American Idol – Season 12, Episode 11: First Las Vegas Elimination Round

At this point in my life, I have been watching American Idol for 12 years — a longer time than I have done practically anything else, including date a woman, hold a job, or refrain from taking narcotics. My primary concern is just trying to remember everyone’s name, which is why I am so happy when we get to the elimination rounds; but before that, Las Vegas will host over-long episodes of something Ryan Toothpaste claims they’ve never done before: sudden death! Yes, ten of the ladies will now have to sing for their lives in an entirely unprecedented development, as long as you don’t count last week and many other times before that. (Note:  “sudden death” refers only to elimination from the singing competition; no one, unfortunately, will be sacrificially murdered.)

Keith Urban is wearing his usual douchey open shirt; Nicki Minaj looks as virginal as she probably has in 18 years or so; Mariah Carey is showing off her child- and/or surgery-enhanced décolletage; and Randy Jackson is wearing the jacket he won for lettering in bro-dawging at the J. Funkford Derpington School for Boys Who Like Journey. Ominously, we are threatened with the prospect of Jimmy Iovine emerging from his cave troll lair to be the tie-breaker, but ten will sing and five will go home, so let’s jump right in.

THE CONTESTANT: Teenage Kentuckian Jenny Beth Willis, one of the innumerable Country Crocks offered for our margarine-like semi-pleasure this year.
THE SONG: “Heaven, Heartache, and the Power of Love”, Trisha Yearwood.
THE VERDICT: Jenny is wearing boots and a poofy skirt to conceal her lack of pizzazz. She’s solid as a vocalist, but hasn’t got much else going for her; she belts it home at the very end, but at that point I was off making an Old-Fashioned. Keith didn’t like the song but said her singing was “effortless”; Nicki, who is Simon with better funny voices, agrees with me; Randy, an expert on jerkiness, says “it all felt a little jerky”, and Mariah says “If I were saying this…” (you are, Mariah) “If this was my critique…” (It is, Mariah).

THE CONTESTANT: Camp Mariah grad and Queens homegirl Tenna Torres, who gets two of the judges’ votes just for existing.
THE SONG: “Soulmate”, Natasha Bedingfield.
THE VERDICT: Tenna (inexplicably pronounced “Tina”) is 28, which means by this show’s standards, she ought to be getting laser-blasted by Roscoe Lee Browne from Logan’s Run. I haven’t been impressed with her thus far, but she tears it up here, delivering a technically strong and confident performance that’s also mature and emotionally right; she says she chose not to see her boyfriend at all before the show so she could project a sense of longing. Keith says she sang a beautiful and “deceptively big” song with a lot of control; Nicki gets back at her dumb fans for not supporting Tenna, and says she has a voice that invokes ’80s R&B, but warns her to get a younger haircut. Randy says she’s the first star of the night, and Mariah uses the word “effortless”, which is collecting a lot of royalties this evening.

THE CONTESTANT: 17-year-old Alaskan Adriana Latonio, who calls herself a “small town girl” even though she is from Anchorage, which has 300,000 people.
THE SONG: “Ain’t No Way”, Aretha Franklin.
THE VERDICT: This is one of my all-time favorite songs, and I feel like, while Adriana does it with skill and flair, it’s just too grown up for her; it’s got a depth of emotional intensity that she just can’t access. Keith disagrees, saying her performance “belied your age”; Nicki says she commands the stage with no fear; Mariah gives her an A+; and Randy says “That’s Aretha”. No, Randy, that is not Aretha. You have become confused.

THE CONTESTANT: Brandy Hotard, 26-year-old psychiatric nurse from Louisiana who prepared for the viscitudes of this show by caring for the deranged.
THE SONG: “Anymore”, Travis Tritt.
THE VERDICT: This song is way too slow for the kind of country blast-barrel that Brandy aspires to be, and the result is a very unengaging performance; even the band doesn’t seem like they’re that into it. She says she wants to show off her sass and popularity, but she sure doesn’t do that here, and her performance is just okay. Keith says it “lacks emotional consistency” and that she doesn’t seem to understand the song; Nicki agrees and calls it “a pageant performance”. Randy gives that tired rap about “you didn’t tell us about the kind of artist you want to be”; Mariah: “You look pretty”, always the kiss of death.

THE CONTESTANT: Shubha Vedula, a teenaged desi as we are once again reminded by the hilarious montage of no one being able to pronounce her name, because “Shubha Vedula” is apparently that fucking hard.
THE SONG: “Born This Way”, Lady Gaga.
THE VERDICT: Silver stretch pants aside, I actually enjoy Shubha’s performance here: she starts out accompanying herself on piano, doing a sort of torch-song version of the tune before jumping right into the vampy part halfway through. It was lots of fun, but the judges loathe anything where people push against the bars of their cages, so we get to hear Keith call it “confusing”, Mariah call it “forced”, Nicki say it “sounded like a mash-up”, and Randy allegedly come to her defense by repeating and agreeing with what everyone else has already said.

