Wednesday, March 16, 2011

American Idol Top 12

I am going to do something a bit differently for tonight's episode of American Idol. This is going to be a live-blog of sorts. I am going to watch the show on my DVR and then pause between the performances to write my comments. Hopefully, that means I will keep things shorter.

Tonight, the contestants were to sing songs from the years they were born (which always makes me feel old....)

1. Naima Adedapo- "What's Love Got To Do With It"

I believe this is the song Lil Rounds picked from 1984 to do as well, and the judges disliked it. Randy Jackson and Jennifer Lopez were very harsh as well for Naima tonight on her pitchiness. However, Steven Tyler said it was "beautiful." Perhaps, he was just extremely wasted back in 1984 and this gave him a flashback.

It just did not feel like it was the right vibe for Naima. She is never going to be a Tina Turner type artist, but perhaps she was limited in her song choices, and had to go with a mainstream hit from the wonderful year of the Gipper's landslide reelection. She was pretty off on the verses of the song and while she is a good performer and the production that the Interscope people gave to it might make for a passable studio version, the live version was far from great. Grade: C

2. Paul McDonald- "I Guess That's Why They Call It the Blues"

I guess they are having the two oldest singers, both born in 1984, go first tonight. I remember watching Solid Gold and buying .45 records in '84. Paul begins, once again by giving a spoken word shout-out to the audience. I guess that's his thing, but the casual Idol viewer may find it weird or presumptuous.

Despite his having a cold, I think Paul sounded a lot better than the did last week and the song was more fitting for him. He stayed true to Elton John's melody, but also put a few of his own spins on it. He seems to just not really care too much about the whole competition aspect. I wonder if his friends from Vote for the Worst will be comparing it to the legendary Alex Wagner-Trugman bomb. I will probably never love Paul's voice, but he seems to know what he wants to do. It's just very noticeable though that Nigel Lythgoe or whomever is refusing to let them play instruments thus far. Instruments have been a staple of the last three seasons of Idol, and the producers just seem to want to help who they want to advance. That hurts Paul as much as anybody else, since he might be more attractive to others, if he could play his guitar and sing a ballad, instead of continuing to weirdly amble around stage like Steven Tyler in his personal life circa 1984. Grade: B

3. Thia Megia- "Colors of the Wind"

When Thia was born, Newt Gingrich was the Speaker of the House. This all seems so wrong.

She picked a predictable ballad and while it could have been a pretty performance, it seemed a little pitchy at times to my untrained ears. The words "boring" and "pageantry" were also running through my head, and Randy Jackson used them to criticize the performance. Thia really needs to shake things up and do something more upbeat or youthful if she is going to stay around much longer. The conventional wisdom on her is that she is "too young" and should have waited another couple of years to give this a shot, and while she was very good in the semifinal round, her other performances have not impressed me too much.

She defended her song choice by playing the Asian earthquake/tsunami card. That might get her some votes, but Colors of the Wind? It was not a tornado! Grade: C+

4. James Durbin-"I'll Be There For You"

In 1989, I remember really hating New Kids on the Block, but I also had a Bon Jovi poster up in my room, so maybe I better keep quiet about that. Still though, I have to say I have always liked the song that James did tonight.

As for the Idol contestant, his hair was horrid, his tail was back, and he unwittingly called his mother the b word in his video intro. However, he once again delivered a solid performance. The song itself is long and builds up dramatically, so it was impossible to do that in the little bit he had, and thus James had to start off going at a fast speed, so it was not optimal, but he managed to make the most out of the time he had. It was not a perfect vocal, but he hit did notes that Jon Bon Jovi himself could only dream of these days. I will certainly look forward to seeing what James does next week. If he can bring 80's metal back, I will become a genuine fan. Grade: B+

5. Haley Reinhart- "I'm Your Baby Tonight"

In 1990, I still hated NKOTB, but that was also the year I moved to my current area. Now, when I drive around the Village of Wheeling, Illinois, there are large "Vote for Haley" signs posted in several locations, bringing the Idol universe closer to me.

