With two weeks of eliminations behind them, would this final group of American Idol Top 12 aspirants finally take the judges’ advice into consideration?
But although the night still abounded with weird song choices, tonight’s singing for some reason seemed better overall than on the two previous performance shows.
Not that there weren’t plenty of stinging critiques, brutal Simonisms and “You know I love you” conciliations from Paula Abdul. Maybe we’re just excited that all the whittling down will be done by the end of the week.
Semifinal round No. 3 started off with one of the less visible contestants from earlier weeks…
Von Smith: Not a bad beginning. The 22-year-old from Kansas City, Mo., kicked off the third semifinal round with a rousing twist on Diana Ross’ “You’re All I Need to Get By,” a Clay Aiken-reminiscent performance, according to Simon Cowell. “You look appalling, but actually you sang quite well—actually, very well,” the unforgiving Brit said.
Taylor Vaifanua: The Hurricane, Utah, teen didn’t exactly storm the stage with Alicia Keys’ “If I Ain’t Got You.” Such a soulful song, and the 16-year-old’s performance didn’t pick up much steam until about two-thirds of the way through. “What’s it like to go shopping with Taylor?” Kara DioGuardi said as an example of how curious she is about Vaifanua and how that song left her wanting more. “I just don’t get the shopping thing,” Simon commented before labeling the performance “a bit bland.”
Alex Wagner-Trugman: The nerdily charming, gangly 19-year-old actually has a bit of soul—and he looked quite comfortable up on that stage—but his vocals didn’t measure up. His version of Elton John’s “I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues” contained far more whispering, growling and showboating than singing. “Definitely was kind of crazy in a buck-wild sort of way,” Randy Jackson said.
Arianna Afsar: ABBA’s “The Winner Takes It All” isn’t going to help Arianna get votes, let alone take it all. Good intentions (the first ABBA song ever performed on Idol) didn’t translate into a listenable performance. Shrieky and off-pitch, and the 16-year-old was in way over her head from note one. “There was a certain irony to that lyric,” Simon said, saying it all.
Ju’Not Joyner: A very velvety, R&B-tinged slowdown of “Hey There Delilah.” The 26-year-old father and business owner definitely deserves to be among the top-three vote-getters tonight with his stripped-down Plain White T’s song. “That was actually better than I thought it was going to be,” Simon opined. Well, there you go!
Kristen McNamara: We weren’t nuts about the arrangement, but, contrary to what you might have expected listening to her preshow interview, Kristen’s voice came booming out in a very sultry, mellifluous manner and, overall, she really (wo)manhandled Tracy Chapman’s “Give Me One Reason.” The first female contestant of the night to make us want to hear more in later rounds. Both Paula Abdul and Kara would have preferred a Kelly Clarkson song, but they agreed it was a darn great vocal.
Nathaniel Marshall: Before he said anything, we predicted that Simon would have a major problem with the flamboyant 19-year-old’s performance. The vocal, Meatloaf’s “I Would Do Anything for Love,” had its moments, but there was too much gesticulating and contorting of the facial muscles to make it fun to watch. Sure enough…”Some people will probably quite like that—the minority,” Simon said. “The majority, probably like me, thought it was verging on excruciating.” “He’s the guy I want to go to karaoke with,” Kara offered.
Felicia Barton: The 26-year-old mom almost wasn’t here, having not been included in the semifinals until after Joanna Pacitti was disqualified. Felicia at least made the most of her second last chance—her take on Alicia Keys’ “No One” made absolute arses out of the judges for cutting her in the first place. “Your gift is unbelievable,” Paula said.
Scott MacIntyre: In what was one of the most anticipated performances of the competition to date, MacIntyre probably did enough to get a spot in tomorrow’s top three. The legally blind musician took on Bruce Hornsby’s “Mandolin Rain” and, while he doesn’t have one of the strongest voices in this competition, he’s had rabid fans from day one, as evidenced by tonight’s standing ovation. “I will be amazed if you don’t sail through to the next round, young man,” said a more reverent than usual Simon. (Extra points to Scott for asking Ryan Seacrest for another high five.)
Kendall Beard: The 24-year-old Texan has a lot of charm, but her Martina McBride impression on “This One’s for the Girls” fell short in the vocals department. Proving just how weak it was, Paula gave Kendall the night’s prize for Best Outfit. Ouch. But, she has beauty going for her, and the song suited her countrified style, so… Who knows?
Jorge Nuñez: The only Puerto Rican to make it this far this season, Jorge didn’t turn in a flawless performance of Elton John’s “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me,” but he’s in the running to keep going. “You’re a singer,” stated the connection-craving Kara. “It comes from right here to us, and we feel it.”
Lil Rounds: The single mother of three—looking great in a black and yellow strapless dress— has been a favorite from the get-go. Fittingly, she capped off the evening with Mary J. Blige’s “Be Without You” and it was one of the more soulful, grown-up, inspiring performances we’ve heard. But, was it just us, or were the backup singers really distracting on this one? “Brilliant,” Simon observed, while Paula charmed with the final remark of the night: “I have a sneaking suspicion we’re going to see you for many more lil’ rounds.”
Another three member’s of Idol’s Top 12 will be seated on Wednesday’s live results show, while the judges will choose which lucky trio of also-rans get to join them on a special Thursday episode.