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  1. Willie is only the third Southerner to be runner-up to someone from a different region, after Clark and S16 Caleb. All 4 ABC Idols have been the first winner from their state. Only Chayce came from a state which had previously had someone make the Finale. Laine is the only Southern ABC winner, and he, Willie and Caleb are the only ones to make an ABC Finale. 11 non-Southerners have made the Finale in 4 seasons on ABC, while 12 did so in 15 seasons on FOX. 13 if you count Jax, but on the other hand Justin is questionable (as he grew up in Georgia).
  2. Meditating on the Tightrope 5/23 Alright. We’ve reached the endgame. I’m going to save overall thoughts on the season till after this Finale (and as god as my witness, I will write my damn end-of-season analysis this year), but we still need to crown a winner. But who will it be? There are a lot of factors that go into a victory lap, and I’m going to rank each of the Top 3 under different categories, then see how things shake out. Established Fan Base 1. Chayce 2. Willie 3. Grace This is possibly the most important factor, but also the hardest to pin down when we don’t have Bottom 3 placements to look at. However, there may be some guidance to be found in the streams/sales/views for the Winner’s Singles. They seem somewhat more likely to be specifically of interest to the singers’ primary fans, since you have to go out of your way to watch them rather than just going through the Idol YouTube channel. This pretty decisively favors Chayce. While it’s not inaccurate to say that the iTunes ranking isn’t as weighty as it was at the height of the platform’s use, it’s still a massive gap between Chayce and the others. It might not be as difficult to get to #1 as it used to be, the fact is that Chayce got there and lingered for a substantial period of time, while the others didn’t even get close. He’s still at #10 (#2 on Country), while Willie is #42 on R&B and Grace is #128 on Pop (neither is on the main chart). He also leads moderately with all the music video/lyric/etc original videos, and significantly on Spotify (about 225K vs about 30K for Willie and 50K for Grace). How much this translates into an actual gap in voters is hard to say. While Chayce is almost certainly in the lead, the current voting format favors casual voters since voting is so easy and limited. If the cast-off fanbases of eliminated contestants were transferring more smoothly, it might be harder to overcome. I’m not 100% certain that’s happened this year though. Chayce definitely has more in common with almost everyone who’s been eliminated than either Grace or Willie, with only DeShawn and Alyssa respectively really sharing space. However, there have been a lot of contentious eliminations this season. Arthur’s return was polarizing, meaning some of his fans may have dug in to defend him, while other fanbases were extra bitter due to the perceived unfairness of him coming back. Falling just short of the Finale can put a lot of people off, and Casey’s elimination may have been more upsetting to her fans than average. And Caleb, who may have been Chayce’s closest funnel, is a whooooole mess of possible issues. So while Chayce most likely picked up a reasonable number of the undecided, it may not be as many as expected. Between the other two, I’d give the nod to Willie over Grace. He came into the live rounds with probably the largest fan base, though it feels like he plateaued at a certain point. While Grace has had several strong weeks recently, which could bring in devoted supporters, I’m not sure she’s doing as strong a job of holding onto them as Willie or Chayce. Which leads to the next factor. Consistency 1. Willie 2. Chayce 3. Grace There are two factors here: A. Has the contestant given a consistent enough string of performances to not only attract voters who are positively inclined towards them, but really lock them in enough to overlook the occasional slip? And B. How likely are they to get through the Finale without a serious error which might jeopardize their casual votes? Here, Willie has to take the lead. He’s a very polished performer, and has gotten to this point without a real technical error in any of his performances. While I question the breadth of their appeal, for the people most inclined to vote for him I’d say his song choices were reliably pleasing. I’d be surprised if there were really a problem in any of his Finale performances. Meanwhile, Chayce has been fairly consistent himself. He’s chosen songs which should appeal to his fans consistently, with the possible exception of his Oscars performance, and he hasn’t had any performances which were as technically challenged as some of his WGWG predecessors, though Colder Weather was a bit shaky. I can’t entire rule out vocal strain or other issues causing him trouble in the final performances, but I think he could easily manage to get through unscathed. Grace, again, trails here. While she might have the best vocal instrument of the three, she’s not quite as pristine as Willie in terms of execution. Some of her performances (most recently A Moment Like This) have had moments of strain and pitch uncertainty, and because she’s more oriented towards big vocal displays than Chayce this is a bigger issue for her. Her song choices have also been less consistently aimed at her target audience than the other two. Her Top 10 and 7 song choices were pretty strong, as was Father, but others were kind of headscratchers. While she didn’t really have much choice in her songs for the Finale as far as I can see, there’s still some potential for a less than stellar performance to put a dent in her casual votes. Challenge 1. Grace 2. Willie 3. Chayce Grace’s potential technical slips are potentially exacerbated by the vocal difficulty of her Finale songs, but that could also be a potential saving grace (no pun intended). I Have Nothing, All By Myself, and Natural Woman are all archetypical “Let me blow your face off with my overwhelming vocal talent” songs, which makes them high risk/high reward in a certain way. Of the three, she’s the most likely to have a performance which just stuns the audience with its vocal display, which could win over a solid chunk of casual voters, and help her slip past her competitors. Willie’s songs are also vocally showcases, but a little less in your face with their frying pan of talent. Both Georgia On My Mind and A Change Is Gonna Come can be turned into belt-fests, but it’s not necessarily something which really serves the songs’ atmosphere or emotional tone. Going too hard on showing off could actually cost him some votes (I, personally, hate when people take ACIGA, an incredibly meaningful song, and distort it to show off their high notes). Stand Up struck the right balance the first time he performed it, but it may lose a bit of impact since it’s the most recent repeat of the three. Chayce is clearly behind on this metric. Which isn’t surprising, given his genre, you wouldn’t really expect Bob Dylan or Willie Nelson to belt out an endless series of high notes (though other artists, like Chris Stapleton for starters, certainly have been known to). However, Idol has never really escaped its talent show pop star roots, and there will always be some voters who aren’t satisfied without some belting. Neither Afterglow nor Blackbird