By Alyce Wilson
March 24, 2004 - County Idol
Last night was country night in the American Idol competition. All the contests had to perform a song that had been a country hit.
Diana DeGarmo started out with "A Broken Wing." She was a natural in this genre, and she also held a note for a very long time, which got remarks from both the "nice" judges: Randy Jackson and Paula Abdul.
Randy called it her best performance yet, saying it was incredible. Paula said that singing is definitely Diana's career.
Even tough judge Simon Cowell agreed that this style suits her. But he added that, especially after seeing the video segment of her as a child, when she competed in talent shows and sang from an early age, that it gave him the uncomfortable feeling she was a product of a pop farm, bred to sing. He said that even though she performed effortlessly, that he feared she wasn't connecting with the audience.
Not so for George Huff, who performed "I Can Love You Like That." He didn't seem as comfortable with country as he did with pop and soul. Randy said that he didn't see the same energy from him he'd seen on other songs. Paula said he had the sexiest voice ever and that he "had her heart." And Simon said that, unlike Diana, George does have a connection with the audience. The only thing he suggested was that he stop listening so much to the stylists and start forming his own sense of style.
Fantasia Barrino performed "Always on My Mind." As always, she gave a very sweet performance. Randy called it very controlled and said she could sing anything. Paula said she looked elegant and classy and that the performance was subdued and exquisite. Simon, naturally, had to disagree. He said the performance did show Fantasia is not a one-trick pony but that that look and that song were not her, that they were too old-fashioned.
Redheaded crooner John Stevens took the stage next with "King of the Road," turning in a very smooth performance. I didn't realize until both Randy and Paula pointed it out that he had forgotten some of the words, although they both agreed he covered for it really well. Simon said, "I think you're great." Even though he said John is the worst dancer he's ever seen on American Idol.
Camille Velasco sang "Desperado." Her delivery was quirky, which Randy said felt jerky. Paula said she saw the soulfulness coming back into her voice and that she had made the song her own. Simon said it wasn't great and he thought that it might have been a little out of tune, as well. He said her nerves are what might cost her the competition, since she still doesn't appear comfortable on stage.
Her signature afro straightened, Jennifer Hudson sang "No One Else on Earth." She tried for a sexy delivery, which seemed a little inappropriate. Randy complimented her on a good performance and for getting "revved up" near the end. Paula didn't have much to say about the singing but complimented the hair and said that Jennifer needs to get her funk back. Simon wasted no words. He said she is out of her depth in this competition, that she has no chance to win.
Not dissuaded, Jennifer said, "You ain't seen my best yet" as she strutted off-stage.
Jon Peter Lewis performed "She Believes in Me," and this was really the best showcase for his voice so far, because it was more of a ballad. But Randy said that without the crazy dancing, he also felt the vocals suffered. And Paula called it a pleasant, safe song and recommended he lay off the mic on the high notes. Simon said that Jon has an odd voice but that America has fallen in love with him. He suggested that maybe it's because Jon looks a little like John-Boy in The Waltons. I guess he feels that middle America appeal is getting him votes.
In my opinion, he also looks a lot like Beck and like Mark Wahlberg.
Jasmine Trias did "Breathe" by Faith Hill, and she had an uneven beginning. She seemed uncomfortable with this genre. Randy said it wasn't her best. Paula agreed but said she's been stronger in the past and that this performance shouldn't hurt her. Simon said it was very safe, very "mumsy, dadsy" and boring. He said he hoped this wasn't where American Idol was heading.
Matt Rogers sang "Amazed." This was his best performance yet. Randy said he definitely has the personality. Paula said she liked the sensitive and intimate side of that performance and said that it was more subdued than his previous performance. Simon said, "I do like you. You're a nice guy." But he said the huge smile Matt wears when he performs reminds him of "someone singing at a ghastly children's party."
LaToya London chose the Garth Brooks song, "I Ain't Going Down Til the Sun Comes Up." This was a really upbeat, complicated song, but she still included some powerful vocals. Randy called it another incredible performance. Paula said it was the most fun of the evening and that LaToya reminded her of a young Gladys Knight. And Simon said that performance was what he'd been waiting for. He complimented her on taking a risk and said that the performance reminded him a little of Tina Turner.
Finally, Amy Adams did "Sin Wagon" by the Dixie Chicks. She just wailed it, and I have to say, she seemed more comfortable on stage at that time than any time previously. Randy said, "This is your style. You're a natural." Paula said the song was true to who she was and said she thought Amy could go out the next day and get a hit on the country charts. Simon, for once, didn't have much to say. He excused it by saying he doesn't understand this kind of music and that he hated the song. But Amy interpreted this as a good sign, saying she's never known anybody to leave Simon speechless.
This week, it's not as clear who will go home as it was last week with Leah LaBelle. But I have a few thoughts on the chances.
Diana DeGarmo is a really strong singer and a slick performer. But if Simon is right that she hasn't connected with the audience, no one will root for her, regardless of how good she is. It might not be this time, but it will eventually catch up with her if nothing changes.
While George Huff may not have seemed as comfortable with the country genre, he's already got a following of those who love his personality and his voice. He should be safe.
Likewise, Fantasia is a fantastic singer with a great personality who also turned in a great performance. Plus, her good-natured arguing with Simon over her outfit will no doubt endear her further to viewers.
Even though he forgot the lyrics, John Stevens sounded smooth. There are enough people out there who like his style that he should make it on to another round.
Camille Velasco, on the other hand, may be nearing the end of her finalist days. Unlike nearly everyone else who performed last night, she hasn't shown much growth in this competition. The only thing that's really changed about her is that she has let the stylists remove all traces of her personality, from straightening her hair to having her wear midriff-baring shirts, instead of the street-smart urban look she had. She's not showing enough of her personality, and that will probably hurt her.
And Jennifer Hudson does have a good voice, but it's possible she's not connecting with the audience. After all, she was one of the bottom three last week. Her performance last night was off, not to mention the fact that straightening her hair changed her funky look, and that might matter to some people.
Jon Peter Lewis didn't give his strongest performance, but if Simon is right and he does have a following, he'll be safe for another week.
Jasmine Trias, on the other hand, has been giving solid performances so far, but last night's was unimpressive. Unless there's a huge voting contingent from her native Hawaii, she might find herself in the bottom three.
Matt Rogers has made it through so far on the force of his personality, and now that his vocals are beginning to match that, he should be guaranteed to go on.
The undisputed vocal star of the competition so far is LaToya London. I wouldn't be surprised if she won, based on her vocal ability alone. But if she wants to take home the top prize, she has to find a way to connect more with the audience. This means she'll have to get on camera more and not wait until she's on stage to turn on that glow.
With last night's performance, Amy Adams saved herself. If she had phoned in another performance and done another safe song, she'd be on her way out the door. In this way, she has the opposite weakness that LaToya did. Whereas LaToya shines on-stage and is quite behind the scenes, Amy was larger than life off stage but failed to sparkle on stage. Last night's performance finally showed on stage the kind of energy she has on stage.
While Randy and Paula might think it's because it was a country song, I think it's because for once she finally chose a song she really enjoyed and loved singing. You just can't fake that.
So we'll see what happens, but right now I'm guessing Camille Velasco and Jennifer Hudson should be the most worried.
Other Musings by Alyce on American Idol:
2004 by Alyce Wilson