By RODNEY HO/ email@example.com, originally filed Thursday, February 11, 2016
The painfully confusing semifinal round of "American Idol" continued tonight.
Of the 12 semifinalists who performed, seven survived per the judges' decisions. America is not involved at this point, which is so wrong.
Those who are safe: La'Porsha Renae, Sonika Vaid, Avalon Young, Gianna Isabella, Thomas Stringfellow, MacKenzie Bourg. The final slot: Jeneve Rose Mitchell.
The five who missed the cut:
- Emily Brooke: She never impressed me much but the judges clearly liked her. But this performance just begs for elimination.
- Jordan Sasser: The Atlanta worship leader not only chose the wrong song but his theatrical approach hit the judges the wrong way.
- James VIII: I didn't think he was that bad but the judges are clearly not looking for laid back this year.
- Jenna Renae. Just lacked that spark.
- Stephany Negrete. Blasphemy judges! Take away Gianna or Thomas and give her a slot!!!
Good news: we get the "Idol" alum duets this year. Tonight, we saw Caleb Johnson (season 13 winner), Scotty McCreery (season 10 winner), Fantasia (season 3 winner), Ruben Studdard (season 2 winner), Nick Fradiani (season 14 winner) and Lauren Alaina (season 10 runner up).
The nostalgia was palpable tonight but in a good way. It was wonderful to see all the past singers and they all held up their end of the bargain. The newbies had varying success. Emily Brooke shrunk even more before Lauren Alaina. Jordan Sasser's efforts to upstage Fantasia failed. Caleb Johnson swallowed James VIII whole. La'Porsha matched up well with Fantasia. Somehow, Nick and Avalon worked. Ditto the seemingly odd couple of Sonika and Caleb.
My rankings of the top 12:
- Jenna/Scotty '
My grades are only for the current singer, not the alum.
Emily Brooke with Lauren Alaina ("Flat on the Floor" Carrie Underwood) - Unfortunately, compared to Lauren, Emily comes across as clearly a weaker vocalist. Lauren does sound even stronger since vocal cord surgery. She redeemed herself to a degree from last night but she is clearly not even close to Lauren. HCJ said it was clear going big and loud didn't help Emily. Grade: B-minus
Thomas Stringfellow with Nick Fradiani ("Man in the Mirror" Michael Jackson) - This is a good pairing because Nick was already so polished when he came on the show. Thomas is super young and clearly trying to find himself. He was definitely not as smooth and strong as Nick but he didn't embarrass himself. His verbal tics weren't quite as annoying tonight. Keith said he struggled with doing that version because it's not what he normally does. JLo said it didn't feel that right for you. "Felt Nick but not very Thomas." HCJ: "I'm glad you sang 'Creep' the way you did last night. I'm willing to bypass this." Grade: B
Stephany Negrete with Ruben Studdard ("Superstar" Ruben) - Uh oh. He's singing one of his classic covers from season two! Surprisingly, she doesn't get swallowed by his Teddy Bear awesomeness. I enjoyed it. JLo said their voices blended well. HCJ said there were note issues but the emotional stuff trumped that. Grade: A-minus
Sonika Vaid with Caleb Johnson ("Skyfall" Adele) - She admits she's "scared" on stage. She does not have the experience. They both have big voices so this isn't as odd a fit as you'd think. And she manages to keep up with him. I think she did a good job overcoming her nerves. HCJ: "I enjoyed it a lot. The reason I'm giggling is you're nervous. This is new for you. It's adorable." JLo: "A well suited song for both of you." Grade: A-minus/B-plus
Jenna Renae with Scotty McCreery ("See You Tonight" Scotty McCreery) - Jenna is just one of those folks who has no star power whatsoever but a decent voice and a sweet demeanor. It's an X Factor thing. I don't dislike her but she fades into the woodwork in my brain. The judges struggled to be more than just nice about it. Grade: B/B-minus
La'Porsha Renae with Fantasia ("Summertime" Porgy & Bess soundtrack) - Great pairing. La'Porsha (her distracting hair notwithstanding) watched Fantasia rise above her struggles. She understood. They really connected well at a deep level. Sure, the runs can be a bit much but they brought it. JLo: "Mindblowing." HCJ: "A battle of runs and you both killed it." Keith: "Beautifully matched." Grade: A/A-minus
MacKenzie Bourg with Lauren Alaina ("I Hope You Dance' Lee Ann Womack) - He isn't a country singer so this is a shift for him. This is not a natural combo. He has a soft throaty voice. She is just big vocally. She really had to hold herself back to match his low-key vocals. It wasn't as bad as it could have been. I still like the dude. HCJ said his performance was sweet but last night was why MacKenzie will make it through. Keith teased him because Lauren liked him. Grade: B-plus
Gianna Isabella with Nick Fradiani ("Beautiful Life" Nick Fradiani) - I haven't been a big fan of Gianna up to this point but her bubbly personality really came out off camera and on stage. I prefer her doing pop over R&B. It seems to fit her better. JLo said it was fun. HCJ said she's trying to figure Gianna out. Grade: B-plus
Avalon Young with Ruben Studdard ("Flying Without Wings" Ruben Studdard) - Avalon, poor girl, was placed in a losing situation here. Ruben is so overpowering, she ceded the lead position to him. It's hard to judge her in that shadow. JLo: "Incredible... Equally matched." HCJ: "Something about you is so incredibly likable. The type of person is fun to hang out with. And it's almost surprising how good you are. It's a nice package." Grade: B/-B-plus
James VIII with Caleb Johnson ("Gimme Shelter" Rolling Stones) - This song is not as well suited for James. It was tailor-made for Caleb's voice. If a contestant played backup tonight, this was the case. He just lacks Caleb's energy for this type of song. B-bye James. Keith: "You did a great job hanging with the big dog. I like the way he performed." JLo: "You complemented each other." Grade: C-plus
Jeneve Rose Mitchell with Scotty McCreery ("Gone" Montgomery Gentry) - Jeneve may irritate others but I've always been a fan. The Hee-Haw costumes are over the top but she can sing. She has charm and amazing vocal ability. Keith: "Bizarre. That song did not do anything for you." HCJ: "There is no one in this competition that is this very specific lane you have. You're unique and you're extraordinarily musical." JLo: "Yesterday you won me over. Today, it was reinforced." Grade: B-plus
Jordan Sasser with Fantasia ("I Believe" Fantasia) - I remember seeing Fantasia sing this live at the Kodak Theatre and she was incredible. Unfortunately, she now has to duet it with poor Jordan. He can do theatrical runs so it's not a terrible match. He tries oh so hard to keep up with her. But come on. This is Fantasia's song. Sorry, Jordan. HCJ: "Be careful upstaging the person you're singing with." (He did walk in front of Fantasia at one point.) Grade: B
Next week: we get former alums Chris Daughtry, Constantine Maroulis, Kellie Pickler, Haley Reinhart, David Cook and Jordin Sparks.