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Haterade's Idol Anal-ysis: Group 1

Welcome to the first American Idol Anal-ysis of the 2009 season. Haterade is here to tell you what he thinks of this class, who he thinks will show up tomorrow with graduation caps, and who are the flunkees.

Welcome back, kids. School is in session. I am not the teacher, nor the principal. Call me the guidance counselor. I'm here to give guidance on how to get through this year's revised audience selection. And here's how it works: 12 singers perform on Tuesday. The top male, top female, and top singer after that get into the top 12. The other singers that the judges like will form the Wild Card Round, where 3 more singers of the judges choosing get in.

Let me point out how much I loathe this format change. Sure, it prevents a Sanjaya-in-waiting, but it also swings the voting power to the people who have received airtime (over the people who didn't get any). If you got airtime, all you have to do is show up and not make a fool of yourself. If you don't, you have to sing lights out - and that may not be enough. It also prevents people who are into niche bases to find enough of a base to move on - people like Brooke White or Jason Castro who have specific styles have no chance to advance in this format, which favors the pop artist. Or maybe this year, that's what the producers want, since a female pop artist hasn't won the contest since Kelly Clarkson in season 1 and a male pop artist has never won (Clay Aiken came the closest in season 2).

That's still not to say that there aren't rules. Here they are:

1. Sing, like a bad performance means that you are about to have the red hot poker of obscurity shoved up your rectum. Because that's what's going to happen.
2. Song selection. You want to sing something that's well known with a vocal range that will exhibit what you can do. A song with a bad vocal range or with music that the public can't relate to or will be bored with can be just as bad if not worse than a lousy performance.
3. Your interaction when you aren't singing is also crucial. Do have a personality, but stay mellow and gracious and not egotistical. Do have playful banter but don't argue with the judges. Do NOT make fun of Ryan Seacrest or any other of the competing performers.

With all the ground rules explained, it's time to start the show. Joining me this week is my good friend Jason Block, who knows a little bit about being on a game show - he's been on 5 of them, winning $125,000 on Millionaire and being a 4 time Jeopardy champion, and most recently winning on Catch 21. So without further ado, let's get rolling.

Jackie Tohn is an entertainer that's currently in NYC. She wants this more than anything else, which is why she selected a limited oversung song in the form of 'A Little Less Conversation' by Elvis Presley.
The Good - I like her take on the song. It's a more bluesy, soulful rendition and it really feels like something you can hear as the finale of a smoky cabaret revival, which is a good thing...
The Bad - ...but not when you're auditioning in front of millions of people on a pop show. The choice of gimmicky song, with a very limited range and forgettable qualities (it's been done many a time and the only memorable version is John Peter Lewis's unfortunate Metrosexual Elvis rendition that, as a tribute as to how really weak the men were in Season 3 of the show, got him in) don't do her any favors. Neither does making fun of the R&B singers who have netted Academy Awards. Neither do the pants, which looked like she mugged someone at the local leather bar and stole his clothing right before showtime.
The Jason - She switches the arrangement up. I don't know if it works for me. It felt wrong to me. I really don't like it.
The Verdict - At this stage of the competition, she was good. Good is not good enough. You need great, fantastic, dynamite, water cooler conversation. That wasn't it and I'm sure another female will give us that, which will knock her out of the running.

Ricky Braddy decided to stop serving chicken fingers and audition instead. With that midwestern twang and song choice of 'A Song For You' by Leon Russell, he's clearly going for the polka vote. Only kidding.
The Good - It was a great performance. The riffs were amazing on a very hard song...
The Bad - ...that I had to spend 5 minutes on Google looking up. That's why the song choice was not that good. You already have one strike against you because you are not that known. If you sing a song that people don't really know if you nailed the notes or sung it well enough (because they don't have any musical memory to compare the performance to), then it's 2 strikes after 2 pitches.
The Jason - It's a great performance...but people might not know it. It was very good.
The Verdict - Simon saying that you have no 'Star Quality' is translated to 'The producers didn't think that you had enough personality to get any air time in front of the camera during the first few weeks of the show'. That could be trouble, because an unknown face singing an unknown song (despite it being sung very, very well) at the beginning of the 2 hours (which allows it to be forgotten amidst the other 10 acts yet to sing) means that his chances of advancing are...well...unknown.

