Another week, another feud, another outstanding display of talent in what’s shaping up to be an incredible season of American Idol. Somehow, each new episode either has me laughing, in awe, or incredibly jealous I’m not there in person to get my hair finger-groomed by Nicki Minaj! Okay, that’s a bit overkill but I can’t help myself! Nicki Minaj is quickly becoming my new favorite television personality, and Keith Urban is undoubtedly the most perfectly-cast judge since Simon Cowell. Urban is always entertained and invested no matter the quality of the audition, and his critiques aptly zone in on what makes that particular performer truly special. Yeah, I’m #TeamNicki/#TeamKeith for now. Mariah Carey and Randy Jackson are fine, but as accomplished as they are in the music biz, is it too much to ask for a bit of variety in their critiques, hopefully not limited to three redundant phrases? Mariah: “Yes!”, “DAAHHHHHLLLIINNNNG,” “POW!” And Randy: “DAWG,” “FOR ME, FOR YOU,” “[Insert generic hyperbole].” Thank god we have Keith and Nicki on the panel, is all I’m saying. With that, let’s get down to business as I present the Top 5 Contestants to Watch from Week Two…
5. Ashley Smith, “Cowboy Casanova” (Charlotte Auditions) — I absolutely love when Nigel and Co. pull the rug from under our feet. By setting up Ashley Smith as some crazy woman just trying to work those precious fifteen minutes of fame, of course I expected a complete catastrophe when she opened up her mouth. I was not at all envisioning a rich and powerful R&B voice to spew forth, especially on a Carrie Underwood song. I was in total shock, but that’s what made Ashley Smith all the more memorable. Just like Susan Boyle, I felt like I had wrongfully dismissed her before she was even given the opportunity to shine. Ashley Smith proved that she’s a risk-taker with song choices like “Cowboy Casanova,” and it’s always refreshing to hear a big-voiced R&B singer lay their flavor and style on a completely different genre altogether. Ashley Smith, I won’t forget you, your sunny disposition, surprise factor and huge burst of confidence during your audition. If she makes it to the live rounds, I worry that the American Idol demographic might cast judgement on her nose piercings, but please America, let the talent speak for itself!
4. Janelle Arthur, “Where the Blacktop Ends” (Charlotte Auditions) — Janelle is another returning contestant from a few seasons past, and even though I can’t say I recall her, I do know that I won’t forget her flawless vocal on a catchy Keith Urban track. I’m not a country fan in the least, but I feel like past contestants in this genre still cannot hold a candle to Carrie Underwood in terms of vocal ability and star power. To this day, I am still in awe that the inconsistent, uncomfortable-looking Lauren Alaina made it to the finals in Season 10. That was a voting fluke where the popularity of the genre carried its two spokespeople to the finale, but this time around I want someone to do right by Carrie’s legacy. Janelle Arthur could be that woman. She’s got the storytelling quality down, and seems comfortable performing in any environment. The professionalism she radiated points to a country superstar in the making. I just pray she doesn’t crash and burn like so many female country artists do once they reach the larger, more-exposed stage in which there is no room for error.
3. Charlie Askew, “Breakthrough (Intro)”/”Nature Boy” (Baton Rouge Auditions) — Diamonds in the rough are rare to find, but when discovered they beam with undying intensity. Charlie Askew, by his own accounts, is a “socially awkward” young man who uses music as an ice-breaker for social interaction. That in itself would be enough to earn the respect of America, but then he continues to impress by being his gawky, free-spirited self in front of the judges as though no camera is scrutinizing his every move. There is nothing artificial about this kid. When he finally did sing, there were some occasions when the notes went off or weren’t even hit, but I challenge anyone to tell me his potential isn’t worth exploring further. The Queen song was sort of a mess, but his Nat King Cole classic was so hypnotic and spellbinding, that I felt like my mind was under a trance. Charlie Askew’s natural high tone does lend itself more to the Broadway scene than the pop world, but I think it’s high time we had some operatic voices topping the charts. With some intense vocal training, Charlie Askew could bring America to its knees. I see showstopping numbers in the boy’s future…that is if he has “the strength to carry on” (got that one from you, Mariah!).
2. Burnell Taylor, “I’m Here” (Baton Rouge Auditions) — It takes major skill to pull off a song from a musical like “The Color Purple,” especially such an articulate and expressive number like “I’m Here.” I have no past reference to verify if Burnell did the song justice, but from where I was standing, he both inspired and astounded. I loved how Burnell acted out each and every lyric, and not in a cloying way either. He was endearing, but never forgot his pitch or key placement. There’s a larger-than-life quality to Burnell that reminds me of Fantasia Barrino. He’s got a similar spirit that just draws you in and makes you root for him unquestionably. I absolutely love when contestants make bold choices when it comes to song selection, and there was no riskier decision than singing a number that has such a personal attachment to many African-Americans and Broadway lovers across the country. I’ve never watched Steven Spielberg’s The Color Purple, but now I feel as though I’ve sinned in some way by never taking the time to do so, so that has to be fixed. I really hope Burnell can perform up to par in other genres, because his stage presence alone warrants a sold-out concert.
1. Candice Glover “Syrup and Honey” (Charlotte Auditions) — Other than Lazaro Arbos, whose audition after a week already has 1 million+ hits on YouTube, I don’t believe we’ve seen anyone who can be called an “out-of-the-gate” frontrunner…until Candice Glover came along, that is. The past five winners have all been males, but the first sign that the tides may change comes via an impeccable audition by Season 11 alum, Candice Glover. I briefly remember watching her last year in the Las Vegas Group Number with Jessica Sanchez and Deandre Brackensick. She was good, but nowhere near as confident or ready to take center-stage and own her stardom. That has all changed this season since Candice opened her mouth and out came a voice that blended Whitney Houston’s clarity of tone with Mariah Carey’s ability to perform vocal marathon runs. I tell you, this girl is ready to launch a hit single today. I still sense some uncertainty from Candice, but hopefully the rest of the competition will be a kind of “Boot Camp” to prepare her for the Top 13, which I have to assume she’s making since she was deemed the best voice of Season 12 thus far. That isn’t praise thrown around lightly by our judging panel, and if Candice falls through the cracks, even I will cry fowl. Candice is the female frontrunner of the competition on the girls side. Let’s cross our fingers she stays in that prime position.
There you have it, Idol fans! Who are some contestants you feel I looked over? Do you all agree that Candice and Lazaro are the early frontrunners of Season 12, just two weeks in? Please post your thoughts below in the comments, including your own Top 5 to Watch of the week!
Tags: american idol, American Idol 12, american idol recap, American Idol Season 12, Candice Glover, Charlie Askew, fox, Janelle Arthur, Keith Urban, mariah carey, nicki minaj, Randy Jackson, Ryan Seacrest