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HOME > American Idol > American Idol 8

'American Idol's first 12 semifinalists take to the stage, perform live


By Christopher Rocchio, 02/18/2009 

The first group of 12 semifinalists from American Idol's Top 36 took the stage last night during the first live broadcast of the Fox reality competition's eighth season.

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Singing hits from the Billboard Hot 100, the first group consisted of Jackie Tohn, Ricky Braddy, Alexis Grace, Brent Keith, Stevie Wright, Anoop Desai, Casey Carlson, Michael Sarver, Ann Marie Boskovich, Stephen Fowler, Tatiana Nicole Del Toro and Danny Gokey.

"Now is really your shot.  You've got to blow us away vocally," judge Randy Jackson said at the beginning of the broadcast.  "This is it, the public's seeing you for the first time.  You've got to be in it to really win it tonight."

Unfortunately the judges felt it was largely a night of missed opportunities for the first group, some of whom also had a hard time finding their identity as performers.

The following is Reality TV World's recap of the performance broadcast in the order which the first group of semifinalists sang.  Also included are comments from each of the four judges -- Randy, Kara DioGuardi, Paula Abdul and Simon Cowell -- as well as additional information about each performance.

On Wednesday night beginning at 8PM ET/PT, the male and female semifinalists who received the highest number of home viewers votes will instantly become a Top 12 finalist.  In addition, another semifinalist that had received the next-highest number of votes -- regardless of whether he or she is male or female -- will also become a finalist.

Jackie Tohn, a 28-year-old from Oceanside, NY who currently lives in Silver Lake, CA

Song: "A Little Less Conversation" by Elvis Presley
Randy said:  "Way to start Season 8 off.  I don't know if I was blown away by the whole vocal thing but you're definitely a good entertainer.  You've got all this energy, you're jumping around.  I was like, 'Yo, I'm still looking a little bit for the vocals.' But it was all good on the entertainment side.  Way to start it off.  Good look."
Kara said:  "You can work a stage girl.  Oh my god, you have a big personality and you showed that tonight.  You showed us that, and I think that was great.  I agree with Randy, it wasn't the best vocals, but you showed us who you are up there."
Paula said:  "Jackie, you got me up dancing.  You did.  I told you, I've always loved you.  I remembered you most from the auditions.  I think your voice, it wasn't a perfect performance, but perfect sometimes is boring. What I love about you is that you are a true performer. You make everyone fall in love with you."
Simon said:  "I do think you've got a good voice, I think you actually played to the clown tonight.  I thought the performance was un-gamely, I thought the song was a bit gimmicky (boos).  We just started the show!  So I don't think you did yourself any favors tonight.  I don't the public are going to like that very much, and I think that you may have blown a great opportunity by doing something silly rather than good."
Additional Info:  "I don't think I've ever wanted something so much in my entire life," said Jackie during a video package prior to her performance.  "In fact, that's pretty concrete."... Jackie said her performance goal was to get "Ms. Abdul up on those feet"... Randy commented that he liked Jackie's trousers, to which she replied, "The trousers like you sir."  Not surprisingly, Simon wasn't a big fan... Jackie's dad told host Ryan Seacrest he was "extremely proud" of his daughter.

Ricky Braddy, a 25-year-old from Nashville, TN who currently resides in Elizabeth City, NC

