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Everything posted by muse273

  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.
  16. Alright, Top 12 ranked. I will probably be back with song suggestions tomorrow (pretty late, but whatever). Have at it. ... How do I edit my footer? The defunct old links are making me sad.
  17. 1. Which 10 singers will be voted by America to Top 12? (100 points) - Grace Kinstler - Chayce Beckham - Willie Spence - Casey Bishop - Caleb Kennedy - Hunter Metts - Alyssa Wray - Cassandra Coleman - Ava August - Beane 2. Which 2 singers will be chosen by the judges as wildcards? (40 points) - Alanis Sophia - DeShawn Goncalves 3. Which 2 singers you pretty sure will not be in Top 12? (20 points) - Madison Watkins - Graham DeFranco 3. Which female singer will be announced first by Ryan Seacrest to move forward to Top 12? (10 points) - Casey Bishop 4. Which male singer will be announced first by Ryan Seacrest to move forward to Top 12? (10 points) - Willie Spence 5. What will be the ratio of male and female singers in the Top 12? (20 points) - 6 males, 6 females
  18. 1. Chayce Beckham (Previous Round 4), “What Brings Life Also Kills” by Kolton Moore and the Clever Few” I had a subconscious feeling that Chayce was a formidable competitor, but consideration of the long-term factors put those feelings into much more coherent form. In many ways he reminds me of Maddie, although it remains to be seen whether he can match her mastery of Idol strategy. Like her, while he is not a powerhouse vocalist like some of his competition, he is well within the expectations of his genre, and has been technically solid thus far. His Consistency is likely to be high, especially as he’s shown the ability to cross genres while maintaining a coherent artistic profile. He also has strong potential for Growth. Because he has primarily been campaigning on interpretation rather than heavy vocal or performance display, relatively small steps could have a larger impact compared to someone who’s already displaying powerhouse vocals like Grace. I question his ability to deliver a Moment on the basis of pure performance, however he still has emotional depth to potentially dig into, which could potentially provide a major momentum boost at a key moment. However, the largest factor I see favoring Chayce is the Funnel aspect. By virtue of being at a comfortable genre intersection of folk, country, and rock, Chayce shares potential voters with most of the Finalists. Casey and Caleb in particular are fairly close to his style, without having any other contestants who would clearly benefit from their departure. Additionally, because his two closest competitors are very similar in style, and likely to go deep into the competition, it may be difficult for the competitors he DOESN’T share potential voters with to clearly line up behind one or the other. This again reminds me of S16, where due to Caleb and Gabby both making the Finale, their fans remained divided (as the Finale is the point where voters are least likely to share votes), leaving Maddie in a stronger position even aside from her superior Finale performances. 2. Grace Kinstler (Previous Round 1), “Dangerous Woman” by Ariana Grande Grace is likely to take a different path towards success from Chayce. Her strongest suit is the potential to deliver game-changing Moments, which she has arguably approached already with her Midnight Train To Georgia duet. She’s more than capable of delivering the vocal wattage to power a showstopping performance, more than any of her competitors. She’s also shown the most signs of someone looking for songs which resonate with her backstory or the moment, in that way which turns a strong performance into a great one. While none of them have quite taken that step yet, all three of her live solos (and her showstopper choice) have been in line with her story and emotional arc. She also has some potential for Growth in certain directions. Dangerous Woman was a step towards a more energetic and confident stage performance than she’s shown previously. She also hasn’t really done a full-on classic emotional ballad aside from her showstopper. Her already evident vocal prowess may make this a tough impression to fully sell though. Consistency is somewhat of a question mark. I’ve discussed her occasionally poor musical choices, and while she’s a powerful vocalist she doesn’t have quite the polished uniformity that a truly seasoned professional like Melinda had. These could potentially drag her performances down at key moments, especially in comparison to her basic level of capability. In a shorter season like the recent ones, she might be able to slide through easily, but there will be enough performances this year that maintaining a consistently high level might be tricky. She also faces the issue I mentioned earlier, in that her strongest voter overlap is with Willie, who is also likely to go far. Alyssa may be somewhat more likely to transfer voters to Grace than Willie, but it’s a hard call. Casey could also share a little territory, but probably less than Chayce. Given Grace has thus far been choosing more pop-rock material than soul, it’s somewhat to her detriment that Alanis didn’t last. 3. Willie Spence (Previous Round 3), “Diamonds” by Rihanna Willie seems to be following a third frequent path to victory, which relies primarily on Consistency. It is entirely possible that he currently has the highest number of core voters, based on his early exposure and the show’s promotion. I am skeptical that it is as large a gap as may be believed (his social media dominance isn’t a fraction of Alejandro’s lead, and we know how that ended), but he has a strong head start. He’s also a steady performer for the most part, with a high baseline of quality. If he maintains those factors, and his competition fails to capitalize on their own strategies, he could chart a steady course to the winner’s circle. However, his last performance suggests to me that we have seen close to the limit of his abilities as a vocalist. He strained a fair bit towards the end of Diamonds, and at times in Set Fire To The Rain although it was less obtrusive. While I thought SFTTR overall was his best performance, and very good overall, it didn’t reach full Moment level, and I’m skeptical that he has a lot of extra to give. The main potential way for him to stretch would be if he gave a more emotionally connected performance, but I haven’t seen a major inclination that way either. Obviously, the Funnel aspect which may give Grace issues also faces Willie. DeShawn is maybe the most direct support Willie has among the cast, but he is also likely to be gone in the near future. Nobody else really boosts Willie when they leave, with the possible exception of Alyssa, but that’s a hard call between him and Grace. If one of the two goes home early, it could have a major impact on how things play out. However, given both are frontrunners, it would likely be a classic shock boot, which has major potential to lead to their supporters checking out altogether. 4. Casey Bishop (Previous Round 7), “House of the Rising Sun” by The Animals I am somewhat surprised by how quickly Casey has grown on me, as I really am not a fan of most teen contestants. However, she’s delivered very strongly since Hollywood, possibly the overall strongest set of 3 semifinal solos. While Decode still left me concerns about her potential for disaster, both Black Hole Sun and House of the Rising Sun were surprisingly controlled without feeling restrained. She’s also one of the most energetic performers left, especially as Alyssa’s rapidly plummeting. These combine to give her a strong potential to deliver a Moment, although it may take more luck and good timing to land on the exact right song/arrangement/time confluence. She also has a high chance of a Growth arc. This is almost inherent to capable teen contestants, as they start with lower expectations, and are often openly developing their skills during the competition. Casey already has a start on this, as her Hollywood performances were somewhat overwhelming, making her recent show of strength more impactful. Consistency remains a big concern for me. While her last two performances didn’t show any major issues, the spectre of a vocal blowout remains in the background. Her lack of experience may also start to cause trouble when themes start becoming more narrow. A knowledgeable contestant has a chance to find a workable option in all but the most limited themes. Blake was an excellent example, using both the “find an outside the box” method (his Country choice for example), or “rearrange it until it works” (do I really need to specify which?). However, a younger contestant who isn’t familiar with as much repertoire outside their genre might end up defaulting to a poor choice. She also doesn’t have many potential funnels, other than Chayce who is likely to out last her. 5. Ava August (Previous Round 6), “Love of My Life” by Queen Again, the teenagers ranking well in my estimation is… just weird. And my favorite is a country-adjacent WGWG? Are we through the looking glass? Anyway, Ava has a lot in common strategically with Casey, despite being very different performers. She has also delivered some very strong performances, with her duet potentially nearing Moment status. While it’s harder to deliver a Moment based on interpretation than on vocal prowess, it’s not entirely impossible, and Ava has shown a solid vocal base to build off of. She also shares the inherent Growth potential Casey has due to her age, and has already shown a significant amount as she’s gone from apparent fodder to a possible contender. She also benefits from a similar aspect to Chayce, as her more restrained style leaves more room for smaller steps to read bigger. On the other hand, Consistency is a mixed bag. For her age, Ava has been remarkably stable performer. This was very evident in her victory performance, because she had to cope with an awful arranging choice which was almost set up for her to fail. If you’ll allow me to talk nerdy for a moment: Love of My Life is a WEIRD song. It’s written in F major, but the verse is sung in C major. The full piano introduction starts in F, functionally modulates to Bb, and then modulates to C in time for the vocal entrance. However, the introduction in Monday’s arrangement jumped straight from the F section to Ava’s entrance without setting up the key change clearly. While it did give her the correct note by ending on a C arpeggio, it didn’t telegraph the shift from using Bb to B. Not only did this make it difficult for Ava to enter in tune (which was clear, but which she recovered from quickly), it just sounded jarring. By comparison, Laci’s version used the last measure of the introduction instead, which sets up the correct key. The fact that Ava was able to navigate this without complete disaster is a mark in her favor, as it could easily trip up a seasoned professional. However, she also lacked the savvy to see the problem coming, and make sure the band made a better transition. This lack of insight also showed in her Top 16 song choice, which really didn’t do her any favors. She had sufficient momentum to get past it, and her other choices have been better, but she’s a prime candidate for a bad song pick at a bad time. She’s also somewhat middling in terms of her potential Funnel competitors. Cassandra is the most obvious overlap, and is facing some obstacles, which could lead to Ava picking up the majority of the female folk support, but Cass isn’t 100% out of the game yet. Both have potential overlap with Hunter, but