Finally, the women are taking over American Idol: Our take on 13 contestant'schances
The judges’ general inadequacy aside, Season 11 of American Idol is shaping up to be an intriguing, unpredictable competition. The Top 13 contestants hit the stage Wednesday night to put their own spin on the Stevie Wonder and Whitney Houston songbooks.
Here’s my take on the contestants who will sing for your votes:
1. Deandre Brackensick, 17 (San Jose)
Brackensick’s performances thus far have been a mixed back — a swirl of bum notes, sick falsetto and delicious throwback vocals. I don’t fault the judges for giving him one of the three wildcard slots based on his pure gift, but sometimes I think he’s not quite sure what to do with his intricately nuanced voice.
He’ll need to conquer that uncertainty in order to compete with the more commanding voices in the competition.
2. Hollie Cavanagh, 18 (McKinney, Texas)
I’m thrilled that Nigel and Co. gave Cavanagh a second chance after she fell just short of the Top 24 last season (remember this disastrous audition?). Green, sincere and naturally talented — my favorite Idol formula — Cavanagh is of the breed of contestants whose artistic arcs often end in the sweetest payoffs.
If she can cultivate her potential over the next 12 weeks, she just might end up battling it out at the Nokia Theatre.
3. Colton Dixon, 20 (Murfreesboro, Tenn.)
Perhaps the most commercial of all the contestants, Dixon seems tailor-made for the post-Adam Lambert Idol with his pop-rock style and showmanship. But does his aura outweigh his good but not spectacular voice?
Time and Idol’s signature limited themes will tell, though I have no doubt he’ll go far in this competition.
4. Heejun Han, 22 (Flushing, N.Y.)
As the competition gets more serious, Han’s equal part hilarious, equal part endearing personality is slowly but steadily losing its magnetism. It’s not that he isn’t talented, in an organic sort of way. It’s just that his repertoire of soft-rock ballads is starting to feel a bit one-dimensional.
If he doesn’t bust out with something ingenious in the next few weeks, he may be in danger of missing the Idols Live tour cut-off.
5. Jermaine Jones, 25 (Pine Hill, N.J.)
In my fantasy Idol league, I would’ve swapped Jones out for the polarizing Creighton Fraker, but the voters felt differently about the deep-voiced Gentle Giant. He’s a solid singer, to be sure, but for all his tenderness and mama’s boy sweetness, there’s been a general lack of charisma in his performances.
I’ll be surprised if he makes it past three or four weeks into the competition.
6. Skylar Laine, 18 (Brandon, Miss.)
Country music swept Idol nation last season, but it never quite matched the gusto Laine brought to the stage when she slayed “Stay With Me.” Like a spunky cross between Miranda Lambert and Reba McEntire, Laine could easily come across as a 2.0, but there’s nothing derivative about her as of yet.
The key to her success will be how well her massive energy translates when she showcases the softer sides of her persona.
7. Joshua Ledet, 19 (Westlake, La.)
Ledet (“Mantasia”) has all of the vocal range of last season’s Jacob Lusk with about 110 percent more vocal restraint and instinct. He’s sung the fire out of all of his performances to date, and with the right mix of subtlety and power, he’ll continue to soar.
8. Jeremy Rosado, 19 (Valrico, Fla.)
There’s nothing that affects me quite like the swell of a melody (been there, done that), and if there’s one thing the soft-spoken Rosado’s proven, it’s that he knows how to massage a melody until it’s putty in his hands. Even if his performances sometimes feel a little old school Idol, I think the judges made the right choice by saving him with the wildcard.
Rosado has great potential, and lest we forget, sometimes the most powerful of emotions come in the shyest of packages.
9. Shannon Magrane, 16 (Tampa)
Otherwise known as “The Girl Who Stole Jen Hirsch’s Spot” (me, bitter?), Magrane has the pipes of an old soul, minus the soul. Her performances, like her rendition of the contemporary Christian hit “Go Light Your World” last week, have been grand and rich but lacking in earnestness and emotional depth.
Maybe she’ll find her groove — perhaps with songs that draw out her youthfulness — but right now she’s seems more like bait for those who claim Idol is all voice, no heart. And we know that isn’t true.
10. Phillip Phillips, 21 (Leesburg, Ga.)
It’s obvious that Phillips2 is a descendant of the David Cook/Kris Allen/Lee DeWyze dynasty (see WGWG reference below), and for a lot of people, that’s tiresome in itself. Personally, though, I’m not willing to let that cloud my perception just yet.
Phillips’s shown creativity, grit, raw talent and a knack for breathing new life into lyrics (has “In the Air Tonight?” ever felt so evocative?), and I have hope that he’ll show other sides of his artistry in the coming weeks.
Regardless, you can put money on him being on our TV screens long past April Fool's Day.
11. Jessica Sanchez, 16 (San Diego)
Let’s put aside for the moment the fact that Sanchez was clearly bred for Idol — the swagger, the vocal inflections, the J. Hudson song that she killed — and instead state the obvious: The girl is mad talented. I’ve said before that the only way for 15 and 16-year-olds to survive on this show is for them to have an innate sense of self, an artistic wisdom that transcends their age.
Sanchez proved with one searing performance that she has just that, and I think if anyone can break the WGWG (white guy with guitar) hold on the Idol crown, it’s her. Game on.
12. Elise Testone, 28 (Charleston)
Note to all future talent competition contestants: if you’re going to sing Adele, you better have pain at your disposal. Testone wrung her semifinal performance of “One and Only” in sheer broken emotion, from the longing embedded in the lyrics to the awe of the “I can’t believe this happening” moment she had about 15 seconds in. Her voice may have cracked in places and fell off pitch in others, but the honesty and conviction in her voice show she’s in this for the music and nothing less.
I have a feeling the voters won’t carry Testone very far in this competition, but I’m eager to see what she does in the meantime.
13. Erika Van Pelt, 26 (South Kingstown, R.I.)
I agreed with the judges that Van Pelt’s spin on “What About Love” last week lacked bite despite her gorgeous smoky tone, but she wiped away any doubts with her electric Wildcard performance of “Edge of Glory.” If she continues to infuse her performances with this much vigor, she could prove a worthy competitor to the other feisty girls in the competition.