'American Idol' Sudden Death: The guys get their shot
Posted February 21, 2013
Wednesday, 10 women sang for spots in the semifinals on American Idol. Tonight, 10 guys get their shot. Who will make the most of it? Share your opinions here, in the Idol Chatter live blog. -- Brian Mansfield
Tonight, the first 10 of American Idol's 20 remaining guys will sing for 1,500 people at The Mirage in Las Vegas -- and for judges Keith Urban, Randy Jackson, Mariah Carey and Nicki Minaj.
"There was so much raw talent last night that it was almost impossible to eliminate anybody," says Mariah Carey, who adds that she has her favorites among the guys but would be concerned if she were them, because the girls were so strong.
Tonight's performers: Paul Jolley, Johnny Keyser, Kevin Harris, J'Da, Chris Watson, Devin Velez, Elijah Liu, Jimmy Smith and Curtis Finch Jr.
***Spoiler Alert*** The results are in. So Curtis Finch, Devin Velez and Charlie Askew are easy choice for the finale. I'm pretty sure Paul Jolley will make the cut. And I'm not sure it's the right choice, but the judges likely won't be able to resist Elijah Liu's potential, even though his performance tonight was pretty shaky.
Let's see if the judges see it that way.
Jackson says tonight's decisions were very difficult -- Jimmy Iovine had to weigh in as the tie-breaker in at least one situation.
Curtis Finch gets the news first. But this is an easy one. "Would you please stop with this act? You know damn well you goin' through," Minaj tells him.
Jimmy Smith is next. Fortunately, the producers don't make Urban break the news to him. "Dude, tonight you didn't make it. Thank you very much. Good luck."
Kevin Harris gets the call. Carey gets emotional as she talks to him. "I expect to hear you somewhere, one somebody's radio, at some point." Unfortunately, it won't be on Idol.
Now here's Elijah Liu. "This is such a strange night," Urban says. "I so wish that we could keep you -- and I'm glad that we are." Well, the guy looks like a Mexican-Chinese Justin Bieber, and he sings like Bruno Mars. He's the only contemporary act of the night -- they had to keep him.
How about the very entertaining J'DA? "You know I love you, and you know how talented and very very special and unique you are," Minaj says. "Tonight, we were unable to keep you, but God bless you and good luck with everything you're doing." I'm not sure that's a great call, though I know a lot of this audience is breathing a sigh of relief.
Paul Jolley's the split decision, so Ryan Seacrest tosses to Jimmy Iovine. "What I think I saw tonight was a good singer with the wrong song. ... I felt I was watching Paul sing a Keith Urban song while auditioning for Phantom of the Opera." Because of his great instrument, though, he's going to recommend that Jolley continue. After flaying him alive on national television. Jolley wins the battle but loses the war.
After commercial, we return to find out who fills the last two spots.
Chris Watson gets called next. Randy Jackson breaks the news: "You've been good throughout the competition. Tonight, it didn't go in your favor."
Charlie Askew will learn his fate from Carey. "We've been focusing on the vocalists, primarily, and not so much the performers. ... But in your case, you're staying with us."
That leaves Johnny Keyser and Devin Velez. Sure would hate to be Keyser right now, because Velez was fantastic. "I feel that I gave it everything that I had," Velez says. Keyser says he felt like he gave everything he had, too, but he's also aware that he's sitting next to Velez, competing for one spot.
"Guys, I think it's important to know that you both have gotten so far, and it's because of your talent," Minaj says. "This is not unanimous: We love both of you." But "Johnny, your journey ends here. Devin, congratulations."
So there's your five: Devin Velez, Charlie Askew, Elijah Liu, Curtis Finch Jr. and Paul Jolley.
Curtis Finch Jr.'s new 'Superstar.' The gospel-singing Curtis Finch rearranges Superstar so dramatically it's almost unrecognizable until he hits the chorus -- and that's whether you're familiar with Leon Russell's, The Carpenters' or Luther Vandross' version. If this is a singing competition (it's not), he wins the night, hands down.
"Preach on, Brother Curtis!" exclaims Keith Urban. "I feel thoroughly cleansed of my sins."
"Every time you step on stage, you raise the competition to another level," Minaj says, "and the other contestants are waiting to see what you're going to do."
"You're one of the best singers in this whole thing," Jackson says. His one piece of advice: "Make sure you keep it young. Don't let it get so old-fashioned."
Carey wouldn't even begin to critique his vocals. "You brought me to tears."