not quite as much as Chayce does I would say. Overall, Ava has potential to deliver on all four angles, but hasn’t fully locked into any except maybe Growth yet. 6. Caleb Kennedy (Previous Round 10), “Nowhere” by Caleb Kennedy Caleb is traveling a parallel path to Willie, oddly enough. He has been a steady, if not outstanding, performer thus far, and there’s a strong chance of that continuing. While his performances haven’t had wide appeal, they’re solid country renditions thus far, and that’s a sizable fanbase to have the primary grasp of. I’m not sure the Consistency path is a guarantee for him. It is certainly possible to turn off the country base with a weak performance (Hi Cecil, Hi Hannah!), and while Caleb has made decent choices with open themes, he seems likely to potentially make missteps with future themes. Disney in particular seems likely to default for the third rendition of You’ve Got A Friend In Me, unless he knows to dig for the less well known country options. On the other factors, Caleb’s potential is limited. It doesn’t seem like he has a lot of room to stretch his vocal capabilities, even with lowered expectations, and his interpretations seem about par for a teenager. He could maybe grow some as a performer, but I’m a bit skeptical of that. He also seems to have very little potential for a real Moment, even with some growth, although more original songs could give him a step in that direction. As for Funnels, Chayce is obviously similar, and the weaker of a pair of contestants can benefit from the current voting systems, but probably not as much as in the other direction since they have a more narrow appeal. I think Caleb’s on the cusp, where he could potentially go deeper than expected based on his consistent appeal to his base, but a path to victory is difficult to see unless multiple frontrunners flop. 7. Hunter Metts (Previous Round 13), “I Can’t Make You Love Me” by Bonnie Raitt From here on down, the contestants’ chances at actual victory (or even Top 3) start growing slim, with Hunter just barely being on the edge of that. This was maybe his best performance, although personally I have so much attachment to this song that I wasn’t a big fan of his rendition. The most likely factor Hunter has in his favor is Growth, as we’re already seeing notable improvement from him over the course of the season thus far. I have trouble imagining him reaching the point of a real momentum builder in the late season, much less an actual Moment, but he could eke out a few extra rounds from a growth arc. The counterpoint is that Consistency is likely to be a severe issue for Hunter. Part of this is that the basic quality of his performances has been all over the map. Both nerves and vocal technique appear to be potential problems, which makes each week a bit of a minefield. I feel like he may have issues in really uniting his core genre fans behind him. Where Caleb (or Willie, or Chayce) fits into a sound which is pretty mainstream for his genre, and therefore has fairly broad appeal within it, Hunter’s sound and style is more idiosyncratic. Folk, of all genres, is probably the most forgiving of artists with unusual vocal qualities (this is, after all, the genre which gave Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen superstar careers), but it’s still a factor which could cause trouble. While he has strong Funnel potential with Cassandra and Ava, and some potential spillover votes from Chayce, that offbeat sound may reduce how much voters who are more inclined to those sounds will transfer. (I’m 99% certain that Hunter had the Justin Vernon cover of ICMYLM in mind while putting his performance together, giving him back-to-back Bon Iver. Can we get 715 - CR∑∑KS next?) 8. Beane (Previous Round 8), “Grow As We Go” by Ben Platt I really, truly, do not want to inflict this pun upon you, but it’s really unavoidable: Beane is very much the wild card in this lineup, in addition to being a Wild Card. I’m sorry. There’s a strong possibility that Beane fails to escape the triple elimination in the next round. ABC Idol has been merciless to its Wild Cards, with not a single one outlasting a non-WC. On the other hand, Beane and Madison are the first ones in the ABC era to actually have been voted through a round before needing the judges’ help (and only the second pair, after S14’s Quentin and Adanna, both of whom went reasonably far). If it were only a double elimination, I’d be almost certain one would escape, but that third spot is going to be tough to dodge. Still, I think Beane’s save performance might have been enough of a boost to get him out of the danger zone. While it wasn’t necessarily universally loved to really call a Moment, it was a strong motivator to his fans (who seem fairly devoted) to vote, and could have won some undecided voters over after an uneven previous run of performances. Beane has the potential to put together a full Moment, but it would take the perfect choice of song and delivery, he can’t quite deliver it on pure vocal heft. The other factors are all basically giant question marks. Consistency, for one, is an issue. Again, like Hunter, this is a two-pronged problem. On the one hand, the quality of his performances since Hollywood has been up and down: weak solo, strong duet, solid but divisive Top 16 and then strong in this last round. Beane can deliver powerful performances, but he’s not really secure enough to power through a bad choice. The other side is that he’s been going OBSCURE on his song choices, with only Dua Lipa being a widely-known tune among his solos, an issue I’d noted before. Because many of his potential supporters are most likely encountering his songs for the first time, it will be hit or miss whether they enjoy them. Can he maintain a coherent identity while delving into more well-known material? This also exacerbates potential issues with Funnels: What is Beane’s genre? I really don’t know, unless “Songs So Niche Even My Nerdy Self Is Confused” has become a genre without me noticing. He’s done jazz-funk, glam rock, old-school soul, dance pop, basically Broadway, and… I don’t know what Thirdstory is, Wikipedia doesn’t even know. Who is the most likely beneficiary of Beane’s supporters? Who favors him? I have so many questions. It could, potentially, create a strange form of Growth. If Beane can settle into a clearer genre (and quick, since he’s in a precarious position), the impact of “Oh wait, now I get it” could have a comparable effect to improvements in performance and vocals. He could also get some mileage from a more strongly-delivered high energy performance, with Oscar’s Night offering some intriguing possibilities when many will probably be going ballad. Question marks. He could go home Sunday. He could upset the apple cart and make the late finals. It’s all a mystery. 9. Cassandra Coleman (Previous Round 5), “Light On” by Maggie Rogers It is so disappointing to have Cassandra, probably my favorite contestant in the early stages, tumbling down the rankings, but it’s hard to deny. I truly believe she is one of the rare contestants with the potential to deliver a Moment without a huge vocal or performance. Her pre-show videos show captivating qualities which could be magical when given the chance to shine, and we’ve seen glimpses of that in her performances. But she seems unable to keep from getting in her head and making missteps. The biggest issue seems to be that she believes she DOES need those big vocals to compete. In both of her performances this week, she started out promisingly with an intimate vocal. However, once she started trying to deliver more power/range/energy, she was unable to sustain it, and the magic was lost. It’s ironic, because her frequently discussed issues with confidence haven’t really made her too timid in her performances. If anything, they’ve made her too reckless, because she doesn’t have the faith in her ability to succeed on her own terms. If she can overcome that, she could have serious Growth potential. She has the capacity for SOME vocal power and energy, but she needs to carefully save it to deploy at the right moment. Doing so could have a massively increased effect in comparison to more subtle moments, and the emotional side of overcoming her nerves is a classic story. She has a decent amount of Funnel overlap with Ava and Hunter, although it’s late to be starting to build crossover appeal with their fans, especially as they’re both on the upswing. If she could really settle into the style that works for her, she could even have potential to deliver on Consistency, despite a rough start. But she has no time to spare on these efforts. If she doesn’t get things seriously under control, I think she’s gone in the next two rounds. 10. Alyssa Wray (Previous Round 2), “The Greatest Love Of All” by Whitney Houston While Alyssa has fallen even further in my rankings than Cassandra, in this case I’m more aggravated than sad. I’m honestly baffled as to how Idol has taken a contestant with as much charisma and confidence as Alyssa, and made her… boring. Cliche. Underwhelming. It feels like it’s most likely a result of her not having a clear non-Broadway genre identity coming in. She’s confident in her ability to perform, but doesn’t seem to have developed the instincts for exactly what to apply those abilities to. As a result, she’s getting pushed into a basic Idol belter box, which is particularly jarring given that most of this year’s finalists have a strong identity, including her teenage compatriots (certainly Casey and Caleb, Ava a little less so but closer than Alyssa). This isn’t to say that the soul genre of Killing Me Softly or The Greatest Love Of All is a bad fit for Alyssa, that general region is where I’d encourage her to go. But there are infinitely better song choices within that region than the latter, and more coherent ways of performing them than her version of the former. She’s just coming across as generic, which is deeply unfortunate. It’s not just having no Consistency to her performances, it lacks coherence. It’s ironic that Paula, the cameo appearance from Old School Idol, gave her one criticism to Alyssa, who is increasingly feeling like a throwback to that era with her less-than-inspiring song choices and delivery. Alyssa has the ability to deliver a Moment, on paper. She has the vocal ability, she has the performance ability. However, the thing that really makes a MOMENT out of a performance is making smart choices, with the song selection and the arrangement and how you use those abilities. And I’m not sure Alyssa has the savvy to pull those off. In a way, starting off as a strong vocalist and performer almost inhibits her ability to have a growth arc. It’s harder to discern growth in HOW someone uses the abilities you already know they have. Jordin was able to pull it off, and also had some strange all-over-the-map choices and mixed-bag performances before she figured out what worked for her. But Jordin had longer to grow, and a less competitive field to face off against. Alyssa also has to face off with her two main competitors/Funnels being two of the strongest contestants in the competition, which is going to make siphoning off votes from an already tight race especially tough. Jordin, again, had to face off with Melinda (and to a lesser extent Lakisha), but Season 6 had a much narrower range of genres represented, meaning the majority of voters getting performances that appealed to them were in the R&B realm anyway, while S19 is much more mixed. If Alyssa doesn’t make good choices soon, like Cassandra she’s going to be gone soon. 11. DeShawn Goncalves (Previous Round 17), “Higher Ground” by Stevie Wonder Deshawn is probably the finalist who I enjoy least personally, but I don’t really actively dislike him, and I’m not invested in him enough to be frustrated like I am with Cassandra and Alyssa. If he hadn’t been voted in (and I suspect he came in 11th, but benefitted from Wyatt's departure), I wouldn’t have objected to him receiving a Wild Card, and it was actually his only solo performance that I’ve more or less liked. But I find it hard to believe he lasts past this round, or Top 9 at the most, regardless of his performances. Maybe I’m underestimating him, as I do occasionally. He did get the votes after all. I don’t know though. I don’t think he really has a viable path to victory. While he’s technically proficient, his inability to use that proficiency in a way that really hangs together really impairs his chance of a Moment, and his mannered way of performing makes that more difficult. I don’t really see a lot of potential for him to achieve Growth, since he’s already polished but not really attention grabbing, and while his technical ability could help with Consistency, I don’t think his performances have been broadly appealing enough that maintaining that baseline support is enough. Right now, I suspect he’s mostly benefitting from spillover votes from Willie’s voters who are also reasonably amicable towards DeShawn, but the gap between them is large enough that turning that into a real momentum builder is unlikely. Still, he’s exceeded expectations twice now, maybe it will be thrice. 