When future Voice coach Kelly Clarkson was an adviser on NBC’s The Voice last month, the words “American” and “Idol” of course never left her mouth — or anyone else’s. (For instance, Blake Shelton vaguely referred to Clarkson as “literally the poster child of what can happen,” while Jennifer Hudson told her, “You’re what made me want to audition” without ever mentioning The Show That Shall Not be Named.) However, when Clarkson performed on Sunday’s American Music Awards — broadcast on ABC, the network that’ll be airing the American Idol reboot starting in March 2018 — host Tracee Ellis Ross was quick to introduce her as the first Idol, as a way of introducing a trio of new singers hoping to be crowned the 16th Idol next year.
It was an interesting concept for American Idol, a show that for many years refused to embrace the internet and social media (and as a result lost of some its younger, more tech-savvy audience to The Voice). During the AMAs, ABC aired auditions from three Idol hopefuls who just missed getting a golden ticket; the public can now go to americanidol.com/vote, veto judges Katy Perry, Luke Bryan, and Lionel Richie’s decision, and vote one of these rejected contestants through to Hollywood.
While in many ways this doesn’t look like much of a reboot at all — we still see the same cheap-and-cheerful blue audition-room set, the same oval Idol logo with its curly Kaufmann font — it is encouraging to see American Idol trying new interactive ways to get people excited about the show all over again. But just how exciting are these three unknown singers? Can any of them be The Next Kelly Clarkson? Let’s look at their full performances, introduced by the three new judges, and decide.
This 21-year-old Brooklynite surely could have picked a better song than Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep”; I’ve long argued that Adele’s entire catalog should be blacklisted from all singing shows, not only because Adele’s material is almost as overdone as Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” or Edwin McCain’s “I’ll Be” at this point, but because it’s almost impossible to match Adele’s greatness. Dominique didn’t match it, sadly. She showcased a pretty, sparkling voice, but her vocals were too light and sweet, and her performance style too reserved, for this angry bunnyboiler of a breakup song. I kept waiting for the big power notes, but Dominique never got there. I understand why the judges said it was a no, dawg.
This 18-year-old Montana girl’s performance of Etta James’s “Fool That I Am” was also a bit shy and hesitant at first, but she showed potential — and, unlike, Dominique, she loosened up as the song went on. I appreciated her androgynous, ’90s-rocker-chick vibe (an intriguing contrast to her jazzy song choice), her willingness to stare down the camera like a smizing Top Model contestant, and her Fantasia-esque singular stage name. Maris seems like the type of song-flipping, genre-hopping artist that could throw a few cover-song curveballs — definitely my sort of Idol.
At age 28, Texan R&B diva Britney is the oldest of these three, and at the very top of the show’s silly age limit. A quick internet search reveals a showbiz CV that includes a flourishing YouTube channel with 8,000 subscribers (one of her Bruno Mars covers even racked up 3 million views), a stint singing the national anthem at Dallas Mavericks basketball games, and a day job as a vocal coach. Obviously she still needs that one big break, but her experience gives her an edge over Dominique and Maris. Belting James Bay’s “Let It Go,” Britney exhibited zero nerves, zero tentativeness, and a true connection to the emotional ballad. Fantastic vocal too. I’m surprised the judges initially passed on Britney … unless the producers always intended to make her a ringer for this fan-voted round.
To be honest, I do find Maris the most interesting and current of these three ladies. But if I have to choose based on vocals and overall ready-for-primetime-ness, then Britney gets my vote. How will America decide? The winner will be announced on tonight’s Dancing With the Stars finale, in another smart case of ABC cross-promotional synergy.