On tonight's American Idol, the last 12 of the Top 36 semifinalists will try to make it to the finals. (See a photo gallery of this set of semifinalists here.) One more time, I will say: Please pick some good songs.
Then host Ryan Seacrest says Simon Cowell has been criticizing song choice (obviously, he's not the only one) and asks him why he hasn't been choosing the songs. He says he's been asking himself that for ages and that some time soon they'll have a Simon's Choice week. Can we call it Simon Says?
Anyway, Von Smith, Taylor Vaifanua, Alex Wagner-Trugman, Arianna Afsar, Ju'Not Joyner (pictured), Kristen McNamara, Nathaniel Marshall, Felicia Barton, Scott MacIntyre, Kendall Beard, Jorge Nunez and Lil Rounds are up tonight.
Let's see how they do:
Von Smith: Von had a bit of a screaming problem in Hollywood week, but got another chance. (And anyone who has seen him on YouTube knows he probably realized he was a little screamy and over the top, right?) Tonight, he's singing "You're All I Need to Get By." He's still pretty shouty, pulling a lot of faces, and has a couple of pitch issues, but he's pretty good. Randy Jackson says it was a hot performance to kick off the show with. He adds that it was better than Hollywood week. Kara DioGuardi says he's coming into his own and listening to Simon's "note" about taking it down a notch. Paula Abdul says: "What I love about you is that it's really hard being first, and this is a memorable first, and America is going to remember you, and what I love so much is you know when to pull back, when to push forward, you're quite the showman and I loved your performance." Simon says he reminds him of Clay Aiken -- that he looks appalling, but he sounded good, and that his voice sounded like Aiken.
Taylor Vaifanua: Utah high school student Taylor is going to sing Alicia Keys' "If I Ain't Got You." The first part of the song is too low for her, and she doesn't sound fab, but she rallies once it gets higher. (However, is she wearing rubber leggings and knee-high boots?) Kara says Taylor has a great voice, but she wants more insight into her personality, including what it's like to go shopping with her (mmmkay?), and that the performance left her a little cold. Paula: "For me, you have a beautiful gift, a beautiful instrument. I'm a little perplexed because we heard you sing this in Hollywood week, and this is a contest and a chance to show us something new, and I just wish you would've taken that chance." Simon says he doesn't get the shopping thing. I totally agree! He says his problem was that he genuinely couldn't remember her -- he calls her performance generic and says she's going to struggle. The music comes up before Randy gets to talk. Ha! He adds that she didn't tell us anything about herself. That's why the music came up -- we already heard that. Yawn! Then there is conversation about the judges' clothing, speaking of yawning.
Alex Wagner-Trugman: Before his performance, Alex tells Ryan he's been reading on the Internet how he is a big dork, so he has been going to the gym and trying to pump up. He sings "I Guess That's Why They Call It the Blues." So I remember he was pretty funny in his interactions with Simon, and I'm a big geek myself, so I'm pulling for him, but no. This is not good. He's giving a pleasant enough rendition (though I think everyone is a little uncomfortable when he sings the lyrics "rolling like thunder under the covers"), when he tries to crank it up and be a little ... soulful or something? It doesn't work. Paula: "You certainly are the show man. You gave us our money's worth, I just don't know how much money will be spent. ... Alex, you are certainly entertaining. We had fun watching you, we really did. And I'm glad you got to channel your inner rock star on that stage." Simon says, "We had fun watching you, just not listening to you because the ridiculous growling halfway through was just stupid." He also makes fun of him for kicking over the mike stand, which was an accident. "You are like a little hamster trying to be a tiger." Randy says he half-agrees with Simon and that it was crazy and "buck-wild." Kara says, "At least you do you. You're Alex. You're just a fun guy. I mean, the choreography, you can't pay for that!" She also tells him if he comes back to ditch the grrrrrrrrrr. (Lastly, it must be said: His parents are adorable.)
