The semifinals began with a bang this week on American Idol. Throwing down the gauntlet right out of the gate was Mandisa.
No last name and that's just fine. She has already proven her kind, gracious side in past weeks, winning over even Simon Cowell. Tonight she set out to prove that "sistas can rock, too," and rock, she did. Her rendition of Heart's "Never" was very strong, easily winning praise from all three judges.
Anyone that has watched Idol these past few weeks knows Kellie Pickler's story (Dads in jail, mom abandoned her...). She has a sweet kind of likability and unpretentiousness that may carry her further in this competition than her voice alone would. She sounded shaky singing Martina McBride's "How Far", but really nailed all of the big notes. She can sing and I'm betting she's going to improve a lot each week; it's just that the ladies field is really stacked with some phenomenal and experienced talent.
I can't quite put my finger on what I dislike about Becky O'Donohue. She is striking, seems nice enough, has picked songs that I like and yet - something just isn't there. I was excited to hear that she was going to do the oldie but goodie, "Because the Night". I love this song and I think the slow build in the beginning was really quite good. Somewhere in the middle it just went from pitchy to weird. Too much vamping at (not for, at) the camera really killed it for me, too. As for the judges' take, both Randy and Simon thought it was weak, but "better than expected".
Up next was over-achieving Ayla Brown who choice the song "Reflections" off of the Mulan soundtrack. I have three little girls, so I know my Disney Princess music and this version could have been on the soundtrack. Brown showed minimal emotion which is more than we'd seen from her until now. I think the thing with her is that while she can sing, I'm not convinced that she really wants too. It may just be another notch of achievement to add to her belt.