TONIGHT, (DON'T) LET IT BE LOEWENSTERN: What's noteworthy to me about tonight's Idol semifinals is what didn't change -- same lame backdrops and Muzak-leaning orchestrations, same Seacrest, same overall feeling that we're watching a variety show and not a legitimate search for the next contemporary pop superstar. Same show, same type of songs and performances, only with different judges -- this was not the reinvention of Idol.
But what did change was mostly nice: fewer judges means more time for each to speak (Randy: critical! helpful!), and a 90 minute running time for twelve performers meant a briskly-paced, largely bullshit-free show. Thanks, Nigel! What I didn't like, though, was that immediately putting the performers on the big stage and not the comfier semifinals-in-the-round may have prevented some of them from finding their stagecraft sea legs, and some of them seemed a bit lost up there. So, then, some initial tiers:
My Favorite Tonight: The pimp-slotted Casey Abrams. Do I believe he should be America's Next Pop Superstar? No. But would I like to see him on my tv for a while? Yes. Because his "I Put A Spell On You" was a bit raw, and a bit nuts. And I like nuts.
Booked for the Finals: Freaky-Voiced Scotty McCreery, James Durbin (hmm, Judas Priest? That's a signifier for ... something), and Jacob Lusk. On Lusk, the vocals were great-but-pageanty, and the amount of self-conscious posing and the corner-of-the-eye look are going to feel tiresome by April, much like Anwar Robinson began to feel like camp. (Also, "A House Is Not A Home" was done better by Tamyra Gray in season one.)
I Hope The Judges Save Him, Because I Don't Trust America To Do So: Twitchy Paul McDonald. That was different, and he's clearly talented. He's definitely someone who can have an arc on this show, given the chance.
Non-Threatening Young Hebrews, Only One Of Whom Can Survive: I preferred Robbie Rosen to Simply Red and the Flames of Idol. Brett, Brett, you're way too short and adorable to sing a song of sexual menace like "Light My Fire."
Sucked Tonight, But At Least One Gets A Wild Card: Jordan Dorsey ("OMG") is almost guaranteed to get one more chance to figure out who he is, and Stefano was close enough on the Bruno Mars song that I think he may get another chance.
Thoroughly Unmemorable: Clint (because Stevie's hard, yo, and after nine years we've heard enough), Jovanny ("I'll Be"? Really? You're going to distinguish yourself with that?), and Tim Halperin with that stinkin' Rob Thomas song. From tonight's performers there are 5-6 we'll never see again, and these seem pretty clearly like three of them.
Tomorrow night: Opera Girl tries to show us she's all grow'd up.