‘American Idol’ Heads to Sudden Death, Who Survives?

Amber Holcomb performs in the Sudden Death Round of "American Idol" (CR: Michael Becker / FOX)

No girls died unexpectedly Wednesday night on “American Idol’s” new “sudden death” round, a micromanaged quarter-final elimination that had 10 of the remaining 20 girls competing against each other for five spots. Why those 10? Who knows, other than that an excess of country singers and Jessica Sanchez imitators made it necessary to split those groupings in half.

Wednesday’s show was as chance to see who all these Top 40 people actually are, since we’ve only been privy to information on about half of them so far. But most of all, it was the first time we got to see what kind of judging panel we can expect from the rest of the season.

So here are the first half of the Top 10 Girls: Camp Mariah attendee, Tenna Torres; Nashville singer who lost both her parents tragically, Kree Harrison; girl who blew everyone away with her original song last week and whose feedback tonight mainly just talked about her previous performance, Angela Miller; and two unknowns left out of the previous weeks’ episodes, soul singer with Natalie Cole flavor, Amber Holcomb and one of those Jessica Sanchez-types, but from Alaska, Adriana Latonio.

It took two hours to get there. But tonight was the first time we got critiques from all four judges, and that took up most of the time in between the brief performances. Mainly, that’s due to Mariah Carey, who was at the end of the panel, and, though she admitted every time that the other judges already said what she wanted to say, she still said it anyway, and then some.

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Like in auditions and Hollywood Week, Mariah’s comments tended to be about her, like to Tenna Torres, who was looking gloomy after her emotional performance, “I understand what you meant when you said this was a sad song.” To Kamaria Ousley, whose pitch never quite landed where it was supposed to, “Love the shoes, but be careful, because I have some like that and they broke in the front.”

Keith Urban, who was first to judge, started out the night being a little easy, criticizing extremely pale country girl Jenny Beth Willis’ song choice rather than the fact that her performance was bland and boring. But he started to dig in a little deeper after Brandy Hotard gave a vacant, Katharine McPhee-like performance and smiled through a song about a breakup, calling her out on her “emotional connection inconsistency.” And picking up on Shubha Vedula’s painful buffet of musical stylings on Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way,” by saying, “you crammed a lot into that song.”

Randy Jackson was his usual self, praising the girls who are the youngest for the fact of their age rather than their vocal ability, and letting some bad stuff slide. The only contestant he actually criticized was the universally reviled Kamaria.

Nicki Minaj (in new root-bearing hair), however, is the treasure of this new panel. Say what you want about her nasal passages and thick Queens accent, but she knows how to deliver the truth. To Jenny Beth: “The audience was more excited than you were.” To Tenna Torres: “Lose the hair. Cut it all off and go bald.” (Admittedly, the hair, big, towering ‘80s fluff side bangs, was awful.) To Brandy: “That was a pageant delivery of a song.” To Shubha: “That was like a mashup of Christina Aguilera and the Gangnam Style guy.”

She also had positive things to say, like to Kree Harrison, who was the clear winner of the night. “Every time you sing a song, you make love to a song.”

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All in all, Nicki was the most descriptive. Her criticisms weren’t mean, they were just true, and they were specific. Her feedback is definitely what the “Idol” judges panel has been missing since Simon Cowell departed.

As for the results—an extremely awkward four-on-one talk with each contestant, in which the judges rotate on who delivers the verdict—they were definitely spot-on. The only one who might have had a chance had the field not been so crowded with good performances tonight would have been Isabelle, the gal who lost a whole bunch of weight. Her old-fashioned performance tonight didn’t do her any favors, even though it was delivered masterfully, and so, she was sent home. Jenny Beth, Brandy, Kamaria and Shubha, however, were sure bets to get cut after the stuff they put out.

Tenna had some high note issues but was generally very good and interesting with her multiple kinds of voices. Kree, Amber and Adriana were all surprises, as they hadn’t had much air time yet, and commanded this first bit of showtime. And Angela continued to ride the wave of last week’s breakout original composition.

Tomorrow: we’ll see how the boys stack up, and whether there actually is any “sudden death” to be had.

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The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.

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