Alexis Grace wanted the judges to see her dirty up, so she got a streak of pink in her hair. Can she clean up her chances with 'Never Loved A Man' by Aretha Franklin?
The Good - What really stands out (besides the fact that she nailed the pitch) is her facial expressions. What made the song memorable is that she sang with soul and convicted herself to the song. The facial expressions really added to the song, which has a nice vocal range to it.
The Bad - The wardrobe designers got really, really bored and said. 'Look! It's a young Annie Lennox! Let's dress her up with black to conflict with the light pale skin.' She looked like Annie Lennox if you chained her in a corner and didn't feed her for 3 weeks.
The Jason - Whoever made her up was awful. That lipstick is terrible. The dress is hot...and so is her voice. What bothers me is the swinging of her microphone with her arm. Much better than Jackie Tohn.
The Verdict - Definitely much better than Jackie Tohn. Really good, but I'm concerned about her placement this early on the show. However, if the other women falter, she could snare the automatic female spot.

Brent Keith Smith has a Nashville Star following, but I don't remember Stevie Wright being on Nashville Star. Unfortunately, we have a tape problem and we get to see Stevie Wright's picture instead of Brent Keith Smith's. Oops. Welcome to live TV! This was the audition where Kara and Paula went under the table. Just in case you didn't know he's a good ol' country boy, he'll remind you when he sings Jason Aldean's 'Hicktown'.
The Good - He's pulling no punches about who he is. He wants your country vote. If he had any pictures of Kristy Lee Cook and Carrie Underwood, he would have pulled them out and pointed to them.
The Bad - This is the type of performance that got Brent booted in 6th place on Nashville Star. Very limited vocal range. No eye contact with the camera. And the vocal range he does show is out of tune. It's a very safe and forgettable performance that is not going to get him votes. And don't argue with Simon when he's right.
The Jason - Seems a little too generic country to me. To paraphrase Simon....it's looks a generic performance in a country bar on a Saturday night. Anybody could have done this.
The Verdict - He needed to show us a very risky high gain performance - and we didn't get it. Forget about slinking under the table. If I'm Brent watching this performance after the show, I'd be drinking myself under the table.

Stevie Wright finally gets to show us her clip. She's 17 years old and she calls the experience surreal. This means she's either going to do well or continue to be pounded by SImon - which we see mercilessly in her opening promo. That's not a good sign. Maybe Taylor Swift's 'You Belong With Me' will help her get through this part of the competition.
The Good - ...she got experience for the next musical competition that she tries out for. Maybe America's Got Talent in the Summer of 2010.
The Bad - Where do I start here? Horrific choice of song. She's not a pop singer, and there's no reason to sing that sort of song. The vocal range was way too low for her - she doesn't hit the pitch there, nor on any other part of the song. And the performance is so bad that it's giving Ryan Seacrest memory problems - he calls Stevie 16 when the graphics say she's 17. Or maybe he's calling her 16 because she's dressed less like she's about to sing for America's #1 show and more like she's about to hit the mall and see a 1980's revival concert featuring Tiffany and Deborah Gibson.
The Jason - Her voice and her didn't get together. This is brutally bad. Pitchy and bad.
The Verdict - She should have been the person to lose in a sing off and come back in a year's time with more experience and not Jennifer Corbi, who lost in a sing-off and who watched Stevie get in without having to do anything. Somewhere, Corbi is throwing something at her TV set.

Anoop Desai is in the house. 'Noop Dawg' wants to bring fun and energy and is going to bring songs that he wanted to see sung on the show. His first song choice...'Angel of Mine' by Monica? Wha?
The Good - I'll give him credit for picking a challenging song, with a strong vocal range potential...but...
The Bad - ...TERRIBLE choice of song, with a capital T. It's a very self-indulgent song, and he's very sharp on the high notes. You should only pick a women's song if you can nail it. Anoop didn't. There's enough Brian McKnight/Boys2Men/New Edition/R&B soulful songs that you can pick that were better choices without having to cross gender lines.
The Jason - And he is showing why he is the Big Dog in this group. A risk that pays off. Great stuff.
The Verdict - I completely disagree with Jason. Not a good performance and he clearly needs to rethink his strategy if he wants to get far in this competition. Anyone who had Anoop in the 'To Win' column may want to rethink their choice here. If he gets in, it's because of his popularity he garnered during the show and not because of his performance.

