"American Idol" 2013: Semifinals, Top 10 guys perform


Confession: I completely missed Tuesday night’s Top 10 girls episode. Had no idea it was even on. I don’t recall the show telling us last Thursday that it was going to be on Tuesday, and I didn’t see any ads hyping it either. I’m kind of pissed, because I am far more interested in the female contestants this year than I am in the guys.

That said, on the whole the men did much better this week than they did during the Sudden Death rounds. It’s not quite the talent desert I expected it to be. Still, there are only two or three guys who I think are serious contenders this season, and some who I thought would be leading the pack tonight might have knocked themselves out of contention. And one really infuriating contestant who is determined to turn this show into his personal John Hughes film, and who will probably get pushed through because America hates my guts.

Elijah Liu was up first. He was invisible up until Sudden Death round, and I thought he was pretty terrible then -- he was pushed through because of a crappy group and because he looks like a pop star (read: he was aping 1980’s Michael Jackson). He sang “Stay” by Rihanna. It was a mid-tempo ballad and he sounded better than he did last week, but he still wasn’t great. His falsetto was terrible, he went flat on multiple occasions, and the nasal kept creeping in. But again: better than the last time we heard him. Keith Urban started by complimenting his shoes, and then went on to talk about the control exhibited in the song. Nikki Minaj again hit on this child, and AGAIN went off about how marketable Elijah is. Randy Jackson agreed that it was better than last time, but also said that the song stayed in first gear -- it never went anywhere. I agree completely. Mariah Carey said it was one of Elijah’s better performances -- viewers have very little to compare it to -- and again said that Elijah is “saleable.” I love how all of these experts keep saying that this thoroughly mediocre vocalist is so marketable in the current pop-music landscape. It’s awfully fitting that Elijah picked a Rihanna song…

Cortez Shaw is one of the few boys who has impressed me with his vocals this season, so I was eager to see how he would do tonight. He went with “Locked Out of Heaven” by Bruno Mars. I think that was a mistake. It was a theme-park performance. What I’ve liked about Cortez is that he plays with songs and makes unusual choices, and this just seemed a bit obvious and he played it so straight. His voice also sounded seriously strained. We know that this guy has a huge range, but he seemed to be reaching for much of the song. There were a few bum notes right before the end, too. Keith asked why he picked that song, and Cortez he wanted the big band sound and wanted to dance. Keith said that he loves Cortez’s voice and his spirit was great in the song, but vocally it did him no favors. Nikki was glad that Cortez got his mojo back, but she said that his styling is terrible. She also picked up on the vocal strain. Randy also brought that up, and said that Cortez is often slightly flat. And then Randy tried to give him fashion tips, which included a leather vest and streaks in his hair. Cortez: look at Randy Jackson. Do not take style tips from this man. Mariah blessedly thanked Cortez for picking an uptempo song, because so many of these kids seem terrified to try them. But she also thinks he needs to stop singing so high, because it’s not a great showcase for his voice.

Charlie Askew makes me want to eat glass. He is preposterous and not in a good way. I mean, all reality-TV contestants are by definition attention whores. But Charlie to me is just so DESPERATE for attention that I just can’t. He did a bizarre version of a Genesis song, I guess, but I’ve never heard it. Even Charlie couldn’t keep a straight face as he screeched his way through the number. And yet, he never lost eye contact with the camera. Were you watching him? Why weren’t you watching him? He needs you to watch him. He’ll make a fool of himself so long as you watch him. He really doesn’t mind! Keith said that Charlie has a huge range and maybe he should front a band, because there’s something about Charlie that seems disingenuous. AMEN! Nikki completely turned on him -- “Where’s my little baby at, Charlie?” He said that he “May have gotten a little angry.” Shut up, Charlie. You were trying to look cool. That’s all of it. Randy said that the beginning was really terrible (totally correct) and then it turned into screaming. That’s a succinct summation of that performance: terrible, then screaming. Mariah basically told him he’s fucked. Charlie told Ryan that he “Needed to vent a little bit,” and then went into a drama-school audition piece to get pity votes. He’s not happy! He is tortured! He only smiles because he feels he has to. Child, we are not your fucking therapists. Grow up.

