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'American Idol' recap: Boys gone Wild Card!

Two more men and a pair of women sail through to the finals, as Ryan reveals the ‘shocking twist’: Season 8 will feature a top 13!

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Michael Becker/American Idol 2009/Getty Images

American Idol

type:
TV Show
Current Status:
In Season
seasons:
15
performer:
Harry Connick Jr., Jennifer Lopez, Keith Urban, Ryan Seacrest
broadcaster:
Fox
genre:
Reality TV

If you’re confused or upset about the results of tonight’s American Idol Wild Card episode, it’s time to take a deep breath: You’re just not looking at things the right way. Oh, sure, the best pure vocalist among the eight featured performers got treated like an old toothbrush, enlisted for one final usage, then tossed in the trash bin. And at the same time, a ”commercial” teenager whose performance contained more sharps than a Ginsu factory sailed into the top 12. Er, 13.

But like I said, all you need is a change of perspective, which can be best achieved by listening to a direct quote from Simon Cowell about how he and his fellow judges viewed their task of choosing the final four season 8 semifinalists: ”One of the jobs we’re gonna have to do tonight is that we’ve gotta cast this next stage, so that we’re not just gonna put the boring singers through. We’ve gotta put some personality through as well.”

Hey, you might not admire the man’s sentiment, but you’ve got to appreciate his honesty.

You see, tonight’s Idol telecast was not, at its heart, a reality show. And deep down, I think we all know nothing that happened on Idol‘s Wild Card stage was ultimately going to affect the makeup of the top 13. I mean, the judges’ ”deliberations” took roughly the same amount of time as it does for the average Idol viewer to pee/select a snack/pour a glass of Malbec (choose one).

With the outcome all but set in advance, everyone had a role to play. Ryan’s opening monologue about the miracle of second chances let us know what was at stake. The judges’ comments served as little more than background music, telegraphing what emotions we were supposed to be feeling about the performances, no matter what our ears told us. And the contestants, well, I’ve got to say most of ’em stepped up and sang like they really believed they had a chance to affect their fates.

Seeing how tonight’s Idol encroached on CSI‘s Thursday-night turf, it’s interesting to note that America’s favorite talent competition seemed to follow the strict outline of a scripted crime procedural. Let’s break it on down…

A victim must be identified in the opening moments. You knew it wasn’t looking good for Jesse Langseth when she got picked as the show’s opening act, and by the time the judges had finished with her, she might as well have sprawled out on the stage and let Ryan draw a chalk outline around her body. Which isn’t to say the death of Jesse’s Idol dream was all her own fault. The woman has a unique, husky tone to her voice that’s easily identifiable, and as Paula pointed out, Jesse came out strong and energetic, determined to make an impression. What’s more, it’s nice to see an Idol contestant pick songs — like ”Bette Davis Eyes” and tonight’s ”Tell Me Something Good” — that a person (okay, that I) might actually listen to in real life.

Unfortunately, though, in Simon’s mind (or in the script he got from the producers) Jesse’s choice of Rufus & Chaka Khan’s R&B party-starter was ”slightly indulgent” because it was ”more about [Jesse] than anything else.” Yes, exactly! Perhaps the woman who scored a Wild Card because the judges loved her ”bluesy” tone should’ve picked something from an animated Disney musical! That said, Kara and Randy were correct that Jesse occasionally went a little flat, especially during the verse — in Randyspeak, this is called making ”interesting note choices” — which helped make their final decision look a little less ridiculous. Too bad, though, the judges didn’t swap Jesse with our next contestant up for discussion.

NEXT: A song from Mulan? Really?

There’s always a recurring character who fans would love to see get written off. Meet Jasmine Murray, who apparently won her Wild Card via a backstage rock-paper-scissors tournament contest against Taylor Vaifanua and Arianna Afsar on Wednesday (I kid, I kid!) and then got even luckier tonight. Ryan foreshadowed her Lotto jackpot of an evening when he announced her as ”17-year-old Jasmine” — how many times will we hear the exclamation ”only 17!” in the coming weeks? — but I had to hit the ”seven-second jumpback” button on my DVR when the girl who’d been drilled about appropriate song choice announced she was singing Christina Aguilera’s ”Reflection” — from the Mulan soundtrack! Look, I’m sure Jasmine really enjoys singing this dreary ballad into her hairbrush while sitting in her My Pretty Pony-themed bedroom, but tonight’s performance did not signal a relevant commercial artist in the making. What’s more, as Randy pointed out (correctly!) the song was too big for Jasmine’s moderate-sized voice, resulting in the evening’s strongest example of the late, lamented Idol adjective ”pitchy.” And yet the singer whose critique from Paula began with the always damning ”you looked lovely tonight” managed to sail into the top 13. HOW?

