Guest Blogger and 'Idol' Alum Brandon Rogers: 'Stefano Langone Stands Out as the Shining Star'
The season six finalist, who was eliminated four years ago this week, says Haley Reinhart and Naima Adedapo may find themselves in the bottom three, while Casey Abrams, Pia Toscano and Jacob Lusk could come out on top.
Season Six Top 12 finalist Brandon Rogers is all too familiar with “the curse of the first.” It was this week four years ago that the former backup singer took his first Top 12 turn on American Idol, singing The Supremes’ classic “You Can’t Hurry Love” for the night’s Diana Ross theme. As it turned out, not only was he first up, he would be first to go and spent the rest of the season cheering on pal Blake Lewis, who eventually made it to second place.Brandon had several wow moments before he reached that point, of course. Having been a backup singer for the likes of Justin Timberlake and Christina Aguilera, he was arguably the most seasoned of the bunch, which just goes to show: experience doesn’t always pay dividends on Idol. But it does make for quality blogging and so we at Idol Worship asked Brandon to be our resident expert on this momentous season 10 week. And we caught him just in time: on Thursday morning, he heads to South By Southwest with the band So & So, who play on Saturday, March 19 at the Tap Room (look for Brandon on keyboards and vocals). You can also check out Brandon’s debut album, Automatic, on iTunes. Read on for his candid assessment of the class of 2011 as they took on songs from the year they were born. We’re at the start. Like seasons before, my own included, here is a very strong group of singers trying to find their way. But where my year had a ton of people who were dope, it’s taking this group longer to get settled in, to learn how to pick the right songs and have stage presence. I think with the absence of the Top 24 process and by just throwing contestants into the Top 13, it’s causing some growing pains. We had a lot of pitch issues last week, and even on Wednesday’s episode, almost everybody, even Pia Toscado and James Durbin, had a problem with their first line. Whoever can learn that curve the fastest is going to stand out quickly. Naima Adedapo ("What's Love Got to Do with It," Tina Turner): This girl has mad stage presence but she’s got to get her pitch down. Naima makes really good song choices because of her jazz background, but they’re lacking some of the accuracy. Some of it has to do with the arrangements, which I’m still getting used to -- a lot of them seem different for different’s sake, as opposed to being musically different. But I agree with Steven Tyler 100% that it’s about the execution and recognizing that she is really great with melody. She just needs to nail it. Paul McDonald ("I Guess That's Why They Call It the Blues," Elton John): I have to say, he seemed happy to be done with this performance. I think Paul has something but he needs to show it pretty soon before people get tired of him. Yes, he’s very charming, he can polish the inaccuracies with a big smile, and he seems like a really nice guy. But you almost forget, what did he sing? Maybe I was just blinded by 100 pearly white teeth! The judges were a little light on him because he’s sick. They gave him a pass last week, too. Thia Megia ("Colors of the Wind," Vanessa Williams): First off, her mom’s singing gave me chills, but Thia’s voice is incredible. But she’s, like, eight years old… going on 27. She has an old soul and carries herself that way, but also keeps singing these sleepy songs. There’s no doubt this girl is a star with that little face and that big ol’ voice -- she just needs to prove it. She’s got all the goods, but the judges seem frustrated with her – like they want to scream, “You are so damn good, stop doing these damn ballads!” But it’s hard to say something mean to that face. James Durbin (“I’ll Be There For You,” Bon Jovi): This kid is a genius because he’s consistently picked the best songs for his voice. And honestly, it seems like he’s spent his entire childhood preparing to be a rock star. He’s been the most consistent of season 10 both in terms of song choice and vocal quality, and he’s figured out in a very fast rate how to use his high range tastefully. I think he’s great. Haley Reinhart ("I'm Your Baby Tonight," Whitney Houston): Haley didn’t grab me at the beginning of the song so I wrote off more of the performance. Unfortunately, she didn’t come out here with the kind of ferocity that you need to sing Whitney Houston She’s got the mechanics and the voice, especially with "I'm Your Baby Tonight" because it’s fun and jazzy, but you’ve got to be ferocious to have the pitch-perfect notes, the range and the bite that Whitney has. As the song progressed, she started to get her bearings, but I have a feeling that If I closed my eyes, I’d like it better. Haley still looked sexy, even with the red lipstick massacre, but the performance didn’t have the fire. Like Randy said, she hasn’t quite figured out who she is yet and the talent level is so high that these people are going to have to find it fast. Stefano Langone ("If You Don't Know Me by Now," Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes/Simply Red): This kid did exactly what he needed to do. Like his wildcard performance, which was amazing from top down, he picked the perfect song for his voice. I’m still getting use to the affectations of