Wednesday, March 23, 2011

American Idol Top 11

Going to watch this on my DVR and live-blog this thing after each performance again. Not even going to bother proofreading this one. Take it as it comes, people. It's going to be Motown Night; one of those old Idol standbys. So much for not having themes this year...

1. Casey Abrams- "I Heard It Through the Grapevine"

Tonight, Casey has product or something in his hair and promises to be more contained than his typical loud singing and growling on the Idol stage. If that is what he was going for, I do not know if this was the right song. He is a good performer, but part of his performance shtick is always that he is singing angry. His performance was largely panned last week, so I think he might have been able to win some more fans or some others back, if he would have more of a soft stripped back Motown ballad moment, such as what Adam Lambert did a couple of years ago.

The judges loved Casey, but it was maybe just ok for me. The vocals were not stellar. I have a feeling it may be this kind of night. Chef Gordan Ramsey is in the audience. The judging panel could use a caustic Brit. Grade: B-

2. Thia Megia- "Heatwave"

Last week the 16 year old sang about wind. This week it was about heat. Ok, no more lame weather jokes. I will give credit to Thia for trying something other than a ballad, but it just seemed a bit awkward for me.

Perhaps, Thia is just best suited to sing ballads. I think she is talented, but still developing as a singer and performer. I think she struggled a bit with the tempo of this song and perhaps the lyrics. She seemed to be hiding her face from the camera at a point even. Steven Tyler as a judge gave pointless comments that sounded just like Ellen DeGeneres last year. However, he does manage to look a good deal younger than his band mate Brad Whitford, who is actually four years younger than the Aerosmith frontman. Maybe it's plastic surgery. Grade (for Thia): C+

3. Jacob Lusk- "You're All I Need to Get By"

(Props to Thia for owning up to the lyric flub, but yes, I noticed.)

Anyways, maybe I am just not in the optimal Idol viewing mood tonight. I like a lot of Motown music, but I think this is going to be tedious to get through.

The past couple of weeks, I have basically enjoyed what Jacob has done on stage, only to then read comments from others who insist that he was a vocal travesty both weeks. People were just not feeling the Lusky Stank (which could double as a drag queen name) that he put on his songs. That might have influenced me to be a little bit extra critical in listening to him. While I thought he was good in parts tonight, there were some other vocal choices and moments that I did not care for as much.

The judges went crazy for it though. Steven jumped on the stage to give Jacob a hug (another thing that Ellen did last year), then Jacob got to hug his nana and random first row audience members, who looked like very affluent white people. It seems pretty clear that Idol is really trying to pimp him to survival this week and make sure he makes the Top 10 tour. I think he will. I do not think Jacob was horrible tonight or anything, but I think other black male singers of Idol seasons past could have done it better. Grade: B-

4. Lauren Alaina- "You Keep Me Hanging On"

Extremely smart song choice for her and the pre-song video bit that had her talking about how people are talking crap about her on the internet and how it affected her at first, is not going to hurt her chances either. Not sure if that was her strategy or that of the producers, but it's going to get her even more votes now.

Unlike last week, I do not have much to criticize about the vocals, although maybe she should have had a bit more emotional connection. There is no doubt though that she sounded pretty good and is over whatever sort of illness made her sound subpar to me last week. Tonight is feeling very American Idol Season 2 (pre-live band) to me. Maybe I should try to embrace that. Grade: B+

5. Stefano Langone - "Hello"

It is interesting that we get a Motown song from the '80s. The music video concept for this Lionel Richie number is legendary. However, as soon as I heard the song choice, I can just picture the legions of obsessed David Cook fans boiling over with rage. "How dare Stefano also attempt to do this?"

For the most part, I thought he sounded good. There is just a bit of a weird thing that goes on at times though with his phrasing or annunciation. He can sound a bit nasal at times and almost as if he is singing with an accent.

Stefano did a different arrangement than Cook, but if he is able to play the piano (and I think I remember him doing that), maybe that would have been a good decision. It would have given the judges less to criticize him for on his ability to "make a connection" with the audience. I think the judges are setting him up for the "growth arc" as the weeks go by. Grade: B

6. Haley Reinhart- "You Really Got a Hold On Me"

(Wow, harshest words of the night are from Chef Ramsey for Mrs. Langone's pasta.)

Thus far, I have been far from impressed with Haley's vocals, but her personality seems sort of cool in video pieces or on the results show when she is sent to the Bottom Three. I will also admit that she has some vocal chops and showed a bit more of that with her song tonight, and shows that her voice is best suited to sing as much blues related stuff as possible.

However, there will still a lot of missed notes and hard to decipher lyrics. I still think she has a long way to go. Her gyrations and movements on stage continue to appear to be more put on than anything else. She should keep in mind that Idol is a family show, but maybe that will get her some votes. After all, she is taking a page from the Haley Scarnato Idol Survival Handbook in showing as much leg as possible. I expect that to continue for however much longer she manages to hang on in the competition. Grade: B-

7. Scotty McCreery- "For Once In My Life"

I wonder how many shots it took for them to show him knocking down the basket from the mansion. Good timing for March Madness though! Now, if Scotty could just find a better way to hold his microphone than the dainty way he does when he sings. I do not know why, but it bugs me for some reason. He's supposed to be a Good Ol' Boy after all.