Arianna Afsar: Yet another 17-year-old takes the stage, bringing ABBA to Idol for the first time. She's singing "The Winner Takes It All." Um, so. She sings, and it starts rough, and I keep thinking she'll really get started, and it'll get better, but that doesn't really happen. The last three lines or so, she's OK, finally showing off her chops, but the last note isn't that great, though it is loud. Simon says there was a certain irony to that lyric because it was absolutely terrible in most parts because the song was too big for her. People boo him, but he's completely right. She says she was trying to make the song contemporary, but Simon says she didn't at all. Randy says this is when you want to show the audience what you have, and it wasn't good. Kara says she was a beam of sunshine at her first audition, and this was dark and depressing. Paula: "I'm not going to go as far as that. I think you had some bright moments to the song, ... but I do believe that the song is a little old-fashioned. I appreciate that you took the liberties to change and riff and change the melodies, but a song like ABBA ... it sometimes it's better to just stick to the melody because it's a song full of melody." Yeah.
Ju'Not Joyner: Baltimore-born-and-raised Ju'Not (whom you can read about in this story by Midnight Sun Sam) is next, singing a slowed-down version of "Hey There Delilah." I think this song choice might bite him a little because there was so much furor over Jamar Rogers not making the Top 36, and he made an impression singing this song. Plus, the slowed-down version really doesn't sound that contemporary, though his voice is decent. Randy says it was good that he took this rock song and switched it up, and he liked it. Kara says she liked his spin on the song, calling it smooth and fluid. She says he needs to go for it and let loose next time. Paula asks where his little boy is, but he's with grandma. She goes on: "I was a little hard on Taylor singing the same song in Hollywood. What was great about your performance was you changed up ... you must have heard me saying ... But your liberties that you took paid off. It was a nice vocal." Simon says it was better than he thought it was going to be, but he wishes he had stripped the whole song down. For some reason, Ju'Not starts talking about getting a cortisone shot in the rear. Ryan clarifies that he got the shot for his voice because he was having some asthma issues thanks to all of L.A.'s smog.
Kristen McNamara: Kristen sings "Give Me One Reason." She was the one who was told during Hollywood week that she needed to work on her look, and she's definitely worked toward being cute. Her performance is OK at parts, but her "yeahs" make it seem kind of lounge-singer-esque. Kara says she likes the hair better and tells her she is a great singer, but she can see her doing more of a rocky Kelly Clarkson or Pink song. Paula: "Kristen, when you were in Hollywood, you sang a Kelly Clarkson song, 'Because of You.' That showed the range, range, range of your voice. That's what I was expecting from you." But she says she did show off her range today. Simon says she's been all over the place style-wise, and also a good voice and a bad song choice, so he is puzzled. Randy agrees, and adds that she tried to do too much to it, so it felt kind of karaoke. Why are they so focused on her style? It's kind of odd.
Nathaniel Marshall: Nathaniel agrees that he has been shown to be quite a drama queen, and he wants to show off more of the other facets of his personality. So to quell the drama queen image, he's going to sing "I Would Do Anything for Love (But I Won't Do That)." That'll work! Actually, it's a remarkably bland performance, all things considered. Simon: "Nathaniel, um, I think you probably would. ... Kidding!" He adds that the majority of people will think that was excruciating and uncomfortable, but that at least people will remember him. He says he was a little unfair, maybe, that he is fun. Randy asks about the song, and Nathaniel says he and his mom used to dance around the house singing it. Randy says it just makes it hard for them to figure out what kind of record he would make. Kara says if he wants to be taken seriously, he has to show off a more serious side of himself. But right now, she wants to go to karaoke with him. Simon asks his family how they liked it, and his grandma says she liked it and she is used to his singing. Paula: "Nathaniel, I love ... you know I love you. I loved you in Hollywood week because you were serious, albeit you had your guitar. You sang 'Disturbia,' and I thought that was a bold choice and it made you relevant. ... Here's the thing, this song, it was more like the Boy George version of this song and it takes the coolness factor away. And I love Meatloof ... Meat Loaf, excuse me."