12. Madison Watkins (Previous Round 14), “Hotline Bling” by Drake Madison caught a lucky break, to be honest. If Alanis had delivered a Wild Card performance at least on par with her (admittedly, underwhelming to me) previous solos, Madison probably would’ve been gone. That seems like the reason the judges basically gave her a brushoff after her performance. However, Alanis fully tanked her performance, with her occasionally strained high notes going fully off the rails. With Wyatt’s departure leaving only 3 people being eliminated, and Graham and Colin filling niches already well covered (although both gave my favorite of their performances in the competition), Madison was the default choice for the second Wild Card spot. She wasn’t utterly undeserving of it, but unlike Beane I don’t think she has a chance of escaping its curse either. There’s no real route I see to success for her, and I’m similarly uncertain as to exactly where her genre overlaps might fall. I guess maybe a bit with Grace in the pop-belter arena? It’s funny, if Alyssa is starting to feel like a throwback to the First or Second Epoch, Madison feels like someone who would have found better footing around Season 8 or 9. She’s a solid vocalist without being so much of a cliche diva, confident, and approaches the competition with a certain savvy. Her choice of a rearranged Hotline Bling was straight out of the David Cook/Brooke White/Kris Allen playbook (or, you know, Amy Vachal). However, we’ve almost reached a point where those overtly strategic moves are as passe as relying on big vocals was in the Third Epoch. It’s fine if you want to rearrange a song (it worked for Laci, and Caleb Lee… Alejandro was a mixed bag), but it’s not ENOUGH on its own. You have to use that rearrangement to say something, and sell the interpretation. In a way, I would say ABC Idol has been the Sincerity Idol Era. And Madison just comes across as too calculated to really pull that off. (Interesting to compare: Chayce also did a classic “flip a song by a black artist into an acoustic white-boy genre” rendition, which went more or less ignored. Some of that may be that Chayce is just a more coherent and consistent artist than Madison, so the flip was less overt. But it also helped that Chayce sold the performance sincerely on its own merits, rather than the main selling point being cleverness.)
  19. Top 12 Ranking Ok, contemplations with the Top 12 revealed. I’ve been thinking about this group a lot over the past few days. I’m actually extremely happy with the outcome overall. I don’t hate anyone in the Top 12 with a burning passion, which might be the first time ever in my Idol viewing experience. There are some who I don’t particularly care for in terms of style, and some who are slipping in my estimation as the competition goes on. But none of them are blatantly undeserving of being there like, say, Lazaro or Gianna. I’m sure there’s still time for at least one elimination to infuriate me, but we’re starting from a strong position. While none these performances were absolute showstoppers, I think many people gave their best solo performances thus far. Ava, Casey, and Beane particularly stood out. With one exception, none were truly terrible. As a result, I’ve been spending less time thinking about the immediate “Is this person going to be able to get through next episode without utter collapse,” and more about what makes a successful long-term Idol campaign. Especially since we actually have a semi-decent number of performance episodes to come. I would say there are four primary elements which contribute to a winning Idol campaign. No winner has clearly delivered on all four, although a couple hit three and could have a fourth argued. Nearly all hit more than their Finale competition. I would break them down as follows: Standout Moments- These are the classic Idol MOMENTS, the performances which generate serious buzz and momentum, and which have the power to convert casual voters into consistent supporters, potentially for the rest of the contestant’s run. We could all name a dozen or more. These are weighted towards the earlier stages of the competition, when voters’ minds are less made up about who to support. I’ve noted in the past that the sweet spots for these to land are usually the second performance (1st to a lesser extent) and 5th-6th (7th to a lesser extent) that we see from a contestant, with diminishing returns afterwards. Former winners- Kelly, David Cook, Candice, Fantasia, Trent, Carrie; Arguably (for various reasons) Caleb, Kris, Maddie, Jordin, Lee Consistency- A contestant’s ability to avoid delivering performances which would potentially cause undecided voters to permanently turn against them, or even make their supporters lose interest. This is somewhat variable, because it can differ depending on the contestant’s genre, and can be relative in comparison to the contestant’s general standard. Many vocally dominant contestants have given numerous outstanding performances, but started to sag in the taxing late season, delivering performances which would be perfectly fine from less gifted competitors, but disappoint in comparison to their own highlights. Crystal is an excellent example. On the other side there are contestants whose performances may not universally grab the Idolsphere as a whole, but never really disappoint those who prefer their style, such as Scotty. It’s possible to slide by 1-2 isolated off-putting performances, but racking up a large number, putting them in succession, or (again) delivering them in the late game can be very damaging. Former winners- Kelly, Cook, Candice, Kris, Maddie, Trent, Caleb, Ruben, Carrie, Taylor, Nick, Scotty, Laine; Arguably Jordin Growth- Idol voters love a growth arc! It’s an Idol truism. While a fantastic performer right from the start is captivating, watching someone who’s still a raw talent develop on live tv has its own appeal. Especially because Idol in particular mythologizes the unknown-to-superstar image, unlike various competing shows which either tend towards more established performers, or briefer views of their growth. This is somewhat the reverse of Standout Moments, as it is weighted towards the late stages of the competition rather than the beginning. While it’s difficult (but not impossible) to deliver real knockout punches late in the game when people are mostly decided, a growth arc can elevate the impact of a slightly lower tier but still strong performance (around the high 70’s-mid 80’s on WNTS), or turn an out of nowhere moment into an even bigger gamechanger (Heartless being maybe the greatest example). Backstory and the emotional weight of certain moments can also play a certain role here. Former winners- Kris, Maddie, Fantasia, Trent, Jordin, Lee, Phillip; Arguably Nick, Cook Funnels- Longtime readers may recall my discussions of this factor in the past, and it’s too lengthy to go into extreme depth here. Essentially, this is the number of competitors whose voters overlap with a potential victor but also cover a different slice of their genre/demographic/style. If a contestant is the only one who appeals to a certain segment of Idol voters, they run the risk of those voters who aren’t 100% on board with their subsection of that style tuning out or losing interest in voting, which limits the lonely contestant’s ability to expand their voting base. For example, if the only rock contestant in the finals is a growly grunge guy, then voters who prefer classic Southern rock or current pop-rock might not have much reason to keep paying attention. However, if there were three rockers, then by the time Hayley Williams goes out at Top 6 and Gregg Allman is eliminated at Top 6, some of their fans may have heard performances from Eddie Vedder that were close enough to their preferred style that they’re inclined to vote for him in the Top 2 over the completely different soul belter he’s up against. This category can be particularly nebulous, since many contestants straddle multiple genres (for example, Kris had both folk and soul elements to his style). It can also get tricky depending on the circumstances of the supporting contestant’s elimination. If it was particularly cruel or unjustified, especially in the late game when people are strongly invested, their voters may be outraged enough to boycott altogether. For example, while Hollie and Jessica in Season 11 shared quite a lot of territory which theoretically would make Jessica the most likely recipient of her castoff voters, Hollie was also eliminated after a string of episodes in which she was perceived to be unfairly targeted by the judges/producers, leaving many of her voters burnt out by the Top 3/2. Former Winners- Kelly, Cook, Candice, Kris, Maddie, Fantasia, Ruben, Carrie, Taylor, Jordin, Lee, Phillip; Arguably Trent, Scotty, Laine (Season 18 was so truncated and bizarre as to be basically unanalyzable in the wider context of Idol, but in a normal season Sam could potentially have done quite well in both Moments and Growth, but may have struggled with Consistency and Funnels) There other aspects which can come into play, with the elephant in the room being demographics. Let’s just be up front and call it the WGWG factor. This can definitely play a role in how a season proceeds. However, it’s a mixed bag. While there have obviously been many WGWG winners, there have also been numerous others who were eliminated along the way, being outlasted by competitors who were none of the above. I would say this is less of a primary factor, and more of a tiebreaker. Men, white people, and instrumentalists (and Southerners) frequently edge past people who are roughly on par with them, but in most cases it’s not enough to leapfrog someone past contestants who are delivering much more strongly on the primary factors. It’s also somewhat covered by the Funnels aspect, especially since the classic WGWGs are mostly folk/rock/country types with a lot of stylistic similarities to each other beyond the acronym. These are the deep thoughts on my mind as I put together the rankings for the final.