Jimmy Smith sings Keith Urban for Keith Urban: Jimmy Smith got to Las Vegas being inspired by Keith Urban, so he's going to go with what brung him -- a Keith Urban hit, Raining on Sunday (written by Radney Foster). But his performance isn't as strong as Paul Jolley's was at the start of the show, and it'll be a head-to-head comparison, since they both did Urban tunes.
"It's really hard to critique somebody who just sang your song," Urban says, giving a shout-out to Foster. "I thought you did a really good job with that."
Minaj thought it was a good vocal, but she was a little bored. She's still thinking about Charlie and them.
"It was definitely a little bit boring for me," Jackson says.
Carey says she's been fighting for him all along, but she thinks he may be feeling the pressure. "I still think there's something about you that America should be able to see."
I think Charlie Askew's gonna be around a long, long time: Charlie Askew looks like a time traveler from a '60s flower-pop band tonight. He got a vintage shirt on Hollywood Boulevard and got a belt on J'DA's recommendation. He's been practicing with a golf club in place of a baseless mic.
He starts Elton John's Rocket Man totally lost in the song. He's a little nervous -- you can hear his vibrato -- but it works when he sings, "I miss the earth so much, I miss my wife." He actually sounds lost and lonely. His rock star moves look a little silly, but they're endearing. His high end's very strange, but he gets style points for sheer fearlessness. Gotta keep this kid around.
"I bet nobody left the television set for the whole performance," Urban says. "It's like if Freddie Mercury had a love child out at Woodstock somewhere." He's not sure what the hell Askew's doing, but he knows it works.
Minaj thinks he made the smartest, most interesting song choice of the night. 'I want to cradle you in my arms." She loves his awkwardness, but Askew's so awkward he's trying to be raw and real.
Jackson thinks it might have been "a little stage school," but that's OK with Askew: "I grew up in the theater." He tries to make a cogent statement about his singing, but Askew's judge-proof.
Carey struggles for words, too, finally settling on "fantastic."
Elijah Liu has the look, but maybe not the voice: Eighteen-year-old Elijah Liu is half-Mexican/half-Chinese. He's chosen Bruno Mars' Talking to the Moon, the most contemporary pop song of the night. And he looks the part. It's a good fit for him, though his falsetto is a little weak, and that's a key part of this song. Wait, I'm wrong -- his falsetto is very weak, and it's a big part of the song. Ouch.
Urban thought the song choice was perfect, though "it was a shaky performance." However, "you look like a frickin' pop star."
Minaj doesn't care about the song: "You are a super-duper star, little boy. I want to have your babies." He's her new favorite boy. "I would sign you today. … You have the most marketable face/voice combination I have seen tonight."
"This was not a great vocal … but I know you're capable of it," Jackson says. Clearly, they like him -- Liu might be the one guy who gets past a bad performance tonight.
"You're extremely marketable," says Carey, who seemed to like his vocals more than the male judges.
Listen to Devin Velez: Devin Velez takes a different approach to song selection, picking Beyonce's Listen. It's a smart move, and his may be the first great vocal performance of the night. He commands attention, and when he starts singing in Spanish, he elevates the performance yet again. It's perfectly paced -- strong start, surprise move to Spanish, followed by a modulation of key to add a little extra drama.
"That's the way to do it, Devin," Urban says. "You walk out there and you can sing. You've got a voice. You made a connection with me with your voice. You didn't have to do anything else."
"Not only did you do an amazing job at singing the song," Minaj says, "but I think you made a smart choice, as an artist, to sing in Spanish."
Jackson: "You took your time with it. … It was a great arrangement. … Dude, love, love, big props to you."
Carey caught him critiquing himself during his performance and tells him not to do that. She also loves the Spanish touch he brought to the song. "No matter what, I can't wait to see what a producer does when you get into the studio and make an album."
Chris Watson doesn't make it to the dock: Chris Watson's a waiter by day and a singer by night. He's ready to leave the tips behind for big checks.
He's picked Otis Redding's (Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay, which with his neo-'60s, post-Hendrix look is a horrible choice. For one thing, he's not that good a singer. For another, the combination of song and look makes him come across like an oldies singer in a bad impersonators show.
Urban thinks Idol isn't so much a singing competition as "a connection competition." Watson's voice wasn't the best it could have been, but Urban likes the way he carries himself on stage.
Minaj thinks he's the prettiest man she's ever seen, and she wants to marry his vibrato. "I don't know that this was the best song choice," and she's obsessed with him, though she admits she might be the only one. "I just love you."
Jackson likes him and his look. "Once again, I'm waiting for people to show me something vocally." The song went nowhere with him, Jackson says.
