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'Idol' communication

Patti assesses the contestants on “American Idol’s Top 12 Week

Body language expert sees highs and lows of this year's contestants

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

KATHY SEALE, News staff writer

So, what do those herky-jerky movements of Birmingham's crowd-pleasing "Idol," Taylor Hicks, really mean?

And is Ace Young's smile really as sweet as it seems?

Inquiring fans wanted to know, so we asked Patti Wood - a body language specialist, and "American Idol" neophyte from Atlanta - to watch the show during the all-important Top 12 week.

A quick read of more than a dozen contestants won't reveal nearly as much as her typical one-person, hour-long reads, she says. But she did notice telling movements from each contestant - some much more than others.

And whether you realize it or not, you were "reading" their body movements, too, she says.

"A lot of times, you look at a certain person and think, `There's something about him I just don't like'," Wood says. "You may not be aware of it consciously, but subconsciously you're reading their non-verbal communication."

Here's what she had to say about some of the contestants.

Taylor Hicks - Wood described the silver-haired musician from Birmingham as "wonderful," but his body is "not fully integrated," Wood says. "His 'Joe Cocker' torso does not move."

By copying the naturally awkward Cocker, Hicks looks awkward and not quite real, Wood says. Hicks "has this heart, this innocence, but his 'acting' is working against him."

She also noted his protective posture, including his closed, crossed legs and intertwined, inward-facing fingers, while host Ryan Seacrest named the Top 12.

Ace Young - Wood had only good things to say about the pretty boy from Denver.

"Wearing the little beanie, covering up his gorgeous hair, shows confidence and a desire to be different," Wood says. He also knows how to follow the camera, she says, and his movements matched his emotions while he was singing. "His arms and shoulders moved fluidly. Smooth, flowing movements are read by the subconscious as confidence."

Some of the other contestants showed their fear by raising their shoulders towards their heads in a "classic turtle movement," used to protect the vulnerable head, Wood says. "His confidence oozed out and appeared more real for its subtlety."

His smile, too, was genuine and warm, "not tight or pulled back (like) many of the other contestants."

Mandisa - The belt-'em-out, no-last-name-required songstress from Antioch, Tenn., commanded the stage. "Her fluidity of movement shows confidence," Wood says. "It reads to the audience as the person is being 'real.'"

She earned confidence points, too, by wearing a hat. "Hats make you get noticed."

Kellie Pickler - Sweet, oh-so-Southern Pickler "does not create a strong mature presence," Wood says, particularly when the Albemarle, N.C., blonde is "bouncing up and down anxiously."

Katharine McPhee - Beautiful, well-trained McPhee, who hails from Los Angeles, has "that strong presence on stage," Wood says, but "when she is off-stage, she should stay still and say as little as possible. Her giddiness takes away the power she holds on-stage."

Kevin Covais - Much of the time, the bespectacled "sex symbol" from Levittown, N.Y., doesn't open his mouth fully while he sings, Wood says, which reveals nervousness and a lack of confidence.

He also pulled his eyebrows together toward the bridge of his nose and lifted his nose in disgust when judge Simon Cowell said things he didn't want to hear. "Of all the contestants, he showed the most anger."

Kevin showed surprise when he found out he made the Top 12 by grabbing the top of his head, which he held down, with both hands. "He was trying to get this new thought, that he had won a spot, into his head," she says.

On the positive side, "His two-footed leap into the 12-seat section showed an energy and fearlessness and ability to cut loose that I would like to see him use in his singing."

Lisa Tucker - "When I found out she was 16 I freaked," Wood says about the cute, smiley, polished performer from Anaheim, Calif. "When she is singing she is 30 years old, very confident."

Which sounds like a good thing, but it's not, because if your age and actions don't match, it confuses (i.e. turns off) the observer. "Her movements are overly rehearsed and stylized, so they lose the energy that comes from spontaneity and can seem false or contrived," Wood says. "She needs to be a young, exuberant girl."

Patti Wood, patti@pattiwood.net, www.pattiwood.net