  20. Tapdancing On the Tightrope 4/11 OK, we’re doing quick and dirty ranking of how well people did tonight and how likely they are to get through to tomorrow. Once we have our Top 12 tomorrow I’ll evaluate their ranking with both performances taken into account. 1. Chayce Beckham, “Waiting In Vain” by Bob Marley & The Wailers I'm amused that Chayce's past as a reggae-singer has resurfaced, but reworked into an alt-country song. Chayce is beginning to feel increasingly inevitable to me. It's a sign of the overall strength of the season that the rock/alt-country WGWG with an affecting backstory, distinctive voice, and ability to emote hasn't already been declared the inevitable winner by everyone EXCEPT me, leading me to roll my eyes about jumping to conclusions and snark at the crowd. It's weird that this year I'm the one kinda wondering if he's already won. But if he does get sent home at some point, it's not going to be after a pimp-spot song-flip. See you next week Chayce. 2. Willie Spence, “Set Fire To The Rain” by Adele This was actually my favorite performance from Willie. It felt more dynamic and passionate than he has previously, including a fakeout with avoiding going full-belt at first, and reserving his power for a more gradual build. The end got a bit out of control, but kudos to him for getting through the bizarrely awkward key change in the arrangement without a disaster. Sailing through to the next round. 3. Casey Bishop, “Black Hole Sun” by Soundgarden Casey is a Haley fan correct? Because there were a lot of elements from Haley’s Postmodern Jukebox performance of this song which popped up in Casey’s rendition, even if the arrangement wasn’t similar. That being said, this was actually my favorite performance of the night, and my favorite Casey performance. This is the most control she’s had over her voice and especially her upper range, but she continues to throw herself into the song even when she’s not on the verge of going off the rails. There was maybe a hint of reservation in the performance, but it was solid. I’d be extremely shocked if she didn’t get the votes for Top 10. 4. Grace Kinstler, “Elastic Heart” by Sia Grace seems to have taken Joss’ advice from last week to heart, as she held back for the early part of the song before unleashing in the end. It wasn’t as much of a knockout blow as what she delivered at the end of her duet though. The arrangement, again, felt awkward. It didn’t slow the song to a full ballad, but cut out the driving beat which keeps it going, so it felt like an awkward mid-tempo. I think in this case pulling back for a full ballad would’ve worked better. Still, there is virtually no chance of her missing the vote. 5. Cassandra Coleman, “Wicked Game” by Chris Isaak This performance had pros and cons, and I could see it being very divisive. Personally, I thought the opening section, which was more intimate, was magical. However, when she tries for more power, she loses some of the interest in her voice, and starts to verge on strained. However, my husband thought it didn’t get interesting until that point. The whole thing continues to feel distinctive and identifiably her, which helps with voting. It’s memorable. However, as the competition continues to narrow, I wonder if she’ll have trouble attracting a wider base. I think she’s most likely in the Top 12, probably by vote but by WC if not. However, if Ava makes it by vote, Cassandra doesn’t, and the judges have some hard choices of who to put through, I could see a scenario where she doesn’t get through. 6. Beane, “Searching For A Feeling” by Thirdstory After a scare with his mediocre solo last week, Beane delivered much more strongly this week. This was probably the first time we’ve seen him give what felt like a sincerely emotional performance, without quite as much superficial glitz. Given that Beane seems like one of the contestants most likely to attract a rabid “my Idol and NO OTHER” fanbase, that emotional connection has additional weight, and I think he probably had a good chance of attracting broader support. I do wonder somewhat if choosing the only truly obscure song on a night of pretty well known material might have been a hindrance. I think he most likely goes through on votes, and is probably the #1 most likely guy to get a WC, but if push came to shove I could see a couple of the women potentially taking the spot from him. 7. Alyssa Wray, “Killing Me Softly” by Roberta Flack I’m glad this song finally, after 19 years, made it onto the show, it was one of the strangest omissions of a classic tune. I’m not sure it did Alyssa any favors though. Roberta Flack’s version is very smooth and controlled, and the Fugees version runs heavily on the groove of the arrangement. This felt too manipulated, it weighed the song down, and because the opening is exposed the exaggerated tone felt more jarring. She would’ve been better off to either commit to the restraint, or go full uptempo. I think she’s potentially on the bubble voting wise, and this could be an issue for her momentum. However, as a previously strong contestant and the only Black woman left in the competition, she’s the #1 guarantee of a WC among those who might need it. 8. Caleb Kennedy, “Midnight Train to Memphis” by Chris Stapleton Caleb was passable this week, and still has a sufficient grasp on the Country base that he is a strong contender for Top 10. This felt a bit monotonous though, and a bit inauthentic, which may have a negative impact in the future. I’m not sure why these teenagers keep singing Chris Stapleton songs about being a landscape of bad decisions when they haven’t even had a bad prom date yet? If he needed a WC he might not get one, but I doubt he’ll need one at this point. 9. Ava August, “2002” by Anne-Marie It is… uncomfortable that Ava is singing about 2002, when she wouldn’t be born for 3-4 years at that point. I don’t think this was as good as either of her performances last week, which puts Ava in a tentative position. The song lacks any real emotional weight or notable melody, which made it feel like filler, and while Ava has a distinctive tone, she’s not necessarily experienced enough to make a bland song interesting by sheer power of her artistry. Last week’s momentum may be enough to carry her through to the Top 10 by votes, but this does slow down some of its impact. Like Cassandra, if she needed a WC I could see her getting it, but if the other was already in the Top 10 and there were limited spots, Ava could fall short. 10. Hunter Metts, “Skinny Love” by Bon Iver This was better than Hunter’s performance last week. It felt less timid and constrained, and he had the resources necessary to deliver the song unlike last time. Of the overabundance of WGWGs (6/9), he feels most likely to attract some free-floating votes aside from Chayce. I think he most likely takes the last Top 10 spot by votes, but if he misses I don’t really see him getting a WC. He feels disposable in the way some other people don’t. 11. Alanis Sophia, “The Story” by Brandi Carlile It’s possible I’m overly pessimistic about Alanis’ chances of advancing. I just feel like she’s going to struggle to connect to the Idol audience. Both her solo last week and this week were big belty numbers that are beyond what she can quite manage comfortably. Some of the big notes worked, some were rough, but comparison to Brandi, one of the biggest powerhouse singers working right now, isn’t necessarily favorable. I also feel like there’s an emotional disconnect continuing in her performance. I think she’s a very likely Wild Card if she misses the vote, but it feels like she’s going to need it. 12. Wyatt Pike, “Use Somebody” by Kings of Leon This felt a bit toothless. The very first line felt like it was going to hold onto the raw and energetic tone of the Kings of Leon original, but then Wyatt kind of closed in on himself and it got limited in scope. The performance felt awkwardly jittery at times, and the vocal was undistinguished. In a pack full of WGWGs, I’m not sure Wyatt did enough to stand out, and while he’s been solid thus far, he hasn’t been outstanding enough at any one time enough to guarantee a solid backing. Not completely out of the running for Top 10, but I don’t see him getting a WC. 13. DeShawn Goncalves, “Feeling Good” by Nina Simone It’s basically another round of the same thing with DeShawn. Capable vocals, delivered without any musicality or charisma. At least this time he actually landed the notes he was trying to hit, but he never delivers anything which feels notable outside the individual note, it doesn’t hang together into something cohesive. He has very little chance of making the Top 10, but I could see him as a default WC if all the necessary people get in. 14. Graham DeFranco, “That’s Life” by Frank Sinatra I honestly barely registered anything from this performance. Well, I liked the arrangement reasonably well, it would be nice as a mid-set breather on a jazz club set. But everything was completely impactless. Graham has mostly bored me up to this point, but he had a few nice vocal moments last week. Nothing this week was notable. Won’t get votes, and has 0 chance of getting a Wild Card. 15. Colin Jamieson, “Everybody Wants To Rule The World” by Tears For Fears The breathiness is starting to verge on self-parody, and he remains pure cheeze-wiz on stage. Last week at least had some energy, this felt completely lightweight. I don’t know why people keep doing this song on Idol, it’s a terrible fit for the format unless you’re going to do the uber-dramatic Lorde arrangement. 0 chance of a Wild Card, and I think very little chance of the votes. 16. Madison Watkins, “Gravity” by Sara Bareilles” Madison feels like she barely snuck into the Top 16, and I don’t think this was what she needed to make up the lost ground. Mostly she’s been a solid technical vocalist, even if last week got somewhat desperate, but she was very shaky this time. The tears read more as struggle than emotional connection to me, and I don’t think she really did enough to motivate votes from tentative supporters or draw new ones in. Predictions: Top 10 Chayce Willie Grace Casey Cassandra Caleb Beane Hunter Ava Alyssa Wild Cards Alanis DeShawn Eliminated Wyatt Graham Colin Madison
  21. Ada had wanted to sing They Live In You but was told it doesn’t count (even though it’s been used in both the musical and the sequel, and both Diana Ross and Tina Turner recorded it). Maybe now that it was used in the recent CGI version they’ll change their mind. Enchanted at least should count, since they allowed Pete’s Dragon. If Alyssa were lucky they’d allow Aida, but probably not.
