Last show before the finals! We’re going to lose two from our remaining group of Danielle, Michelle, Sasha, Amber, and the Swon Brothers. Based on their consistent strength in iTunes sales, Danielle and Michelle are locks to advance. As far as winning the season goes, that’s the only battle that matters; if Michelle can pull the same trick she did last week and soundly defeat Danielle on iTunes, then the finale is maybe up for grabs (though the great Joy D’Angelo @JoyofGab assures me it isn’t).
But the real battle tonight is between Sasha’s bombastic, often theatrical (for good and for ill), ultra powerful pipes; Amber’s exceptional vocal stylings but lack of a distinct style; and the Swons…well, whatever it is that got the Swons this far. Bland likability and mediocre harmonies, I guess? Handicapping the race is near impossible, but I will say the one I’m worried most for is Amber, mainly because of song choice. Sasha and the Swons seem to have clear bases that they’re appealing to, while Amber alternates between country performances and a variety of other genres (such as taking on Adele and impressively living to tell the tale). Amber has been almost universally excellent this season, but if she repeats the kind of good-but-lackluster night she had last Monday, I suspect she’ll be going home.
As to who the other eliminated contestant will be, it’s a complete toss-up. Sasha vs. The Swons…let’s get to it!
-Wall-E’s long lost cousin Carson Daly welcomes us to the semifinals. Adam still looks shell-shocked from losing Judith and Sarah two weeks ago. If Amber goes home tomorrow night, he might go on a spirit journey for the next year. We might not hear from him again.
-Hey it’s American Idol-style “hometown” week, so that’s fun. Or not. Whatever.
-Usher! He’s debuting his new single, “Twisted”. “Climax” it is not, but Mr. Raymond is about as smooth as it gets vocally. You think I’m going to speak ill of Usher?! Please. Hey, are those Michelle-style glasses he’s wearing, or just normal Usher glasses? I’m not sure, but I definitely wouldn’t put it past Usher to take this opportunity to promote his star contestant. The man knows marketing!
Onto the performances! First up…
The Swon Brothers – “Turn the Page”
Well, great. Baffling intro with the Swons talking in front of a white screen, dedicating the song to their former and current band members (okay?). On the plus side, this is a pretty good song choice for them. Mainly, it feels like an actual performance, not whatever the hell “Okie from Muskogee” was. Actually, this is really good! The chubby one is doing virtually ALL the singing, and even crushes a big note at the end. Thank God Blake and/or the Swons themselves realized that only one of them can sing. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I…I…LIKED the Swon Brothers?? WHAT IS HAPPENING?!
On the heels of Usher (brilliantly) bringing in Taylor Swift last week to admire Michelle, Adam and Blake jealously called in their own ringers to give words of encouragement to their contestants. Katy Perry pulls the Christina Aguilera memorial “talk about how hard one of my own songs is to sing” trick. Sign her up as a judge!
Sasha Allen – “I Will Always Love You”
Oh ok, we’re doing the white-screen interview thing with everyone. Alright Sasha, you wanna take on Whitney? Go for it. I’ll just be backing away slowly. Sasha has the pipes to do some damage here, but the control, especially in the second verse, is dicey at best. Like, here’s the thing: this is a REALLY good vocal from Sasha. She is an exceptional singer. But the song is SO iconic, and Sasha can’t sing Whitney like Whitney, and she can’t sing Whitney like J-Hud. She’s a level below them. In a vaccuum, I’d say this is an excellent performance. But when you’re covering SUCH iconic source material, it’s impossible (at least for me) to disassociate the cover from the original. And in that regard, this didn’t quite get there.
Michelle Chamuel – “Clarity”
Our first “homecoming” segment belongs to Michelle, and it’s predictably adorable. Love, love this song choice for Michelle. It feels like exactly the kind of song she’d be singing as a solo artist – big hook, pop-friendly, dance-y (but not Hugh Dancy! Sorry, little ‘Hannibal’ joke there). A couple of patchy moments in the first verse, but Michelle pulls it together nicely for the chorus. I still don’t think Michelle is quite as effective with upbeat songs as she is with tender ballads, but she’s gotten much, much better since her early days of stomping around the stage. Good, not great opener for her.
Danielle Bradbery – “Remember Me”
Danielle’s in Houston, meeting a small mob of people in her house, followed by a large mob at her high school. On stage, not AT ALL a fan of the understated-to-the-point-that-she’s-basically-just-talking first verse, but Danielle kicks it into gear for the chorus…then into an entirely different gear for the second chorus. Oh boy. Oh boy, oh boy. Catching my breath. That almost knocked me out of my chair. Michelle’s got a problem, because Danielle just blew her out of the water in round one of their duel tonight. Hell, Danielle just blew EVERYONE out of the water. A different level entirely tonight, that girl.
