Wednesday, February 22, 2006

American Idol '06: Sizing up the girls

I don't usually pay much attention to American Idol until the field been narrowed to the final 12 contestants. As a singer and performer myself, I dread the early weeks of the show each season, during which the point is to see how bad many of the unselected auditionees were. Listening to people singing poorly is not my idea of entertainment. (This in contrast to my daughter, for whom the wretched audition shows are the best part of the series.)

This year, however, with a particularly strong and diverse group in the top 24, I wanted to take an early look at the competitors.

First, the girls, in appearance order from last night's episode.

Mandisa. My personal rooting interest on the distaff side of the competition, Mandisa's first song out of the box was Heart's "Never," and she flat tore it up. I like Mandisa's engaging style. I like her powerful voice. And I like the fact that she's a big woman who seems to be comfortable in her own body. If she continues to perform well, and the audience embraces her abundant physicality, she has the skills to go deep into the competition.

Kellie Pickler. I find her cute little Southern girl persona a mite too precious, and I really don't think she's all that much of a singer. (See: Kelly Clarkson.) On the other hand, she's fresh and seems genuinely charming, and those are pretty rare qualities on this show. Her baby-faced blonde looks will get her a long way when the voting starts.

Becky O'Donohue. There's something sinister and offputting about her. I don't care at all for the quality of her voice, and she has this sort of dark, ex-stripper vibe that's very unappealing. I have no fear that she'll make the cut.

Ayla Brown. A towering, willowy basketball player from Boston College, with a pretty voice and a gangly, awkward physical presence. I'm not sure exactly why, but I see a lot of potential in her. She isn't as technically polished as some of the other girls right now, but I believe that with the right coaching, she could actually develop into a solid talent. She has a really creepy smile, though.

Paris Bennett. Man, I hate perky. Paris is an effervescent little thing with a cartoonish speaking voice that sounds as though she's been sucking helium for hours. She tries to do too much with a limited vocal instrument, and her stage presence strikes me as immature and goofy. But she's likeably energetic, and the judges seem to enjoy her far more than do I.

Stephanie "Stevie" Scott. Another tall, skinny kid like Ayla Brown (Idol could field a decent women's basketball team this year), Stevie is a trained opera singer trying to cross over to pop music. So far, it isn't working. Boy howdy, is it not working. I suspect Stevie will be one of the first two girls eliminated.

Brenna Gethers. Over-the-top, overbearing, and misguidedly overconfident, given the fact that she's irritating and can't sing a lick. Her abundance of New York attitude and paucity of actual ability deserves a speedy exit.

Heather Cox. A attractive blonde who, to put it bluntly, doesn't belong here. She suffers from pageant mannerisms and a thoroughly unremarkable voice. She never shows even an inkling of genuine emotion when she sings. She'll get some votes just on looks, but I can't believe she'll survive another week.

Melissa McGhee. If the name of the show was Truck Stop Idol, Melissa would be the runaway winner. A mediocre voice and rough-hewn stage presence should send her packing quickly. But, like Kellie Pickler and last year's winner Carrie Underwood, she's got a bit of Kelly Clarkson's trailer-trash appeal in her, and that seems to count for a ton of votes on this show.

Lisa Tucker. My early favorite. She's the baby of the group at 16, but she possesses a mature talent that far outstrips her tender years. Lisa is the whole package — an incredible voice, compelling stage presence, youthful cuteness, and a sweet disposition. If her age doesn't catch up to her over the long haul, she should be one of the final four.

Kinnik Sky. Armed with a cannon of a voice and an unstudied elegance, Kinnik is one of the oldest female contestants at 28 (Mandisa is 29). She's one of the better singers in the group, but she isn't terribly electric. I could easily see her as the featured singer in a Las Vegas variety show, but not as the next American Idol.

Katharine McPhee. Her mother is a vocal coach, so it's no surprise that Katharine shows the most technical skill among the women. As good as she is, though — and she is very good — there's something indescribably eerie about her. She also tries much too hard to impress with unnecessarily flashy technique, rather than just performing the song. But she'll be around late in the season, no question.

If I were cutting the feminine field to six on the basis of the actual talent in evidence thus far, I'd choose (in alphabetical order):
  • Ayla.
  • Katharine.
  • Kellie.
  • Kinnik.
  • Lisa.
  • Mandisa.
If I had to bet whom the viewing public will vote into the final group, I'd stake my money on:
  • Katharine.
  • Kellie.
  • Lisa.
  • Mandisa.
  • Melissa.
  • Paris.
We'll pick apart the guys tomorrow.

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1 insisted on sticking two cents in:

Anonymous Ariel offered these pearls of wisdom...

Just read your initial review of Ayla Brown. Well you were right. You should hear her full cd "Forward". It is avail. on all digital download sites, i-tunes, etc.. and in stores on Tues. Idil was upset that she would be the first, but after they heard it, they were floored and gave an UNREAL review. I hope you can download or go to for more info. Once you have heard it, be honest and review it. The real story is that because she is a Div. 1 basketball player at BC, she can't even promote it. Walmart just picked up 12,000 and Transword Ent. antoher ton. Thanks Ariel (ayla fan)

11:56 AM  

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