THE CONTESTANT: Kamaria Owsley, Oakland-based background singer who sneaks on wearing the dopiest outfit of the night.
THE SONG: “Mr. Know-It-All”, Kelly Clarkson.
THE VERDICT: Kamaria sells the hell out of this song, and gives it a lot of swagger and confidence, but her voice seems a bit flat and hesitant throughout; she says she had trouble hearing but is a champ about not using that as an excuse. Keith says she seemed lost; Nicki says she looked good but didn’t sound good; Randy didn’t like it at all and busts out his first “pitchy” comment of the season; and Mariah says it was the wrong song choice, but that she feels like Kamaria could step into any studio at any time.

THE CONTESTANT: Kree Harrison, whose name I have been spelling wrong all this time, and who is a “demo singer”, whatever that is.
THE SONG: “Up to the Mountain”, Patty Griffin.
THE VERDICT: Kree, who is wearing a voluminous tent of a blouse that makes her look pregnant and has that weird way a lot of untrained singers do of flapping their hands all over but not moving the rest of their bodies at all, is decent to good, but the song bores me. The fix is in for her, though: “authenticity, natural singer” (Keith); “the other girls should be very afraid of you” (Nicki); “natural singer” (Mariah); “lost in the song, organic, natural singer, blah blah, bring me some sliders” (Randy).

THE CONTESTANT: Angela Miller, who killed it last time with her hit-worthy original song, and is back in a perfectly tailored new outfit.
THE SONG: “Nobody’s Perfect”, Jessie J.
THE VERDICT: Angela is flawless, almost too good — not robotic, just so on the nose she almost sounds like a ringer. Keith talks about her huge talent, her great gift and her “ability to do it big or small”; Nicki says her only risk is not living up to her own original materia; Randy says we’re seeing “the building of a superstar”; and Mariah claims rather poetically to have been “clothed in goosebumps and bathed in tears”. We might be seeing the Kelly Clarkson Mark II treatment happening here, folks.

THE CONTESTANT: Isabelle of the vanishing last name, a 22-year-old Georgian who used to be fat and wants to prove to other girls that they can “overcome anything”, because I guess being fat is something that needs to be ‘overcome’.
THE SONG: “God Bless the Child”, Billie Holiday.
THE VERDICT: Sure, let’s just keep pretending that white people can sing this song, shall we? She’s just not suited to its jazzy, bluesy vibe, and instead shouts over it like she’s trying to beat it into submission. Almost everybody likes it except Mariah (who blames the crap arrangement) and Randy, who thinks it wasn’t the song for her, but who congratulates her for “getting your health under control”, because fat people are all diseased.

THE CONTESTANT: 18-year-old Houston teacher (?) Amber Holcomb.
THE SONG: “My Funny Valentine”, Chet Baker.
THE VERDICT: Amber, a leftover from last year, says she’s more confident and showy this year, and proceeds to prove it by singing the slowest, most turgid version of “My Funny Valentine” ever recorded. This is a bad way to showcase Amber’s dynamite voice; it’s too stodgy and plodding. But she’s in fine form and blows the judges away with her skill at singing, if not at picking songs: Keith calls her “technically flawless”, Nicki gives her an A++++, Randy tells her to believe in herself, and Mariah says “I want to slap you”, which I guess is a compliment in Glitterworld.

Thankfully, the judging is unanimous and there will be no need for Jimmy Iovine to rumble forth from the crypt — and thank God for it, that guy makes my head shrink. With the verdicts coming with 20 minutes left in the show there’s a ton of padding, but luckily if you’re reading this instead of watching the show I can cut right to the chase for you: sent home are Jenny Beth Willis and her amazing lack of personality; unfortunately named Brandy Hotard; Isabelle One-Name (to the boos of the audience); Kamaria Owlsey and her sassed-up outfit; and Shubha Vedula of some crazy country where the names are not like ours here on Earth. Tenna Torres, Angela Miller, Amber Holcomb, Adriana Latonio, and Kree Harrison (who earns a nice fakeout from Mariah: “You know I never liked you, right?”) all move on. I would have voted exactly the same way except I’d have hung on to Shubha and dropped Adriana, whose appeal so far escapes me. Ah well — nothing outrageous, no one truly incompetent gets a pass and no one spectacular gets sent home. Join me tomorrow when ten guys go through the same process, and hopefully there will be less crying, because if I wanted to hear teenage girls cry, I’d go back to selling speed out behind the scholars equipment shed.

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