of the auditions. Unfortunately for them, they didn't pay attention in earlier years as the producers' rules insist that the groups comprised some from one week of auditions and some from another. So everyone was back on a level basis to a greater or lesser degree but it was clear that the pleasant, amenable and those willing to consider any of a range of the songs available would find colleagues to get to work with. That left those who, for better or worse, either only wanted to perform a particular track or in a particular style and we get shots of one or two contestants doing the pleading and hoping and lots looking dejected and rejected.

I can understand that this device should reward the skills of those who can fit in, adapt and organise themselves well but are they really the qualities that a future artist has to possess? There must surely be someone there who may not have the nicest personality in the world, who is determined to present a song in their own style, who may not want to dance in some pre-ordained way and yet is absolutely brilliant and could sell, on their own, with no help from other contestants, millions of albums and have voters streaming to enter the right numbers on their touchpads in a few weeks' time when their own, individual performance and brilliance and unique style win hearts and minds. That's the Idol quality I expect, not someone who is nice and amenable. It's about the way they can interpret emotions in what song writers have written and, yes, for me, it helps if they look good but I couldn't care less whether they get on with other people or not.

What tends to happen in these so-called groups is that one person will dominate the thing, telling the others what to do and when. Amongst the others will be those who might also have done the dominating act but decide to play the subservient and keep the peace as well as those who need that management and go along with what they perceive as the general good for all. The dominatrix, or domaniatrice, sets themselves up for the fall and the stakes can be high as they'll claim the credit for success and be held in disdain for failure. It's still, either way, not an Idol quality but that's the way it has to go again this year.

Heejun Han, who we're seeing a lot of, had real trouble with his 'Western Cowboy', Richie Law. Richie wanted to do certain dance steps. I tell you, my 15 year-old daughter is pretty critical of my attempts at dancing but she would have accompanied me rather than young Richie any day of the week. Richie was instructing Heejun, or rather, Heejun's hoody, which was all that was actually visible on the Hollywood Plain, to wave his arms around in a particular manner. Richie clearly hadn't seen Heejun shaking it out in Part 1 or he'd had realised that there was no way East would meet West and accepted the fact that an odd looking chap from Korea with glasses and a hoody was more likely to be promoted as an American Idol than a tall good-looking guy from somewhere like Texas in a Stetson.

We watch Alicia Bernhadt tell everyone she's a cop and that she has to sing a particular track. She seems a pretty well-organised and effective girl but fails to find anyone until way late in the day. Another girl, Jennifer Walsh is ill, as is Amy Brumfield, the tent girl, and both struggle to get anyone to take them on too. How on earth it can be fair that people with a genuine illness, and many looked ghostly pale, get forced to carry on at this stage when it could easily be filmed over a few days and edited later for us to view as if nothing had happened?

What do judges, or we for that matter, learn about contestants' talents from this crazy exercise? All we ever see in this part of the round (and not even this much in tonight's show) is a brief group performance or two but we get very little insight into the capabilities of those we're interested in getting through. I would be amazed if there were not some very good contenders who suffer at this juncture through no fault of their own.

After an hour of watching nothing in particular Ryan announces that next week we'll see who does what. Next week?! Why did I bother watching this week - the week when nothing really happens?

Friday, 10 February 2012

The One Where Heejun Gets Told To Shake It Out again

"At this moment in time, there's an awful lot you haven't seen yet. A great many you haven't seen yet." said Nigel Lythgoe earlier this week. So, with over 300 still hopeful entering Hollywood week, those that we are shown can be expected to be a bit of a hint as to who to look out for in future - with a few disasters thrown in for good measure. (Blink and you'll miss 13 of the Top 24!)

It's never easy writing about this part of the series as all we get is a line or two from selected auditions and a very few very brief comments from the judges as they whittle the 300 down by about 50%. We really don't get much to comment on ourselves so the best I can do is give you my own take on what we saw in the first hour.

Johnny Keyser is one of those confident guys that are difficult to reject but seem a bit bland. Good-looking bloke and he sounds great and gets through easily enough but you're left wondering whether he's really Live Show material for all that.

