Wednesday, February 22

AI5 - Top 12 Women (2/21/06)

The stage set-up is very different this year; there's a round stage in the middle, with the judges' section, the Other contestants' section (tonight the "Dawg Pound '06"), and then audience sections surrounding it. There's also a balcony, opposite the judges' side, connected to this year's Red Room, which also has a circular theme in the form of the sectional couch. As each girl sings, the others watch from the balcony, then go back into the Red Room for Ryan's intro chats. The girls are also paired up, for what that's worth.

First up is Mandisa: "Never" (Heart; edited to correct song title) - She was great, of course. Really got the crowd into it too. I missed part of the performance & judges' comments due to the Olympics, but for some reason Paula compared her to Carrie.

Kellie: "How Far" (Martina McBride) - She explained she sang this song about her relationship with her father. In case, you know, we forgot about how horrible her life has been up until now (I know it's the producers' choice to pimp it so much but I still hold it against her a bit). She's constantly (on the 'net) being compared to Carrie, but her performance is quite different - a very different tonal quality to her voice, and connected much more to the lyrics of the song than to the musicality of it. The judges focused on that too - her personality, because the music wasn't all that.

Becky: "Because the Night" (Eee!) - Please step away from the 80's song. Her voice is so not suited to this. Plus she didn't look at all 'rock' below the neck (tried to make 'rocker' facial gestures but it just came across as trying too hard). Interestingly Randy & Simon both said she sounded better than they'd expected - not sure whether that was a compliment to tonight's performance or a criticism of previous ones, or both. Anyway, she could be in trouble, but I doubt it.

Ayla: "Reflection" (Christina Aguilera from the Mulan soundtrack) - Had some really awesome parts, but also some bad notes. I do like her hair better wavy; though she's pretty I don't think she's very feminine, and that seems to soften her up a bit. She impressed the judges (and me) by remembering their constructive criticism and working with it; she seems to have a good attitude and is willing to work hard to improve or modify her performances.

Paris: "Midnight Train to Georgia" - Hee! Definitely one of the most entertaining of the night. Little spitfire with a big voice, and presence. Reminds me of a combination between Diana DeGarmo (cute, energetic kid), Jennifer Hudson (some 'big' eyes & facial expressions), and Fantasia. Definitely shows the influence of a performer who was big 40 years ago; some of her mannerisms don't fit her youth, & she's a bit over the top. But got the audience into it right from the beginning & played to the whole crowd. Still love her but almost prefer the voice while not watching her.

Stevie: "To Where You Are" (Josh Groban) - Emphasizes her opera training & says this is an opera song, but then sings in a very thin falsetto for most of the song?! Not smart. Yes, as Paula said, she's shown the full voice and this was nice variety, but America hasn't seen much of her yet and this was not showing her strength. I'm guessing this will be the last we see of Stevie.

Brenna: "You Are the Sunshine of My Life" - Very weak (worse than the judges' "safe" IMO) until the last 2 lines. For being so obnoxious when not performing, the performance itself was incredibly understated. After the male judges' criticism she promised to bring the "claws" back out next week, assuming she's still here. Which she will be, as people like controversy.

Heather: "When You Tell Me That You Love Me" - Poor song choice in many ways. Her voice would probably be better on a different style of song, but I still doubt that it would be great.

Melissa: "When The Lights Go Down" (Faith Hill) - *Why* did they not show her to us before?! I love the quality of her voice - reminiscent of Lindsey Cardinale but I think Melissa is better & more versatile than Lindsey (and more enjoyable). The song wasn't perfect by any means; I think her voice is better suited for rock than country, something like Sheryl Crow or Bonnie Raitt. Paula also loved her voice, and the crowd loved her performance overall. After Simon said she wasn't memorable she pointed out that this was the 1st time the tv audience has seen her perform, but she wasn't whiny about it. I got in 20 votes for her because I'd love to hear what she'll do with a different style of music. I'd much rather keep her around than several of the others.

Now the highlight of the evening, Lisa! Sang Jennifer Holliday's "I Am Changing." I don't know the song, but that didn't matter. Girl, can. SANG!!! Yet she's poised enough not to overdo it; some decoration but not too much, some power notes but not just that, some awesome little growly parts... and infused with emotion. Just amazing. Standing ovation & lasting cheers from the audience! I agree with everything Paula said, using the words "gift," "poised," "star," and "you light a fire inside me." Simon said she "made girls 5-6 years older look ordinary." I was surprised today to read a lot of negative comments about her because really, what's not to love?!

Kinnik: "Get Here" - Good & great response from the audience - slightly reminiscent of Vonzell's slower stuff I guess. Has some poise & class, but too many glory notes & didn't sound much different than the original. She does have a good attitude but will definitely suffer from lack of screen time. Oh well, not everyone can make the Finals!

Lastly Katharine: "Since I Fell For You" (Streisand) - Hmm. Don't ever let her and Taylor perform a duet, I think the camera might explode. I don't remember seeing her nearly this affected before. She stood almost perfectly still but moved a lot from the waist up, in some jerky motions I'm not even sure how to describe (undulating? like a motor sputtering?!). Very unpleasant to me. OTOH, she has a very good voice (as long as I close my eyes). The judges *loved* her and Simon went so far as to call her the best of the night; wha?!?

My top 4: Lisa, Paris, Mandisa, and Ayla. Bottom 4: Becky, Stevie, Brenna, & Heather. I predict Heather and Stevie will go.

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