is likely to scratch that itch for them. There’s a small chance of Fire Away, as one of the previously mentioned Mssr. Stapleton’s songs, pushing Chayce out of his comfort zone into some vocal display, but it may be too late for him to have a shot at those voters. Individuality 1. Chayce 2. Grace 3. Willie This is, to be honest, a bit of a nebulous catch-all of a metric. Some of it is how much creativity and artistry they’ve shown, which helps set them apart from the last 18 seasons of Idol contestants. Part is how much we’ve been given the opportunity to connect to them personally, and how well they’ve capitalized on that. In terms of song choice, Chayce feels like the clear winner. Out of 13 live performances (not counting the reprise), 11 will have been new to Idol, and Blackbird has only been performed once. They’ve felt specific to his style, without really delving into cliche, and he’s the only person who’s presented any self-written songs. I think there’s also a sincerity to Chayce’s performances which doesn’t necessarily get enough credit. While both Grace and Willie at times feel like they’re choosing songs to get through the competition, rather than because they have a real resonance with them, Chayce’s songs always strike me as authentic and emotionally invested (with, again, the possible exception of Everything I Do). Similarly, I think he’s struck the right balance of letting the audience connect with his backstory. It’s present in his song choices, and he’s open emotionally about it, but it hasn’t been smashed into the audience’s faces as much as some past sob stories. I think there’s a lot for the audience to connect to that feels specific to Chayce. Between Willie and Grace it’s a hard call, but I think Grace is a small step ahead. While she’s made some very expected choices (I remain baffled by AMLT), she made some efforts to avoid the obvious diva cliches earlier in the competition. They didn’t always work out for her, but she hasn’t entirely blended in with the ghosts of Idols past. The gap would be wider if it weren’t for the fact that her Finale songs have been performed a total of 21 times previously, which is pretty brutal. I also feel like, while she hasn’t necessarily drawn as much personal connection to her songs as Chayce, she’s had some moments of emotional resonance, most notably Father. Unfortunately I think it’s going to be difficult for her to mine emotional weight out of her Finale songs, which may negate some of this aspect. As for Willie, while this is obviously going to vary from person to person, I find it difficult to connect with him beyond admiring his singing ability. Part of this is that his song choices have been especially played out, even by Idol standards. While Grace has only had six songs new to Idol in the live rounds, that still doubles Willie’s count of three. Notably, I feel two of those three were his strongest performances (Stand Up and I Was Here), with the third being the mostly underwhelming Winner’s Song. It feels like those gave him more opportunity to really dig into the song and put his personal stamp on them, and that he identified with them more. To me, Willie has been very careful to avoid risks in his performances. It really struck me with Glory, which is a hugely impactful song, but one which he only sang a fraction of. Dodging the verses entirely, and just singing the (pretty repetitive) chorus and brief bridge, sapped the song of its drive. The same could be said in a certain way of most of his other song choices. They lean towards generic tones of love or inspiration, but lack emotional depth. While you could argue Chayce’s choices have also been safe (in a vocal sense), they’ve had a lot more emotional heft to them. To be honest, a part of me would like to see Willie win, because it has been so long since we had a Black male winner. But I’m not sure that has much to do with Willie himself. I think the issue is compounded by the way the show has handled Willie, and the contestants in general. There’s a lot of talk about him being inspiring, or “healing people with his voice,” but not much discussion of his actual performances. It almost feels condescending in a way. A lot has been said, and justly so, about how the judges’ lack of criticism has hampered contestants’ ability to grow and improve in the ABC years. However, an aspect which I think has been overlooked is how that also makes it harder for the audience to really connect to contestants. When criticisms, good or bad, focus on the details of a performance, it makes it memorable. When we see someone struggling with an aspect of their singing, and improving, it gets us invested in their progress. But when the starting point is a very bland “You’re perfect, you’re wonderful, your smile is beautiful, did you stone those tights?” litany, what is there to latch onto? This is a problem across the board, but it feels like Idol has a particular problem with letting Black male contestants have a growth arc. They tend to be shoved particularly deep into their niche, and discouraged from growing beyond that, and it happened with Willie this year particularly strongly. And it’s disappointing. So where does that leave us combined? Chayce- 7, Willie- 8, Grace- 9. Of course, this is a completely unscientific, unweighted system, but that feels like the likely outcome. The unpredictable factor is whether the voters of whoever is eliminated first will actually transfer over to one of the Top 2. While this would favor whoever of Grace and Willie remains, I’m feeling skeptical of how much it will contribute. Switching loyalty at the last moment, just after your first choice has been eliminated without even a week to settle, and after having already voted once, feels unlikely. It’s hard to predict, because we’ve only had one prior example, and neither Alejandro or Laine really shared much territory with Madison. Oddly, while I think Willie is more likely to make Top 2 than Grace, I feel like she might be more likely to get crossover votes if she does get there. I’m not sure it will be enough to overcome Chayce though, barring a significant gap in performances. We shall see.
  3. Top 3 Finale Questions 1. Which singer will be crowned as the new American Idol? (100 points) - Chayce 2. Which singer will be in 2nd Place for this season? (70 pts) - Willie 3. Which singer will be in 3rd Place for this season? (50 points) - Grace 4. What will be the gender ratio of male and female singers in the Top 2? 2 males or 1 male, 1 female? (30 points) - 2 males Bonus Questions 5. Will Chayce perform without any musical instrument for any of his performances (competition performances only) (20 pts) - Yes 6. Will we get to see another duet performance from Willie & Grace? (20 pts) - No 7. Will Katy Perry wear any type of necklace this Sunday? (30 pts) - Yes 8. Will any singer (excluding the final 3) duet with any of the judges this Sunday? (30 pts) - Yes 9. How many performance this Sunday, you think will not involve any of Season 19 contestants (Only Judge or Guest Artist or Alumni). Pick A, B, C or D (50 pts) A. 1-3 performance 10. Will Ryan reveal the total number of votes, before the announcement of who is the American Idol? (50 pts) - No
  4. Just updating to say I won't be writing up this week, due to a combination of personal life and work. Will try to do a "who can win" writeup after Sunday.