Heejun next. "Shake it out," the judges say as the Korean stands looking distinctly odd and wobbles his arms around like a duck that thinks it's a penguin. You get the feeling that it's the distinctly odd bit that will mean we see him around for quite a while. He sings OK and has some nice tones in there somewhere but his pronunciation of words jars, especially those beginning with a P and he'd better not choose Papa Don't Preach for a future audition. Is he an American Idol? No. Icon for people to wish well in the Live Shows? Probably.

We hear that someone called Gabi gets through too but we're none the wiser as to why or how.

Elise Testone has an energetic and earthy attitude and is sufficiently different to all the Steven Jones hareem that will be advancing soon enough. You wonder whether she should be called Elise Testoserone as she certainly seems to have plenty of balls and it'll be interesting to see how the make-over people present her for the Live Shows which I'm sure she'll reach.

Baylie Brown has everything the show needs: she's gentle, country but not just country, pretty and experienced, just doing her thing and doing it well - the kind of girl the producers can rely on both to perform and attract viewers.

Hallie Day has the added benefit of a back story that no doubt we'll be regularly reminded of. She's a natural and performed well, looking lovely and, in the brief glimpse we get, packing in enough emotion to show that she means what she sings and she will do well.

A pile of others appear to get through but we get no names or anything. So far there are no new names getting through, though.

Jen Hirsh is beautiful and another experienced, reliable performer that should be in the Live Shows. A little more mature than some of the others, she is already in the business and has an album out so is familiar with the environment she's in and you get the feeling that this audition was a breeze for her with no sign of the nerves many of the others show. She wasn't as tuneful, though, as I might have expected so, whilst she'll get through, much will depend on what she gets to sing as to whether she can really compete with her young rivals.

Lauren Gray gives the audition all she's got and is really trying too hard to impress. She's quite impressive but inclined to shout a bit.

Phillip Phillips reminds us that there are some males in the competition. You'd think he'd be a good ol' country boy but he has a jazz feel with lots of individual style and puts his own interpretation on what he does. He's though safely.

Reed Grimm is naturally confident too and has an exhuberance that people will like for a while, as long as he doesn't overdo it. He sang about a Golden Ticket which was pretty weird, with a scat style and, like the previous guy, is original and can certainly sing and perform. Lots of experience too.

Travis looks like he's going home with a hang-dog expression even before he starts. He hit the right notes and seemed reasonable enough but, despite all the sympathy for his back story, he's neither one thing nor another. He doesn't get through and we get the sad tv bit. You do tend to feel sorry for the chap.

Adam Brook makes it four guys in a row. He's a bit heavy on the ears - so far there hasn't been any normal male singer that you can really say is modern and a potential winner and this guy, whilst OK and through, isn't an Idol either.

Jane Carrey gets included because her dad's famous. She gives us a nice version of a CCR number but it isn't exactly brilliant and that's the end of her road.

David Leathers is more like what I expect to see in Idol-land 2012. He's cheeky and comes across well. Nice range and does a good job. He's young, though, and how long will the chat up lines keep him going?

Shannon MacGraine gives one of the best auditions of the night and has to be a certainty for future rounds if she can maintain that standard. There could be some fascinating battles to come if she's up against the other talented and pretty girls already through and those yet to come.

Jessica Phillips has a nice voice but some notes were way off. The footage of her back story was unnecessary and I'm not sure we'll see that much more of her anyway.

We don't get to see Angie Z or the impossibly good-looking Britanny Kerr (a case of That's enough pretty girls, Ed.) but they're through.

We do see Erica Van Pelt who is another strong contender that will make the voters' choices difficult if she carries on performing as well as this.

Creighton Fraker is yet another slightly off-beat guy who is doing well in this series. He made a good job of this audition and joins several others who will also make choosing tricky later on.

Aaron Marcellus is the music teacher. He over-sung his number, trying to impress too much but he did hit all the right notes and sails through, one of the few vaguely normal likely male Live Show possibilities.

Lauren Minck does a nice performance of Heart's Alone. Not an easy song but she gets it dead right. Nice performance.

Jeremy Rosado has a cool personality, the sort of likeable guy you can see making the Live Shows but going out pretty smartly afterwards. He's no Idol and his vocals are very strained at the top end but there is a nice tone in there if he can stay in the best range. He'll survive for a while yet.

