American Idol 11 Semifinal (Round of 3)

This week is pretty standard (except for the bloated 2-hour performance show): the three remaining singers get their Hometown Visit videos aired, one of the judges texts them (on a very visible sponsor-provided phone) with the Judges’ Choice song, Jimmy Iovine selects a song we’ll hate, and the semifinalists select a safe song.

About the only suspense is this: will VFTW get Phillip Phillips into the finale, or will Idol get what everyone believes they want, “the black guy against the Asian girl”, somehow proving that there is diversity in Idol’s fanbase?

Oh, there’s also the matter of J-Lo’s public contract negotiations (where she’s all but saying “more money or I walk”)… but that’s a matter for a later date, methinks.

The open is all about hometown heroes having to “win over the hearts of the nation”… and Ryan even gets the catchphrase in…

THIS! … is American Idol!

First of many reminders from Ryan: next week is on a Tuesday/Wednesday schedule… and then here come the semifinalists.

Break before the Judges’ Choice round…

Joshua Ledet – “I’d Rather Go Blind” by Etta James (Randy)
The judges clearly chose not to challenge Joshua, instead tossing him a blues standard that’s right in his wheelhouse.   The results where just about what you would have expected: an gospel-tinged blues interpretation that didn’t really stretch Joshua a bit.  The crowd, and judges, loved it.

Break…

Look, they made the other 9 finalists come back to see what they missed…

Jessica Sanchez – “My All” by Mariah Carey (Jennifer)
J-Lo pitched this as a tender song that will show a different side of Jessica.  We’ll see.  I’m not sure how a sheltered 16-year-old can understand the love and loss that powered “My All”.  I don’t think she did.  She was pitchy in ways she hasn’t been pitchy all season, and didn’t show that this was anything but another ballad to sing in her wind-up-doll style.  The crowd, and judges, loved it.

Break…

Phillip Phillips – “Beggin’” by Madcon (Steven)
Oh, my… if you had any doubt that the fix was in, this eliminated that.  Joshua and Jessica get big songs by big names.  P2 gets a #79 US hit by an not-really-well-known Norwegian hip-hop duo (although the Four Seasons original did hit the top 20).  I’ll give him credit, he actually sang the song in a style that wasn’t totally a Dave Matthews ripoff, and the uptempo track was a nice balance to the ballads that came before, but this wasn’t designed to show P2 off well and certainly didn’t show any other sides of his style.  The crowd, and judges, loved it.

End of Round 1… nobody broke out, nobody fell back… too close to call.   The Contestant’s Choice round is next…

Before the start of Round 2, Joshua gets a visit to the Product-Placement Zone… where he claims to be the first artist to sell out McNeese State’s Burton Coliseum.  [Citation Needed].

Due to the longer performance show, there’s one change this year – the long Hometown Visit videos move to this show (they used to air on the results show).

Joshua – “Imagine” by John Lennon
Good choice – while the irony of the gospel singer doing Lennon’s tribute to atheism is delicious, it’s also not the stock ballad you’d expect him to do.  The song doesn’t lend itself to spiritual bombast, so it’s a challenge for Joshua to hold back a bit.  He couldn’t resist a little bit of vocal histrionics, but still gave the comparatively-restrained performance the song needed.  This might be the song that pushes him into the finale.  The crowd, and judges, loved it.

It’s clear from his comments after the song that Joshua had no idea what the song was about…

Break…

I suspect all three contestants will pass through the Product Placement Zone before showing their Hometown videos.  Jessica talking about being homeschooled and being the socially-awkward “dork” will clearly touch middle America… but putting her on the USS Midway and reminding us of her military dad will probably balance that.

Jessica – “I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing” by Aerosmith
OK, another interesting choice, but what will she do with it?  It’s a rock ballad, right?  Does Jessica rock?  No.  I think she took the power out of the song by recasting it as Aerosmith-via-Mariah.  As always, the technical performance was good, right down to the Idol Note at the end.  But the song was lost in the singing.  The crowd, and judges, loved it.