his singing style, but his voice is stunning. And he’s got a little sexy swagger that shows he’s starting to come out of his shell. If he can continue to do that, he can be the Elliott Yamin of this season --sneaking in and even going past Chris Daughtry’s spot. Pia Toscano ("Where Do Broken Hearts Go," Whitney Houston): Pia is so dope, she’s got something special for real. Not only is she stunningly gorgeous, her voice gives off moments of Mariah, Whitney and Celine. The quality of the voice is like what Simon Cowell saw in Leona Lewis on The X Factor. And it’s good that they’re showing a lot of her backstory because it helps break down the unspoken walls between someone like Pia and the female audience, which is a large percentage of the show’s viewers. Pretty girls have a hard time on Idol. But with Pia, even thought the arrangement was terrible, it didn’t hold her back in any way. You just started focusing on her voice. They put the two dopest people right next to each other… so far. Scotty McCreary ("Can I Trust You with My Heart," Travis Tritt): I can see the signs already: “Beam me up, Scotty!” But if you like coutry music, there’s no way you won’t like Scotty. He’s got one of those perfect country voices where it is what it is and he knows who he is. I agree with Randy Jackson that he shouldn’t be afraid to sing a pop song and make it country. It seems like the big successes of Idol are people who knew their lane and stayed in it, but took songs that weren’t necessarily in their lane and pulled them over. A good example would be Blake Lewis when he did “You Give Love a Bad Name.” Karen Rodriguez ("Love Will Lead You Back," Taylor Dayne): Karen brings another beautiful backstory, and I really like the tone of her voice and how it’s really clean. Technically, Karen is perfect, however, there’s something non-distinct about her, and there are a lot of big voices this season. Also, she looked like a future sex Barbie doll. I’m just saying… Casey Abrams (“Smells Like Teen Spirit,” Nirvana): Casey is the resident Idol psycho, only I can’t decide whether he’s crazy like a fox or just crazy. There were moments when I was though, “this is great,” but I was also worried about him jumping in the audience to stab people. I love the risks he’s taking, but I want to hear more of his voice. His first audition was unreal in how it came out of left field and I want more of that. As for his choice of song, there’s no sacrilege. A song is a song as long as you do it well. I don’t buy into the purist argument -- no disrespect to Nirvana because I was a huge fan of the song. And I think he should play bass every week. Casey is the best instrumentalist they’ve ever had Idol. For proof, watch his green mile performance just before he made the Top 24. Lauren Alaina ("I'm the Only One," Melissa Etheridge): I’m having a hard time figuring out what to feel about Lauren Alaina. On one hand, she’s got this prodigious voice, but I feel like she’s so immature musically. Thia has the technique and talent well beyond her years, but she’s picking the wrong songs, whereas Lauren is picking the right songs but doing the wrong things. Like how she worked the microphone. I couldn’t help thinking of Ricky Bobby working his hands at the beginning of Talladega Nights. That’s all I could see with her holding the mic so close to her mouth. She hasn’t yet learned how to balance -- you need to know your voice and people need to see your face, they can’t have the microphone all up in your grill. Lauren is great, but she need to get it together. I used to think of her as a frontrunner, but that race is getting hazy. Jacob Lusk ("Alone," Heart): This kid’s voice is serious business. With that said, I’m not sure if I love the way he uses it. He has a tendency to make things a little more overwrought than they need to be to get the point across. But Jacob’s voice is definitely special. It reminds me a little bit of Anthony Hamilton with a limitless range, but he really needs to concentrate on not going off too much. When the train comes off the tracks, he always finds his way back, but may need to take it down a notch. Should take the advice J. Lo gave to Karen when she said: “don’t expose your weaknesses, play to your strengths.” To sum up the night, I think Stefano stands out as the shining star, followed closely by Pia and, for good measure Casey made a place for himself just by being so weird – though I don’t know if his performance was close to the caliber of the first two. I would also consider the judges the stars of the night. They gave truly constructive criticism for the first time this season. And I would like to reiterate that Jennifer Lopez is the best thing to happen to this show in 10 seasons. Not only is she amazing to look at, but her comments have been spot-on. Her gloves are coming off and the judges are starting to speak honestly without feeling the need to be mean-spirited. As for who’s in the danger zone: Haley always has to worry until she finds herself, and Naima, because I almost forgot to mention her. On our season, we’d call it “the curse of the first” -- if you don’t bring it in the beginning, you’ll be forgotten by the end of the show. I have first-hand knowledge of this. All in all, it is a very strong season and will be tough for America to pick who will stay and who will go. I know I’m having a hard time…
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