Casey Carlson will begin the second half. She also calls the experience 'surreal' and sings The Police's 'Every Little Thing She Does is Magic'. The last person who called the experience surreal was Stevie Wright, who by the end of the performance sounded more like Steven Wright, and I wondered if she wanted a pony.
The Good - She has nice pretty flowing hair. And she dressed like she was ready to go out and sing for your votes - or at least get votes due to her slinky dress if the vocals didn't come out well.
The Bad - And that was a good idea, because the vocals didn't come out well. Yuck. Horrible choice of song. Pitchy all over the place and the movements made her look like she was running away from The Police, who are going to arrest her for distribution of obscene material coming out of her mouth. And a note to Simon, who was upset that the judges pushed talent ahead of looks in the sing-off - this is why you push talent ahead of looks.
The Jason - Unfortunately...she couldn't pull the rabbit out of the hat.. Not enough for me.
The Verdict - In the last column, someone commented that Casey Carlson was going to win the competition. What narcotics are you taking and where can I get them? She better hope that the men who are in love with her bikini photos flood the phone lines or she's going to magically disappear from your screens in 24 hours.

Michael Sarver says that he's a roughneck and an oil rigger. His choice of song is 'I Don't Wanna Be' by Gavin DeGraw, which is a good song for a roughneck oil rigger.
The Good - It's a good song choice. Maybe a bit overdone, but good to represent a big burly man singing a big burly song.
The Bad - At the beginning of the song, he may have left his sense of pitch at the oil rigs. The other problem is that he's singing the song 'by the numbers'. This is supposed to be a song that delivers us a rough vocal, dripping with sweat and oil, with the singer coming through with blood and fire. Instead of having this intense, angry song, he's singing this song with a smile on his face, with no fire behind it. Instead of crude oil, I'm getting baby oil.
The Jason - You know how you are supposed to emote in this...I dont think is a happy song...he is too happy. The voice is there, though.
The Verdict - His mom told him, before he sings, to 'sing pretty'. Wrong advice, mom. He needed to get dirty on a dirty song, and it came out nice and clean. He needed a powerhouse performance and I don't think he got it.

Anne Marie Boskovich transformed herself from nanny to inner star. She sings Aretha Franklin's 'Natural Woman'. She needs to have the pipes to nail this song. Will she?
The Good - She had a couple of nice rifts in the second half of the song, which places her well above Stevie and Casey.
The Bad - When you pick this song, you have to make it your own and blast the vocal out of it, not wimpify it and make it a watered-down country rendition. She did that and made it very pitchy in the first half of the song. And arguing with Kara isn't going to help your cause. Neither will wearing that dress, which makes her look like an unnatural blueberry cheesecake.
The Jason - I wasn't emotionally connected. She has as much soul as a vanilla ice cream cone. Done. Out.
The Verdict - In the words of Kara, when you sing a song like that, you have to kill it. Unfortunately, I think the song killed her instead. It's a brutal choice of failing to sing the song properly that's going to come back and make her pay dearly.

Stephen Fowler PROMISES not to forget the lyrics. Unfortunately for Stephen, he's not being judged by an affable guy like Wayne Brady - it's Simon Cowell. He is going to sing 'Rock With You' by Michael Jackson.
The Good - At least he doesn't walk off the stage in disgust at the end of his performance.
The Bad - And maybe he didn't 'forget' the song, but he was clearly behind the words in a few spots. He is trying to make it very Luther Vandrossy and turn that song into an R&B love fest. It doesn't work, because his vocals don't match the intensity of the song. And neither Luther or Michael Jackson would be that out of pitch on their worst day.
The Jason - Same problem that Ann Marie had. This has NO soul. He is done as well.
The Verdict - No soul. No pitch. No rememberance. No chance. And if Jennifer Corbi is throwing something at her TV set, Jamar Rogers (if he isn't at the show supporting his fan boy Danny Gokey), who got knocked out in favor of Fowler, is probably napalming his.