Amber Carrington – “Firework”
Huge performance for Amber here, with the Swons and Sasha already with potential iTunes sellers under their belt tonight. Verse one, and…is she getting drowned out by the band???? Yikes. Oh dear, this is rocky, bordering on catastrophic. Mercifully the song lets her open up a bit later on, and Amber FINALLY gets into some kind of groove. But it’s not a good performance overall. Not at all. Turns out Katy Perry was right: that IS a hard song to sing. Terrible timing for arguably Amber’s worst showing of the competition.
The Swon Brothers – “Danny’s Song”
The Swons return home to Oklahoma and meet with friends, family, and former classmates. The performance is a different look for them, with Stimpy at the piano and Ren sitting on top of it. I had no idea what song this was until the chorus, but then it’s like, oh yeah I totally know this song (I’m pretty much a Kenny Loggins expert, you guys). The Swons do a rather good job with it. Man. I came into tonight SO ready to declare war on the Swon Brothers and everyone who supports them, and now they’ve gone and done pretty outstanding work tonight?! This just isn’t my season. Not at all. I don’t even know what to say. I’m a broken man.
Sasha Allen – “Bad Girls”
Sasha heads home and gives her adorable daughter a huge hug. Aww. Then she performs at the Village Underground. On stage, Sasha’s performing in front of a giant, neon-lit spelling-out of her own name. Well then! This is jaunty and fun, and Sasha is owning the stage. I mean, it’s hard not to own the stage when most of it is occupied by your name, but hey, I’m not complaining. Vocally, it’s not exactly her best showcase; but I guess when you sing “I Will Always Love You” as your first song, you don’t really need to go back to that well again. Not sure how much this *helps* Sasha’s cause, but at the same time, I don’t think it hurts her. At the moment, she’s head-and-shoulders above Amber, and neck-and-neck with the Swons.
Danielle Bradbery – “Who I Am”
Danielle’s performing in front of a scrapbook of her life, as if she needed any more help with the “old people who love adorable young whippersnappers” voting demo. Oh, and her whole family is also on stage. Despite the obvious “aww” appeal, the song itself is mostly lackluster for me. Not that it really matters. That was a moment, and moments are what matters on voting-based shows. Danielle’s running away with the night and the season.
Amber Carrington – “Sad”
Amber heads home, but this whole segment is kind of like the halftime show at a basketball game where the home team is losing by 20. By my count, Amber’s about a 99% sure thing to be one of the two that goes home tomorrow night unless she pulls off something legendary here. No pressure, though! Sad to say, not sure a Maroon 5 song is going to get her there. Hey, newsflash to whoever chose this song: We all know Amber can sing. It’s been thoroughly established. She does a nice job with this and all, but what does it really get her? Honestly, I’d rather watch Sasha swing for the fences and not quite get there than Amber sing unremarkable ballads when she really needs a big performance.
Michelle Chamuel – “Time After Time”
Slow pop song? Check! Michelle dedicates this song to Usher, as she should; Usher has done an amazing job handling her this season. This is a flawless song choice. The verses are mostly unremarkable, but this whole song comes down to “If you’re lost and you look and you will find me”, and Michelle does a superb job with it. When the song picks up halfway through, she’s totally up for it and rises to hit the classic “I will be waiting!” moment. Usher calls Michelle “the winner”. I appreciate the sentiment, even if he’s speaking from his heart rather than his head.
PREDICTION: Okay, we’re losing two of our five remaining contestants tomorrow night. Who will they be? After tonight, Amber Carrington is a virtual lock to exit, unless I REALLY missed something in her performances. Danielle, who had an outstanding night that I suspect cemented her win for the season, and Michelle, who had an unspectacular but solid night, are both safe.
That means it comes down to Sasha vs. the Swons. We’ll know a lot more tomorrow morning when the iTunes results are out, but gut feeling tonight is that the Swons did enough to earn a spot in the finals. “Turn the Page” in particular was such an easy-to-listen-to performance that I suspect it’ll get a lot of downloads, and get them a lot of votes. Sasha’s “I Will Always Love You” should also get some iTunes love, but I suspect that there are enough voters who hold that song sacrosanct that it won’t quite have the juice to surpass the Swons. And, with Holly Tucker leaving last week, I suspect a larger portion of her voting base will migrate to the Swons’ camp as opposed to Sasha’s.
So, based on the performances alone, I am predicting that AMBER CARRINGTON and SASHA ALLEN will go home tomorrow night. Will have a post up on the iTunes results tomorrow morning, at which point all could change!