Song: "A Song for You" by Donny Hathaway
Randy said:  "This is what I'm talking about right here.  This I feel is the start of Season 8 right here.  I think we've got more talent this year than we've ever had and dude, that was unbelievable right there.  Beautiful tone, nice voice, the way to jump it off!  That's the jump off Season 8 right there."
Kara said:  "I hope you feel good because you killed that.  That was amazing.  I mean your riffs, your interpretation.  It was effortless.  You have an incredible gift.  It was amazing to watch that.  It's a hard song, very hard song.  Good job."
Paula said:  "Ricky, with so many contestants that are involved you weren't featured the last three weeks.  I'm so proud that America gets to see how talented you are because make no mistake you deserve to go very far in this competition."
Simon said:  "Very, very good.  I'm not jumping out of my chair as much as you three are.  My only issue with you is that I don't think you have at the moment any star quality.  You have a great voice... (boos) but I don't think you have the self-belief or charisma right now to be what we would be looking for this year.  Right now I think you're a nice, shy guy with a very good voice.  You've got to start believing in yourself a bit... That's my only criticism.  It was a very good vocal, I just don't think it was quite as good as these three thought it was."
Additional Info:  During a video package prior to his performance, Ricky said he was "really nervous" the first time he met the judges... He also acknowledged he "fell apart" during Hollywood Week's group performances, but bounced back to make the Top 36... "I just want to show America who I am.  Hopefully that will come across in the song," he said... Rick'ys parents were wearing shirts that read, "The Braddy Bunch."

Alexis Grace, a 21-year-old from Memphis, TN

Song:  "I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You)" by Aretha Franklin
Randy said:  "I love seeing the clip where we talk about 'dirty yourself up.'  You've found the dirt, you've found the soul.  People usually say to sing the blues you've got to find some pain and live through some pain.  Yo man, you worked it out.  I'm loving you right now!"
Kara said:  "The genie is out of the bottle with you.  You released something inside, and it has been a pleasure to watch you come out of your shell.    First girl, the girl that stepped up in front of us that first time in that audition city, it's not the girl tonight.  It's a new girl, and I love it.  I'm digging it.  You did a great job."
Paula said:  'What people don't expect is at your young, tender age of 21 that you have the ability to present so much soul, so much passion, so much confidence.  It's strange to look at how cute and petite you are and what's inside of you is so large.  It's fantastic.  You have that quiet confidence that I love.  I'll keep going on because it's irritating Simon.  I think you're wonderful, beautiful, fantastic..."
Simon said:  "Alexis I think by a mile you're the best contestant we've had.  I know we've only had three, but... As Paula said, you actually do have soul.  You make the point I was trying to make to [Ricky], which is if you have self-belief and you have confidence, then it starts to become comfortable to us.  You may be a little darkhorse in this competition, seriously.  You know what it reminds me of?  It reminds me of Kelly Clarkson.  Same point eight years ago.  We suddenly went, 'Wow, this girl is one to watch."  I think you're the same, one to watch.
Additional Info:  Prior to Alexis' performance, Ryan reminded viewers that contestant performances are once again available for download via iTunes... Alexis described her first audition as "crazy" and thought the judges' advice to "dirty her look up" really helped... Alexis also said while she's not used to being away from her young daughter, she's willing to do so because "it will help in the long run"... Alexis' dad said he was "awe struck" to see his daughter perform on the Idol stage.  "I feel like I'm in a dream," added Alexis after her performance.

Brent Keith, a 29-year-old from Blanchester, OH  who currently resides in Nashville, TN

Song: "Hicktown" by Jason Aldean
Randy said:  "Good looking out Brent.  I like what you did.  I liked that you returned to the country roots man, and I liked that you're kind of like a new edge to country with that old country swagger.  I could see you at a chili cook-off -- me and you and Simon Cowell.  Simon on the steer... But I like you.  I think you make a very good country artist.  Very good [song] choice."
Kara said:  "I like you Brent.  I think you were a little safe tonight for me.  I think you have more in you than that and I remember thinking in the auditions you had a lot of soul.  This song, it just wasn't rangy enough for me.  I think you have more in you than what we saw tonight.  You're a cute guy, you've got a lot going for you and I wish you'd taken more risks."
Paula said:  "I want America to remember your auditions when you hit the high notes and the falsetto and you took more risks then.  This was a safe song for you.  But I definitely can see you as a country artist.  I really do.  Look what happened to Josh Gracin.  Look what happened to Bucky Covington.  I see you as country-western... Go for more risks next time."
Simon said:  "You've got one shot here Brent.  You're a nice guy, you've got quite a nice voice, but you did something that's not safe -- it's forgettable.  It's not original.  I don't think you're going to have any impact with that song whatsoever.  So I think you may have just blown a massive opportunity by being forgettable.  Sorry."
Additional Info:  As Fox tried to air Brent's video package prior to his performance, it instead flashed a picture of fellow semifinalist Stevie Wright.  "That wasn't Brent Keith.  It's a tape problem," said Ryan before walking Brent onto the stage for his performance.  Brent's package eventually aired.  "My wife and I have been struggling for a long time to make ends meet," said Brent in his package.  "I came to this with hopes that I would get to this spot so I would at least maybe have one last chance."... Brent said he chose country music to show who he is... After Paula's comments, Simon asked, "What has happened to Bucky Covington," which drew a laugh from the crowd."... Brent said he didn't think country fans would "forget" his performance.  "I think [I made the right song choice] because this is our one shot to show people what we're going to do as an artist.  I'm going to do music like that as an artist," Brent told Ryan after his performance.

