08 March 2012

Jessica Sanchez for the Win!

Then again, if she doesn’t, you can always come back in a few months’ time and boo me. I just hope that I did not just give her the kiss of death. Last season, I was Pia Toscano’s chief rah-rah boy and look where she ended: bundled out of the competition with so many rounds still to go, J-Lo’s stunned look notwithstanding. American Idol, after all, is a voter’s competition.

And while the best singers sometimes win, sometimes they don’t as well…

At any rate, it’s that time of the year again: Idol Season! I used to follow the show from the auditions in January all the way to the finals sometime during the summer. The novelty of watching crackpots competing for airtime wore out a few seasons ago, however. Thus, in recent years, I would only begin watching the show intently once the final dozen had been selected.

Last night, the Top 13 finally got the competition proper underway. Personally, I feel that last season’s crop on the average was marginally better. Although I thought that Pia Toscano stood a shade above the others with her extraordinary range, there were quite a few in the group who could have won it as well.

In fact, eventual winner Scotty McCreery started to look the part only as the competition wore on. Selecting a prospective winner was not easy; and of course, Toscano got bundled out in the most unceremonious manner.

This season, though, my odds-on favourite is none other than Filipina-Mexican Jessica Sanchez from San Diego. I caught her audition on board an aircraft carrier in San Diego while channel-hopping; and immediately had a good feel about this one.

I did not know at the time that she was half-Filipina. However, with apparently Asian looks, a Hispanic surname and coming from the San Diego area as was announced, I felt it almost a cinch that she was Filipina.

Of course, I did eventually read somewhere that she is actually half-Filipino and half-Mexican. It is funny that we Filipinos have such a robust competition with the Mexicans in the boxing ring. Yet, it took a genetic mix of our two nationalities to produce this lovely young lady with such a powerful voice.

I have always supported contestants in the past who had Filipino parentage. Yes, even those whose voices registered no more than ‘middling’ in my ears. However, if I thought Sanchez was a great prospect while on board that aircraft carrier, last night my gut was screaming that she would be ‘the one.’

Whitney Houston’s ‘I Will Always Love You’ is not an easy song for anyone; but the ease with which Sanchez breezed through the piece last night almost belied the fact that she is a 16-year old amateur trying to win a singing contest. The performance was so thoroughly professional that all three judges were on their feet applauding her when the song ended.


Steven Tyler, colourful as ever, summed up the impact of Sanchez’s performance, “You just made 40 million people cry.”

On the basis of last night’s performances alone, if I were to choose four more contestants to complete my very own Top 5, next to Sanchez would be Deandre Brackensick; albeit, who would want to have a name like that? The lad can sing from the heart, that much I can say.

His natural voice is soulful enough as it is; but he also has a well-controlled falsetto. I rather hope, though, that he does less of the falsetto-thingy which hurts my ears and which I think is a sort of cheating with the high notes, anyway.

Texan Hollie Cavanaugh is another effortless singer and her voice simply caresses the ears. She is also blessed with this sweet innocent country-girl face that is so pleasant to look at. She and Sanchez would make an excellent all-female final, as J-Lo publicly stated she was hoping for.

19-year old Jeremy Rosado has this mystical from-the-other-side voice that is not only pleasant to listen to but penetrates all the way to the soul. There is a Papa Bear look to him that may be captivating to children but may not necessarily be so to an older audience. He made it to the Top 13 via the wild card sing-off, by the way.

To appease the rock-‘n’-roll in my soul, naturally I need to have a rocker in my Top 5. It’s a difficult choice for me between Colton Dixon and Phillip Phillips – seriously? – but the latter gets my vote because he is stylistically inventive and interpreted his song in a manner way different from the way the others did theirs. In fairness, Dixon is more melodic.

As for the others, I am torn about Jermaine Jones, the Gentle Giant as he is already being called on Idol. I love his rich baritone voice, which reminds me a lot of Barry White. At the same time, it rather unnerves me as well, like it would be the perfect voice-over for a demon in an exorcist movie. But I’m being mean…

I was a bit disappointed in the judges’ reactions to Elise Testone’s performance. Well, of course, it went nowhere near those of Sanchez or Cavanaugh. That said, her voice and demeanour reminded me a lot of the renegade sassiness of last season’s Haley Reinhart, who could also deliver outstanding vocals.

As a whole, while I think last season’s finalists were better singers, on the basis of last night’s show the current crop appears as though they are better performers. They were very comfortable onstage and appeared to be enjoying themselves. In contrast – that is, if my memory serves me right – at this same stage last year, there were not just a few nervy performances.

So Jessica Sanchez then for the win! And not just because she has Filipino chromosomes… More for the quality of her voice; her assurance and self-belief onstage; and the overall charisma that can carry her all the way to the top.

That is – as Pia Toscano discovered last year – if America will not be too lazy to vote even for just one weekend in the next dozen or so weeks.

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