Tatiana Del Toro says that she never acts like she did during the show. Sure you don't. She dares to enter the world of Whitney Houston and sings 'Saving All My Love For You'. Jason, based on the last 4 performances, am I wrong for saying that I'm looking forward to this?
The Jason: Yes. Yes you are.
Fine.
The Good - She...sounds...good? Ok, I'm not going THAT far, but she's in pitch and in tone. And she makes love to the camera the way you are supposed to, not to mention that she hits the high note.
The Bad - Choice of song, choice of song, choice of song. She could have done herself a lot more justice if she went to her roots and did something in a Latina Soul and could have easily coasted into the Top 12. She could have cruised into the Top 12 if she hit all the notes wasn't pitchy all over the place - which she was.
The Jason - She is terrible. She has no soul either...Make it 5 in a row...she is gone. The real Tatiana is going home tomorrow.
The Verdict - I don't know what to say. In a normal universe, she's gone tomorrow, but the rest of the female singers were so bad and the one good singer has no name recognition. I'm scared to say this, but second best female performance of the night and possible Wild Card Candidate.

We end the evening with Danny Gokey , who will be singing...'Hero' by Mariah Carey? What's up with these song choices? Are we singing to not get into the Top 12?
The Good - Like Tatiana, he makes love to the camera. And like both Tatiana and Alexis, he emotionally emoted the song. And from a pitch standpoint, he nailed the song.
The Bad - If you want a 'Hero' song that makes more sense, try the one sung by Enrique Iglesias. Bad song choice by Danny. He also looked like he rolled out of bed, went to work, and went right to singing afterwards. Where was the wardobe consultant here?
The Jason - Danny Gokey just sang himself into the next round. Killer performance.
The Verdict - He was put into the last spot for a reason. Best performance of the night. No question that he's going to get into the final 12.

Overall Verdict: Well, that was a strange show, but as the same time, a predictable one. We see why the men were touted to be better than the women and we see once again how song selection is a critical part of the process. We also see why Danny Gokey is a lock to go very very far in this competition.

But who joins him? Alexis was far and away the best women's singer, but Tatiana is the person who has the name recognition - albeit a bad one. Out of the Wild Cards, Ricky Braddy had the best vocal, but Anoop has the name. I'm going to say that America rewards first impressions more than they reward current ones.

Picks: Danny Gokey, Alexis Grace, Anoop Desai
Bubbling Under: Tatiana Del Toro, Ricky Braddy, Michael Sarver
Invited To Wild Card Show if they don't get in: Danny Gokey, Alexis Grace, Anoop Desai, Ricky Braddy, Tatiana Del Toro

The Jason's Picks: Danny Gokey, Alexis Grace, Michael Sarver

Bubbling Under: Tatiana Del Toro, Ricky Braddy, Anoop Desai
Invited To Wild Card Show if they don't get in: Danny Gokey, Alexis Grace, Anoop Desai, Ricky Braddy, Michael Sarver

Jois us in 24 hours to see the first verdict.
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3 Comments

Masterful summation, it's really a masterclass. It helps if you read this to yourself with a James Lipton accent :)

But, I have to stick my neck out and say that you're underestimating Tatiana here. She's a trainwreck you can't help watching and is going to get more votes than any of the rest, possible even Gokey, who I agree is a lock.

Third spot goes to Alexis or Anoop.

said Scaramouch on February 18, 2009 1:24 PM.

How does song selection work? After hearing 'wrong song choice' for the fifth or sixth time you have to wonder why the producers don't help contestants pick songs that suit them.

Sure it's fun to hear Simon rip people to shreds but isn't the point of the show to find the best singer not the best song selector?

said case on February 18, 2009 2:24 PM.

I am so gutted about Tatiana, it's hard to concentrate.

said Scaramouch on February 19, 2009 11:07 AM.
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