Stevie Wright, a 17-year-old from Phelan, CA

Song: "You Belong With Me" by Taylor Swift
Randy said:  "Wow, wow, wow.  This is my first one of the night, it was not hot for me man.  I wasn't feeling that really at all.  I mean it was really weird.  Talk about being safe, that was really safe for you.  You're a better singer than this performance for me.  I think if I'd of seen that the first time, I don't know if you'd be right there right now."
Kara said:  "I've got to agree with you.  We wanted you to be young, but you really picked a song that has nothing to do with you.  I think you have an identity crisis going on now... Who are you?  Yeah, you were young tonight.  But that really has nothing to do with what Stevie is an artist, that song.  Ugh..."
Paula said:  "I'm going to have to agree with these two.  It just was not the right song for you.  The low range was real low for you and it just wasn't the Stevie Wright that we fell in love with... Stevie I'm so sorry, this wasn't it tonight."
Simon said:  "You're being quite polite.  Stevie it was terrible.  I mean everything. (booing)  The song was okay.  You were out of tune.  You look really nervous, out of your depth.  The good news is at least you got some experience from this, but there is zero chance of you making it through to the next round after that."
Additional Info:  Stevie described being on Idol as "surreal" and added she hopes to impress Simon.  "From here on out, I'm just going to try to showcase myself," she said during her video package, describing herself as a "bubbly 17-year-old"... Stevie said she thought her song choice was spot on because it's "young"... After Simon's comments, Paula reminded him that America is the one that votes, not him.  "Yes, but they listen to me," said Simon... Stevie's mom said she found the judges' comments "confusing."

Anoop Desai, a 22-year-old from Chapel Hill, NC

Song:  "Angel of Mine" by Monica
Randy said:  "Interesting song choice for me for you.  I'm a huge fan of yours, I've got mad love for you, but the whole song for me was a little sharp.  I don't know if you quite ever heard the pitch with the band in the backgrounds -- it's a song with a lot of backgrounds.  Usually when you're doing that you've got to find your comfort in there.  It just never quite settled.  But I'm still a huge fan.  Wasn't your best, but I'm still a huge fan."
Kara said:  "I've got to agree with Randy.  It's a hard song to sing that song, and I'm not sure you had the riffs or the capability to kind of nail it the way it needs to be nailed.  But I think there's a lot of great potential with you and I like you.  I believe you when you're up there.  I feel like you're connected to what you're singing about.  So I'm hoping you get through."
Paula said:  "The great thing with you Anoop is America has connected with you in a large way already. (cheers)  This is a different side of you.  I think whether you were a little sharp or not, I think that you have that Brian McKnight feel to your voice.  That's a compliment, a great compliment.  I believe Anoop Dog is here for a while... Hopefully."
Simon said:  "Why did you choose that song?" ('That was the first R&B song that I can remember hearing on the radio,' answered Anoop.)  I think it was a little bit too grown up for you in a way funny enough.  People don't know the song that well, and I think it was just a bit too serious for you... I get it, just say thank you to America now, we'll forget that you sang that song and we'll try and remember what we liked about you before hopefully.  We've heard you better, but you've got a massive likability thing going on.  That goes in your favor."
Additional Info:  "I want to bring energy," said Anoop during his video package.  "My goal while I'm on this show is to sing songs that I have wanted people to sing while I've been watching at home.  Every song that I sing has all of me in it."... Anoop said his song selection was about "thanks" and "the people that are behind you."... Anoop's mom called her son's performance "incredible."