  22. Combined Ranking 1. Grace 2. Alyssa 3. Willie 4. Chayce 5. Cassandra 6. Ava 7. Casey 8. Beane 9. Wyatt 10. Caleb 11. Alanis 12. Jason 13. Hunter 14. Madison 15. Mary Jo 16. Andrea 17. DeShawn 18. Colin 19. Anilee 20. Graham 21. Alana 22. Hannah 23. Liahona 24. Cecil
  23. Group 2 1. Ava August, “driver’s license” by Olivia Rodrigo; “Both Sides, Now” by Joni Mitchell (with Josh Groban) Ava, more than anyone in either episode, really made a case for sailing up the rankings. It’s the kind of “Wait where did they come from” showing that turns non-entities into contenders. It doesn’t guarantee a victory, but wow has my perception of Ava changed from 2 weeks ago when I was ready to put her in a guaranteed elimination 12th place. Her solo was very solid, but not necessarily a game-changer on its own. It’s not a song which really gives a lot of room for vocal display, and the timeframe didn’t leave a lot of room for a dramatic arc. However, Ava’s unusual vocal contrast of husky lower range and ethereal upper range shone in the sparse arrangement. More importantly, the emotional delivery was open and vulnerable, without feeling put on. Idol’s teen contestants are usually the overly-precocious “I’m an old soul who sings like a 40 year old and loves music older than my parents” types, or heavily groomed stage kids. Ava seems like an honest-to-god teenager (even if she’s not, she hides it well), and sang an actual teenager-relevant song. It’s almost jarring. What makes it more shocking is that her duet, on the opposite end of the spectrum, was maybe the best moment of the season thus far. She had some major advantages. Not only was Josh Groban the best and most generous duet partner of either round, Both Sides, Now is by far the best song. By virtue of being one of the greatest songs ever written. This gave much more room for a display of beautiful vocals than her solo, and she fully took advantage of those opportunities. But I’m most impressed by how authentic and believable she seemed, in a song which is full of emotional weight which no teenager should be able to grasp. I normally hate contestants posing at lyrics they can’t possibly have the life experience to understand, but somehow it worked. Maybe it’s not that strange. Both Sides, Now is fascinating enigma of a song. It was written before Joni Mitchell had even recorded her first album, when she was still fresh...ish (she’d already left home, had a child alone and put her up for adoption, and started fighting her way into the folk world with a legendary determination, but comparatively young and innocent). It’s written with childlike language at times, then transitions to extreme world weariness. There’s a story that Joni attended a concert by Mabel Mercer (a much older jazz singer), where Mabel performed the song. Afterwards Joni went up to her and said “I never realized that song was meant to be sung by an older woman.” Mabel, not having any idea that she was the songwriter, wasn’t amused to be called old. Joni recorded it again over thirty years after her original recording, when her voice had dropped from a high soprano to a chainsmoker contralto, and the song gains enormous amounts of lived-in weariness. But by nature it’s timeless, not just in the usual “oh it’s such a great, timeless song” platitude, but in its actual meaning. Both the young, innocent singer, and the older and wearier one come to the same conclusion, that they barely know anything at all. In a way, the contrast with her duet partner brought that out. You had the older, experienced singer, and the younger one, both feeling the same sentiment. And Josh’s much lower voice contrasted with Ava’s higher one kind of gave both musical versions of the song. Well, that was a whole essay. Anyway, Ava hasn’t quite locked herself into frontrunner status yet. There’s a lot still to be seen, which is both a pro and con. Most of her songs have been quiet and slow, and not huge vocal showcases. Can she perform more energetically? Will we get a bigger vocal, not on par with Grace or Alyssa, but something which delivers on the hints of power in the duet? These are questions which will probably need to be answered, and she could fall short. But if she can deliver on more facets, and create a growth arc, she may have a legitimate shot at the crown. 2. Chayce Beckham, “Afterglow” by Ed Sheeran; “Drive” by Incubus (with Brandon Boyd) If Ava is the come-out-of-nowhere ingenue who surprises everyone, Chayce feels like the established professional teetering on the edge of just becoming inevitable. He has the kind of fully-formed artistic persona which only rarely appears on Idol, without feeling as over-routined the way some equivalent contestants on The Voice do. He’s covering a range of genres without feeling like he lacks consistency. He’s just ready for this, in a way which makes many other people seem like amateurs. And, you know, he’s pale, male and… can play a scale? Sure, we’ll go with that. I’m rarely in the camp that those qualities are enough to win on alone, but he’s got a lot of other qualities to work with. His solo was, bluntly, sexy. I could see that getting him a substantial amount of support (shades of Michael Johns, RIP) on its own, but it’s bolstered by a clear sense of how to make the restrictions of the format work. This was one of the only solos which felt like it managed to put together an actual arc, climax, and come to an intentional conclusion instead of just cutting off awkwardly. There’s an emotional sincerity in Chayce’s performances which is kind of oddly akin to Ava’s (or Cassandra’s) from a completely different direction. The duet was the most explicitly rock that Chayce has gone, and it’s a good fit for him. Probably better than full-on country, although finding material which toes the line between them would be a strong strategic choice. It was also a more extroverted song than his previous choices, and pulled out a solid upper range he hadn’t shown much before (other than in his past duet). Brandon was another strong mentor this episode, and the contrast between their tones boosted the song. Additionally, this was one of the few pairings where the contestant felt like an equal to their partner, rather than someone lucky to be on stage with them. There’s still room for Chayce to show us more, both vocally and energywise (again, oddly in step with Ava), and how well he does so while maintaining his consistency will determine how things go, but he could start making it tough for some of the other contenders. The main risk I see is that, potentially, that impression of “he’s already an established artist” could come across as him not really needing votes. There is sometimes a sense of “he already has a contract right? He’s just doing a guest performance? Maybe I should vote for one of those fresh faced kids who needs a shot instead.” I feel like his backstory may counteract that though. We’ll see. 3. Casey Bishop, “Decode” by Paramore; “Wish You Were Here” by Incubus (with Brandon Boyd) Casey did a solid job this week, which says more than it sounds like since I’ve kinda been waiting for her to implode on stage, and she didn’t! She was my husband’s second favorite performance of the night, and I liked her fairly well. I don’t think she matched Jena’s level of finesse on Decode, or the controlled power in the belting, but it was a respectable job given how little time there was to work with. I was moderately surprised she didn’t do something more old-school, given how throwback she’s been thus far, but that’s a plus even if Decode was still on the older end compared to the relentlessly “last five years, if not actually released last week” nature of the song choices this week. I actually liked the duet better, although it may have been less attention grabbing. I like Casey’s voice a lot more when she’s not pushing it to the edge of shredding, and this time it stayed mostly within reach. I also feel like her stage performance felt more genuine here. While Katy may have been correct that she didn’t fully demand attention, the happiness to be performing felt more real than any forced rawkstah antics. I still have reservations about Casey’s longevity in the competition. Decode held together, but it was concerningly close to the edge. A part of me is still waiting for parts of her larynx to spontaneously rocket out her mouth and hit Katy in the face. The pressure is only going to get bigger from here. But if she can find solos more along the lines of her duet in terms of vocal demands and style, there’s potential. 4. Beane, “Don’t Start Now” by Dua Lipa; “Angels” by Robbie Williams (with Josh Groban) Beane is this group’s Alanis, in that his performance is… probably enough to get him through to the next round, but needs to be a serious wake up call if he wants to go any further than that. His solo was the weakest of any of the real contenders. Part of this was, again, the arrangement. Seriously, timeframe small, tempo changes time consuming, combo bad. It’s not just a question of not having enough time to properly develop either section. There’s no time to transition smoothly between, or for the singer to have a second or two to get their breath under them. Both DeShawn and Beane, who had previously been solid technicians, struggled with their control when their songs transitioned. Beyond that, Beane’s optimistic energy runs the risk of becoming offputtingly cutesy, and he kind of hit that in this song with the random scatting. It makes him feel like a lightweight rather than a serious contestant, without actually being fun or playful, and that’s grating. Added to the arrangement feeling more interested in its own cleverness than musical functionality, it dragged an already shaky performance down further. However, he benefited from a top-tier duet, which most likely was enough to save him. Josh was, again, a fantastic partner. I think the fact that he has a deeper toned voice than any of the other celebs or contestants was a real asset, as it made more of a contrast with his partners. The thing that really set this apart from Beane’s solo was that it was maybe the first time he really showed sincerity. He’s had fun in previous performances, but this felt like the first time he fully invested in the song. Part of that was in the emotional delivery, but he also avoided any tricksy departures from the general melodic shape, and it felt much more serious than even his strong past performances. If he can mix solos like that with more energetic and lighthearted ones without the contrast seeming jarring, it could put him back in contention. I think he has sufficient prior support, when added to the quality of his duet, that he should be safe to get through. My jaw wouldn’t entirely drop if his solo dragged him down enough to go out, but I think there’s enough of a cushion of weak and middling performances to keep him safe. But, like Alanis, he absolutely cannot afford a performance on par with his solo next week. If he repeats it, he won’t make the finals, and I’m not sure he’d get a Wildcard either. As a side note, he did mention his sexuality after I wondered about it being kept quiet last time. I don’t really think it will have a negative impact on his voting at this point, given his supporters kinda have to be on board with the theatricality to begin with, but it does add a little extra blip of anxiety to the voting. 