  5. Top 5 Questions 1. Which 3 singers will be voted by America to Top 3? (90 points) - Chayce - Grace - Willie 2. Which singer do you think will NOT be in the Top 3? (30 pts) - Casey 3. Which singer will be announced first by Ryan Seacrest to move forward to Top 3? (30 points) - Willie 4. Which singer will be announced last by Ryan Seacrest to move forward to Top 3? (30 points) - Grace 5. What will be the ratio of male and female singers in the Top 3? (30 points) - 2 male, 1 female 6. How many singers will use musical instruments in original song performance? (30 pts) - 1 Bonus Questions 7. Will the singer who is going to perform last this Sunday, survive the elimination? Yes or No? (20 pts) - yes 8. Will Grace received standing ovation from all of the judges for BOTH performances? (20 pts) - yes 9. Who will perform first this Sunday? (50 pts) - Grace
  6. 1. Which 5 singers will be voted by America to Top 5? (100 points) - Chayce Beckham - Willie Spence - Grace Kinstler - Hunter Metts - Arthur Gunn 2. Which two singers do you think will NOT be in Top 5? (30 pts) - First choice (20 points) Caleb Kennedy - Second choice (10 points) Casey Bishop 3. Which singer will be announced first by Ryan Seacrest to move forward to Top 5? (20 points) - Grace Kinstler 4. Which singer will be announced last by Ryan Seacrest to move forward to Top 5? (20 points) - Hunter Metts 5. What will be the ratio of male and female singers in the Top 5? (30 points) - examples; 5 males, 0 female 4 males, 1 female 6. How many singers will use musical instruments in BOTH performances? (50 pts) - 4 Bonus Questions 7. Will the singer who is going to perform first this Sunday, survive the elimination? Yes or No? (20 pts) - Yes 8. Will Casey received standing ovation from all of the judges for BOTH performances? (20 pts) - Yes 9. Will we see Caleb’s hair without any hat or cap during one of his performance this Sunday? (20 pts) - Yes
  7. This isn't really a writeup of this past week. I'll remain honest: I don't have any motivation to do it. Like I said last time, the Comeback plus the shortened season again plus the continual failure of ABC to develop the contestants has killed the season for me pretty hard. If this week had been better, I might be more interested. But it was a letdown of an episode. Nobody was terrible, nobody was really outstanding except maybe Grace, and I don't think it made much difference in the long term (lol) of the season. Disney Night has become emblematic of the flaws of ABC Idol: more interested in cross-promotion and the veneer of positivity than depth and development. It's also now tied for the second most-used catalogue-specific theme (ie not genre/decade/songs you wish you had on your iTunes), matching The Beatles at 4 repeats (and behind Motown at 7 + 2 Stevie Wonders and a Diana Ross), and even Motown had the good grace to max out at 3 seasons in a row. It's worn out, and I think that contributes to how indifferent the episodes have become since the first time. I will say a little bit about this Sunday's song choices though, since those are potentially more interesting. Long time readers will recall my belief that the 5th-6th episode (and to a lesser degree 7th) from contestants is many Moments tend to concentrate, and this is a pivotal moment in contender's Idol careers. Namely: S1- Stuff Like That There, A House Is Not A Home S2- no strong contenders, but arguably Kiss and Say Goodbye for Ruben, with New York State of Mind at 7th S3- Circle of Life, Summertime, Somewhere S4- Alone S5- I Don't Hurt Anymore S6- I Who Have Nothing S7- Billie Jean S8- Ain't No Sunshine, Mad World S9- Treat Her Like A Lady, Jealous Guy at 7th S10- Benny and the Jets S11- Whole Lotta Love, and the Personal Idol episode as a whole S12- no strong contenders (Lovesong at 7th or 8th stretches it to be honest) S13- Decode, Dazed and Confused, with Blue Eyed Lie and Fairytales at 7th S14- arguably Fancy, if you count the House of Blues round since all of the performances were aired S15- No More Drama, Chandelier The second performance (Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me, Whipping Post, Hemorrhage, My Funny Valentine, Imagine, As Long As I Can See The Light, I Will Always Love You) is also a locus of Moments. But there's something about that 5-6 spot, where people seem to have enough experience under their belt to go for broke, audiences are making up their mind as to who gets their love, and everything comes together. ABC Idol, due to its truncated format, doesn't quite hit the mark. You can point to certain performances: Nothing Compares 2 U, When Doves Cry, and How Come U Don't Call Me Anymore were the Final Three's respective high points (arguable for Maddie), and Woodstock/Showstoppers was certainly a season defining episode. S18 didn't even have five episodes so, oops. This Sunday will be the 6th episode (Disney was pretty much a bust for really making any difference). Will anyone actually take advantage of it? Lets look at the song choices. Mother's Day is a promising theme, because it almost guarantees emotional investment by both contestants and audience. For both S16 and 18, it was the strongest round of the competition, although both were weighed down by weak second themes. It's also basically an open choice, which gives contestants a chance to bring their biggest strengths, as long as they choose well. Which, you know, not a guarantee, but still promising. Coldplay is a lot tougher. Their songs, for the most part, aren't really well suited to competition. They don't tend to put a lot of focus on vocal display, they're not overtly emotive for the most part (the exceptions of Fix You and The Scientist being why they're the ones usually done), and they tend towards repetition rather than climactic structures building towards a big moment. While there are some gems that could work, making this round impactful is going to depend heavily on how the contestants arrange them around those issues. So, who has the potential to succeed with their song choices? (Spoilers Ahoy) Arthur, In My Place; Simple Man by Lynyrd Skynyrd Despite being prone to re-arrangement, I don't think these are going to do much good for Arthur. In My Place is a prime example of a Coldplay song that just kind of drifts along without much of a build. It might be hilarious to see the reactions from Chris Martin when Arthur mentions he's just going to sing the lyrics to the tune of Brandy and basically disregard the actual song, but I don't feel like the audience will react warmly. Meanwhile, Simple Man is as generic a choice as can be made in Arthur's style, and it's hard to see it moving the needle much. It worked for Cade as a contrast to his generic RAWK OUT performance style, but it's pretty much par for the course for Arthur. I also feel like, since we've already had one Mother's Day episode from him and he was home until a week or two ago, it's going to be hard to milk much more emotion out of his pre-performance