Casey Carlson, a 20-year-old from Eden Prairie, MN who currently resides in Minneapolis, MN

Song:  "Every Little Thing She Does is Magic" by The Police
Randy said:  "That was not good for me.  That was kind of weird for me.  I love the song -- it's an amazing song -- completely wrong for you.  Kind of like weirdly karaoke at this point.  That was strange for me.  I didn't quite get that at all.  The Dog was lost!"
Kara said:  "I've got to say everything about that was wrong.  You're such a beautiful girl, but you picked The Police.  I mean, nobody goes near those songs.  You just don't touch them.  You leave them alone.  They're in a category of their own.  You're pretty, you're young -- I want to see you do a girly anthem song.  Something you.  The weird dancing and the motions, it was so overdone and I had such high hopes for you because you're a package artist.  You just fell really flat."
Paula said:  "There's no mistaking that guys think you are the most exquisite, beautiful girl there is.  I hear it all the time.  That's part of the package, but picking that song, there is no connection and your phrasing was weird.  You didn't think about what you were singing, and that is a hard song to sing.  The Police, Sting, iconic.  It just didn't work for you.  I'm sorry."
Simon said:  "How do you think it's gone tonight? ('I had fun,' answered Casey.  'I had a lot of fun.')  I'm trying to get something positive here.  You look good.  The singing was just atrocious to be honest with you.  You could not have chosen a worse song with the arrangement as well, and you shouldn't of been allowed to sing that song quite honestly.  The problem is that apart from sounding terrible, it doesn't tell us or anybody else what kind of artist you want to be.  It's karaoke.  You get one massive opportunity -- which you got tonight -- and you've just thrown it away."
Additional Info:  Casey called her Idol journey an "incredible process so far" and said it really hit her when she performed Jordin Sparks' "Tatoo" at Hollywood Week's conclusion... Casey was met by a mom, who offered her encouragement and gave her a big hug.  "I think I definitely could have chosen a better song," said Casey in hindsight.  "However I had a blast up there.  This was amazing."

Michael Sarver, a 27-year-old from Jasper, TX

Song:  "I Don't Wanna Be" by Gavin DeGraw
Randy said:  "The good parts about it is you've definitely got an instrument, you can definitely sing.  But it started out a little rough pitch-wise, the first verse was a little weird.  I remember you doing the whole soul thing, I might like you a little better on the soul thing.  I'm not sure it was the wrong song choice for you, but I don't know if you performed it that well.  That's my issue."
Kara said:  "That's a great crowd-pleaser song.  Everybody loves to dance to it.  But the thing is I don't think that was your best performance.  You've got more in you.  What I like about it is you're singing something that is true to you.  That's what's really great about you, you're likable because you are who you are -- you connect with the audience.  But that wasn't the best.  I've seen you do better."
Paula said:  'I'm not going to be as hard as they are.  I thought you did a real good job.  I think that you showed us a different side of you.  What gets a little confusing to me is you changed hands with your mic -- it's going back and forth -- and it becomes a little bit distracting.  But Bob Bice sang that song, Elliott Yamin sang that song,  Chris Richardson sang that song -- it shows you it's a  great song.  Gavin DeGraw's a great artist, he's a fan of the show, and I'm sure you did him proud."
Simon said:  "This is a tricky one Michael because what I like about this show is it does give people like you an opportunity.  I think we put you here primarily because we like you.  You're a good, honest guy, hard-working who needs a break.  I'm not going to lie to you and say this was the best vocal I've ever heard because it wasn't.  We've heard a lot worse tonight having said that.  So I think if you get through, it's because people like you.  I agree with Randy, I think the kind of songs you sang in the earlier auditions were probably better suited to you.  But actually with you in particular, I hope America does pick up the phone and give you another shot."
Additional Info:  Ryan jokingly referred to Michael as his twin when introducing him... In his video package, Michael said the Idol experience has been "good and insane all at the same time"... Michael's wife said she always tells her husband to "sing pretty," even though it sounds "silly."

