We'd come up with a grand, pithy way to sum up Idol's crop of semifinalists, but we don't need to. That description already exists, and it comes from the musical Wicked. There's been some confusion over filling out Fox's show; there's been some confusion, 'cause here is how they go:
Boys: Unusual and exceedingly peculiar and altogether quite impossible to describe.
What else can be said about the monochromatic blob of Hollies and Hallies and Haleys and Baylies and Chelseas we saw tonight, almost all of whom either sang or were compared to Adele? The challenge isn't singing well at this point. The challenge is differentiating yourself from the blonde morass, the Holly woods, call it what you will. The challenge is being somebody you could remember the next day without having to scour YouTube. Two people, and possibly three, met that challenge by being fantastic. Two people met that challenge by being terrible. Everyone else drove us to YouTube and distraction. But at least they weren't...
THE HOPELESS: 30-25
30. Baylie Brown: Baylie's not entirely responsible for the catastrophe that was "Amazed." She went right after the best country performance Idol's seen in years, and the arranger garbled the song like a landscape photographer using a Game Boy Camera. Thatches of cuts, too-sudden key change, arrangement that gulps down everything around it--it was a mess. That said, her singing was fetid, even more so when she blamed the audience. Poor form all around.
29. All The Singers Cut In Favor Of Baylie Brown: Don't fret, ladies! You can't sing in Baylie's place, but you can watch her on Idol and see your immediate future: being allowed into the top 24 half by default, then bombing.
28. This Quote: “My reality check bounced” --Steven. Just for that, we hope your paycheck for this episode bounces in reality.
27. This Other, Oft-Repeated Quote: “I’ve liked you since day one.” --Each judge took their turn saying this. This is kind of like someone saying to their car, “I’ve liked you since the test drive."
26. Steven Tyler: Controversies that should afflict Steven, in light of his newly acquired title: Outfit. Wailing "GEORGIA!" post-Otis. Ever uttering the words "money shot" on a family show.
25. Haley Johnson: The point of "Sweet Dreams" is to show your contralto. Why would you take the upper harmony and wail on it? It wasn't steely or cool like Annie Lennox. It wasn't even fierce like Tiah Tolliver. Or, translated into judge language: "I’m not sure the song was the perfect song and the way you chose to sing it wasthe perfect song." Actually, no, that's unfair. Randy really did critique this performance, both snippily (a "nightmare") and lucidly (“It’s harder to do Annie Lennox than it sounds. Her intricacies are spot-on.”) What else can really be said?
For animalia and unsnazzy regalia, click NEXT.
THE HAPLESS: 24-17
24. Fauna: Living: Cats, Dogs, and a Llama. Dead: Taxidermy. For Sale: Fresh Baby Backs, Sirloin Tip Roast, Wings & Beef Ribs, and Split Breast at the Stokesdale Bi-Rite. Yeeee-haw!
23. Ryan Seacrest: The novelty of the live rounds is over; he's realized he's still on Idol, and he once again has to wrangle something -- anything -- interesting from singers who've finished while folks like Brielle try to usurp his hosting.
22. Ryan’s Pronunciation: It is high time someone called out Mr. Seacrest on not only pronouncing “literally” as “lichrally,” but he’s employing it incorrectly. It’s literally driving us up a wall. Literally, his actions have picked us up in a car, and we’re currently headed north on the side of a room. Lichrally!
21. Obnoxious Wordplay: Maybe our taste buds were soured last night by yet another “Haejoon”/”Hey Jude” bit, but we were not amused by a poster advocating the “Hirsh-icane” and a contestant referring to their beloved dog as their “Dog-ter.” Wait a tick...those were both Jen Hirsh related. Conspiracy theory time!
20. Shannon Magrane: This isn't Inspirational Week. This isn't "This Is My Now" week either. Nor is it '80s Christian Contemporary Week. She'd have been better off with "On the Floor" like her intro package. Or considering she's half-bluesy, Adele. What is wrong with this show's Adele allocation?