Nick Boddington used to have a luxurious head of hair, and I’m so sorry he’s shaving it off now, because he was so much dreamier with some stuff up top. Nick did “Iris” by the Goo Goo Dolls while sitting at the piano, but he slowed it down even more and made it even…how do I say this? He took a “pussy song” and made it even more “pussy.” I’m sorry to be crass, but that’s the only way to put it. The pulse picked up a bit as it went along, and the vocal was totally solid, if unspectacular. But Nick did achieve what he set out to do, which was to connect with the song. It was a decent performance, and a good shot better than anything else we’d seen at that point. Keith loved the song choice, and while Nick’s nerves came through a few times, he thought it was beautiful and Nick’s vulnerability really came through. Nikki loves the original version and was irritated that Nick screwed with the melody so much. But she thought it was really pretty, and true to Nick. But she feared that it’s not going to get people to pick up the phone. Randy said that Nick seems to have peaked in Hollywood Week, but this was solid. Mariah thought Nick really started to kick in toward the end of the song, which was true. What she didn’t say was that the beginning wasn’t strong enough to generate votes.

Burnell Taylor is so confusing to me. He is so BORING when he speaks. There’s no charisma there whatsoever. And I really don’t care about him losing 40 lbs. What does that have to do with anything? That said, Burnell sounded astonishingly good on this song. No idea what it was -- it sounded gospel or r’n’b. I’ve been unimpressed with his vocals prior to this, but he delivered pretty much a flawless performance tonight. It was bright and beautiful, and not a note was out of place. Really, really good. Keith finds Burnell’s emotions believable, and his voice is instantly recognizable. Nikki pointed out that Burnell performed this song in his original audition, but she still thinks he’s great. Randy says that Burnell grabs your attention with the first note, and he has an urgency as a singer. It’s true, but it’s ironic, because seriously: Snoresville in his talking heads.

Paul Jolley barely made it through the Sudden Death round. I have never heard the song he was singing, but the vocal was better than what he turned in last time. The pitch was much better and he showed some pretty great range. Paul can really sing. Paul’s problem is that he really does overdo it with the theatrics on stage. I mean, I’ll take that over boring. But he looks a little preposterous with some of the mugging. Not Charlie-level preposterous, but still. Keith played the dreaded “What kind of an artist do you want to be?” card. Paul said that he wants to be pop-country, the guy version of Taylor Swift. Given how viciously Taylor’s being treated by the press right now, that’s a rough row to hoe. Keith still thinks that Paul tries to hard, but the voice is good. Nikki forced Keith to say that Paul wasn’t terribly believable during the song. But Nikki thought it was solid, and then told Paul to really listen to Keith, because dude knows what he’s talking about when it comes to country (that was nice of Nikki). Randy saidthat Paul needs to focus on his vocal sweet spot, and to avoid being cabaret. Mariah said nothing of importance.

LazaroArbos is completely adorable, but I’m sorry, I do not think that he is vocally ready for this competition. To underscore that point he did “Feeling Good,” a classic trap of a song. The beginning was way too low, he totally fell off the rhythm in the intro, and the lyrics were largely unintelligible. It was also a poor song choice, because I don’t think Lazaro felt good singing it -- he looked scared and there was very little connection to the song. He did come alive in the home stretch, and I’ll admit that was pretty solid. Weirdly, Keith said that in person Lazaro has an instant connection with an audience. That doesn’t come through the TV, I don’t think. But Keith’s absolutely right, people love Lazaro. Nikki thought it was a good vocal, and that Lazaro put his own spin on the song. No, he didn’t. That was a very basic version of that song. Randy said that Lazaro is “in it to win it.” Of all the contestants this season, Lazaro is the one who seems least confident in his abilities. Mariah thankfully commented on the fact that the song was way too low for him in the beginning, and she got roundly booed. And this what concerns me about Lazaro (and Charlie, to a lesser degree): nobody can critique him, because he’s so cute, he’s so nice, and he has overcome such obstacles. Nobody is denying any of that. But it’s a singing competition, and that song WAS too damned low for him.

