American Idol Recap: Sudden Death Round, Week 2 (The Guys)


burnell taylor

It’s quite evident that I’ll need to defend American Idol Season 12 all year long. Between the falling ratings and noticeable anger on Twitter, I feel like it’s 2007 all over again where I passionately stood up for Season 6. Yes, I understand that many of the singers showcased in the Top 40 were horrible — and yes, a few even were amazing and should’ve moved forward — but isn’t it nice to finally understand why certain contestants were cut during this round? In the past, I was infuriated by the eliminations that came out of nowhere and without explanation. This year, we finally got what we asked for, and now it’s all the more apparent why returning individuals like Johnny Keyser got the boot in past seasons. I am in love with the judging panel this year and their chemistry together, and overall satisfied with the Top 20. My early favorites, including many who appeared in my Top 5 to Watch segments, are still around and now have a shot at becoming the next Kelly Clarksons and Chris Daughtrys of the world. I’m unabashedly excited for the semifinals, so I apologize if I’m one of the few Idol bloggers out there who’s nothing but positive when it comes to Idol’s twelfth season. With that spiel out of the way, let’s get down to the final review session of Sudden Death…

10. Gurpreet Singh Sarin, “Nothing Ever Hurt Like You” — Gurpreet’s personality and voice haven’t stood out to me all season, so I wasn’t expecting to be blown away by the self-proclaimed “Turbinator” this week. However, I couldn’t have imagined Gurpreet would summon forth one of the thinnest vocals in Idol history. There was absolutely no power in his voice, no projection or even effort. I’m not familiar with James Morrison — not to be confused with Doors frontman, Jim Morrison — so I can’t really compare the two versions, but I have to imagine Morrison has a lot more soul and authority than what Gurpreet showcased. Randy was absolutely right — the performance was terrible. There was no way for an audience to dig into Gurpreet and identify the artist he is or wants to be. To make matters worse, his tinny voice severely contrasted with the uptempo beat of the song. It was a mismatched mess that I can’t imagine ever revisiting.

Performance Review: (*)

9. Matthenee Treco, “A Little Less Conversation” — Didn’t Matthenee realize that by singing “A Little Less Conversation” and performing first meant he had no shot in heck of making it to the semifinals? Not only has that cheesy Elvis song been recycled to death on this show, but performing an uptempo number first is practically asking the judges to forget about you since other contestants are creating big moments for themselves with ballads. Clearly, Matthenee never watched the show before, or else his uber confidence got in the way of behaving smartly. I was expecting more choreography from Treco to compensate for his erratic vocal, but there was no such luck — even last week’s Chris Watson upstaged him in the dancing department. Bad choice of song, mismanaged vocals and terrible strategy all signal a cannon fodder contestant. Matthenee, you’re probably a great guy but you made it way too easy for the judges to let you go.

Performance Review: (*½)

8. Bryant Tadeo, “New York State of Mind” — Clayton and I have a famous disagreement over last year’s Erika Van Pelt and her version of “New York State of Mind.” He cherishes that performance and is astounded Erika Van Pelt went home right after performing it. I thoroughly enjoyed her rendition, but I wasn’t all that shocked she got the axe the next night. Here’s the thing: as great as that Elton John song is, it does tend to age a singer and make them sound very old-fashioned. Bryant’s voice was on-point almost all throughout the song, but his delivery was beyond irksome. The hand gestures were overkill, and I felt like I was watching Elton John: The Broadway Musical instead of Elton John: The Concert of a Lifetime. I also thought Bryant made a huge mistake by talking back to Nicki and asking her if she was about to say, “Just kidding!” following her harsh critique. Um, she holds the power of your fate in her hands and you are going to question her opinion? Not a wise move, my friend. Bryant Tadeo’s performance style doesn’t translate well on Idol, but I think he’d be fantastic on Broadway.

Performance Review: (**½)

7. David Oliver Willis, “Fever” — Ugh, I want to shake my head when it comes to David Oliver Willis. Despite the fact that he’s lacking a bit of charm, David Oliver Willis is a talented musician with a voice that’s technically sound. This is why it boggles my mind that Willis, a cannon fodder contestant from the outset, didn’t take advantage of the Idol platform and choose a song that would reverse his predetermined grim fate. “Fever” is the most redundant, uninspired and rote song choice imaginable. It doesn’t even matter if you put a creative spin on it like David did — the audience will gloss over the performance because they’ve heard the song too many times to count and seen it performed to gross excess on Idol. David Oliver Willis alienated the judges and the audience right from the get-go with that song choice. Great voice, but at this stage everyone can practically sing. All future Idol contestants: do not sing a loungy, overly familiar song that has no relevance to this era of music. Just look at what happened to poor David Oliver Willis.

