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American Idol recap: Separate but Unequal

Despite what Simon and Randy said, the women easily outsung the men in the first week of semifinals

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Amanda Alex

American Idol

TV Show
Current Status:
In Season
Harry Connick Jr., Jennifer Lopez, Keith Urban, Ryan Seacrest
Reality TV

‘American Idol” recap: The women outsing the men

American Idol has a clearly stated mission over the next three weeks: Winnow down its current crop of 24 semifinalists into a lean, gender-balanced pack of six men and six women. Because if there were, say, eight women and four men heading into the March 11 finals, all hell would break loose in the Idol nation. There’d be strongly worded e-mails, a perilous dip in the show’s ratings, and perhaps even rallies where fans could destroy their cherished Daughtry and Carrie Underwood albums en masse. Or at least that must be the great fear of executive producer Nigel Lythgoe and his cohorts.

How else to explain the silly insistence on parity of the sexes? After all, this is a TV talent search, not a college athletics department; Title IX doesn’t apply. And it’s not like the show’s goal is to reinvent Robbie Carrico’s former prefab band, Boyz n Girlz United.

Okay, yeah, I know if Idol didn’t segregate the semifinals by gender, how else could it spread 24 performances (and factor in viewer voting) over two ratings-rich evenings? It’s just that I found it a little galling hearing Randy Jackson and Simon Cowell try to make the case that Tuesday night’s first set of performances by the top 12 men was on par with tonight’s showing by the top 12 women.

To be fair, ladies’ night was more solid than spectacular, but only one or two female contestants descended to the dank basement depths mined by Jason Yeager, Garrett Haley, Colton Berry, and Chikezie (I still want to add ”Eze”) on Tuesday. And the best of the women were every bit as exciting as current men’s-side front-runners David Archuleta and Jason Castro.

For me, the award for performance of the night went to Alexandréa Lushington. In a week where the judges kept using a certain R-word, the previously unheralded teenager infused her performance of ”Spinning Wheel” with the kind of funk and originality that — in an era of vocally unmuscular chart-toppers like Rihanna and Britney — was not just rella-ella-elevant but downright electrifying. I loved everything about Alexandréa’s performance — her jazzy suspenders and her ”dope outfit” (Paula’s words, not mine), her surprising twist of falsetto in the song’s latter half, and the way she boldly interrupted Ryan and jauntily cut off another interminable argument among host and judges. I’ll admit, Alexandréa was a few wonky notes short of perfection, but I couldn’t understand Simon’s criticism that she sounded like a ”horrible ’60s musical.” Isn’t it better to take some risks at this stage of the game than safely and dully hit every single note?

Similarly, Amanda Overmyer’s rendition of ”Baby, Please Don’t Go” may have had a couple imperfections, but the way she ripped into the bluesy track like a cheetah into a freshly caught impala left me whooping and giggling all the way through it. I realize that the rock & roll nurse is a little bit of a screamer and that, as Simon said, she’s going to have to prove at some point that she really is a great singer, but I’d also contend she picked one of the most challenging numbers of the evening. It takes a mastery of syncopation and vocal control to deliver this slice of swampy funk, even if the lyrics are sparse and repetitive.

Not only that, but Amanda’s totally unaffected attitude is a refreshing change of pace from the standard ”I’ll live and die for Idol” stance we get from the show’s contestants. That exchange where Simon thought Amanda’s scatting was a cover for botched lyrics and she expressed her incredulousness that he wasn’t familiar with the number was almost as funny as her deadpan comment about the hellacious car accident she’d had before Hollywood Week: ”Sorry for pulling out in front of you, dude.”

While at this point I’m really rooting for Alexandréa and Amanda to crack the top 12, there are six other women whose performances I’ll be looking forward to (or at least not dreading) next week. And while ranking the sextet is essentially an exercise in subjective tastes, that’s kind of what I’m paid to do, so here goes….

NEXT: The strong contenders