Last week I told you this season’s pool of contestants wasn’t as deep as last season’s pool was. I take it back. I trolled YouTube tonight, looking for non-Idol video of the contestants that we’ve seen so far. I found a bunch of video, even more than last year when it seemed like every contestant had their own website. Kids can make videos so easily now that it’s actually more of a surprise when I can’t find video than when I can. This is tremendously helpful when I’m trying to separate the contenders from the pretenders. It also adds to my personal enjoyment of Idol. I recommend it for anyone who wants to wallow in these kids and their talent. The age of the million dollar video has to be over, right? These kids make videos now that are almost as slick as the big boys, and with the human element so obvious in their videos they are able to get us more emotionally invested in them.
Anyway, this year’s crop is as deep, talented, and diverse as any other season has ever been. Several contestants moved way up in my power rankings compared to last week, and I added a few more from the last couple of cities. I ranked 25, and any one of them could make the live shows. As I see it this year’s list is at least 23 deep (Samantha) for reasonable contenders. Last year I was struggling to find contenders after the top 10, and only 9 of my top 25 made the semifinals. I think that I’ll get at least 12-15 this year unless they held a bunch of talent back. Hell, if they did that means that the crop was even deeper. Here are my power rankings, as of the end of the audition rounds.
First, A Few Sleepers:
Ramiro Garcia, 28: Born without ears, he’s gone through worse things than the Idol pressure and he sings in front of huge crowds. He won’t get scared. While he has a weak voice and few vocal chops, he has charisma and an interesting undertone in his voice that makes him interesting.
Kyle Crews, 19: Apple cheeks and a boy-band voice is a fairly dated package, but he is what he is. The judges might find him a charming change of pace amidst all the jazzoids and Carrie Underwood/Adele wannabes.
Romeo Diahn, 22: His best selling point is that nobody else will be anything like him. He probably can’t make it deep unless he can sing something other than “Pass the Dutchie” and Reggae types of songs, but it isn’t like Scotty was all that versatile last year.
Angie Zeiderman, 25: No, she ain’t going to be the next American Idol, but I expect to see her a couple of times in Hollywood, doing the Betty Boop thing. She is really good at it, and not a joke as a singer.
Jane Carrey, 24: I would have skipped her despite her famous father, but I wanted to mention that she’s a really good guitar player. Her guitar tone is sweet, smooth and silky. Her voice? Please…. She is so shy that she couldn’t win a karaoke contest in Hillyard. Hollywood is going to eat her alive vocally, but we might at least get to hear her fingerpick. She is a terrific picker.
Schyler Dixon, 16: I saw her name on a list, before the season, that had her tossed between 60 and 42. Thankfully I don’t have that kind of information on more than a couple of contestants. I’ll mention them when they come up.
Scott Dangerfield, 23: I love his personality, his intelligence and his manner, but he’s just another trill monster as a vocalist (with lousy intonation) who might be riding his reputation from last year a little bit. He made the 32 of 42 list. I root for him, but I wouldn’t put any of my own money on him making the tour.
The Top 25 Auditioners:
25- Eben Franckewitz, 15: Beiber/Badeaux impersonator. Jacee just missed last year despite internet buzz in his favor. Is anyone going to even notice Eben?
24- Ethan Jones, 22: Bar band singer, decent but not notable picker. His “type” is something like Casey James, but Casey had charismatic looks, some character in his lower range and bluesy lead chops on his guitar to hide the weaknesses and bad habits in his voice. I’m not sold that Ethan has something unique enough about him to get him past the morass between group night and the semis.
23- Samantha Novacek, 19: This kid has a huge, massive, monstrous howitzer of a voice and a beautiful tone, arguably the best pure tone we heard in the audition rounds. Ok, Jules, then she should be ranked higher, right? Why is she ranked this low?
Well, Vincent, allow me to retort. She is green as hell – a true amateur – and she has the stage presence of a toad. She imitates others because, at this point, she has no freaking clue who she is as a singer. She could survive several rounds by the sheer quality of her instrument (like Katie Stevens did a couple of years ago), but she can’t survive being challenged to be creative yet.
Seriously, though, if I was ranking by pure vocal talent Samantha would be in the top five.