5. Caleb Kennedy, “Midnight Rider” by The Allman Brothers; “Fly Over States” by Jason Aldean (with Jason Aldean) Somewhat like Wyatt, Caleb did more or less what he needed this episode without it necessarily feeling like there would be much impact on the competition as a whole. He delivered a reasonably solid rendition of a classic Southern rock tune which, while it wasn’t exactly country, was close enough for his core audience. Caleb kinda benefits from the way other contestants turned out. With Chayce straying further from country this round, and Hannah and Cecil cratering, he’s the closest thing to a default country option right now. His duet was fine, but didn’t really make a strong impression. It just kinda cruised. Wait, that’s a different mediocre bro country group. Nevermind. Right now Caleb kind of feels like a default potential finalist, maybe more recognizable than Wyatt but not quite as solid. I do wonder whether he will have the chance to perform more originals, which could tilt things more in his favor. Unlike Alejandro, he doesn’t seem completely vocally swamped while singing covers. It’s more that he just seems kind of uncomfortable. The omnipresent hat doesn’t really help with that impression, as it feels like he’s hiding behind it. He could at least get a top hat and go full-Slash. There’s room for him to improve, but I’m not sure the foundation of his skills is strong enough for him to really take risks without falling apart. 6. Jason Warrior, “Call Out My Name” by The Weeknd; “How Deep Is Your Love” by The Bee Gees (with PJ Morton) Jason is here to fight for his spot, and I appreciate that. I’m not sure I love how he’s trying to go about it. I think the Weeknd song was a good choice, as it’s recent and showy. However, I’ve identified one of the things which bugs me about Jason’s singing. He has a tendency, when not going full-belt, to not sing through the ends of his phrases. He’ll get to the last word, and the tone cuts out. I think he might believe it comes across as emphatic and sensitive, but for me it just sucks the energy out of his singing and makes it come across as overly fussy. Once he got into the belting section it was a pretty solid vocal, and he did better than most at not sounding awkwardly cut short by the timeframe. The performance was verging on hysterical though, and I’m not sure that does him any favors with the audience. Jason clearly really wants this, but it’s coming across at times as desperation, and his backstory of trying out for shows over and over again kind of pushes that even more negative. The duet didn’t really work for me, and it’s not totally Jason’s fault. Or PJ’s actually. The tones of their voice, and the way they phrased, seemed like they melded poorly. It’s difficult to make two people riffing and stretching a well-known melody at the same time sound like they’re on the same page, and these two didn’t. If it had been more trading off sections, it would’ve worked better, or if they’d had more time to rehearse it. But it just came across as two people singing the same song at the same time without actually singing it together. I feel like Jason did enough to grab the attention of voters to get through to the next round, but didn’t necessarily do himself favors in the long run. I feel like some casual voters who may have been on the fence about him could have written him off entirely, and if the competition next week is tighter, that may be a key factor in who claims a last spot in the Top 10/12. 7. Madison Watkins, “Holy” by Justin Bieber; “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout A Thing” by Stevie Wonder (with Tori Kelly) Madison came off very similarly to Jason in this episode, somewhat appropriately since they were back to back. Solo-wise, I’m not sure she was quite as attention grabbing vocally. She pulled some tricks, like the modulation, but it felt like she was on the edge of her vocal capabilities and starting to strain. The performance wasn’t quite as histrionic, or cheesy exactly, but it felt over rehearsed. Pageanty almost, which is rarely a good thing. I feel like Madison was more appealing in the more restrained style she had in her audition or her duet with DeShawn, and trying to compete with the full-on belters isn’t helping her. Speaking of competing, the duet wasn’t badly sung, but it wasn’t particularly harmonious. It felt like two people trying to show off, and that’s not a face-off which favors Madison. Tori was kind of the Ryan Tedder of this episode, possibly even more attention-grabbing. The big riff in the middle almost awkwardly stopped the song in its tracks, to the point where I wonder if there was an error. In fact, going back I’m not sure they sang an actual harmony until the very end of the song. It’s weird, because Don’t You Worry Bout A Thing has so many in-rhythm riffs that if they’d sung them in harmony it would’ve been showstopping. I feel like it added to a sense of Madison’ not having a ton of substance this episode. Madison’s in an awkward position right now. I feel like she could have lost some ground with people who were previously in her corner but not full-on supporters, and that could give her trouble this round. I think Jason may have put more people off long-term, but have a better chance at this moment. Madison may also be more disposable, if it comes down to needing a wild card. 8. Mary Jo Young, “Castle On The Hill” by Ed Sheeran; “Foolish Games” by Jewel (with Jewel) I actually thought Mary Jo did well! Maybe better than this placement. I barely spent any of her song biting my nails and wondering if she was going to fall apart. Maybe a little at the end. But she held it together pretty well in her solo. I think uptempo songs may do her some good, she has less opportunity to get bogged down in overweighting her vocals. By her standards, this was a good, non terrifying performance. Her duet was also pretty decent. It brought out some different, more subtle facets of her voice, and Jewel didn’t really actively overshadow her per se. It was a bit of a difficult pairing though. Jewel is such an individual artist, that it’s hard to not sound generic while singing next to her, especially on her own song. Especially because, as was evident here, she tends to play around heavily with her phrasing rather than repeating the recording verbatim, which makes it harder for her partner to know exactly what she’ll do. But Mary Jo did decently. I’m just not sure decent is enough for her to be safe here. If she had the level of support coming in that, say, Cassandra or Wyatt had, she’d probably be a safe bet to go through. But she’s been so inconsistent that I worry people aren’t really invested in her, and these weren’t quite good enough to really lock people in. Again, she’s kinda on the bubble. A lot of people are in this group. 9. Colin Jamieson, “Locked Out Of Heaven” by Bruno Mars; “Hollow” by Tori Kelly (with Tori Kelly) It’s honestly hard for me to objectively rate Colin. He kind of aggravates me, and chose a solo which I actively hate. It’s Bruno Mars’ most annoying song, and Colin is no Bruno. At least this didn’t have the sound effect in the background cranked up to max volume like the last time it was performed on Idol. He wasn’t an active trainwreck, but this did nothing for me. His duet wasn’t as bad. When Colin’s singing in his upper range (which he mostly was here, to align with Tori), his voice is decent. It just completely disintegrates when he goes into his lower register. His stage presence still reads as near-parody to me. Given the number of people from this group who either struggled to make any impression, or gave decidedly mixed ones, Colin may benefit from the Lazaro effect. I didn’t care for his performances, but I at least remember them. For people who are inclined to like him, that could get more of them to vote for him than, say, Mary Jo. I don’t think he can translate 10. Hunter Metts, “Chandelier” by Sia; “Who Will Save Your Soul” by Jewel (with Jewel) In terms of how likely he is to continue in the competition, Hunter would be a few spots higher. He’s not 100% out of danger, but I think he’s a safer bet to go through than Madison/Colin/maybe Jason. However, I feel like he did serious damage to his long term chances with his performances this week. His solo felt small. Not an intimate performance, small, like he didn’t have the resources to do anything more with the song. I’m not sure what made him think Sia was a good idea. At least recent Sia, if he’d chosen Breathe Me (which is probably her best song anyway), it would’ve suited his abilities much more, without making it as obvious that he can’t match the original. When the song reached its climax, he just did not have the ability to take it anywhere impactful. We won’t even talk about comparisons to Trent’s still quite memorable performance. If his solo implicitly showed that his abilities are limited, the duet felt like he was explicitly stating “No, really, I can’t do anything difficult, don’t make me.” Jewel tried repeatedly to get him to commit to doing something which didn’t just fade into the background, and he fought as hard as he could not to. Which… given the whole wispiness that is Hunter, was about as hard as particularly fatigued kitten. But he still did as little as he could in the duet, and it showed. This episode really screamed (whisper-screamed, fine) that Hunter doesn’t seem likely to grow or stretch. The showstopper, and general WGWGness, is probably enough for him to go another round, but he’s beginning to feel like he’ll vanish momentarily. 11. Liahona Olayan, “Just Friends” by Audrey Mika; “Say So” by PJ Morton (with PJ Morton) If Hunter was constrained in his capacity to sing, Liahona just felt lightweight. Her vocal tone continues to put me off, and the whole delivery felt unimpactful. It was theoretically a performance that should have run off the stage energy, but I didn’t feel much of that either. It felt like a first choreography rehearsal, where you go through the steps but you’re not really delivering them with intensity or precision, just getting the general sense of them. I thought that her saying that emotional performance wasn’t really her strong point was telling. Happiness and enthusiasm are also emotions, but she doesn’t seem to convey those much more than sadness and vulnerability. “Like a rehearsal” was also, more damningly, my impression of her duet. This sounded like PJ was performing, and she had just wandered in and occasionally sang along, but didn’t fit into his performance at all. I kind of wonder if PJ’s style just does not suit a situation where there’s limited rehearsal time and partners who aren’t as experienced in the give-and-take of riffing. If you have someone to play off who can lock into the groove of the song and bounce off you, it can be amazing, but these kids don’t have the practice to really pull that off. This might have been the worst of the duets, which were otherwise at least passable. I don’t know. I don’t really see any source of vote which gets Liahona through this round, much less the next one. Potential only goes so far if it’s never realized. 12. Hannah Everhart, “I Was Wrong” by Chris Stapleton; “She’s Country” by Jason Aldean (with Jason Aldean) Oof. This solo was apocalyptically bad. Close to You missed key change bad. To say that Hannah went entirely off the rails and ended up in a different key at the end would be inaccurate. It would imply that she actually ended up in a definable key, instead of just pitchless yelling. Before that last section it was strained and listless, but the final disaster really turned it into a nightmare. The duet was a step, reaching merely extremely mediocre, but she still couldn’t sing for any extended period of time without the pitch and tone fraying. Like Cecil, I don’t think country fans are going to have any interest in voting for this mess. Even people who liked her are likely to pass on voting, given the solo.