video. Caleb, Violet Hill; Mama Said (original) I'm uncertain of Caleb's prospects. Violet Hill IS one of Coldplay's most suitable songs, being more emotionally open than average and fairly easy to give a more dramatic contour. In the hands of a skilled arranger, this could be the best choice of the round. However, can Caleb make it work? Neither climactic vocals nor emotional expression have really been his strong suit in the competition, and this is literally his first step outside his comfort zone. Can he make a song that's not a complete soft pitch work for him? While it's not necessarily going to come across, Violet Hill is also kind of a weird thematic choice, given it's an anti-war protest song that's explicitly anti-FOX (which makes its appearance in Season 13 kinda funny). Much of the audience wont register that, but some might be put off. As for his original, they're a little hard to judge. Other original songs have gotten him attention, but of the three coming this round this one seems the most generic. It's kind of Simple Man lite, centered around motherly advice, but doesn't seem like it necessarily has a lot of emotional weight. I also wonder if, having just seen him have an emotional interaction with his mother last week, the impact might be dulled. He's on the fence. Casey, Paradise; Ironic by Alanis Morrissette Casey may be in real trouble this week, and even if it doesn't knock her out of the competition this could do serious damage to her chances at the Finale. Paradise, sung straight is another poor fit for competition, and is especially repetitive. It CAN be arranged into something suitable, there's a Within Temptation cover which would work fine for Casey. However, Casey hasn't really shown any inclination to tinker with her songs, she's pretty much sung them more or less as is. While that's worked out for her fairly well (though less so in her non-rock songs in my opinion), it doesn't seem likely that taking Paradise at face value will help her advance. Which is a problem, because she is basically throwing away her Mother's Day round. While everyone else is doing something with emotional resonance, she's chosen a song that's both hilariously inappropriate to the theme, and basically a punchline at this point. It might be fun, but I don't think it will be much of a vote getter. Maybe it's her mom's favorite song, but that's a perpetually terrible reason to choose songs. Unless you were grown in a lab to compete on Idol, your progenitors music choices don't indicate suitability for competition. Learn this kids. Chayce, Magic; Mamma (original) On paper, I would say Chayce has one of the best potential sets this week, and this could be a major turning point for him. Magic is one of Coldplay's more driving and dynamic songs, and unlike many of the other contestants Chayce has shown himself to be a capable arranger. There's an Aloe Blacc cover which could easily translate into a strong performance if you traded the piano part out for a banjo and amped the guitars up a little. It's not the most emotionally invested song, but that's ok given his second choice. Chayce has maybe the most emotional material to mine for his interactions with his mother, given his backstory of addiction and recovery, much like Dillon had last year. His original basically weaponizes that, as it makes direct and specific references to their relationship. The melody may be a bit lacking in a hook, and it needs more build than the version on Instagram, but a full band can make a lot difference in that respect. This is basically a gut punch to the audience if he pulls it off effectively. Grace, Hymn For The Weekend; When We Were Young by Adele If Chayce doesn't have the best choices, it's only because Grace's are excellent. How do you make a band that doesn't really fit your vocal style work? Find their song that features Beyonce. It's energetic without being as cheesy as Happy was, and leaves plenty of room for a big vocal build. Tapering her performances to that kind of climax hasn't always worked out for Grace, but there's potential (although there's an off chance singing about feeling drunk and high might go over poorly). Like Chayce, it makes a strong contrast to her second song. Grace covering Adele was an inevitability, and this is one of the best songs she could have chosen (although Remedy might have been better). The build to the climax is already built in, and it's a huge sing she can fully deliver. The Mother's Day connection may be a little forced, but the longing for a simpler childhood in the face of fame works well enough. There may also be emotional weight to be taken from the passing of Grace's father. Hunter, Everglow; The River (original) Hunter has one of the best Coldplay choices, in that it's pretty workable without needing any particular tinkering to fit him. It's in a restrained style which plays to his strengths, and while it doesn't necessarily build hugely that's not something Hunter can really give anyway. There's a risk that it'll push him to attempt a falsetto which he hasn't really done well with thus far, but we'll see. As for his original, it's again hard to judge. It's got a solid melody, but the lyrics seem like an odd fit for Mother's Day, since it seems to be a breakup song (if a very laid back one). I'm not sure how it'll land live, since it's a studio version being compared to Caleb and Chayce's impromptu Instagram versions. Like Caleb, I think Hunter's on the fence here. Willie, Yellow; You Are So Beautiful by Billy Prestion For the second week in a row (and third week out of six), Willie's song choices are a disappointment. Part of that is personal, as I can't stand Yellow and feel that even by Coldplay standards it's repetitive and kinda pointless. I don't really see it giving Willie a lot of room for vocal display, and forcing it to do so is going to make for an awkward performance. Of course, his other song is all vocal display, but it's also the clichest cliche that ever cliched. Even a superlative vocal seems unlikely to make anything really interesting out of it. It feels like these plus Disney are draining any of the expanded interest Willie might have garnered from Stand Up, and he's basically on autopilot hoping to cruise to the Finale. Which might work. But I think his chances of victory are starting to decline, and this feels a lot like a setup for a potential shock boot. We'll see if he can turn it around. And we'll see if any of these performances turn around my interest in writing about the season.
  8. I don't think we're going to get indication of who's singing what until the performances, and there are quite a few which could be many different people. I'm cautiously optimistic for what I think Cassandra is doing (When You Wish Upon A Star), and if Casey is doing Into The Unknown it could go very well. I'm not feeling like Circle of Life is going to do anyone any favors. Made some comments on the three eliminations, but not extensive ones.