19. Steven’s Jacket: If Sgt. Pepper, a Persian rug, and a leopard had a jacket baby, it would be Steven’s jacket. Come to think, if they had a human baby, it’d probably be Steven.
18. The Guys: Gents, voting is closed for you, no need to steal focus with your peace signs and thumbs up. That means you, Eben Scooterbraunbaitowicz. And Ryan: fist-pumping them will only encourage them!
17. Brielle Von Hugel: Her stage mom stayed in the wings, but her cheer squad's BRIELLE! routine made up for it, as did that bit where the top 13 guys gathered around her for no reason, as did her butting into Ryan's hosting. She's less sittin' on the dock of the bay than flailing there, scaring off the tide and botching the lyrics. It doesn't matter, becuase Idol'd probably love to torch a third of her votes to fend off stage parenting.
For Adele, doo-doo and one remaining H_llie, click NEXT.
THE HARMLESS: 16-8
16. Chelsea Sorrell: I grew up not far from Stokesdale. I've probably driven past all two stoplights in her town. That said, she'll probably be back soon; her voice doesn't quite Carrie, and there's a reason. "Cowboy Casanova" is thoroughly autotuned--and no, stans, that isn't a knock on Carrie because most country artists autotune, but come on: "you're the devil in disguise" doesn't sound like that without three computers' input. Singing it live is the country equivalent of the trend last season of singing "Only Girl (in the World)" live: you'll never sound as polished as the original.
15. Jen Hirsh: Imagine Adele with no cheekiness, no stank and the deep feeling of an emoticon, and you're no longer imagining Adele. You're closer to imagining Jen Hirsh. There was nothing objectively wrong with this performance, but there wasn't much objectively right. And we're calling it--there is absolutely no way two contestants autonomously chose the same Adele non-single and got through multiple rehearsals performing it without anyone thinking maybe it'd be a good idea to change, for fear of being out-Adele'd, rolling in the redundancies, being chased out onto the pavements, you know. Someone is pulling someone's strings. But why Jen?
14. Maturity: Jennifer made the unfortunate live error of saying, “I want America to see what you do do” around the likes of Randy Jackson. After a good ten seconds of repeating “Doo-doo,” we were done-done. (Confession: If nobody had commented on it, we would’ve totally called out the missed opportunity. Doo-doo. HAHAHAHA.)
13. Jennifer Lopez: Doo-doo. Goosies. You can extrapolate Jennifer's interpersonal style from those two abbrevs. But this is actually OK! It's essentially the Paula Abdul role, and though it's less suited to her than either rogue or judge, and though it comes off a little like someone backstage has an applause sign reading "POUT AND QUIRK," it's not unlikable.
12. This Psychedelic Quote: “Confidence breathes wings into a song.” --Steven Tyler. Quotes like this provide a friendly reminder that Steven was previously one half of the Toxic Twins.
11. Hollie Cavanagh: The thing about "Reflection" is that talent-show prospectives automatically learn to sing this song with the onset of puberty, much like pageant kids magically develop Annie's "Tomorrow" by kindergarten. But something was off, whether it's Haley/Hallie/whoever seeming stiff, her carpaccio minidress or, if the judges are to be believed literally or figuratively, her hair not being down. (It wasn't her hair. Come to think of it, didn't we have a Thia and a Pia last season, and didn't one of them sing "Reflection," and didn't both of them get eliminated? We're probably going to regret writing any more words about someone so probably eliminated.
10. Chelsea’s Mom: An i>Idol mom without the desire to be on camera? This is like an Idol episode without the mention of Adele. Speaking of:
9. Adele: This episode had no fewer than eleven “Adele” namedrops. I guess after 22 weeks at #1, she’s really the only remaining figure in music? Also, Ryan asked one contestant, “Do Adele lyrics speak to you?” Another way to phrase that question: “Do you feel?”