Symone Black is the last act we see in Part 1 and she has a nice tone, sings well and presents Sitting On The Dock Of The Bay well. Unfortunately, she seems to faint and falls off the stage at the end and we get the dramatic medic call as the credits run. I'm not so sure that was the most sensitive way to end this section - you sort of felt putting this on last as some sort of cliff-hanger was wrong. "Tune in tomorrow to see if Symone survives". No, this is American Idol, not some soap opera. Obviously, she recovers or they'd never have dared end that way.

It's the really annoying group round next. I'm dreading having to try and stay calm and avoid rude language when I write about that round when we learn precious little about the contestants, get scene after scene of people wandering around, arguing, panicking and generally either being really lucky to get in with some good guys or left to put something together with a bunch of others. Still, Scotty couldn't find a group last year and that didn't do him much harm. I just think it's all a bit pointless viewing.

Let's hope I'm wrong!

Friday, 3 February 2012

Louie, Louie, Baby Now, We've Gotta Go

The last of the initial audition screenings starts with a 2004 shot of a girl on a tractor. Carrie Underwood before, with more than a little help from Simon Cowell, becoming American Idol's biggest success by far. She auditioned at St Louis. That's where we see the last of the oddballs and the few real contenders we're allowed to preview before Hollywood.

Great to hear Louie Louie although only the chorus. I mean, this is American TV and those lyrics are probably still banned. Some weird guy in a car (ostensibly Ryan's cab driver but I don't buy that) is moaning about the crowds and jams that the huge turnout in the town create. Not quite sure why this is thrown in. I reckon there's a new producer who likes this sort of wacky stuff.

Johnnie Keyser is a good-looking guy to start. Jennifer gets seriously carried away and you have to wonder what Coca Cola had put in the red plastic cups this week. Randy and Steven seem to have been infected too. The guy sings A Change Is Gonna Come pretty well but is he really potential live show talent? Only on looks.

Another producer special as we get a bonkers black and white interlude. Are they short of decent audition tapes or something? Surely there were some entertaining or interesting candidates for these several minutes' worth of prime time TV? If I were an advertiser, I'd be asking for rate reduction.

Almost 20 minutes in - that's over 33% of the programme gone already and we've seen one act. Finally we see Rachelle Lamb. Says she's divorced and her ex held her back. Haven't we heard that before somewhere? She does a Faith Heeeeel song Find Someone New. That was nothing amazing. She'd have to do a great deal more to move on from Hollywood where, yes, you guessed, our Cola-injected judges duly sent her.

Old bloke in a car again. Some idot who says music is his wife. Several people on the stage at once. None any good. Stupid girl in a pink hat. Odd boy. Really ugly bloke. This is rubbish.

Cue decent audition after a break. Rees has a back story - he must be reasonable, at least, to get that on air. He does Lean On Me. OK. That's all. Again, the judges go 'Definitely yes!' and all that. I must be missing something. Or maybe I should try some Coke.

As if this show hasn't been amateur enough, the Mentos intros and outros for this series are dreadful. I do hope you guys across the pond have something better, especially as you get far more interruptions than we do.

Ethan Jones is up next. Another back story. Is anyone normal in St Louis? This is the first good singer for a long time. He's got a good chance of going further. Interesting.

Odd spot time again. This time it's a guy who works in the auditions hotel. He totally wrecks some Stevie Wonder track I couldn't even recognise. Presumably someone will suggest he keeps his day job. Maybe all his friends on the staff put him up for this just so that he'd be able to see hinself later and consequently shut up for good.

So, as the minutes tick by, have they kept the best bits til the end as they are prone to do? Someone they want us to remember? Maybe someone we can get enthusiastic about and worth putting through to Hollywood and maybe lock us in for some future stages?

Lauren Gray is that hope in the producers' minds. She was in a Southern Rock band with her father and does a good job of an Adele number. Her voice isn't that great though and, after a while, starts to get boring. She's certainly talented and worth putting through to Hollywood but after that - not so sure. She does seem to have captured the judges' votes, though, somehow. jennifer seems to have forgotten how passionate she'd been earlier about the good-looking guy and now says she can sum up the talent in St Louis in two words. Lauren. Gray.

That's it. there's a long, long re-run of all those we've seen but none of the hundreds that got through but we haven't seen. we're told 46 get through at St Louis. That's 42 we didn't see so, to be honest, you begin to wonder what is the point of trying to review any of these early stages?