Felicia Barton: Felicia is the one who got cut after Hollywood, but then Joanna Pacitti got disqualified, and Felicia is in. She's singing "No One" by Alicia Keys. And if she was going for sounding distinctive, she should have sung it a little less like Alicia Keys. Paula: "Felicia, isn't it funny how the universe works? You know, all things happen for a reason. You are not only gorgeous outside, your talent, your gift is unbelievable. You know what? I am so glad we brought you back, and I hope we bring you back next week and the week after." Simon says she was proving a point, but his only criticism is that it was too copycat. Randy says she has a little different tone than Alicia, and she should have run with that, but he liked it. Kara says she noticed her for the first time, and she "stepped into it, girl."
Scott MacIntyre: Scott is going to sing Bruce Hornsby's "Mandolin Rain." He has some nice notes, but definitely some rough patches, too. I think he is a lot more comfortable performing with his piano and not alone. Randy says he had some problems with the vocal, but "the parts that were great were really, really great." Kara says he moves mountains when he steps on the stage because he has so much passion for what he's doing. Paula: "Listen, whatever challenges you've faced to get here, I'm just so happy and proud that you've made it. You're a genius at the piano. I can't wait for people to get to hear you play. And we've blessed us all with your gift, and you're one of our finest." Simon says he wasn't crazy about the song, particularly some of the lyrics, but, "you're growing on me, I think because you're starting to believe yourself. ... In a sea of forgettable people, you're the only one I think I'm going to remember." He adds that he thinks Scott is a shoo-in for the next round. And then he asks Ryan for a high-five since he has a stationary target now. (You might recall that Ryan got a lot of crap for trying to give Scott, who is visually impaired, a high five when he got his ticket to Hollywood.)
Kendall Beard: Country-tinged girl Kendall is going to sing "This One's for the Girls" by Martina McBride. She's cute, and it's a sweet song, but she has some trouble with some of the low parts and her big notes at the end. Kara says she had some issues, "there was some flat stuff going on," but she has a great big personality, and hopefully that will work in her favor. Paula says she gets the prize for best outfit, and adds, "I think you did a great job, you're definitely a country artist, and that definitely shows through." Simon says that halfway through, he couldn't wait for it to end because it was "shrilly." Randy says he loves country music and the song choice was good, but it wasn't her best vocal because she "had some nerves jumping off."
Jorge Nunez: He's going to sing "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me," and he actually nails it. Paula is first: "I am so proud of you, people have no how hard you have worked. When you took our advice, you worked with a dialect coach. You worked so hard and you're fulfilling your dream, and I just want to squeeze you." Simon says he thinks they were wrong to tell him to sing without an accent, and he likes how he sounds. Randy says it's the vocals that matter, and that even though this wasn't perfect, "It was really, really good, dude." Kara says he was born to sing: "That's your gig. You're a singer. It comes from right here to us." She makes him cry, and that makes Paula cry. Ryan asks how he's feeling, and he says when he gets this emotional, he "can't hardly think in English." So he busts out some Spanish. Long and short of it: He's happy.
Lil Rounds: Mom of three Lil is going to sing Mary J. Blige's "Be Without You" because she doesn't like being without her kids. She kills it, and I'm pretty sure I know who the top female vote-getter is going to be tomorrow. Simon: "Brilliant. ... I think you have great, great prospects in this competition." Randy agrees that she is one of the best so far this season, and she "kept her swagger on." Kara says she was a powerhouse on day one and continues to be so. Paula: "You are first class, first class my dear. I have a sneaking suspicion we're going to see you for a lot more Lil Rounds."
My money's on Lil getting through tomorrow. Who do you see getting to the Top 12 tomorrow?
(Photo: Michael Becker / Fox)