  24. Group 1 1. Grace Kinstler, “Queen” by Jessie J; “Midnight Train To Georgia” by Gladys Knight (with Joss Stone) Grace’s performances this week weren’t equal in quality, but they did indicate several things which are promising for the future. Queen was only ok in quality, even with the limited timeframe taken into account. Grace didn’t quite feel in sync with the backup singers, although it seems like that may have been their fault, and the front half didn’t show her to good advantage, while the back half was showy without being impactful. However, it did reflect one skill which can make the difference between a strong competitor and a winner: The person angle. The lyrical theme of body positivity and empowerment dovetail perfectly with Grace’s backstory of weight loss, and general “I am woman, hear me roar so loudly I blow a wall down” style. If she can turn use that thought process to pick a better song under better circumstances, it could be a season-defining performance. While a solo showing potential but iffy quality does not make a frontrunner, her duet was a killer performance, and she owes Joss Stone a huge thanks for her guidance. It was the best vocal performance of any of the 48 songs this week, and that’s because it was delivered with precision. I’d previously pointed out that Grace is an amazing vocalist who sometimes gives in to the temptation to show off in ways which detract from her performances. This time, she waited for just the right moment, and then let all the glory notes come out. The earlier restraint made the final power much more impactful. This was also the most confident and comfortable Grace has seemed on stage. How well she holds on to this position will depend on how she continues from here. Without a mentor explicitly demanding that she save her punches for the right time, will she still make good choices? Or will her nerves get the better of her and lead to generic belting? We shall see. 2. Alyssa Wray, “Something in the Water” by Carrie Underwood; “I’m Your Baby Tonight” by Whitney Houston (with Katharine McPhee) I thought Alyssa did well in a lot of ways this week. She had probably the most effective solo of either night, and one of the best overall sets. She was one of the only people who managed to fit a lot of variety into her short solo, plenty of dynamic range, lots of emotional variety. She also landed pretty much all of the vocal gestures, rather than being a bit hit-or-miss in the past. Her duet was a strong contrast, and highlighted the skills which set Alyssa apart from her competitors. She was not intimidated by her partner in the slightest, and she continued exuding star power and confidence. She’s also a rare competitor who can stay balanced in this kind of song, which runs on rapid delivery and energy instead of giving the singer room to wail on individual notes. Overall, it was a strong effort. There are a couple concerns though. One is, simply, Grace is her most direct competitor, and her show-closing duet one-upped Alyssa on vocal power, and did a fair job of giving a solid stage performance even if she didn’t muster the same kind of energy. On top of that, the song choice was a mixed bag in relation to the “how will she fit into pop music instead of Broadway” question. On the one hand, I didn’t feel that she seemed out of place in either song. It wasn’t an overly theatrical or overarticulated vocal, although she’s still giving a little too much face. I’m not sure, in a round where a lot of people were showing “This is how I fit into current music,” that this gave us a clear impression. SITW is more of a crossover Christian Contemporary song with random banjo and slide guitar, rather than a straight country tune, which made it a little closer to the R&B style where Alyssa will most likely fit most comfortably. The duets weren’t really the contestants’ choices as far as I can tell, and were overall much older/more familiar than the solos, but it was a bit dated. Alyssa needs to figure out how to position herself in more of a consistent niche I think to really get momentum going forward. 3. Willie Spence, “Wind Beneath My Wings” by Bette Midler; “The Prayer” by Celine Dion and Andrea Bocelli (with Katharine McPhee) Willie underwhelmed me this week, to be honest, although not so much that I think it necessarily put a major dent in his momentum. In a round where nearly all the songs were both recent and new to the show, WBMW seemed especially dated and boring as a song choice. Without Bette’s mega-extrovert delivery, it’s a song which just doesn’t transcend its cheese. While the arrangement was probably the most successful soulization of several in this episode, it didn’t really help the cheese. Willie sang it fairly well, but it really didn’t offer much in the way of knockout vocal moments. Overall, the effect was to make Willie seem like a solid singing show contestant, rather than an interesting artist. Maybe there would have been more impact if the story about his grandfather’s death had come before the solo and emphasized the emotional content, but coming after the fact muted the impact. The Prayer was better. Willie’s solo lines still have a very monochromatic quality to them, but he pulled back from the full pushed sound in the harmonies, and the contrast to Kat’s tone softened the effect. It was pretty beautifully sung, though again not as vocally showy as you’d expect from someone running their campaign entirely on vocals. I’m just not sure it had a lasting impact that people will recall a couple weeks from now, the way they might remember Grace’s duet. It also, like Alyssa’s choices, doesn’t say much about what kind of artist Willie is. (It remains hilarious to me that The Prayer was sung on Idol in a week when Josh Groban sang two duets, and yet he was not involved) Willie is undoubtedly going through to the next round, so he has time to show more. I’m having trouble shaking the feeling that, unlike what I saw in Grace this week, he’s just going to be a static contestant who comes out and does more or less the same thing without growth or killer instinct. And I don’t think he can win in that case. 4. Cassandra Coleman, “Find Me” by Sigma ft. Birdy; “Apologize” by OneRepublic (with Ryan Tedder) Cassandra had some strong points this week, and some things which caused me concern. Her solo was clearly the kinda of material she would record, and gave maybe the strongest “This is who I am, if you like that get in my corner” impression. I’m not sure that makes it a good song to choose in the circumstances of Idol. It didn’t feel intensely impactful, and her placement early in the episode made it a bit more forgettable. If you like this kind of music/contestant, it probably piqued your interest in her, but if you weren’t already fully sold I’m not sure this is what would turn you into a full-on supporter. Despite not necessarily being her actual genre, Apologize did feel like a good fit for her vocally, and Idol audiences do love contestants who unexpectedly succeed on out-of-character choices if they’ve firmly established an identity already. Again though, maybe not the most impactful performance, partly because Ryan Tedder was one of the worst duet partners. With an eye more towards future performances, there were plusses and minuses. I felt like she was doing a lot of emoting with her facial expressions, which isn’t always the case with this type of contestant. A lot of the folk types seem like they get inside their own heads, but Cassandra seems to wear her emotions on her sleeve despite not being an aggressive performer. With more time to focus on that emotional resonance, and a better song to work with, that could be a major strength. However, the vocals were a bit concerning. This was not a huge belting song, and it still felt like she was being pushed to the edge of what she could manage without her tremulous tone collapsing. The comparison to Florence Welch she’s been getting may be dangerous, because while there’s a tonal similarity, she doesn’t have nearly as much raw power as Florence. Trying to lean too heavily into that comparison could lead to a vocal disaster, as even strong vocalists have struggled to match up. I’m not sure Cass has enough of a sense of her capabilities to recognize the line. Overall, she didn’t really lose any ground, and she probably kept people who are inclined to like her interested. However, I think she has more pressure on her than the three previous people to really make a strong impression in the next round. She’s at the risk of being overshadowed before she can find her groove. It’s especially an issue given Ava is her closest competition, and made probably the biggest leap this week. If she continues to grow, and Cassandra performs this way head-to-head, she could be in trouble. 5. Andrea Valles, “Lo Vas a Olvidar” by Billie Eilish and Rosalia; “Careless Whisper” by George Michael (with Brian McKnight) If there was one lower-tier contestant who came into this week determined to fight for a spot in the competition, it was Andrea. I’m not sure it’s ENOUGH, given how far behind she was in exposure and how many people are being cut, but I have to give respect to the effort. Of the two performances, her solo wasn’t quite as strong. It had a lot of atmosphere and intrigue, but it wasn’t a super in your face performance. It benefitted from rewatching with time to linger and consider, which may not be something a lot of the audience will do, and the tuning was a bit questionable at times. Still, there was something captivating about it. Her duet was stronger, in part because it was less stylized and gave more opportunity to just sing. She was one of the competitors most comfortable with sharing the stage with her partner, and the contrast between their tones and styles elevated the performance. She played off Brian McKnight’s smoothness well, and it gave her a chance to show how relaxed she seems on stage, which we hadn’t really seen before. I think there’s a definite limit to the power of her voice, which may make it difficult for her to keep standing out, but this was a good showcase. Will she get through? I think she’s on the fence. Weirdly, the eyepatch may actually be a major advantage for this one round, because it makes her instantly memorable when you’re scrolling through the voting apps, and I could see people throwing her some votes even if they weren’t immediate backers. I’m hoping she gets through to next week, but she’s going to have a hard time pushing past that point. Still, she’s surprised once, maybe there’s more waiting. At the very least, I want to see how many more bedazzled eyepatches