  9. 1. Which 7 singers will be voted by America to Top 7? If you think the second chance singer will move forward to Top 7 as well, you can write second chance singer (70 points) - Willie Spence - Casey Bishop - Chayce Beckham - Grace Kinstler - Cassandra Coleman - Second chance singer - Hunter Metts 2. Which two singers do you think will NOT be in Top 7? (40 points) - DeShawn Goncalves - Alyssa Wray 3. Which singer will be announced first by Ryan Seacrest to move forward to Top 7? (20 points) - Chayce Beckham 4. Which singer will be announced last by Ryan Seacrest to move forward to Top 7? (20 points) - Cassandra Coleman 5. What will be the ratio of male and female singers in the Top 7? (20 points) 4 male to 3 female - examples; 6 males to 1 female Bonus Questions 7. Will Katy Perry wear a disney costume during the show? (20 pts) - Yes 8. Will Lionel Richie wear a disney costume during the show? (20 pts) - No 9. How many singers will use musical instruments (any instruments) during their Top 10 performance? (50 pts) - 6
  10. I don't really have much motivation to talk about the departed at length to be honest. But I will say that, for all three, I think their elimination came down to my perpetual topics: Identity, and Song Choice. For Madison, even after 8 performances I really don't have a firm grasp on her. She did the singer-songwriter thing, she made some attempts at a current pop star performer, she belted old-school diva stuff. Over the course of the competition, she came across as someone who was trying to give the audience what they want, without first figuring out what they would want from her specifically. This used to be a viable strategy on Idol, to be honest. You could just find something which fit the theme, and was appropriate to your voice, and people would buy it if you were good. But I think we're past that point. I've remarked before that the ABC Idol framework seems to prize, above all other things, authenticity and sincerity. Every performance might not be a perfect one on the way to victory, but it needs to be a real one. And Madison always came across as overthinking instead of just going with the performance. Beane was on the opposite end of the spectrum, despite also having a difficult to pin down identity. I buy that all of his song choices were meaningful favorites of his that he sincerely loved. I buy that the audience would believe that too. That doesn't make them good song choices though. His Wildcard performance fit both his identity and what works on Idol, and I maintain that there was potential for his Oscar song to work with the right arrangement (although I think a bland acoustic rehash beginning to end wouldn't have been it). However, his Dua Lipa song was messily arranged, and didn't show him to great advantage even without that, and his Top 16 song was both insanely obscure, and a less than ideal fit for the show. I think having those be his first two voting solos really kneecapped his chances of building any momentum. As for Ava, her song choices were clearly stylistically coherent and fit with her persona, AND theoretically showed the parts of her voice which were her strong points. It showed in the success she had with some of her performances. But City of Stars, despite all that, was just a bad song choice. It's an incredibly sleepy song that doesn't really go anywhere, and while it's woven into the fabric of its movie, it's as much as a theme in the score as the vocal performance. More to the point, we'd already seen this side of Ava repeatedly, in better performances. It made it all the more forgettable. You can't just be thinking of an individual performance if you want to succeed on Idol. You need to take into consideration how it relates to both your past ones, and the moves you plan to make in the future. Or else you can get shock eliminated. We might see that pattern repeat this week, given some of the song choices.
  11. Top 9 Ranking I’m going to be honest up front: I struggled to write this week. Part of that is I’m just personally having a stressful week, and don’t have a lot of energy to devote to this. But the double-barreled impact of finding out the season would be going back to mass eliminations, and the ridiculously poor handling of the Comeback episode, just takes a lot of the joy in this season for me. Which is pretty unfortunate, because this remains one of the strongest casts in the history of the show. But ABC continues to squander the wealth of talent they’ve repeatedly been provided. It’s massively frustrating really. This cast cries out for a long stretch of time where we could get to know them, they could grow into the stage, and we could get some incredible performances. We might still get one or two. But those throw-down-the-gauntlet “This is what we’ve been waiting for” performances don’t come so easily when you’re zooming towards the end, which has been clearly evident in every ABC season. It’s a weird dichotomy, because superficially the show presents an image of nurturing and care towards the contestants, it doesn’t bother to actually help their artistic development or show them any deeper kindness. The Comeback episode is a prime example. Theoretically, I approve of giving the contestants who kinda got screwed by COVID the chance at a more legitimate experience with the show. If they’d been given a fast pass to Hollywood, it could’ve been a warm and fuzzy experience that also gave them a legitimate shot. Idol got plenty of mileage out of offering similar opportunities to Alyssa and Laine in Season 17. This, on the other hand, isn’t really fair to anyone. It’s not fair to the current season’s crew, who earned their spots in the Finals the proper way, and are getting cut in larger numbers (essentially two spots down, one to the returnee and another lost because we wasted an episode on this). It’s unfair to the viewers, who got frankly one of the worst episodes in the show’s history when we could’ve been getting some great performances from the actual Finalists. And it really isn’t fair to the returnees either. While it’s nice for them to get another moment on national television, most of them made clear why nobody voted for them last year. Some actually got worse. And only a few of them have any chance of even getting into the Finals. None will win. If they’d come back in Hollywood, with time to settle back into the show and win people over, maybe (although frankly, I’m skeptical given the strength of this season). But thrown on stage most of the way into the season when people have found new favorites, with mediocre introductions, and the stink of unfairness all over them (through no fault of their own)? Not a prayer. Given another large cut is coming in the next round, after a week off for whatever enthusiasm people might have worked up to fade, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the returnee immediately go home again. Which would really just be the tainted cherry on the sundae. That’s the last I’m going to say about this, I really don’t care enough to write about the performances. I’ll incorporate whoever comes back, and leave it at that. As for this group, there’s been some definite shifts, although they might not look so big just by the numbers. The biggest impact is actually probably the reduced number of episodes, which shift the potential impact of a lot of things. I’ve already made my feelings clear about the comeback, and of the three eliminees only Ava had a (fairly tough) road to the Finale. But turning this season back into a sprint instead of a marathon puts a lot of pressure on certain factors. As for the episode itself, it had some interesting ups and downs. Some contenders made poor choices, some stragglers redeemed themselves, we got a fantastic performance and some pretty good ones, and no real disasters. It’s the kind of episode you’d be pretty happy with in any season, but brought down a little bit by everything else happening around it. 1. Willie Spence (Previous Round 3), “Stand Up” from Harriet Willie has several things going for him this week, which bumped him from the kind of presumed-frontrunner who seems likely to fall short, to legitimately tough to beat. The biggest thing was that his performance was outstanding, real Moment material. It was simultaneously his most impassioned performance, and maybe his most controlled and varied vocal. The song choice