Next is Hollywood. I don't usually like to give anything away but I am seriously tempted to tell you that none of the bunch we actually heard tonight get very far. If the producers can promise me that there'll be no more old blokes in cars or dodgy Cola quotes then I may just hold back from announcing the names of those who do make it through to the live shows several stages down the line.

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Nice People in Portland, Oregon.

"I'm much too young to be this old," announces Steven Tyler as a blonde in a hat starts off Week 3 of the American Idol Series 11 auditions. We're in Portland, Oregon, where I have to conclude that a lot of nice people live. Brittany Zika was a good representative - fun, nice personality and a voice with a different tone to what so many others seem to offer. She could do folk, country and pop. Cool girl. Nice change.

Ryan is dressed in drab grey which sort of matches the cloudy sky and, as the greenest county apparently, Oregon is a good match to my part of England. I feel inclined to be generous with this lot. Whether that'll last we'll have to see.

Some bloke called Ren rather lets things down with a pathetic effort at a Lady Gaga number. Decent chap but odd, with just three notes in his repertoire. The producers run a chipmunk version afterwards which is funny. I'd like to have heard that adjustment to the judges too, which would have been even better.

Back to audition material from a bit of entertainment now, Jermaine Jones is 6' 8½". Don't forget the ½". His mum gets to talk a lot and she says he's a church singer. He breathes, eats and sleeps singing which makes you wonder how he grew so tall. She adds that he came out singing which might explain that but I'd rather not think about that too deeply and perhaps her last comment, "We don't know anything else" was the most accurate. At last the tall son gets to sing and he's good. Very good. He looks and sounds like someone we ought to see more of. "He has IT!", says Randy. You wonder why he didn't go for the X Factor then but that's another programme. His Carpenters' track Long Ago... was a bit painful in places but he was markedly better than several similar guys that got to the finals in recent years. He'd be a good choice for future TV live shows. He could do well here. Watch out for him.

Britnee Kellogg comes with a massive entourage of attractive sisters, mum, cute kids and could well get a part advertising anything, not just cornflakes, tomorrow after this appearance. Indeed, Mr Kellogg is probably on the phone to her agent already. She's a pretty blonde mummy whose guy has gone off so we're supposed to feel a bit sorry for her. You're No Good was a suitable track to sing and, obviously really, she gets through to Hollywood. Whether she can do anything else, though, remains to be seen, when she won't have the TV cute appeal of all the family around her.

Sam Girschman is another really nice girl. Great personality and looks good. She has true stage presence but screeches I'm A Woman and she's not really Idol material, they say. I'd have put her through to see what else she could do as I got the impression she was versatile and reliable. The screech could have been sorted. Oh well. She didn't seem too bothered and is probably already now on Broadway anyway. If not, she will be soon.

David Weed lived up to his name. Ryan was seen wandering around with a bush for absolutely no reason we get to know about. I love that quirky side to whichever producer decided to keep that bit in. You'd never had had Steve Jones doing that on X Factor. Well, not without a man with an autocue and several retakes.

A guy called Romeo something had a long back story so here was someone who'd be going through too. He reminds me of Labi Sifre from the 70s but has an unusual but quite good voice and style. Talented and bound to get through. The best part, though,was another mischievous take by someone outside the room.
Some huge, worryingly bad-looking guy in the big coloured shirt with an attitude says "Who Are You?"
"Ryan." says Ryan.
"I'm Junior." says the big bad boy.
"Obviously." says Ryan quietly.

Instead of showing us some of the many more who get through we get glimpses of those who didn't and a bad cake, supposedly iced with a Ryan Seacrest picture. Looked more like someone from Dandy comics.

Naomi Gillies does a pretty unimpressive version of one of Steven Tyler's tracks and gets through. Not sure why but they like her.

Baby face Ben Harrison can sing but looks way too odd to get any further. He doesn't get through.

We then see a load of 'not yets' and then Jessica Phillips with another back sob story. She sounds modern and, although not brilliant, she's likable and gets through. I reckon there's a sympathy factor going on there but she may surprise us.

At the end - boy, did this show fly by -we hear that 45 get through. That's 39 we didn't see. "they really liked me!" says one. "So, so good," says Randy about another. But who? No idea. probably nice people though.