You know what would make American Idol better? Or The Voice? Or X Factor, Project Runway, So You Think You Can Dance, or any reality competition requiring an assessment of talent? If it was acceptable to tell auditioners, “You’re very talented, but I’m sorry, you’re a loser. Thank you for your time.”
Loser. That’s a word I need to hear more. Because here’s the thing about Idol‘s eleventh year of pop pageantry and growly Georgia-on-my-Mind-yness: I can’t root for contestants who sing well but reek of contrivance, ineptitude, or losery loserness. Pop music is not about operatic supremacy, dammit! It’s about flair, self-confidence, nerviness, and maybe not looking like a meek shopper at Forever 21. God! You’d think Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez flew a Craigslist ad seeking “Meek Forever 21 Shoppers Who Would Like 2 B Musical Sens8ions” and cast their loudest inquirers. Last night we met 14 of Idol’s 24 semifinalists, and so far I’m only jazzed for about four of them. Loserytude plays a part in my rancor.
Without further ado, let’s rank these bellowing beasts from worst to first. I will codify the losers. Do you understand my concern here? It’s rare that a loser becomes a bankable pop star, is my feeling. I mean, Chris Brown is a rare hybrid of freakish loser, offensive idiot and violent maniac, but that’s his novelty blend and apparently it works for him and the geniuses of Team Breezy. For American Idol contestants, though, the loser element feels boring and uncomfortable. That’s more what I mean. Loser = boring and uncomfortable. Remember that diplomatic definition when I use the word “loser” 40 times in the following paragraphs.
14. Heejun Han
So, loser. Nice guy with a quizzical personality and fine voice, but loser. I don’t care if he can sing “I Have Nothing” with the clarity of Maria Callas, he mopes around onstage like a weepy kindergartener who gets lost walking from recess to the bathroom. Not a star. Not a champion. Not a passing grade on Merv Griffin‘s rubric for TV readiness. Except that J-Lo giggles at his spaciness and that makes him lovable. J-no.
13. Jen Hirsh
Oh, did Jen Hirsh just raise her hand to her mouth and pretend she was Christina Aguilera in some hackeneyed diva way? Did she belt big, inconsequential notes? Did she choose every Idol standard under the sun and lend them nothing but adequate pitch control? Aha. She did, my notes prove. Jen Hirsh is the picture of a candidate who meets the minimal requirement for an American Idol contestant: She sings well, but without character, nerve, originality, or soul. She is a Karaoke Revolution backing track. Even Pia Toscano had more personality than Jen Hirsh, and we barely pretended to be pissed when we sent her to die in ninth place last year. I was probably too busy protesting the FABULOUS Naima Adedapo‘s elimination the week prior. Also, Jen: NICE FOREVER 21-YNESS. I AM WEEPING AND IN PAIN AND SENDING YOU GIFT CARDS.
12. Reed Grimm
Draw a sketch of this guy, because Reed Grimm is the universal symbol for losing. If Reed Grimm approached you at Starbucks with his quavery smile, askew posture, and seismic loser dance explosions, you’d trip him meaningfully. For being such a nonsensically convulsive pox on American Idol, Grimm also manages to be weirdly self-important in his zaniness. Like, “I make no sense! And everyone loves it, especially me.” His singing, drumming, and penchant for gyration mean he does pack “versatility” though, and that means he’s better off than Heejun and Jen.
11. Baylie Brown
Is Baylie Brown fascinating? Nope. But she does commit to the country thang and kinda-sorta sells it, and I swear that is a more likable decision than anything Reed Grimm, Jen Hirsh, or Heejun Han have done in the past month. Also: Baylie Brown could be a pop star’s name. I’m sorry, but that makes her more acceptable than other singers.
10. Chelsea Sorrell
Chelsea Sorrell is a Baylie Brown contraption with different hair, but she isn’t an over-singing assault to the ears. I think we should applaud this, even if her lack of screentime probably means she’s not going to make the Top 12.
9. Creighton Fraker
I liked Creighton for awhile, but I was ignoring my Loser Alarm sponsored by Urban Outfitters. Something about him reeks of “Jason Mraz cover band.” Mrazzy Star, anyone? He has certainly founded that band. They have an unfortunate Tumblr. Trust me.
8. Brielle Von Hugel
I’m almost positive Brielle Von Hugel is the name of the woman who murdered Phil Hartman, which is of concern. But more importantly: Sure, Brielle may be an entitled brat with an obnoxious stage mother, but guess what? THAT IS INTERESTING. THAT IS NOT EXACTLY GREAT, BUT IT’S NOT LOSER-Y, AT ANY RATE. I’d rather watch a villain than a void, child. And her voice is kinda sassy! I say yes to her. Yes to Murdery Stage Mom Sass.
7. Colton Dixon
I have conflicted feelings about Colton Dixon, which is why he’s exactly halfway up the totem here. First, his scary, glossy pupils and intense facial symmetry. I fear them and want to date them. I have sexual hankerings for Anthony Perkins‘s ghost, and Tony was all about the darting pupils and cheekbone symmetry. Secondly, Colton’s persona? Is sort of a hooligan-balladeer-cipher thing. You can’t really love that. You know he’ll work that Gavin DeGraw Lite Anger shtick for the entire competition. Yikes. But hey! He’s our boyfriend though.
6. Haley Johnsen
I’m still devastated by Haley Reinhart‘s third-place failure last year, so forgive me as I cry over the mention of the name “Haley.” But this new girl? Is a treat! Unpretentious vigor, intentional delivery, and a pretty decent interview, given her soundbites this episode. So far she doesn’t rank among the elite chanteuses this year, but I’m psyched for her chances.
5. Joshua Ledet
I notice that Joshua is an intense over-singer in the vein of such non-notables as last year’s Jacob Lusk or the much-more-forgotten Jermaine Sellers of season ten — but the voice is there. That I know. Or I think I know, because I’m also tone deaf. We agree that he can sing, right? I’d be OK with hating him, if he’s terrible. Enlighten me in the comments!
4. Phil Phillips
Uh, I don’t know. Daughtryesque brooding and “gravely” crooning isn’t my thing, but Philip seems poised to have more a range and backbone than his male competitors. I endorse him, is my point. And since I have reservations about every other dude in the running, he’s my main-est man. Take that, Colton Von Symmetry!
3. Elise Testone
As usual, I’m markedly more excited about the distaff side of the competition. Elise may look like Ke$ha‘s aunt (as portrayed in a CMT original movie by Brett Butler), but she hollered “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World” like a bona fide star. It was so good, Steven Tyler squawked like a vulture wearing a house dress. And not just because that’s exactly what he is.
2. Jessica Sanchez
I dislike feigned fragility, which might be Jessica Sanchez’s shtick, but the girl’s solo was the undisputed highpoint of last night’s episode. We know very little about this tiny woman, but I even like her heavy vibrato. It suits the tenderness of her delivery. See, now I’m the loser. Which is poetically just and Aesopian. I’m fine with it.
1. Erika Van Pelt
Erika made one grave error when she donned a heartbreakingly tiny vest during Hollywood Week, but otherwise? Girlfriend is a killer singer with the boom-boom pipes and consummate professionalism. The Clarkson parallels can’t be denied, both physically and vocally. And when she speaks to the judges, she doesn’t seem like a cloying, insincere, TV-conscious goblin. She seems like someone we might know. And enjoy! She might be… a human being. I gasp. Idol, you’ve outdone yourself.