was inspired, especially in contrast to the pretty well-worn material he’s been trotting out up to this point. And the arrangement was great, with a real sustained build to the climax, a variety of sections, and some masterful key changes. The band has, to be honest, been pretty lackluster this season, but maybe that was the fault of having to prepare 48 performances the first week and 32 (or 48 again?) the second. Compare the bizarre key change in Set Fire To The Rain to the ones in this song, and it seems like a different group altogether. Overall, this was the kind of performance that can lock undecided voters into being full supporters. The shortened finals only heighten that impact. It leaves less time for that burst of potential supporters to fade in people’s memories and start quoting Janet Jackson. This also boosts the benefit of Willie’s large early fanbase. With his competitors having less time to catch up added to another burst of support here, he could cruise to victory. The third factor helping Willie is the surprising tenacity of his potential Funnel competitors. DeShawn’s continued endurance in the competition suggests one of two things. Scenario 1: DeShawn has an unexpectedly large reserve of supporters who are getting him through despite not making many waves in the competition. If this is the case, Willie is undoubtedly the most likely candidate for them to support once DeShawn’s time runs out, and the fact that he’s lasted several more weeks than I would have expected gives them ample time to warm up to Willie. Especially after this week. Scenario 2: DeShawn is primarily benefiting from Willie’s supporters also viewing him reasonably favorably and throwing him some votes. If this is the case, it suggests Willie’s fanbase is even larger than suspected. Either way, it’s a positive for Willie. While Alyssa feeds more directly into Grace’s potential votes, Willie also stands to potentially pick up some support from her lasting another round or two. The biggest question for Willie is: What now? While fewer rounds lowers the chances of this week getting lapped by one of his competitors breaking out closer to the Finale, lower doesn’t mean LOW. What Willie does next week is going to be very important in determining how well this sticks. If he makes another smart song choice and delivers it strongly, he can potentially get a firm grasp on any new voters. However, if he goes back to the well of overplayed Idol standards, this week may read as a fluke. Especially since the week off will dull people’s memories somewhat. Unfortunately, Disney is a prime theme to tempt him into a bad choice, and there have already been rumors he was going for the most boring possible choice. We’ll see if he comes up with something better. 2. Chayce Beckham (Previous Round 1), “(Everything I Do) I Do It For You” from Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves Chayce is in a somewhat nebulous position after this week. This was probably his weakest performance, and somewhat jarring in that it’s the first time he’s sung something that wasn’t new to Idol. It wasn’t bad enough to really undermine his existing fanbase, but I doubt he earned many new supporters this week. It’s especially unfortunate, because given he was in no danger of leaving this week he had a real opportunity to take a risk that could’ve broken up the routine of his performances. While Chayce can make a lot of headway on the basis of consistency and a broad pool of potential supporters, I’m not sure he can win JUST on that. And he has less time to do a slow-and-steady path to victory. On the other hand, while he didn’t stand out this week, he does still benefit from his competitors having less time to jump ahead of him, as Willie does but from a different angle. I don’t think Chayce, at this point, is a particularly divisive contestant. While his tone is distinctive, it’s not as aggressively love-or-hate as some past raspers like Wade, and he’s not so far into rock or country as to put off those who dislike the genre on principle. He’s still the most likely beneficiary of most of the remaining singers, and with more of them going each round he can still steadily accumulate support, even if it won’t be as impassioned as some fanbases. However, he needs some strong performances to make sure those generally favorable voters remain motivated, especially as large cuts ups the chances of people being left with a bad taste in their mouth after an undeserved cut. Can Disney provide that opportunity. It seems like there’s potential. While this week was a letdown on song choice, Chayce has made good and creative choices through most of the competition. Disney doesn’t really provide many obvious default choices for him, especially since Caleb has probably already hidden the sheet music for You’ve Got A Friend In Me under his hat. If he’s forced to go back outside the box, there are some hidden gems deeper in the Disney canon which he could make a strong impression with. 3. Casey Bishop (Previous Round 4), “Over the Rainbow” from The Wizard of Oz It’s kind of funny to bump Casey up another step this round, because I didn’t really like this performance very much. While she had a couple of more delicate moments, the high notes were pushed to the point of straining, and at times flat. I think this showed the limits of her vocal development: she doesn’t have the control necessary to really keep a grasp of those high notes. If the song sits more in her middle range, like Black Hole Sun, she’s fine, and if it’s a rock song which drives forward she can kind of keep running on momentum, although the strain still shows at times. Something which really calls for subtlety like this is beyond her. However, like Chayce I don’t think this was enough to lose her supporters, and unlike him she gains some benefits from the change of pace. While I didn’t care for it, the variation in her routine fends off accusations of being one-note for a round or two, and by that point we’re almost to the Finale. Like Chayce, while Disney offers a trap song choice or two (please god, not another round of How Far I’ll Go), there are a lot of less overdone choices which could reward Casey’s style. They don’t even need to be particularly obscure, I Won’t Say I’m In Love is from a major movie and barely ever gets done. She could strike a balance between going straight back to her rock comfort zone and going completely out of it, and really lock in that versatility impression with a better performance. It seems inevitable that at least one Finale spot will go to a female contestant, and it’s a bit of a muddle which person will take it. Casey seems to be maneuvering into the lead for that spot, as she’s been delivering performances which are more vote-friendly than Grace, and has been more consistent than the other remaining women. She would make a somewhat hard to predict impact if Willie and Chayce were the other two, as she shares more genre with Chayce, but is perhaps closer to Willie in primarily selling herself on the basis of power vocals. I’m not 100% sure she can capture enough of the Idol audience to really power to victory of either of those two, but she could make it a very interesting race. 4. Grace Kinstler (Previous Round 2), “Happy” from Despicable Me 2 I’m starting to have concerns about Grace. I think she’s gotten into her own head with how she’s choosing songs, and it’s not doing her any favors. On paper, I can understand the thought process. It can be very risky to stick too closely to expected song choices, as it’s hard to make a strong impression with a song everyone’s heard a billion times, and even solid singing can get boring. This is especially the case for the belter/diva archetype, as those songs are particularly overdone due to the early years of Idol basically being nothing but this type. It also could negatively impact your chances post-show, as it’s hard to sell yourself as a contemporary star while singing old chestnuts which nobody wants to record today. Grace seems aware of this, and has been picking primarily contemporary songs, and ones which are more energetic and performance-oriented than you’d expect with her skillset. Theoretically, making choices like that would be smart. I’ve complained several times about Willie going for worn out choices and the potential effect on his chances, and praised him for going a different