Wait! It’s a red herring! Just when Von Smith was starting to grow on me — with his adorable cartoon-character hair, his super-enthusiastic family, and his humble admission that, yeah, sometimes he’s a Shouty McShouterson — he goes and gives a totally restrained take on Elton John’s ”Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word,” but promptly experiences all kinds of pitch problems.

No, Randy, it’s not that Von wasn’t wearing a hat. No, Kara, it’s not that the performance got ”very dark.” (For the love of ”package artists,” dude wasn’t singing ”Walking on Sunshine”!) It just wasn’t good enough. Maybe nerves got the best of him. Maybe he only nails his notes when he’s in ALL CAPS mode. We may never know. Oh, and in answer to Von’s musical question of ”What have I gotta do to make you love me?” In the case of the Idol judges, try changing your name to that of the next contestant up for discussion.

And now here comes the sexy lady! What are we going to do about Megan (Joy) Corkrey, people? One cannot deny that her scrunchy little voice is unique, interesting, memorable. In fact, I can close my eyes right now and hear it in my head. The problem is, when said voice only hits four, maybe five out of every seven notes it’s supposed to be hitting, tends to run out of air at the oddest intervals, and is paired with some very peculiar pronunciations and inflections, the overall results are not always a Joy to the ear. And, frankly, I didn’t hear Megan do much other than throw in a high note or two to change up the arrangement of K.T. Tunstall’s ”Black Horse and the Cherry Tree.” So how come Simon says she’s ”original” and not karaoke? How come he says it ”doesn’t matter” if hers isn’t ”the best vocal we’re ever gonna hear.” What is it about her that’s so current? The fact that she’s going to need serious help from Auto-Tune when she goes in to cut her debut album? And let’s not get started on her ”dancing.”

Let us instead discuss the best footwork of the evening, which not surprisingly came from erstwhile choreographer Paula Abdul. Let’s replay Paula’s full critique of Megan’s performance. Watch carefully how Paula (fast becoming the show’s most relevant judge) dances around the subject of what she thought of Megan’s vocal performance: ”Megan, Megan, Megan. You look beautiful tonight. And you picked a song that fits your personality, so you picked the right song. And your middle name’s Joy; you have a lot of joy up there — I had fun watching you. The little dancing, the little arm, you’ve got a quirky little thing about you. But overall I think you picked the right song.”

Standing O for Paula!

NEXT: The Adventures of Tatiana

It’s time for a false accusation! From a technical perspective, Ricky Braddy outsang all seven of his competitors on tonight’s telecast. No, he didn’t match Anoop’s stage presence or his swagger. But he out-danced Megan. Even in his painted-on jeans, he out-dressed that doofus in the scarf and hat. And Ricky out-charmed, out-interpreted, and out-emoted Jasmine. And yet somehow, the judges couldn’t (or wouldn’t) find a way to give him one of the four spots up for grabs? Instead, we had Randy accidentally reading from Simon’s script, pulling out the ”self-indulgent”’ comment on Ricky’s confident, beautifully sung cover of ”Superstition.” And we had Simon somehow using the term ”lightweight” to describe a vocal that was potent and powerful and worthy of praise.

People, those weren’t critiques, they were justifications for the bullshit that was about to flow at the end of the episode. I gotta move on, because I’m starting to feel some of that rage stuff taking over, and then I’m gonna have to take a break to make a cup of tea and listen to some Fantasia and settle down, and I don’t have time for that right now. But Ricky, you have an open invitation to come and sing on Idolatry anytime you want to.

We all know crime procedurals love story arcs that focus on tearful confessions and multiple personality disorders. And that’s why we spent so much time focused on Tatiana Del Toro. Let’s face it: Even if Tatiana came into tonight’s telecast with a chance to crack the top 13, she ruined it by choosing to sing ”Saving All My Love for You” for the second time in three weeks. Who does that unless they’re completely crazy? Uhhh.