Carey understands where he was coming from. She, too, was surprised his Watson's choice of song. "For me, it wasn't your best performance, vocally, but certain things have overridden that."
Kevin Harris gets a mixed response: Kevin Harris, a 28-year-old from Montgomery, Ala., got nicknamed "Butter" by Randy Jackson, and it seems to have stuck.
He's got a classic look as he sings a soulful version of (Everything I Do) I Do It for You -- tuxedo vest and pants, with a dress shirt and two bow ties, one tied, one open. He seems like he's just on the edge of his voice, like he's pitched the song just a little too high. It's just not as smooth as it ought to be. With all the good singers coming up, he may have trouble sticking around.
Urban has always loved that song and thinks it was a good song for Harris. "Your range is crazy!" he says. However, he's not crazy about the big high runs singers like him tend to do at the end of the song.
Minaj thought every musical choice he made was perfection. She loves his vibrato, his falsetto. His personality doesn't jump out at her, but she thought the vocal was 100%.
Jackson was bored, felt it was karaoke. If he wanted to show what he could do vocally, Jackson says, he should have picked a different song.
Harris has been one of Carey's favorites since early in the season. She also wishes he had chosen a song that made it easier for him to show off his voice.
In other words, a very mixed reaction -- which is dangerous for Harris.
J'DA puts on a show: J'DA, who auditioned in Chicago, sells luxurious French cosmetics and considers himself "the star of my own movies, the artist of my own life."
His version of Adele's Rumor Has It has its moments -- he's actually quite a good singer, with a sweet tone in his upper range that's a nice change from most of the singers we see on this show. But he seems like he's just as interested in himself as he is the song, and that may not suit him in the long run on the show.
The judges seem amused, though I can't tell if they're impressed.
Urban commends him on putting on a show. "I appreciate that, and I also applaud your originality." ("I know," J'DA says.) However, Urban felt like he was "counting steps" -- "I don't want to feel like I can sense that through the performance."
"Work it, girl, work it," Minaj says. ("I've got to represent for the gays," he responds.) Minaj calls him a superstar performer. She compliments his professionalism, but thinks his voice was "a little whiny."
"You were so keyed in on the performance," Jackson says. "You don't miss a beat." But he was so keyed in on the performance that he wasn't thinking enough about his singing.
Carey, however, felt he was so confident he wasn't wavering vocally. "I liked the vocal. I was, like, wow, he's doing a lot, and he's also not wavering."
Jackson does admit that J'DA woke them all up.
Johnny Keyser won't give up: Johnny Keyser made some fans last year with his blue-eyed soul. "Getting cut was kind of the beginning of my growth," he says. "It wasn't until that that I really started to go for it."
Unfortunately, he needed to go for the first notes of Jason Mraz's I Won't Give Up a little harder. He begins uncertain and off-key, and he takes far too long to recover. Even when the melody gets more in his range and he gets more comfortable on stage, Keyser comes across as lifeless and uninteresting. It's a performance that suggests we've seen the best he has to give.
"That was good," Urban says. "That's the best you've sung, I think." (Yikes.) Urban saw moments of nervousness but moments where Keyser returned to the song.
Minaj didn't see nervousness; in fact, she thought he looked relaxed. "Kudos to you for being really freshly, nicely groomed." Which is a way of deflecting attention from the singing.
"I don't know if you've got the greatest voice," Jackson says. He found it to be an "OK performance. … Dude, you gotta slay it tonight. You can't play it safe."
Carey loves his commitment to music, and "you are bringing the masculinity. You are giving us that sexiness. … It's a competition, so you have to show your voice."
Up first, Paul Jolley. The retail worker from Tennessee has been singing around the area for the past few years. He's starting the night with a Keith Urban hit, Tonight I'm Gonna Cry. It's a nicely understated rendition of the song, better than some of the performances we've seen from him so far. He's got a nice, plaintive country break in his voice, and he maximizes the power of his runs by limiting them. He has some issues with a few high notes at the end, but, overall, it's a good start.
Keith Urban says "it's a huge honor" to have someone sing one of his songs. "I think you've got a really great voice" and he shouldn't try to over-sing.
Minaj was more wowed by other performances, she says. The big notes work for him, she says, but "even when the song may be understated, your eyes may be very theatrical, so you've got to watch that."
Jackson thinks singing Urban's song in front of him is a risky proposition. He likes Jolley's potential in the country field, comparing his voice to Gary LeVox of Rascal Flatts.
Carey felt like the front half of the song offered an intimate performance and found him refreshing.
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