We were led to believe that American Idol was reducing the male field for Season 12 to the final 20 on Thursday, but that was a bit premature. Instead, we saw 43 cut down to 28, with an additional eight to be trimmed later, by means not yet revealed.
The last cuts in Hollywood have always been made after one final solo sung to musical accompaniment, after which the remaining contestants were sorted into rooms of lucky survivors and downcast rejects. These past two seasons have added the generally pointless post-Hollywood round in Las Vegas, and a final “sing for your life” before the judges made their very last cuts. But the room scenes seem to be gone now, for better or worse, and the singers are learning their fates in small groups right after they perform.
Randy Jackson, Mariah Carey, Keith Urban, and Nicki Minaj made some smart calls on Thursday’s show, giving the boot to some “fan favorites” who had obviously outstayed their welcomes, and offering up some useful advice to a field of singers that looks troublingly amateurish at times. But at least one cut was totally mystifying, and there were some signals that Mariah in particular is judging all the hopefuls primarily on their ability to pepper their performances with R&B runs – the very excess that has been the biggest sin on Idol over the years.
The plan for this episode was to deal with 2 or 3 singers at a time, and learn their fates before the next commercial break. First up was Paul Jolley, the clean-cut country-pop kid we met in Baton Rouge. He was terribly nervous before his performance, to the point that Mariah had to tell him to pull himself together. His version of Carrie Underwood’s “Blown Away” was pretty good – he has a country-meets-Glee sensibility that would be new for the show. But before he was sent backstage to wait, Nicki gave him a lecture about the whining: “You walked out so defeated, and that really irritated me – it’s such a turnoff. Just give us one minute of professionalism and focus … it’s one minute for you to come onstage and take that off of your face.” Whatever you think of her music, Nicki came up the ladder the hard way, so her patience with this sort of pleading is going to be blissfully limited.
Others in Paul’s group included the enormously self-satisfied Curtis Finch Jr., who ladled an entire enchilada platters’ worth of cheese over Christina Perri’s “Jar of Hearts” (the song Joshua Ledet used to introduce himself to America last year, so it’s no coincidence we heard three people performing it on this night). The man can sing, but he seems way too smug to ever catch on with the voting public. Lazaro Arbos left his group night issues behind and was able to perform a song released since his emigration to the U.S., “The Edge of Glory.” He’s not quite as impressive when he’s not doing an emotional ballad, but he, Curtis, and Paul all survived this cut.
The next lineup was led off by Devin Velez, a teenager we first saw for a bit on Wednesday. I can see why the judges loved his take on “What a Wonderful World,” but it was too overcooked for me, as he added about six syllables of melisma for every one that Louis Armstrong used. But even this improved judging panel is never going to admit there can ever be too many runs in a song. (Plus, and I know this is shallow, the bridge of his nose is really distracting.) “Turbanator” Gurpreet Singh Sarin … yeah, he’s still there. He’s obviously more than just a gimmick, as he showed off his guitar playing with a version of “Georgia on My Mind,” but he’s yet to sound better than fair to me (and he was part of Wednesday’s single most disastrous group). Can’t really see him in the last 20.
Then came time for Matheus Fernandes, where Nicki would speak for everyone who has wearied of the relentless Idol flogging of backstories. He came out and said “I’m 22 years old, not 10,” yet another reference to his 4-foot-9 stature; said he had been laughed at all his life (message: Idol has been my only chance); and then performed a ridiculously emo version of “Stronger,” which is fun and triumphant when Kelly Clarkson does it, not so much here.
This was all too much for Nicki. “I felt like every time you perform, you were sort of making reference to your height. Sometimes things can go from being inspiring to you wanting a pity party … you don’t have to milk that.” Except maybe he does. Nicki also might have been annoyed by Matheus continuing to imply he had little experience when the kid lasted several episodes on The Glee Project in 2011. While Devin, Gurpreet, Adam Sanders, and pop-soul crooner Cortez Shaw made it out of this group, Matheus became the first of the night’s featured vocalists to be sent packing.
Trying too hard was also a problem for Nicholas Mathis, who impressed in the group round but decided that singing the chorus of “Locked Out of Heaven” on his knees would be a good idea. He was incorrect. Jimmy Smith, who has a sort of surfer boy appeal even though he’s from Tennessee, did a fine job on “Landslide,” but he’s going to need more to stand out. If he played an instrument that would do it, but the show apparently isn’t letting any attractive males wield a guitar on Season 12.
Papa Peachez continued his effort to punk the Idol audience with a version of Lady Gaga’s “You & I” that might have been meant to sound cool-casual but instead came across as flippant. Nicki, who has always been his biggest supporter but warned him Wednesday that he was coming across as complacent, let him have it, saying the song choice was terrible and that his flame had burnt out. His real issue, as he said after being eliminated, is that he doesn’t like singing cover songs, which therefore makes him about as well-suited to American Idol as I am. Nicholas was likewise kept out of heaven, while Jimmy moved forward. Vincent Powell and Johnny Keyser also got through, so both have made it at least a little further than last season.
Another Season 11 casualty, Nick Boddington, took to the keyboard for “Stars.” He looks like a hipster version of the Observer from Fringe, but at 27 he’s one of the most experienced people in Hollywood, and has undeniable range. Then came Charlie Askew, who might just be the person who is able to lead some kind of Idol cult this season, though you have to think his inexperience will catch up with him eventually if his personality quirks don’t. Coming onstage wearing what looked like a linebacker’s brown suit and goofy teal shoes, he introduced “Somebody That I Used to Know” with a Springsteen-like intro about a (real?) girl he once dated. He was too shouty on the chorus, but he’s not forgettable in the least, which is more than I can say for almost all these guys. He also displayed the self-confidence to banter/flirt with Nicki, of all people.
Charlie and Nick were advanced, along with veteran Mathenee Treco and the space creature calling himself JDA. I’m not sure why they don’t want us to hear this character sing, but yes, I definitely want to hear from the guy in the black veil and thigh-high boots.
The other two successful auditions shown were those of Burnell Taylor and Marvin Calderon, who were both “just OK, dawg” on “Jar of Hearts,” which now needs to be retired till at least Hollywood 2018. Burnell proved he had star quality in his audition, but needs the right songs to show that off.
Micah Johnson had yet to be anything other than very impressive, despite his ongoing speech impediment. He went the country route here as he did in his audition, with “I Told You So,” and while it wasn’t spectacular or anything, it was easily among the half-dozen best performances of the night. The judges, though, were obviously disappointed, assuming Mariah spoke for all of them. “I like it when I can hear you do more with your voice. I expected maybe you would have a different kind of take on the song,” she griped. This might be unfair, but it sure sounded like she was saying that if you’re up there as a black artist and you’re not doing runs, you’re not really “singing” as far as she’s concerned.
Incredibly, Micah was cut, easily the craziest Hollywood decision this show has made in years, if not ever – seriously, it’s not like there’s some sort of murderer’s row of talent that locked him out. To his credit, he accepted the bizarre judgment as a minor obstacle in his life. Another surprise cut on Thursday was Oklahoma City auditioner Nate Tao – we didn’t hear him sing in this round, but he had been consistent to this point. Teen Sanni M’Mairura and shouter Gabe Brown are also going to have to try it again in a hypothetical Season 13. Let’s hope they can do runs by then.
Next week, the women get their shot, and with all the talent on that side, the cuts are going to be brutal. What did you think of the guys in Hollywood? Was Micah screwed over or what?
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