she can pull out. 6. Wyatt Pike, “Rubberband” by Tate McRae; “Brand New” by Ben Rector (with Ben Rector) Wyatt was fine this week. It felt like the epitome of a mid-card showing, which is pretty much what he’s shaping up to be. His solo was in his wheelhouse, even if he gave it more of a folkie styling than the original it didn’t feel like a massive swerve. It was kind of awkwardly tailored for the timeslot, but he delivered it solidly. It was a very passable WGWG performance. His duet was more energetic than past performances we’ve seen, which I think was to his benefit. He and Ben Rector fit well together, although there was too much unison singing (don’t make me explain this Mary Jo, I beg of you). There were some weird faces which could become kinda cringey, but it wasn’t a major issue. I’m still struggling to find a lot to say about Wyatt. It was solid. It was definitely enough to get him through to the next round. It probably didn’t make any difference further down the road. Wyatt has always felt like the “here to fill a niche but not rock the boat” type, and this reinforced that. I’m having a hard time imagining him winning, or making the late finals. It’s very like Walker from S17, safe bet to make the early finals, but not really a contender for the win unless he pulls out something surprising soon. But it’ll do for now. 7. Alanis Sophia, “Alive” by Sia; “Shallow” by Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper (with Jimmie Allen) I feel like a lot of people are overrating how Alanis did this week, and it may be dangerous. Personally, I think she underdelivered, and in a way which raises a lot of concerns for the next couple rounds. Her two songs were, on paper, maybe the best set to make an impact in the context of a singing show: super well-known but not QUITE played out, big sings, hooky. However, neither quite landed for me. Sia’s songs are essentially built out of throat-rending belting and PTSD, and Alanis didn’t nail either. Kudos to her for not dropping the key so much in pursuit of sustainable high notes that the bottom end became unmanageable. But that first sustained belt barely landed on the note, and in general she was straining right at the edge of her vocal limits. More concerningly to me, she delivered very little emotional performance aside from a couple generic hair tosses. This is an agonized song, and she came across as very plastic. Maybe it’s odd to complain about her not emoting facially on a song by someone whose whole schtick is having their face hidden. But there’s a reason Sia pairs that with dancers and martial artists and three ring circuses. And frankly, Sia can convey quantities of emotion through her voice that Alanis didn’t even come close to. It’s especially dangerous given what I’d previously mentioned about the struggle good looking pop singers face on Idol. “Plastic and emotionless” is the absolutely last impression you want to give in that position, especially when you’re not completely killing the vocals. Vocally, she was fine in the duet, but it didn’t feel like it did much to showcase her. Jimmie Allen wasn’t as selfish a duet partner as some of the other celebs, but the balance didn’t seem to favor Alanis. I think she suffered somewhat from being the first person, even beyond the usual “Will they remember you by the end of the night” issue which early voting softens. The extreme brevity of the solo performances was kind of jarring, and Alanis was the first time we saw it. It almost seemed like an error, like the song had accidentally cut-off in the middle. The sound balance between her and Jimmie was also off, with her sounding underpowered, which they mostly fixed in the later duets. I think, but am not 100% confident, that she will make the cut this week. However, I can see her being in trouble next week. She didn’t do anything this week to really maintain her momentum from the showstopper round, and in a week that may have declined heavily. If she can come back with a song which fits more comfortably into her voice, and really emotionally deliver it, she could make a come back. But if she repeats the quality of her performances this week, I could easily see her “shockingly” failing to make the Finals. 8. Anilee List, “my future” by Billie Eilish; “Tell Me Something Good” by Rufus and Chaka Khan (with Joss Stone) It seems like the four cuts this week are going to come from the next five people (or Andrea), and the survivor is going to be cut in the next round, so it’s pretty much a question of who managed to nab just enough votes to get one more performance. Of these contestants, Anilee probably fit the Idol standard “hit you in the face with my voice until you love me” path to success best, although it wasn’t the best example of that method this episode. I felt like both her songs verged on trying too hard. The arrangement on the back half of my future went full-on lounge, and I don’t really understand the point of turning a Billie Eilish song into a belt fest. If that’s all you want to do, there are songs which are more suited to it, and it pretty much kills all of the atmosphere that her songs run on. Her duet was more of a fit for that style, and Anilee did a reasonably solid job of singing it. But my problem with her has been that she feels like she’s imitating the style of her songs without actually really getting them, and that impression did change here. She didn’t really settle into the funk or the sensuality of the song, it was just generic belting. While Joss was a very generous partner, the contrast between her expert grasp of the style and Anilee’s copy didn’t do her any favors. Given the other performances below were mostly subdued, without really making up the gap in emotional connection, Anilee could be the one to sneak through. But I’m not sure how she goes further, and she could easily go home here. 9. DeShawn Goncalves, “Forever Young” by Bob Dylan; “I Lived” by OneRepublic (with Ryan Tedder) DeShawn came out and did exactly what I thought he would. Unfortunately. For about 30 seconds he gave a restrained performance that rested on tone and sincerity, and that was pleasant and interesting. Then it hit the change, and veered off into meaningless (and, unusually, strained) vocal flailing. Kids, 80 seconds is not enough time for a tempo change to not suck. Don’t do it. I’ve made clear that I don’t care for DeShawn’s style, but I’m skeptical that even those more swayed by pure vocal showboating would find much to like here. (It again seems like the backup singers are doing the contestants no favors here) In his duet, he just seemed timid. Ryan Tedder again seemed intent on pulling focus, which did DeShawn no favors, but he didn’t really manage to push himself forward either. Cassandra at least got some emotional moments in her song, while DeShawn seemed content to just smile blandly through. Admittedly, it’s a weaker and less emotive song to begin with. It was just a backup singer performance. DeShawn could make it through. He has the benefits of a reasonable amount of screentime (unlike Graham or Alana, or Andrea), and wasn’t a vocal trainwreck (unlike Cecil). But it pretty much seems to be a default spot. I would be stunned if he made Top 12. 10. Graham DeFranco, “Raye” by John Splithoff; “Love Like This” by Ben Rector (with Ben Rector) I will give Graham a brownie point: He chose a song I’d never heard, by an artist I’ve never heard of, and that’s happened less than a dozen times that I can remember in 19 seasons of Idol. I’m not sure anyone else gives points for the most obscure song choice possible, but my brownies are delicious so pbbbb. Beyond that, his solo was pleasant and unremarkable. I don’t think it did anything to dig home out of the deficit of screentime he was facing. His duet was pleasant and unremarkable. While Ben Rector was a pretty good duet partner, the contrast between Graham’s sleepy delivery and Ben’s greater intensity only made Graham seem more forgettable. He could stick around. It seems pretty unlikely. Who was I talking about again? 11. Alana, “Blow Your Mind (Mwah) by Dua Lipa; “Back at One” by Brian McKnight (with Brian McKnight) Well, she tried. Andrea managed to pull out some surprise elements which gave her at least the ghost of a chance of making it through to the next round. Alana… tried. If we were only getting solos, this might have worked out better, as there weren’t a ton of uptempo numbers. But the duets upped that number significantly, so she couldn’t stand out on energy alone, and the vocals were nothing special. Dua Lipa’s not a showy singer, but both Alana and Beane found out that delivering them solidly while also putting out the energy is harder than it looks. Alana’s duet was heavily into the “backup singer gets a little moment in the spotlight” end of things, and this time it wasn’t really the celeb’s partner. She just doesn’t have the vocal presence to stand out, and the song isn’t one which allows a lot of room for performance. She just faded in to the background. Just repeat the “not completely impossible to make it through, to Top 16, almost 0 chance of Top 12, flip a coin for the last spot.” 12. Cecil Ray, “Paint Me A Birmingham” by Tracy Lawrence; “Freedom Was A Highway” by Jimmie Allen (with Jimmie Allen) Let’s not talk about the performances. The solo was wretched beginning to end, and only made worse by even the rest of the fodder being passable for the most part if not outstanding. Duet was marginally better. Let’s talk about country voters. Because I feel like there’s a weird perception in the Idolsphere which conflates two things. There are plenty of country performances which lean fully into the stylization, and which non-country fans don’t care for. This is a large portion of why, if you look at WNTS rankings, country consistently polls about 10-20 points lower than most genres and struggles to reach 5-stars unless it’s being performed by a non-country singer, yet doesn’t produce any more major trainwrecks than any other genre. There are ALSO performances of country songs which are objectively terrible, regardless of genre. These two things are not equivalent, and there’s a conviction some people seem to have that country voters (who will vote for the first kind of performance, because they DO like that stylization) will vote for ANYTHING sung with a twang, even if objectively horrible, because hey they vote for those dumb country songs at all. And I don’t think it’s remotely correct, because country fans actually like country music, and presumably have heard it sung well. That’s why Cecil’s going home.
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