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February 23, 2013 - 3:44pm

'American Idol' Season 12 RECAP: Top 20 taking shape after week one of Sudden Death



Calling this new round of “Idol” Sudden Death is a bit misleading. It’s essentially the same as previous seasons’ Top 24 rounds with the difference being that Sudden Death is in Las Vegas and America doesn’t get to vote yet. At the end of each episode, which feature ten girls performing one night and ten guys the next, the panel decides which five contestants from each night to send home and which five to bring through to the Top 20. And if anything became evident from this first of two Sudden Death weeks, it’s that the girls have much more talent than the guys.

Tenna Torres, whose story is that she went to Camp Mariah and now it’s her last year of eligibility to be on “Idol,” was the first contestant to make it into the Top 20 and she didn’t deserve it. Sure, she has a (sometimes) good R&B voice but her facial expressions, excessive handwaving and often-strained vocals give her this quality of desperation that irks me. And Nicki was right — everything about the way she’s styled makes her look like she’s 40.

When the producers first started focusing on Kree Harrison during Hollywood Week, I wasn’t quite buying the hype. But after her performance of “Up The Mountain,” I’m beginning to get it. There were a few bum endings to her runs but overall Kree has an effortless vocal ability that is, as Mariah said, is “organic and unaffected.” Kree has the potential to grow into a star this season and I could see her making it all the way Kelly Clarkson style — by giving a solid performance every week and slowly build momentum to peak at the right times.

Out of the whole bunch, though, Angela Miller is the most industry-ready of them all. She already feels like a true pop star: she has the look, the voice, the showmanship and the personality. Her rendition of “Nobody’s Perfect” by Jessie J made it seem like the song was written for her. The judges focused on her knockout original song in Hollywood Week for some reason, but this performance was just as powerful as that one.

The week’s biggest surprise came from Amber Holcomb whose rendition of “My Funny Valentine” thrust her onto America’s list of frontrunners. The accompaniment bordered on cabaret, but Amber’s voice shined regardless. I’d like to see her perform something more contemporary but I always love when contestants make a statement in their first live performance after not being shown once during auditions or Hollywood Week (see LaToya London and Lakisha Jones).

The final girl to make it into the Top 20 this week was Adriana Latonio from the foreign land of Alaska. She definitely has soul and power in her voice but her performance of “Ain’t No Way” felt like a complete pageant performance. There’s no question that Adriana deserved to make it through, but I’m not even close to being sold on her. As we’ve seen before, though, the Filipino vote is a very powerful one on “Idol” so she’ll be around for a while.

And now for the guys. Ugh.

First to make it through was Curtis Finch Jr. a.k.a. the poor man’s Joshua Ledet with a chip on his shoulder. Obviously Curtis has a phenomenal voice that he can take every which direction on each note he sings but that might just be the problem. Because he can do so many crazy things with his voice, he always oversings. Always. Not only that, but his confidence is quickly turning into cockiness. Besides his redonkulous voice, the reason why Joshua Ledet made it so far last year was because of his infectious, humble personality — he was likeable. Curtis could learn something from him.

Elijah Liu’s performance of “Talking To The Moon” wasn’t great. Especially once he got to the chorus. But I do see what Nicki keeps on saying about his potential as an actual pop star — he has a great look, confidence and he does have a solid tone that he just needs to hone in a bit. I’d like to see more.

Paul Jolley has probably the most potential of the guys that made it through this week, which is exactly why Jimmy Iovine decided to break the judges’ tie and save him. Keith was right that the issue with Paul is that he feels the need to overcompensate and overperforms which results in some of his soaring high notes being slightly shreaky. With a little bit of direction, Paul has the potential to really come into his own down the road.

The oddest contestant “Idol” has ever had, Charlie Askew is a true character. Between his wardrobe choices, deer in the headlights looks of concern when he performs and his distinct tone, he never ceases to amaze. “Rocket Man” was the perfect song choice for him. It was captivating.

Devin Velez sang Beyoncé’s “Listen” and despite a few rough patches, it was definitely a worthy performance. Without the Spanish lyrics thrown in the middle it wouldn’t have had as much of an impact but his decision to do that showed artistry and helped us get to know him in a more complete way. The judges made the right choice in sending him through over Johnny Keyser.

Maybe next week the guys can give the girls more of a run for their money, but this week the obvious front runners are totally the girls.