Performance Review: (**½)

6. Josh Holliday, “Better With You” — I was so close to loving this performance…but then Josh Holliday had to get up from the piano. His so-so voice was elevated by the piano keys and the intimacy of that well-written opening, but he exposed too many vocal weaknesses when he bounced around onstage. Holliday lacked vocal control yet was far too restrained when it came to his emotions. Like Keith, I was waiting for him to abandon his nerves and leave it all out onstage, but those climactic moments never came. I will say, I’m a huge supporter of anyone who performs their own original song, and Holliday’s musical gift definitely lies in his songwriting abilities. I probably enjoyed this performance more than I’d care to admit, but I guess I’m a sucker for a passionate risk-taker.

Performance Review: (***)

5. Nick Boddington, “Say Something Now” — Nick has been a personal favorite of mine since his exquisite rendition of Grace Potter’s “Stars” in Hollywood. Just like Paul Jolley, Nick was spared this week because he’s just too strong a vocalist to let go. The choice of song was wrong, and way too slow for this type of show. The best way I can describe the performance is that it’s very “artsy.” That can either set you apart or alienate your audience, and we’ll have to see where America comes down on this issue next week. The thing about Nick is that his voice — no matter what — always shines through, angelic and clear-as-day. Without question, Nick has the strongest voice among the men this year. The things he can do with phrasing, falsetto and high notes are Houdini-impressive, except that it’s not a magic trick. Nick needs a grand moment to fit his equally grand voice so he can surge ahead in this competition. Over-analyzing will only hurt him in the end, and I do hope he returns to the piano and creates another magical moment like he did with “Stars.” I honestly believe Nick has the raw talent to go all the way if he makes the right decisions for himself moving forward. “Say Something Now” was a tasty sampling of Nick’s artistry, but now I’m ready for the full-course meal.

Performance Review: (***)

4. Lazaro Arbos, “Tonight I Wanna Cry” — No, Lazaro’s vocal wasn’t as consistently strong as Paul Jolley’s version of Keith Urban’s “Tonight I Wanna Cry” just one week prior. And yet, I think I preferred Lazaro’s rendition oddly enough. When Nicki said that no matter what, Lazaro is always Lazaro, it rang true to me. Even though Lazaro was singing a country song, all I could hear was the Cuban balladeer once again making the nation cry. I have a feeling Lazaro’s style of singing is going to grow tiresome after awhile (I know it already has for a few Idol bloggers out there), but it worked for Sudden Death round. There’s no agenda from Lazaro other than moving forward in the competition, and he did so by admirably staying true to himself. Lazaro’s syrupy timbre still knows how to milk the emotional moments in a song, but his lack of versatility is problematic. I’m not sure how I feel about Lazaro as an artist, but his emotive albeit vocally shaky performance was pleasant enough. Truth be told, I expected a lot worse from this judge’s pet, yet found he was quite capable of handling the pressure.

Performance Review: (***)

3. Vincent Powell, “Cause I Love You” — Upon examination, Vincent Powell doesn’t look or behave like your next platinum-selling superstar. However, once he’s allowed to take the stage and spurt out all kinds of wonderfully eccentric sounds, it’s hard to feel anything other than awe. Those final notes especially were technically astonishing — not only did Vincent hold onto them for a long time, but he applied layer after layer of flavoring and dynamism. Let’s put it this way: his vocal runs could have won Olympic Gold Medals. Instead of being stuck in an old-fashioned rut that’s nearly inescapable, Vincent balanced swag with some impressive vocal gymnastics that will at the very least make him memorable. I don’t see Vincent Powell as the next American Idol, but I also don’t see “cannon fodder” contestant either. Plus, Zoanette made Vincent even more popular by dubbing him “Papa Smurf.” That’s what friends are really for, Dionne Warwick!

Performance Review: (***½)

2. Cortez Shaw, “Titanium” — Before ya’ll start shouting at me, I’m fully aware that Cortez hit several wonky notes during his rendition of “Titanium.” Call me ignorant, but he made me forget those vocal hiccups by capitalizing on the terrific elements of his performance. For one, you have to be a genius to transform the anthem-heavy “Titanium” into a ballad. Two, I appreciate that Cortez flexed all of his vocal muscles. He showed us his baritone, his falsetto, his high notes and his perfectly controlled mid-range register. The performance was constantly shifting and evolving as it went along, so much so that I was utterly hooked. Cortez has been one of my favorites since Season 11, and to see him command the stage and let his creativity flourish makes me proud. This guy is a star, but even I’m not sure he knows how marketable and talented he truly is. Cortez is just doing his thing and not making a fuss about it. His vibe suits Idol perfectly, and I suspect we’ll be seeing a lot of this future superstar this season.