Ann Marie Boskovich, a 22-year-old from Thousand Oaks, CA who currently resides in Nashville, TN

Song: "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman" by Aretha Franklin
Randy said:  "How do you think you did? ('I think I did pretty good,' replied Ann Marie)  So the deal is this song for me was just not the right choice for you.  I mean it's getting a little weird tonight because this is a big, huge vocal song and there were some girls on this show that have really slayed that song by the great Aretha.  I just thought that you fell sub-par below that.  I didn't really quite get the song choice.  I didn't even understand who you were as an artist from that and that was a problem."
Kara said:  "It's been a challenge for you to come out and lose the demo singer thing.  That song is so big, you have to kill it if you're going to do it.  It feels a bit old-fashioned, it doesn't feel young.  I look at you and I want to hear 'Love Song' by Sara Bareilles or something that's skewed a little more fun or girly."
Paula said:  "Compared to what we heard from you from Hollywood Week and your first auditions, I think you actually did better.  I think you really did better.  I will tell you it is a huge song and it is one that requires a tremendous amount of soulfulness.  But I think you played it safer during the early auditions and this time you came out and you gave it your all.  That's what you've got to do."
Simon said:  "If I'm being honest with you -- and I've used this comparison before -- but if we were searching for the best hotel singer in California, then that would have been quite good.  The simple truth is your voice is not good enough for that song.  So it just destroyed you in my opinion.  It's the sort of thing that goes down well with a crowd of people like here, but in the real world I just don't think it's good enough.  Actually, I do agree with Kara in so much as it was very, very old-fashioned and sort of irrelevant.  So I think, again, you may have ruined your one chance I'm afraid.  Sorry."
Additional Info:  During her video package, Ann Marie reminded viewers that Simon sent her out to find her "inner star" during her Louisville audition... She added that with her performance, she wanted to show viewers who she really is.  "I hope they enjoy it."... Ann Marie called Kara her "hero" despite the harsh criticism... Ann Marie arrived upstairs and went to sit on the big red couch with Ryan and her family when she said, "Oh, I just sat right on the hard part."  Ryan giggled and tried to collect himself.  "We can hear everybody's joke," he said.

Stephen Fowler, a 26-year-old from Cleveland, OH who currently resides in Beachwood, OH

Song: "Rock with You" by Michael Jackson
Randy said:  "I don't know what's going on.  The funny thing for me with you is when we saw you the first time, I mean you had this whole different kind of vibe.  I never would have thought you'd of chosen that song.  Such a different kind of song for you, not even in the right place for you.  It's not the joint for you to be singing.  I don't know.  Other than the high note, it started off, you were pitchy, you were right underneath the notes.  It wasn't good.  I don't like this part.  I don't like this."
Kara said:  "I got more from you at the piano when you forgot the lyrics because I felt you were connected.  You were playing piano, you were singing from your heart, you were riffing.  That song doesn't give you any room to interpret and to do those high notes that you did at that one moment in this song, where it really was like, 'Oh, that's where he can go.'"
Paula said:  "Stephen, it's such a rare opportunity to get a second chance like you did.  I'm glad that you remembered the lyrics to the song, however I think that it would have served you way better to come out here and proven that you could have sung that David Cook song because we felt your connection there and when you walked away from the piano, it's like, 'Oh my god, I'm so happy you're back.'  But singing 'Rock with You' is like the kiss of death.  It belongs to one artist and that's Michael Jackson.  I'm a little disappointed."
Simon said:  "I actually wish you had forgotten the lyrics because it was such a pointless performance to be honest with you.  Someone with your experience, someone who wants this so badly, to do this terrible song with this terrible arrangement -- I mean the whole thing was just atrocious.  The last 10 seconds were okay.  But you're going to watch this back and really realize you made a huge mistake because it was corny.  And you're not a corny person."
Additional Info:  Ryan billed Stephen as "the guy who promises not to forget the lyrics this time," referencing one of the singer's Hollywood Week performances... Stephen said in his video package that forgetting the lyrics was a "disaster."  "I'm like, 'I'm done.  I'm finished.'  I felt like I was given a second chance."... Stephen said he's "not 100% comfortable" singing without playing the piano.  "I'm still working on it."... Stephen's wife was at home watching, not in the Idol studio.