Break… how will P2 be talked into sabotaging himself in this round?

And we complete the Product Placement Zone trifecta with P2’s interview.  You couldn’t help but notice P2 being gently mocked while the other two contestants were gently stroked.  I’m telling you, they don’t want Phillip in the finale…

Phillip – “Disease” by Matchbox 20
Hmm… he should have tried to stretch out of his element.  Rob Thomas’ music isn’t all that far from the DMB-style that P2 prefers.  He did rework the song (doesn’t he always?), but this would have been a good time for him to do something totally unexpected.   As it was, it wasn’t really anything that would bring him new votes.  The crowd loved it.  The judges… not so much.  And Randy worked so hard to throw P2 under the bus that I know Vote For The Worst must be livid right about now.

End of Round 2… Joshua helped himself a bit… and frankly, he needed it.  Let’s see how Jimmy Iovine tries to wreck these kids’ lives… after the break…

This year, instead of the judges’ choice being texted to the singers at their hometown visits, it’s Jimmy’s choice. If you were hoping we wouldn’t hear from Jimmy, you would be wrong.  Sadly.

Joshua – “No More Drama” by Mary J. Blige
Yes, the song is sampled from “Nadia’s Theme”.  Gee, could you throw Joshua a softer softball?   He did exactly what you think he did with it, surviving despite losing his earphone/monitors during the performance.  A soulful, dramatic (pun intended) interpretation.  The crowd, and judges, loved it.

Break… they have Hollie sitting next to Shannon in the audience, so that when they get a shot of the Idols giving their own a standing ovation, Hollie comes up to Shannon’s waist.  Barely.  OK, I’m exaggerating, but not by much…

Jessica got her text in a badly-acted skit featuring her family delivering a new sponsor-provided phone and wireless speaker.

Jessica – “I’ll Be There” by the Jackson Five
Gee, could you throw Jessica a softer softball?  I mean, if she can’t sing this song well, she has no business being here at all.  This is exactly the type of song she’ll be doing after she escapes Idol.  The only challenge was matching the tone shifts in the song (she’s one person, not five, after all).  She handled it well.  The crowd loved it.  The judges were split (Randy seemed to criticize the song choice a bit, which wasn’t Jessica’s fault – I’m wondering if Randy was scripted this way to try to draw sympathy votes).

Break… warm up the bus, as Jimmy’s about to shove P2 under it again.

And P2 got his selection in a voicemail from Jimmy in another badly-acted family skit.

Phillip – “We’ve Got Tonight” by Bob Seger
Gee, Iovine didn’t completely sabotage P2.  This is something he might actually do well with… as long as he doesn’t lapse into a Bob Seger impersonation.  It’s just P2 and a piano player (no guitar) to start.  The violins come in later.   And you know what?  For the first time all season (I think), he just sang the song.  No indie-rock artistry.  No foolishness.  For his last song before the finale, he showed us he can actually sing.  If the plan was to screw with P2, it failed.  This was his best showcase in a long, long while.  The crowd, and judges, loved it.

Look, I’m on record that I think P2 is a bit of a prick.  But I also am so tired of Idol trying to stage-manage a result that I hope VFTW pulls this off and gets him into the finale.  I can’t predict how the vote will go – nobody really jumped out and nobody really screwed up.  If anything, what was highlighted here is that Jessica has no emotional depth at all – she has the tools, but not necessarily the fire, for a singing career.  I wonder if the voters will sense that and put the guys through.   OK, I’ll make that my prediction.  In a “shocking result”, Jessica will be cut, and it’ll be Joshua and P2 in the finale (which will remind some of the Season 2 finale between Ruben Studdard and Clay Aiken).

The last “standard” results show of the season is tonight.  The recap is tomorrow.

The plan for next week is to do the finale performance show blog right after the show Tuesday night, and final thoughts next Thursday morning (since I won’t be able to do a liveblog, and a tapeblog probably won’t work).

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Author: Rob Hoffmann

Occasional blogger, full-time computer techie, radio producer (basketball, mostly), generally nice person (if you ask me).

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