On Wednesday, Simon Cowell declared that LaKisha Jones’ performance “was in a different league” than the rest of the “AI” contestants. Rarely has he spoken truer words. Her delivery of the “Dreamgirls” anthem “And I am Telling You, I am Not Going” was an earth-shattering, tour-de-force rendition that promptly squashed the other 23 singers in the competition. That it came as the last of the 24 songs performed was a bit of kismet — it may very well be the ultimate 11 o’clock number and Jones may well have created her own signature tune.
“American Idol’s” gender split got off to a rocky start Tuesday with the males and found redemption the next night with the women. There wasn’t a truly distinctive perf on the part of men and several were truly atrocious. The women quickly displayed a better knack for song selection and interpretation; whereas nine of the 12 men were tentative, the best femme singers were commanding.
The women, saw a star-making perf turned in by Jones, but they also witnessed tremendous vocal perfs by Melinda Doolittle, Stephanie Edwards and Sabrina Sloan.
Then we had the also-rans. Cowell was once again spot on when he informed Gina Glocksen that she missed a note on “All By Myself” — my notes mention the word “screaming” — and she was rather arrogant by choosing to challenge his criticism. Amy Krebs reminded us why those who sing ballads are generally forgettable. And Nicole Tranquillo stayed in tune on Rufus’ “Stay,” but her phrasing was as absurd as her exaggerated body movements and contortions.
Two rather attractive women, Alaina Alexander and Antonella Barber, will be relying on their looks to garner votes as both delivered off-key and incoherent interpretations of songs far out of their reach, the sassy “Brass in Pocket” and Diane Warren’s “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing,” respectively. At least one of them should be saying “so long” tonight.
But I’ll gladly listen to any of the 12 as long as it means Sunjaya Malakar and Rudy Cardenas are sent packing. In a weak field of a dozen men, their performances made the skin crawl.
“Predictable” was the judges’ word of the night Tuesday, when not a single singer gave a performance that was good from start to finish. Brandon Rogers had a great idea — start Michael Jackson’s “Rock With You” with a molasses-slow intro — but once the dance beat kicked in, he faltered. Phil Stacy also tried a soft intro, but his was extraordinarily shaky; a big finish knocked his version of Edwin McCain’s “I Couldn’t Ask for More” out of the park.
Chris Sligh, the chubby and funny guy, needs to stick to melodic songs if he wants to stay. Blake Lewis was sharp as a tack on a song that felt tailor made for him, Keane’s “Somewhere Only We Know,” but it did not show any range and didn’t impress the judges as much as it should have.
Fitting under the category of “predictable” were Paul Kim, who needs to enunciate better; Chris Richardson, who is not living up to his potential; Nick Pedro, who bordered on boring; the “nasally” Jared Cotter; and A.J. Tabaldo, who, as Cowell put it, gave “a good theme park performance.”
Night one of the shows in front of an audience drove home the point that this year’s class has no specialists — there are no crooners, no jazz singers, no Broadway babies and not even a hard rock specialist. The concept of “Idol,” whether intentional or not, has been compartmentalized and the exciting challenge of watching young singers adapt to various styles in years past may well be that — a thing of the past. Only a handful of these singers have any grooming and it is all in the pop-R&B direction.
And after lauding Jones’ performance Wednesday, Cowell might want to think about the specifics of his language. He uses the terms “Broadway” and “cabaret” to suggest a performer isn’t right for “Idol” and he uses those words as pejorative criticisms. Well, that perf was all about Broadway and cabaret. And it deserved multiple curtain calls.
ALUMNI NEWS: Elliot Yamin’s debut album will be released March 20 by Hickory Records, a label affiliated with Sony ATV Music Publishing where Yamin is signed as a writer. Yamin worked with Stargate (Beyoncé, Ne-Yo, Rihanna), Josh Abraham (Pink, Linkin Park, 30 Seconds to Mars), DJ Lethal (Evanescence, Linkin Park, Limp Bizkit), Michael Mangini (Joss Stone, Baha Men, David Byrne), and Derek Bramble (David Bowie, Vanessa Williams, Lalah Hathaway). … Last season’s champ Taylor Hicks will kick off his first headlining tour on Feb. 21 in Jacksonville, Fla. Initial leg has him doing 52 shows through May 12 including April 20 at Gotham’s Beacon Theater and May 4 at L.A.’s Wiltern. In addition, Hicks’ memoir, “Heart Full of Soul,” will be released by Crown Publishers on July 10. … Jon Peter Lewis was the Grand Marshal of the Larose Mardi Gras parade last week.