Curtis Finch Jr. is a big fan of himself. He has every reason to be -- he’s very talented. But he sure doesn’t have any confidence issues. He went with R. Kelly’s “I Believe I Can Fly.” I thought his vocal flourishes verged on ridiculous, and his theatrical performance made Josh look restrained in comparison. But Curtis sure can sing. I will say that I don’t feel like the performance built as strongly as I was expecting it to. Given the natural drama of the song, and Curtis’s abilities, I was honestly expecting more fireworks. Keith says that Curtis just oozes light and hope. I actually disagree. I think he’s a bit too smug for that. Nikki said that Curtis is bigger than this show, and said that Curtis needs to spend his life blessing people’s lives. She also tasked Curtis with only doing gospel from here on out. That should be fun come the theme weeks like, say, disco. Randy actually started out his critique by saying, “Praise God.” I’m going to stop right there, because seriously. Mariah also thanked Curtis for his positive energy. Can we all flash back to Hollywood Week, when he was absolutely vicious to one of his group members?

Devin Velez did a lovely job singing “Impossible.” It was so lovely that I didn’t mind that it was a mid-tempo ballad, or that he switched into Spanish halfway through. Actually, I did mind that a bit. If this is going to be an every-week thing I’m going to get tired of it quickly, just as I did with the Karen Rodriguez, who did the same thing in Season 10 or 11. But truly, Devin is a WAY better singer, and there was very little to critique with that vocal. Keith thought that the beginning was a little rough, but that Devin got it together brilliantly and delivered some fantastic runs. Nikki says that Devin seems very believable and authentic. Randy loves Devin’s tone and vibrato, and the effortlessness of his voice.

Vincent Powell came out of nowhere last week and absolutely killed it. He also cemented my love by quoting Sweet Brown in his intro package. He went with “End of the Road” by Boyz II Men. Unfortunately, it was not the slam dunk he delivered last week. The beginning was really off, and the verse sounded curiously pinched. But he got it all together with an absolutely jaw-dropping falsetto note right before the last segment, and then he brought it home nicely. Keith said that tonight the nerves got on top of Vincent’s talent. I think that’s an accurate assessment. Nikki loved the song choice, but said that his voice didn’t come alive in the song. Randy thought Vincent “overshot” it a bit, and I have no idea what that means. Mariah said that there were moments of brilliance in the performance, and called it “beyond.” I don’t know what that means either.

Wrap up: Elijah got the death slot and was forgettable with a boring-ass song; Cortez took what should have been an easy berth and possibly screwed himself; Charlie was ridiculous and embarrassing; Nick was solid but ultimately somewhat forgettable; I finally got Burnell thanks to his flawless vocal; Paul can sing beautifully but is a bit of a cheeseball; Lazaro stacked up even worse during the playback; Curtis once again took us to church, some of us literally; Devin has a gorgeous voice but the Spanish thing is already getting old; like Cortez, Vincent potentially shot himself in the foot with a performance that didn’t live up to his prior one.

My predictions: Curtis is a lock. Devin should be, too. Cortez and Vincent are toss-ups, and I wasn’t expecting that. I think Elijah, Nick, and Paul are probably toast (Elijah almost certainly). Burnell should advance, but I think Curtis and Vincent are likely to pull votes away from him -- they’re just more magnetic personalities and dynamic singers. Lazaro will probably get pushed through despite being arguably the weakest male singer left. Charlie is, as he should be, a wild card. I pray that America sees through his schtick, but…this is America. I know better.