22- Creighton Fraker, 28: He plays the piano and trills, trills, trills. I find him interesting, but I’ll get bored quickly if he can’t show me something new.
21- David Leathers, Jr., 17: I struggle ranking him, because he has no chance in hell of winning but he is good TV. If he had better intonation I wouldn’t be surprised to see him make the tour, but he doesn’t sing in tune consistently. Historically guys like him either just miss the semis or get voted off quickly after that.
20- Elise Testone, 28: She is about 20 decibels from being a serious contender. She has all the style of the blues belter, but she doesn’t have a belter’s voice.
19- Lauren Gray, 22: This kid has the blues belter power, but she doesn’t have Elise’s finesse. She overdoes the high notes and gets squeaky, and when she goes low she doesn’t have any bend to her voice. She is a very good bar band singer, but Idol might be above her level.
18- Rachelle Lamb, 26: There is nothing wrong with her voice, I love her Patty Loveless/Sara Evans tone, but does she have any professional experience? She was one of the few I couldn’t find any video for outside of Idol. She looks like Dotty West.
17- Molly Hunt, 15: The kid can already write better than some staff writers inNashville, so she will probably have a serious shot at stardom (as a writer at least) down the road. She is way too green to be a serious threat right now, but she has oodles of talent. Too soon? Hell yes it’s too soon. Watch out for her. She could be one of those “yeah, I auditioned for Idol ten years ago, it was fun” people who are famous in 2025.
16- Hallie Day, 24: Huge voice, but no video that I could find, even from her New York experience. Sleeper more than contender, but she has a top 10 voice.
15- Baylie Brown, 21: 15 year old Lauren Aliana was a better singer (a much better singer), but Baylie made the 32 of 42 list, is 21 years old instead of 15, and has the “came back five years later” thing going for her. I have her ranked lower than several contestants who are less likely to make the final 24 than she is, because I don’t see her talent taking her anywhere past maybe clinging to life to make the tour at best. She is the lowest ranked contestant who I would call odds on to make the live shows.
14- Shannon Magrane, 15: Shannon might be the sleeper of all sleepers. She is only 15, the daughter of a fairly famous (and fairly wealthy) baseball player, 6 feet tall, and she looks more like a future ESPN host or a WNBA coach than a performer. She was probably popular in school from the start, and she probably didn’t even have to try out to make the cheerleader squad. Ever.
She is also a dynamic, emotional vocalist with power, range and a bag of tricks that belies her age. If she wasn’t Joe Magrane’s daughter; if she was short and creatively unique visually, I might have her ranked in the top 6-8 at least.
I can’t get my head around “Joe Magrane’s kid is a diva” though, especially when she looks more like a Greek God of an athlete than a singer. Kids like this just don’t work as hard at music, they are too busy being popular and hanging out with the football team. Even if they are dedicated (and Shannon is obviously a dedicated person), they have so many other options that few of them can be as obsessive about music as they need to be.
Shannon appears to be the real deal, though. She can sing her butt off. Is it possible that this kid, who is going so far against the “Ma”grain of her natural destiny, can be the next Idol?
13- Jason “Wolf” Hamlin, 24: Karen loves this guy. I like him too. His style is fairly dated, but it’s a style that comes back periodically. He works hard at it (lots of video), and he seems like a personable guy. He ain’t going to win after Scotty won last year, but he might be this year’s Michael Sarver.
12- Devan Jones, 26: This kid is smooth as silk, with a terrific tone. He doesn’t have a ton of range, but his style might not need it for awhile.
11- Aaron Marcellus (Sanders), 27: I would have ranked him higher if he hadn’t been tossed before the semis last year. I’ve seen enough of him this year (he was notably absent from the Idol shows last year) to make a reasonable judgment, and he is terrific. He sounds so much like James Ingram that he could probably move to Vegas and make a nice living imitating him. He plays the piano and plays it well. Will he stand out, or is he just a good musician? Your guess is as good as mine. I like him.
10- Mathenee Treco, 25: This kid might be very special. He has a lot of the Jacob Lusk vibes, but he’s more pop than Gospel and he can sing in tune. There are several videos of him with a female singer who plays lead guitar, and plays it very well. As good as Mathenee is, I might like his partner even more. Mathenee might be one of those singers who fits better as a second fiddle. I would love to work with him.