Performance Review: (***½)

1. Burnell Taylor, “This Time” — Ever since his audition, Burnell Taylor has brought an unassuming spirituality to each of his performances. I’m not calling them religiously-skewed by any means, but Burnell does wash a holy light of sorts over those who watch him perform. I am moved by the way he makes every lyric feel like a grand story, evoking life’s darkest and brightest moments. Burnell’s tone has such character and authenticity that I’m astounded he hasn’t been discovered yet. Choosing a John Legend song was also a smart way to appeal to the contemporary R&B/soul market. Burnell is the type of singer that could stir emotions in a crowd of millions with just a single note. I’m actually surprised Idol managed to preserve his uniqueness for so long, because his brilliance is almost non-categorical. I’m always on the lookout for someone who’s original, passionate and a one-of-a-kind storyteller. Rarely does Idol deviate from the cookie-cutter norm, but Burnell is the great exception to the common Idol cliché.

Performance Review: (****)

Who I put through and who the judges put through ended up matching, so there’s no need to divulge my personal preferences.

Moving on to the Top 20:

1. Vincent Powell (way cooler than meets the eye)

2. Cortez Shaw  (I hope he’s bulletproof “Titanium” all season long)

3. Lazaro Arbos (will get old quick, but likability has yet to wear off)

4. Burnell Taylor (I’m not religious, but Burnell is spiritually intoxicating)

5. Nick Boddington (Purest voice of the competition, and now an underdog too!)


1. Gupreet Singh Sarin (the “Turbinator” just terminated himself)

2. Matthenee Treco (a little less dancing, a little more singing, please?)

3. Josh Holliday (piano benches are a singer’s best friend)

4. David Oliver Willis (doesn’t he know that “fevers” are to be avoided?)

5. Bryant Tadeo (a Broadway state of mind? I think so!)

And now, here are the official rankings of the Top 20, separated of course by gender. My objective rankings are determined by audience perception, judges’ perception, and performance history:

Rankings Pre-Semifinals:

1. Angela Miller
2. Kree Harrison
3. Candice Glover
4. Adriana Latonio
5. Amber Holcomb
6. Janelle Arthur
7. Aubrey Cleland
8. Breanna Steer
9. Zoanette Johnson
10. Tenna Torres

1. Burnell Taylor
2. Lazaro Arbos
3. Cortez Shaw
4. Curtis Finch, Jr.
5. Vincent Powell
6. Devin Velez
7. Charlie Askew
8. Nick Boddington
9. Paul Jolley
10. Elijah Liu

I also can’t help but lend a guiding hand to the Top 20 semifinalists. Consider it food for thought, and hopefully at least one contestant will listen to me. With that said, here are my song suggestions for next week’s semifinals show:

Song Suggestions for Top 20:

Top 10 Boys:

1. Lazaro Arbo: “Hero” (Enrique Iglesias)
2. Burnell Taylor: “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You” (Michael Jackson)
3. Cortez Shaw: “Beautiful Monster” (Ne-Yo)
4. Charlie Askew: “Space Oddity” (David Bowie)
5. Paul Jolley: “Heaven” (Bryan Adams)
6. Nick Boddington: “Your Song” (Elton John)
7. Vincent Powell: “I Wish” (Stevie Wonder)
8. Curtis Finch, Jr.: “Lady” (Lionel Richie)
9. Elijah Liu: “Beauty and a Beat” (Justin Bieber)
10. Devin Velez: “I Want it That Way” (Backstreet Boys)

Top 10 Girls:

1. Zoanette Johnson: “No More Drama” (Mary J. Blige)
2. Janelle Arthur: “The House That Built Me” (Miranda Lambert)
3. Angela Miller: “Gravity” (Sara Bareilles)
4. Breanna Steer: “Spotlight” (Jennifer Hudson)
5. Aubrey Cleland: “I Wanna Love You Forever” (Jessica Simpson)
6. Kree Harrison: “Closer to Fine” (Indigo Girls)
7. Candice Glover: “We Belong Together” (Mariah Carey)
8. Adriana Latonio: “The Voice Within” (Christina Aguilera)
9. Tenna Torres: “Unbreak My Heart” (Toni Braxton)
10. Amber Holcomb: “Valerie” (Amy Winehouse)

Now that my recap has come to an end, I turn this discussion to you, Idol devotees. Who were your favorites from last night, and are you happy with the Top 20 overall? Most importantly, who do you guys think will make the finals? Dispense all your opinions below in the comments section!

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My name is Joseph Braverman. I am 24 years old and a recent graduate from the University of California, Santa Cruz with a Bachelor of Arts in Film and Digital Media. I love watching and analyzing films and television shows. I have a huge obsession with "Best Of" or "Top #" lists. I am currently living in Los Angeles, CA, trying to become enmeshed in the movie industry scene in any way possible. Don't forget to follow me on Twitter @JBAwardsCircuit.