Okay, in Tatiana’s defense, she can sing. She can actually sing quite well. But that doesn’t mean Whitney Houston’s lovely ballad is the right song for her voice. Tatiana’s biggest problem — aside from her self-sabotaging love of histrionic behavior and the sound of her own speaking voice — is that she thinks she’s got a voice big enough to make us forget the sound of Whitney in her prime, gliding over that sultry little melody. And she most certainly does not. She also tends to hold the mic too close to her mouth.

But why am I still talking about Tatiana’s singing, when we had her kneeling in front of Ryan Seacrest in a ”watershed” moment (as Simon called it) of heterosexual innuendo involving the clueless contestant and the visibly alarmed host. We also got to hear Tatiana debut a new and more prominent Puerto Rican accent, prompting Paula’s hilarious critique (”you grew an accent that I had never heard before!”) We had Kara noting that at least Tatiana wasn’t crying, and Simon’s brilliant, muttered response: ”She will.” And we had Tatiana, post-elimination, falling into the emotional fetal position in front of the judges’ table, with Paula gently cradling the contestant’s bruised delusions of grandeur, so one day, they can rise again on a horrible VH1 reality series, or your local cable access channel.

NEXT: Anooooop!

Finally, there’s got to be a shocking final twist! Which I think all of us started to suspect when Anoop Desai and Matt Giraud were the last two contestants standing, and knew for certain after Simon told Matt he’d made it through. I mean, as if Anoop wasn’t making the finals after the explosive audience response to his ”My Prerogative.” Heck, Anoop himself didn’t do all that convincing a job of looking surprised when Simon finally stopped toying with him and revealed the news that season 8 would feature a top 13. (Hey, it’s a singing competition, not an acting one!)

And frankly, Anoop deserved his spot. Sure, his performance had a handful of wobbles, but it was filled with a sense of fun and excitement that’s been missing from so much of this season’s performances, and that glory note at the end was absolutely killer. I know, I know…a lot of you just want to cut to the chase and do a group chant: ”Anoooooooop!” That felt good. But in fairness, before we end this shindig, we’ve got to do one for the other guy: ”Riiiiiiiicky!”

Oh! Some of you wanted to do a shout-out for Matt? Well, not so fast. The guy still has some atoning to do for what he did to ”Viva la Vida” back on Group 2 night. And frankly, his ”Who’s Lovin’ You,” while a massive improvement on his last live performance, was still wildly oversung. I think Matt was so determined to show the judges that he was ”bluesy!” and ”soulful!” that he decided to just throw every vocal trick in his throat against the wall and hope that enough of it would stick to take him to the finals. No, no, no, Matt! No! The key to great soul singing isn’t assaulting your listeners with vibrato and falsetto and growling — it’s knowing when to hold back, when to whisper, when to create a sense of anticipation that you’re about to go for the jugular…but not…just…yet. If this is ”who you want to be” as an artist, take your cues from Aretha and Sam Cooke, not Justin Timberlake. And please stop dressing like an ahat. Thank you.

Yeesh. That came out a little harsh — maybe a little too much so? I’ll admit there’s something a little too cocky about Matt at this early point in the competition for my liking, but the guy definitely has some talent, and he definitely earned his spot in the finals tonight, alongside Anoop, Ricky, and Jesse.

And no, that wasn’t a typo. I’m well aware which Wild Cards advanced tonight, but the voting lines are gonna be open for the next 11 weeks, and the competition is now in our hands, folks. Let’s hope for Ken Warwick’s sake, he likes the script that we cook up for him.

Oh, one last thing: Please visit American Idol HQ and sign up for EW.com’s Idol Prediction Challenge! It’s going to be fun, especially since you’ll have a chance to humiliate me (plus a number of my Idolatry co-hosts) with your Idol prognostication skills. The game is set to go live at 1 p.m. EST today! And if you’d like to be a call-in guest on Idolatry, do shoot an email with your thoughts on tonight’s Wild Card show (along with a daytime phone number) to idolatry@ew.com. Thanks!

What did you think of tonight’s Wild Card show? Do you think the judges had their minds made up going into the telecast, or were they really making last-minute deliberations during that last commercial break? Did the right contestants go through? Was the return to a top 36 format the right move? And how are you feeling about the talent level of the season 8 finalists?