Suffice to say, that I do not expect to her to have a Lee DeWyze type Top 3 Homecoming visit to the Northwest Suburbs of Chicago. And I continue to not get her musically. I do think she has potential to be a better singer, but she just puts me off a bit on the show (despite her cool hair.) The mannerisms, the enunciation issues, the inappropriate growling, the red lipstick fiasco, it just feels wrong, and I thought she sounded way out of her league tonight trying to cover Whitney Houston (not that she would have sounded any better these days herself.) If Bill Clinton watches Idol, he probably loves Haley though. I think she could be in trouble otherwise though, in the wake of her bottom three appearance. The vocals were bad and this Haley might not have worn enough of a Haley Scarnato like performance outfit to get some phone calls that will otherwise remain missing.

I totally agreed with Randy and Steven a bit during their critiques. Haley has shown she does not know what kind of singer she wants to be, and I think she would be better off doing blues rock like her parents (who had awesome era appropriate hair as well when their daughter was little) were shown doing. I think "Black Velvet" would have qualified as a 1990 song. Actually, I would rather have heard her mom sing. Grade: D+

6. Stefano Langone- "If You Don't Know Me By Now"

Also born in 1989, I think Stefano won me over before he sung a note by sarcastically slamming NKOTB (I would have had to eliminate those references if I were not DVR-blogging this.) It's also sort of odd that he and his father have identical facial hair designs.

This was a very good performance and cemented my belief that Stefano is probably headed to at least the Top 3. He sounded good and delivered it with emotion and conviction. Then, after fawning comments, Seacrest allowed him to run out and hug his mama. That will be worth a couple million votes alone (hopefully for his sake, the news about his past DUI arrest, which occurred after a drunk driver nearly killed him in an accident, is kept somewhat under wraps.) I think Stefano was very strong tonight, but perhaps had a couple more vocal runs that were necessary. Grade: B+

7. Pia Toscano- "Where Do Broken Hearts Go"

1988 was another GOP Presidential landslide year and when I first became interested in politics. Pia was the next Italian-American to sing and I have to wonder if she and her Top 12 predecessor might eventually run into a problem with splitting that vote. I am sure her father would not be the type of person who would have Stefano whacked!

Pia has gotten great reviews thus far on Idol and is considered one of the front-runner. Some, who demand versatility might want her to eventually do something other than a big-voiced ballad. I was a little disappointed when I heard she was doing a Whitney Houston song and a bit taken aback as well by the dance remix version of the song she began to sing. It started off a little rough and I thought it could quickly go down hill, but Pia pulled it together on the chorus and as usual delivered some really big notes that are sure to be crowd-pleasers. I think though that the arrangements that Jimmy Iovine and his crew are putting together (and likely forcing on the kids) are maybe not as good for live television performances as they seem in theory or may sound in the recording studio. Pia is fine for now, but she will be wise to quickly do something upbeat and contemporary on the stage. Grade: B

8. Scotty McCreery- "Can I Trust You With My Heart"

Why are the song titles so long tonight? Back in 1993, I was trying to convince my fellow High School freshmen that Elvis Presley faked his own death and was still alive. Whether that is true or not, we learned that he inspired Scotty vocally.

Despite missing one note pretty badly towards the beginning, it was another competent performance by the young country crooner. I am not a country fan, but I can put up with his style for a couple minutes at a time each week on Idol I suppose. I would get really bored after much more than thatthough. Scotty managed to sing a bit more of an uptempo country song tonight and I have no doubt that his core base of fans will continue to love it. If they ever let him play his guitar and sing, he might very well make it to the Finale. If he wins, he will certainly bring back my old "Red State" Idol theory. I am sure many in the heartland will love the fact that he sang a Travis Tritt (who happens to be a good Republican of course) song and that Scotty resembles a teenage George W. Bush. Grade: B

9. Karen Rodriguez- "Love Will Lead You Back"

From her beehive hairdo and outfit, I thought Karen was getting prepared to sing a 1989 B-52s song. Instead she did Taylor Dane bilingually, and was at least better than the time this song was sung by Mikalah Gordon on the Idol stage.