8. Shannon’s Dad: “Do they have a wrestling mat out here?” He’s just playing along with Steven perving on his daughter, but the thing is, I don’t think he’s really just playing along. Incidentally, Shannon called him a “gentle giant.” Between that and Haley’s coffee shop featuring a white-chocolate Idol special, I can only surmise that Idol is scripting life, carving its catchphrases into reality. Wait. That isn’t harmless at all. Why is this even here?
For solid singers, some of whom are mere youths, and an actual judge doing actual judging, click NEXT.
THE FLAWLESS: 7-1
7. Jessica Sanchez: There's a reason the audience went berserk: her final note would have gotten her to the top 5 in Idol's Mariah-loving beginnings. In Idol's beginnings, incidentally, Jessica would have been about 8. Ponder that, and while you're pondering, try to make sense of "you put punctuation with your body on phrases." Huh. Hmm. Looks like we're turning into the judges and not really critiquing. She was excellent, we're predisposed to her already for not being a blonde Hillie or Heely or Hullie, but "swollen vocal cords," on a show this enamored with Adele, makes us worry.
6. Hallie Day: There's something weirdly dead about her intonation, both in her opening segment and the beginning of "Feelin' Good," which she sang less like a torch song or soul or Adele and more like Kaa from The Jungle Book, overcooked and over-sinuous. This is probably why Randy Jackson compared her to [name redacted for overexposure]. Fortunately, she overcame this and became awesome, and we suspect she's got a fascinating performance left in her. Let's hope Idol let us see it.
5. Erika Van Pelt: A singing DJ! Have you heard of that! Erika rides a motorbike and carries her own damn speakers and wants to be "electric" and "rock really hard," which automatically places her miles above the bland blonde squad. She's also got one of the richest voices of the girls--or more to the point, one of the only recognizable voices. It's a shame her Heart song showed less her rock side than her pebble side, but it took Gina Glocksen a few rounds to get to "Call Me When You're Sober." And to get eliminated, but that's what happens when you like female rockers on this show.
4. This Quote: “We were a little soft on some of the boys last night.” - Randy. Real talk? On Idol? Well, no -- real talk would involve naming names -- but close enough, particularly considering...
3. Randy Jackson: Yes, his comparisons are almost all wrong. Yes, he has an increasingly troublesome habit of butting into Steven's flirtations, yesterday with "I'm milk chocolate," today with "I can let MY hair down!" Oodles of eligible, uncreepy bachelors, and the object of your affection is the leopard-coutured Lamia doll? That said, he delivered actual critiques. Multiple critiques! It'd have been nice for him to start yesterday, but Idol's stance on female contestants winning is long-held.
2. Elise Testone: The one contestant of the night correctly matched with an Adele song, which is sort of astounding considering that identifying new Adeles probaby takes up 75% of the music industry's time right now. Her voice rasped, her piano playing was solid, she was near tears, and she rendered Jen Hirsh irrelevant. (We're not entirely pleased about that, but it's the show's own fault for doubling songs.) Oh, and we saw two genuinely likable moments outside her performance: the Titanic boat-prow thing, which might not be cliched anymore, and yoinking her hair flower from the room-service tray. If you can liven up the intro packages' endless slog of small-town street signs and siblings and pets, your services are desperately required.
1. Skylar Laine: Has anyone done Faces on Idol before? Or if they have, has someone other than a dude rocker done them? Yes, Randy immediately pigeonholed Skylar as "the rocking country girl" and Tina Turner Twanged, but that's what Idol's judges do. Skylar kicked every country singer in Idol's past--yes, Carrie too--back down their country roads, particularly on that tense-turned-perfect-turned-desperately-perfect final note, her theatricality actually worked for her, and her rewrite of the lyrics had bite. It's the fiercest thing I've seen on Idol in a while, and it singlehandedly justified the show's country obsession. If she keeps picking unexpected songs, she has a chance of winning this thing.