9- Colton Dixon, 19: He’s a retread from last year, and his voice is limited to his style every bit as much as Romeo is to Reggae or Scotty Mac is to old school country. His style isn’t even current, really. I like him anyway, because he drips emotion off of every note he sings. He was listed on the 32 of 42. I’ll be out on a limb from now on, because none of my top eight contenders were listed on the 32 of 42 as far as I remember.
8- Jermaine Jones, 24: He has the coolest, strongest lower range in the field, and he’s really likeable. In most other ways he’s fairly average, but his strengths might lead him to the tour, and even make him a serious contender. He plays the piano.
7- Jessica Phillips, 25: She has a video out that is really good. Her passionate voice stands out, even on tape. As long as she can sing in tune she will advance several rounds. I like her face a lot; she has some wear to it well past her age, with kind yet fierce eyes. She reminds me a little bit of a young Sharon Epatha Merkerson, who played Lieutenant Anita Van Buren on Law and Order.
6- Brittany Zika, 21: This kid has Siobhan potential, if not Kelly potential. She has huge range, a powerful voice, ridiculously natural trilling ability and a tremendous ear. She combines giggly self effacement with a pitbull-like dedication to perfection. Her main weakness is that she is kind of a clown, but its all defense mechanism. She is serious about her music, but she might not feel confident enough in her talent to allow anyone else to take her seriously.
I watched her video when she was pulled on stage with Sarah Barielles. She not only held her own on the song (and got audience screams of approval several times), but she actually learned new things while she was up there. If I had any confidence that she could focus on reaching her considerable potential instead of looking for reasons to play the clown, I would have her ranked first. I believe she cares as much about being great as anyone else, but I kind of think that she has built up some defense mechanisms that will compel her to screw up unless everything goes perfectly. Idol is a long process, full of opportunities to screw up.
This kid has talent, though, huge, raw, race horse talent. She could be gone next week, or win the whole thing.
5- Erica Van Pelt, 25: No other true professional in the competition has a better voice, and no other true voice in the competition is more of a professional.
4- Jairon Jackson, 19: I might have him ranked too high, but the original song he sang at his audition has already been covered so many times that I couldn’t find any of his other videos.
3- Reed Grimm, 26: Casey Abrams with a better voice. I have no idea what the voters will think of him, but unless something really weird happens they will get the chance. He plays multiple instruments, and he oozes music. His only issue is that he might be too jazzy, and too weird. Older contestants aren’t allowed to be this weird. They are expected to be polished, and mature.
2- Ashley Robles, 26: Huge voice, pages and pages of youtube video (all good), cute as a girl can be, and she is smart and professional as well as emotional and artistic. Nobody last year was even close to her potential at this point in the competition. She would be an easy top seed, but…..
1- Johnny Keyser, 22: This guy sings full out all day and all night, relaxed yet urgent, and always powerful yet controlled. He is likeable, maybe too likeable for us cynics. The girls are going to love him, and the guys are going to hate him. HATE him. Hell, some of the cynical girls are going to hate him too. He’s just too perfect. He is a male version of Katherine McPhee, too perfect to be believed; yet he actually is who he says he is. I don’t know whether I want to vote for him in 2032 for President, or chop his head off to see if he is full of wires and capacitors. We, as Americans, have an infinite capacity to forgive flaws, but we don’t have a comfortable mechanism to deal with someone who has no flaws.
Idol video: Since I talked at length about it, I think I should show the video from Brittany Zika that I based all of my 2 cent psychoanalysis on. Be patient, though. She doesn’t start singing for awhile; not until around 1:15. Her friend sings the first verse (she’s pretty good, better than I would have expected for something like this). Once Brittanygets going, notice her effortless harmonizing and her constant mugging, even while she is singing complicated passages. It’s like she cares, but she doesn’t want anyone else to know that she cares.
Bonus Idol Video (worth twice the price that you paid for the first one):
Samantha Novacek has several videos out there. I’ll give you the coolest one, Sam singing an Adele song. She imitates Adele’s live video, not her official video where she uses her falsetto. I prefer the falsetto one. I don’t blame these kids for shying away from it, though. That version is incredibly hard to sing.