Of all the contestants, he could have expected to have had the hardest time with the Motown genre, but is such a frontrunner in this competition, he probably did not have much to worry about. Ambitiously, he took on Stevie Wonder and tried to put his own country spin on at. At first,it seemed to work, but in my view, the longer the song went on, the more he was exposed vocally and the performance seemed very awkward. This would have been a great week to "hide behind a guitar" and perform. He will get plenty of votes though and can be confident that this kind of song is not one he will ever be expected to do once he embarks on his post-Idol career. Still though, a relative lack of versatility might cause him to fall shot on this season of Idol when all is said and done. Grade: B-

8. Pia Toscano- "All In Love Is Fair"

I think it is safe to say that Pia is the most technically proficient singer this year. She has the talent to win, and I thought she gave another outstanding performance this week. However, she is not going to win the crown if she continues to sing nothing but ballads.

I think Pia could probably sing almost anything and as a wedding band singer, she probably has. A fun uptempo Motown girl group song (such as what Thia did) would have been a smarter strategic choice for her, even if she would have not had the chance to hit as many glory notes.

Still though, she sounded good again, and I would certainly not personally complain about watching or listening to her sing ballads for less than two minutes every week, but I know how this Idol game works, and she is not going to win any new fans. Grade: B+

A quick note on the judges to say that Jennifer Lopez seems to be trying really hard to step up her game lately. Randy Jackson continues to be himself, for good or bad, but Steven Tyler looks bored out of his mind at times. Are people playing drinking games for him with the word "beautiful?" If so, there is going to be some alcohol poisoning involved. As for Seacrest? He basically sexually harassed Pia at the end of her song. I don't think she minded a whole lot, but I wonder what if Julianne Hough might take some umbrage.

9. Paul McDonald- "Tracks of My Tears"

So, this is the song I mentioned earlier that Adam Lambert did two years ago and won back many fans who may have been freaked out by him the week before. I think this song will have a similar effect for Paul, as it was easiest his strongest performance yet. Before tonight I was sure that he would eventually be the first male to be voted off, and perhaps he will, but he is much more back in the game now.

I understand that Paul might possibly have some vocal node issues, and there is little doubt that he does not exactly have a powerful voice, but this somewhat acoustic folk version of a Smokey Robinson song really worked for him. He sounded much better and seemed to be connected to what he was singing. It was certainly the most relevant performance thus far this evening to what could be popular today and the fact that he played his guitar allowed him to not have to do his weird movements running around in stage. He still moved a lot staying in place, playing his acoustic guitar, but people might like that. Seacrest making reference to a piece of jewelry that Paul was wearing resembling a cougar in a way to get the "cougar vote" was an amazingly subtle yet honest moment. Grade: B+

10. Naima Adedapo- "Dancing In The Street"

Before she began, I was thinking she should changed songs with Pia, even though she would not have been as pitch perfect on the ballad. Naima has now sang up tempo, high-movement songs three weeks in a row, and I heard some vocal imperfections throughout again. However, it is just clear that she was trying so hard to stay in the game after her trip to the Bottom Three last week. A lot of people may appreciate the entertainment value she had in the performance. I never knew this song was believed by some about the Civil Rights Movement, but mentioning that could earn her some votes as well.

There were about 10 seconds of the performance dedicated to Naima's African dancing skills. We have never seen that on Idol before and Seacrest read my mind when he would go on to mention "American Idol meets So You Think You Can Dance (which I absolutely do not watch)." I do not know what to do make of that. I think Naima just did it because she could. It has nothing to do with her as a vocalist, but there are so many popular female singers these days who are known more for putting on a show than stellar vocals. I actually liked the African/Hip Hop fusion stuff done by Arrested Development back in 1992. I would like to see Naima go down that route after Idol. Grade: B-

11. James Durbin- "Living For the City"

Taylor Hicks did this song in the Finale performance episode of his season, and I think most of the people who loved it will probably love what James did with it in his show closing performance. He was so uneven in the audition rounds, that I have been completely surprised to have found him as strong as he has been on the Idol stage. For two weeks previously, I had him ranked as the best vocal performance.

This week, I would say he certainly combined vocals and performance better than anyone else, but I think at least a few people will say he screamed a bit too much and was not as technically proficient throughout. Still though, I think he definitely put on a good show in a short amount of time and sang it well. He has very good stage presence, probably better than anybody else this season. That is even more noteworthy considering the fact that one cannot help but notice his Tourette's related facial tics when he is not singing. Grade: B+

Thankfully for me, the show got a bit more interesting the longer it went on. Here is how I ranked them from last to first on vocal performance alone:

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

Results show tomorrow? Probably an all girl bottom three again. I think Thia will make her first appearance in it and could be at risk of leaving. Performing second in a two-hour show is never helpful. However, since Haley is almost assured of being in the Bottom Three, and has survived twice before, I have to guess that she just runs out of luck this week and will be the one to miss the Idols Live Tour.