direction this week. Why doesn’t the same apply to Grace? I think there are several errors she’s making, any one of which would be manageable, but all together they’re putting her in a dangerous position. For one, the benefit of those outside the box choices is usually that they provide variety in a contestant’s routine of more expected choices, showing different facets of their abilities than the obvious selections. However, by almost entirely sticking to these choices, Grace is essentially ending up more monotonous. She’s avoiding putting herself in one box, by forcing herself into another which doesn’t suit her as well. Another problem is that she’s not doing much to tailor these song choices to her own style. She’s trying to present herself as a viable artist, but instead of individualizing them she’s been mostly singing straight covers. Happy is an excellent example. When I read the song spoilers, I thought there was a path to making it workable. It has gospel elements already present in the song, a good arrangement could have brought those out, shown Grace’s vocal prowess, kept the benefit of the unexpected choice, and been more interesting. There was a little effort towards this with the opening, but after that it just reverted to the original version. While she tried to show off vocally towards the end, it was too sudden a switch instead of building gradually to the climax, so it just seemed kind of desperate. The final problem is, frankly, these just aren’t very good songs she’s choosing. Queen is one of Jessie J’s weakest songs, Elastic Heart isn’t one of Sia’s best, and Happy is just obnoxious at this point. Dangerous Woman is solid, but there are still better choices which could have been made in a similar style, and it was in a non-voting round. Grace is throwing away her biggest selling point, her powerful vocals, and needs to put them front and center if she wants to start building momentum towards a spot in the Finale. However, Disney is a tricky week to do so. On the one hand, there are plenty of big classic ballads which would let her stay still and belt her face off, which theoretically would be good. However, many of those ballads run straight into the previously mentioned problem of “this song is so overdone that you can’t impress.” Reflection, Let It Go, Colors of the Wind, they’ve been done. The fact that she’s been avoiding standard fare thus far would make going that overdone all of a sudden all the more jarring, like Chayce’s choice this week. But if she’s goes for another obscure, lower quality song, she’s throwing away another chance to deliver the kind of performance she needs. There are songs which are less overdone but still powerful, but the already tricky needle the cast needs to thread for this theme is all the harder for Grace. If she makes a strong selection, she can rebuild her trajectory and still has potential for a Finale spot. However, with the shortened season there’s not much more time to waste. I’m already starting to question if she has sufficient opportunity to overcome Willie’s advantage in the belter sweepstakes, especially after his performance this week. If next week is on par with her run thus far, I don’t think she’s likely to go home, but she could easily go in Top 7. 5. Cassandra Coleman (Previous Round 9), “Writing’s On The Wall” from Spectre Everything is chaos this week when it comes to Cassandra, and this boost up the rankings may be as much hope as logic. On the one hand, she had one major benefit from this round: her nearest competitor, Ava, is gone. In recent rounds, Ava has been stealing Cassandra’s thunder, and it was threatening to send her home early. However, things can shift quickly on Idol. The two of them have been a study in contrasts thus far. Ava was extremely consistent, steady, and restrained, which lead to some striking and lovely performances. However, steady and restrained can easily become boring if the material isn’t strong enough to shine, and that got Ava eliminated. Cassandra, on the other hand, has been uneven, with somewhat strange song choices, and vocally flawed performances. However, she managed to reverse those issues somewhat this week. She chose a better known song than some of her previous selections, with a more dramatic, attention grabbing style, and… mostly delivered it. Her vocals still carried their trademark elements, with the distinctive vibrato, and almost wild delivery, but she managed to avoid going off the rails entirely like she did in Light On. The emotional openness which is her strong asset remained intact, and may have helped paper the divisive quality of her voice. Where does she go from here though? While she pulled off the big vocal this week, I remain skeptical that it is wise of her to continue chasing after them. Cassandra makes an interesting mirror to Grace, in that both seem to be repeatedly trying to prove they can do something outside their comfort zone, and are losing opportunities to really display their best qualities in the process. Even when she doesn’t fall apart, these dramatic vocals aren’t Cassandra’s strong suit. Emotional connection, and purity of tone and phrasing, those are where she shines. She has an advantage over Grace, in that she still comes across as distinctive and individual in these ill-fitting choices, but her lack of vocal power means they’re much closer to disaster. Admittedly, I just talked about how Ava got eliminated giving restrained, pretty performances, but the fact that it’s easy to be boring in that style doesn’t mean it’s inevitable. You can give an impressive vocal performance which doesn’t rely on pure power, and you can deliver emotion without having to belt. You just have to choose a good song to showcase those aspects, which Disney offers many examples of. However, if she tries once again to show that she can belt too, and goes looking for a Disney ballad to do it on, she’ll find one. And she’ll go home. It feels like, unless she makes excellent choices every week going forward, and delivers them expertly, it’s going to be tough for Cassandra to make the Finale. She’s just been too inconsistent, even if she manages to capture most of Ava’s supporters, and possibly Hunters’ soon as well. ABC Idol thus far has primarily benefited the most consistent contestants, given the rushed format and… suspect support from the coaching staff. Cassandra would need to be on a Maddie trajectory of delivering to the maximum of her abilities on a weekly basis, and making excellent strategic choices as well, and she hasn’t been. However, prior to this week I was skeptical if she’d make it past Top 9, and I could see a path where she gets a week or two more. Disney is going to be extremely pivotal for that, and I hope she has a great song choice on deck. 6. Caleb Kennedy (Previous Round 6), “On The Road Again” from Honeysuckle Rose It feels appropriate that Caleb is staying in roughly the same position, given that he’s basically cruising through the competition at an even plateau. Which is fine. His performance this week was fine, a little more old school country than his previous song choices but basically the same general performance. It was fine. I’m sure his fans, and a fair chunk of country fans in general, enjoyed it. I don’t really see Caleb changing much in the remaining weeks either. If there were more episodes, he might have more room to stretch outside his comfort zone, but mass eliminations are likely to scare even more confident contestants away from risks, and Caleb is perhaps the most narrowly focused person left. It doesn’t really leave me with much to say. I feel like I’ve said that before, but the repetition is somehow appropriate. Caleb could make Top 7, but he could also go home this round. Without a major disaster from one or more people, I don’t really see him making Top 5, and reaching the Finale would require several collapses on the part of his competitors. Pixar provides numerous opportunities to stay in his lane (I’m going to let you fill in the Cars pun yourselves), so Disney isn’t likely to make much difference in his trajectory. It’ll all be on others. 