Tatiana Nicole Del Toro, a 24-year-old from San Juan, PR who currently resides in Los Angeles, CA

Song:  "Saving All My Love For You" by Whitney Houston
Randy said:  "When I heard you were singing this song I was like, 'Oh no!  She's going to rough thins thing up!'  But you know what?  There were some moments.  You had some moments there that I go, 'She actually can sing!'  I was really impressed a couple moments.  You didn't pull it all together, that second verse, the melody was really weird.  But there was some moments in there."
Kara said:  "It's like a roller coaster ride with you... I never know what you're going to pull.  Tonight, it's like a very reserved Tatiana that we're getting.  There were moments, you hit some of those notes and you can sing.  But it's about who are you in the industry.  Where do you fit?  That's my big question with Tatiana.  Is she a character or is she an artist?"
Paula said:  "I think you probably are the most talked about contestant on the show so far.  Good, bad or indifferent -- you know what they say, at least they're talking about you. This demure Tatiana I'm not used to.  But I will say that -- especially your closing note -- was beautiful.  You had beautiful moments and then you had pitchy moments.  But I don't know who you are today?  Are you crazy?"
Simon said:  "Tatiana, you are a complete and utter drama queen.  Right?  You are.  I've never met anyone in my life  -- probably with the exception of Paula -- who's wanted fame more than anyone else.  This is what it is with you, you are desperate to be famous. ('I'd like to have the opportunity to market myself professionally,' she answered.  'That's what I desire.')  Just to get back to your singing for a moment, actually -- surprisingly -- it wasn't bad at all. It was better than what I expected.  I think -- as Paula said -- you've got to lose this sort of slightly weird thing you've got going on at the moment, the demure thing.  It's actually making me a little bit nervous."
Additional Info:  "I definitely feel like I fought my way through every round to be here," said Tatiana during her video package.  "It was a fight because I'm not going to let anyone get in the way of my dream, and this is my dream."... Two Tatiana's friends from Puerto Rico were in attendance... Ryan wondered which Tatiana was the real one.  "It's all me," she answered.  "I'm a woman and I'm multifaceted... Now I think I'm being more relaxed and more myself.  I'm always me."

Danny Gokey, a 28-year-old from Milwaukee, WI

Song:  "Hero" by Mariah Carey
Randy said:  "The redeemer of the night right here.  That was blazing hot!"
Kara said:  "Danny, you are the hero man!  That was incredible.  You give us all hope, you were great!  Great!"
Paula said:  "Danny, you are stellar.  I have two words with a hyphen, sold-out arenas."
Simon said:  "Back to the real world.  I thought it was good.  It wasn't fantastic, it was good.  The end part was great, the beginning was okay.  The arrangement was a bit heavy-handed.  You are a very, very good singer.  I like you, I'm just not buying the hype right now."
Additional Info:  During his video package, Danny said he auditioned for Idol only four weeks after his wife had passed away... "This is where everyone wants to be," said Danny about the Top 36... Danny said that while singing the song, he just "pictured people coming out of rough places."  "I just pictured people rising above and knowing that there's a future ahead of them no matter how bad the stuff can be in their life."

(Photo credit Fox)


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