In fact, I think Karen did a pretty credible job once again. I rarely find much to criticize her vocals on, but she's also kind of forgettable and middle of the road in this competition to me. She's a good singer, but I sort of doubt she is destined for any sort of mainstream success when it it is over. She was in the Bottom Three last week and could be back again, but I think she will still be around. The "ethnic" spin she puts on her performances definitely cannot hurt. It's a transparent but smart strategy. I think Casey Abrams should sing a portion of "Smells Like Teen Spirit" in Yiddish. Grade: B

10. Casey Abrams- "Smells Like Teen Spirit"

In 1991, I celebrated my Bar Mitzvah and the newborn Casey Abrams would have had his Bris. I am glad he is seemingly better health-wise and was able to perform tonight. Apparently, he gets the colitis and bleeding ulcers whenever he is stressed. Yeah, he is definitely Jewish, but oh vey, he is worse with stress than I am!

This was one of the more memorable performances in American Idol history. I really admire his chutzpah and the reckless abandon in which he attempted Nirvana (and oddly enough, at least he was allowed to play an instrument) and I will want to watch this again tomorrow or something. However, there were indeed parts of the vocal that were too screamy. There is no denying his vocal talent though, even if his choices will not be everyone's cup of tea. He should stick around easily, but would be smart to sing a ballad and appear less angry next week. Like Casey's folks, my parents are also in their 60s, and I just know that when I compare notes with them, they will have hated this! Grade: B-

11. Lauren Alaina- "I'm The Only One"

1994 was the year I got my driver's license and looking at her parents, they might have gotten theirs that year too, in addition to having their daughter. Tonight, we were told Miss Lauren has the flu. Lots of contestants have had to perform sick before, but this was the most obvious piece of pre-emptive excusing ever used. Masks were passed out. Thinking about the song that Casey just did, Seacrest was feeling stupid and Lauren was feeling contagious.

I would like to hear her sing this song when she is healthy. She might do a really good job with it, but this was not that good. I feel for her illness situation, and the show must go on of course, but I have to be honest. I was shocked by the overwhelming positive comments the judges gave her. This all really seems manipulated. It's a great song that is tough to sing, and Lauren managed to hit some notes and badly miss others. If I had not known she was under the weather, I would have wondered what was going on with her. Still though, she was a little better than Haley.

Every year, I have to make mention that things are tougher for the minors; Lauren, Scotty, and Thia this year, who have to also endure three hours of school. At least they have three in a class so far. In his year, David Archuleta was the only one who had to do that. As for Lauren, she continues to sing age-inappropriate lyrics in my view, and sort of generally annoys me, (sort of like how she faked coughed at the end, and said "just kidding" though.... I am convinced other "sick" singers faked it and tried to get away with it) but pretty sure she will be around for a few more weeks. Grade: C-

12. Jacob Lusk- "Alone"

In 1987, I turned 9... whatever... Jacob was doing what song? Bold choice. Plus, it only has one word in this evening of very long song titles! I was thinking this is either going to be great, or horrible.

When all was said and done, I think it probably fell in between the two. I prefer the Idol versions of this great song by Carrie Underwood and Allison Iraheta, but Jacob still put an interesting spin on it with his unbridled power vocals and there is just something about his style that I cannot help but find compelling. The Idol judges tend to agree with me, in praising him, but they did that last week as well, when I liked Jacob for the most part, but a ton of viewers though he was way too over the top and flat out awful. I have a hunch that that a lot will say that about him again this week, but I just enjoy the diva-ness that Jacob brings. Grade: B

Interesting night. Why did it look like Jimmy Iovine was sneaking out of the studio before the show was even over? I knew every song but one and even liked many of them going back decades. I don't think there were any true stellar performances tonight, but still a lot of obvious talent (with a couple near catastrophes) and I like how so many of the singers are really bunched up closely together when I am forced to rank them.

Worst to best:

12. Haley Reinhart
11. Lauren Alaina
10. Naima Adedapo
9. Thia Megia
8. Casey Abrams
7. Paul McDonald
6. Scotty McCreery
5. Karen Rodriguez
4. Pia Toscano
3. Jacob Lusk
2. Stefano Langone
1. James Durbin

If the show reveals a legit Bottom Three tomorrow night, it will once again be all female (as it should be, though I doubt Lauren will be part of it.)

I will go out on a limb and say that Haley Reinhart will be eliminated and sent back to my 'hood. If I ever run into her at the store or something, I will claim to have been a big fan.