7. Hunter Metts (Previous Round 7), “Falling Slowly” from Once Hunter may have gotten one of the highest vote counts this round. The outpouring of reactions to his teary breakdown at the end of the performance suggest a lot of support for him, and people appeared to like his performance up until that point. It probably gave him a solid boost this round. However, I’m not sure it does him any favors in the long run. This performance drove home a lot of my concerns about Hunter’s longevity on the show. I didn’t particularly care for this performance. It was solid at times, but his falsetto is very weak, and he doesn’t have the vocal power to really bring the song to a climax. More importantly, I really don’t feel Hunter has the confidence or the stability to succeed on the show. Many people have forgotten their words on Idol, and quite a few have done so to a worse degree than Hunter did. I can’t recall any of them having an extended, weeping emotional breakdown over it, including some who were teenagers. It seems quite likely that Hunter will have another major error in the next round or two, given his general inconsistency. Will he break down again? While one emotional outburst might spur a protective wave from fans, I feel like that spike in support can’t be repeated to the same effect. Given the long break between episodes, I’m not sure people will retain the warm reaction to a significant degree going into the next round of voting either. Unlike Caleb, Hunter is likely to rise or fall based on how well he maintains his equilibrium in the next round. I feel like without the emotional outburst he might have been at risk of going home instead of Ava, but there’s a strong chance he would have been safe regardless. If he musters a solid performance on par with his Victory song, he could be safe for another round as well. But I think, at the latest, he’s likely to hit a major obstacle once they reach the multi-song round, which seems likely to be Top 7. And by that point, I don’t think he’ll have anywhere to hide from elimination unless someone has much worse trouble. 8. Alyssa Wray (Previous Round 10), “This Is Me” from The Greatest Showman Alyssa makes a fascinating contrast to Grace. It’s almost a mirror-universe method of song choice. Where Grace has almost perversely been steering away from the expected diva ballads, Alyssa has been going further and further into overly-expected choices. Up until this point that lead to diminishing returns, with The Greatest Love of All being particularly underwhelming. Given what a nightmare This Is Me is to sing live, even for the original performer, this seemed like the choice that might finally cut Alyssa’s run short. However, I think she pulled this off, far better than her previous uninspired songs. She showed a lot of restraint through most of this song, which normally pushes people into more and more screaming, and when she reached the power notes in the ending she nailed them. This is the other side of these tired songs: If you’re bad, or even mediocre, you’ll be mercilessly judged, but if you actually manage to nail them, there can be a lot of pay off. Which is what Grace is really missing out on, since she has the vocal capacity to smash some old chestnuts (like she did on Midnight Train). If only the two of them could trade off half their song choices, they both would be stronger. While her performance this week put her in the safe zone, I’m not sure it can really turn the tide on her momentum by itself. Right now, it feels like a one-off, with the positive response being somewhat begrudging. If she can follow it up with a song which is delivered with the same skill AND more inventive, I can see a scenario where she manages to overtake Grace (although it would be a stretch). But if she defaults to the overdone again (and Disney offers a lot of temptations in that direction), she’s likely to struggle, which would be deadly in another triple elimination. 9. DeShawn Goncalves (Previous Round 11), “The Way We Were” from The Way We Were Every season, there seems to be someone who I just cannot imagine advancing, and every season they advance several rounds before the voting audience catches up with my bafflement. DeShawn seems to be the beneficiary of my curse this season. And you know, of all my opponents over the years, I dislike DeShawn the least. I don’t even dislike him at this point. This was actually one of my favorite performances of the round. He kept his tendency to get overindulgent with the vocals in check, and just delivered a strong vocal performance and solid emotional connection. I was pleased… I just don’t know who’s voting for him. Usually, the people in this position are the weakest WGWG of the season, or getting carried through by the judges. DeShawn is neither so, maybe it’s the Willie overlap I speculated about before? An abundance of old school soul fans? Possibly a mysterious organization of extremely mannered space aliens? Given another triple cut, I find it hard to imagine he lasts past the next round. But I’ve been saying that every round, so what do I know?
  12. 1. Which 9 singers will be voted by America to Top 9? (90 points) - Beane - Chayce - Willie - Grace - Ava - Cassandra - Caleb - Hunter - Casey 2. Which singer do you think will NOT be in Top 9? (20 points) - Madison 3. How many wildcards will move forward to Top 9? 2 or 1 or 0? (20 points) - 1 4. Which female singer will be announced first by Ryan Seacrest to move forward to Top 9? (10 points) - Grace 5. Which male singer will be announced first by Ryan Seacrest to move forward to Top 9? (10 points) - Willie 6. What will be the ratio of male and female singers in the Top 9? (20 points) - 5 male/4 female Bonus Questions 7. Will we heard any of these songs on Sunday Night (100 pts) 7.1 Shallow (A Star Is Born) Yes 7.2 Let It Go (Frozen) Yes 7.3 I Have Nothing (The Bodyguard) Yes 7.4 Falling Slowly (Once) Yes 7.5 Skyfall (Skyfall) Yes 8. Between all 12 songs chosen by the Top 12, how many songs won the Oscars for Best Original Song? (50 pts) - 6
  13. I knew I was tempting fate by waiting to do song suggestions. Alyssa- This will be very hit or miss. If she can nail the vocal and the emotion, this could get her back some momentum. However, if she starts shrieking like most people who sing this live do (including the original singer), she’s dead in the water. Ava- I’m not sure about this. It’s a very subtle song, which has worked for Ava before, but it verges on boring. Could get lost in the shuffle. Beane- I actually think this could work out. It’s one of only 2-3 non-ballads, and it’s the only FUN one. It would be easy to arrange out the cheese. only question is whether he’ll get vocally sloppy with the energy cranked up. Caleb- This is the only one which was actually on my suggestion list, but I was leaning against it. It’s kinda middle of the road as a choice, though it might appeal to a different group of country voters. Casey- There are less overplayed standards she could have pulled out, but it will be interesting to see if she can go back to jazz from her audition without it clashing with her current style. I kinda want her to do the uptempo Me First and the Gimme Gimmes cover. Cassandra- Like Alyssa, this is a make or break choice, but here it’s all about the arrangement. If she keeps it restrained and atmospheric it could be a moment, but if she tries belting again she’s doomed. Chayce- An unusually boring choice by Chayce. Only real upside is it’s more of a big vocal than his past songs, so could earn some “ok he CAN belt also” points. DeShawn- Lovely, old-fashioned, and boring. Not going to help him. Grace- Actually not a bad choice. It would be incredibly easy to gospel up, there’s already a gospel choir in the video. Will the backup singers stop sucking though? They’ve been terrible thus far. Hunter- Another super obvious choice, and I think a vocal trap. Either he’s going to cut it down to one octave, or he’s going to try for falsetto which will be... interesting. Madison- Girl why? Willie- The one unambiguously great choice. Total pimp spot material.
  14. I don't really think she's BAD. She'd be a solid midcard in a lot of seasons. This one is just stacked.
  15. I don't think any of her song choices have been good. Not actively horrible (although her Oscar song might be), but not winning any points. If it were a single cut she could slide past an unexpected flop, but I don't think Hotline Bling really won anyone undecided over like Beane might have, and without that she's too far behind to survive a triple cut. Especially not with that song.
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