Another chapter has closed in the final book of the American Idol series. Or should I say the “farewell” book? During the Television Critic’s Association Press Tour last Friday, Seacrest, Lopez and Urban all corrected themselves after calling the show’s 15th season it’s “final” season. Whether that means the show will return down the road or in a different form remains to be seen, but according to some sources it could be because the series ratings have remained steady over last season rather than dropping, as other shows have seen this year.
Either way, the farewell season chugs on as the judges continue to look for “the bookend to Kelly Clarkson.” Even after three weeks of auditions, many questions remain. How will the judges narrow down all the talent we’ve seen to just 24 contestants? Will the good auditions we’ve seen translate to even better performances down the road? Is our winner a young 15-year-old or an older, more experienced contestant like last season’s winner? Are they male or female? Do they sing country, pop, rock, or soul? But that’s what Idol is all about: variety. And so, I’ve listed a handful of the best talent we saw this week that might just have a shot at that title…
- Amelia Eisenhauer, “Many Rivers to Cross” (Annie Lennox) – This redhead came armed with a violin, but the most impressive part of her was her voice which grazed the low notes like a manta ray along the bottom of an ocean. Definitely has potential at 15.
- Mackenzie Bourg, Medley of the Songs by the Judges – Another voice alumni rears his head and makes some smart song choices while channeling his endearing geek-chic side reminiscent of Season 8 winner Kris Allen. The question is whether America is still buying that particular fashion seven seasons later.
- Jenna Renae, “She Don’t Love You” (Eric Paisley) – Perhaps less memorable than other contestants we saw, but not for lack of trying. She brought emotional depth in spades and the sweet voice to match. She might be under the radar, but her winsome personality coupled with her talent might do it for her.
- Emily Brooke, “Careless” (RaeLynn) – Returnee shows she’s learned something with better vocal decisions and an ease about her that made it impossible for the judges to deny her another go-around in Hollywood… and maybe she’ll finish the job this time.
- Adam Lasher, “Knocking on Heaven’s Door” (Bob Dylan) – Another comeback story. Lasher’s new look is more marketable, for sure, but his rejig of a classic tune was less-than-impressive. Leave the melody alone and let your vocals speak for themselves next time.
- Manny Torres, “This Love” (Maroon 5) – Idol‘s final audition didn’t disappoint. As if in response to the judges critiques about “affected tones,” Manny restrained his affect and otherwise let his unique funk infuse a well-known pop song.
- Avalon Young, “XO” (Beyoncé) – Tomboy Avalon has, as Harry said, something unique about her. She owned up to it in her audition, turning a Beyoncé jam into a softer acoustic tune, but can she maintain her persona under the bright lights of Hollywood?
- Jessica Cabral, “Brand New Me” (Alicia Keys) – Green-painted-faced lead singer has talent, for sure, but the judges pointed out a dilemma unique to her: how will she balance her “band” persona with the girl we saw in the second half of her audition, who showed she doesn’t need a band behind her?
- Stephany Negrete, “Who’s Lovin’ You” (The Jackson 5) – J Lo hit it on the mark for me: Stephany is pretty, no doubt, but her entire audition felt so stiff and rehearsed that it took away from her otherwise pretty voice. She needs to ditch the heels and the over thinking in Hollywood week and really bring a rough-and-ready performance to prove her worth.
- Caroline Byrne, “Unaware” (Allen Stone) – Quirky Emma Stone-esque redheaded nanny with a surprisingly good voice. I particularly liked the finish on her audition where she flexed her vocal muscles and show that she’s got the range to compliment her smart vocal decisions.
It’s hard to believe that now we’ve seen everything there is to see. Somewhere in the grab bag of contestants we saw over the past three weeks is the person who will cap it all off with a victory under a shower of confetti, but who?
Back in Season 12, that person was South Carolina native Candice Glover. Season 12 began with a tension in the air: A girl hadn’t won since Jordin Sparks triumphed back in Season 6 and, although the past five seasons had their share of successful winners and non-winners, the producers felt it was time for a girl to win. So they rejigged the format, added two talented but controversial judges to the panel (Mariah and Nicki, anyone?) and stacked the deck and, sure enough, we ended up with five talented women at the end of it all. The question is, why did the whole thing feel so unsatisfying even with a talented trifecta of women: Candice and her cohorts Kree Harrison and Angie Miller, in the Top 3? Hard to say, but perhaps it’s because Idol is always at its best when the eliminations feel organic rather than targeted to meet a particular agenda.
Since her win, Candice released her surprisingly infectious album “Music Speaks” that feels current while still borrowing from Candice’s classic Mary J. and Mariah influences. Candice has also posted on twitter that she’s currently working on a second album and honing her acting chops on stage in Paul D Hannah’s “The Love Shack” in LA on February 20th and 21st. Runner-up and Texas native Kree Harrison has been fairly mum on her first record, but back in December posted a picture of her famous friend Kacey Musgraves recording background vocals for the album. After Boston-native Angie Miller took home third place, she set to work on her EP, “Weathered,” which borrows from fellow Idol alum Colton Dixon’s catchy Christian-rock style. Definitely worth a listen. 5th place contestant Janelle Arthur, who delivered a heartfelt rendition of “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” during the season, also released a self-titled EP back in November 2015. It seems the talented ladies of Season 12 have been keeping themselves busy since the season wrapped up back in 2013.
Next week, Idol‘s dramatic Hollywood week begins and we see whether the talent that made it past the auditions will sink or swim. I’ll be back next Friday morning with a recap of Wednesday and Thursday nights’ shows.
Until then, let me know in the comments who your favorite auditioners were from this week or the past three weeks and what you think about the possibility that Idol might not be gone for good…