Wednesday, March 30, 2011

American Idol Top 11 Redux

Going to once again watch the show on my DVR and live blog it. No time for proofreading either.

Tonight, brought the music of Sir Elton John. Since there are no more song spoilers that come out in the hours before the live broadcast this year, people are just left to speculate as to song choices. Wouldn't it be so obvious for Casey Abrams, who saved by the judges' last week to sing "I'm Still Standing" or "Someone Saved My Life Tonight." Personally, I am hoping that he, or at least someone covers "The Bitch is Back." I do believe that Casey will get some pimping tonight to justify the show's decision to keep him on and the buzz it created. I am just glad the save is out of the way.

1. Scotty McCreery- "Country Comfort"

Since he is probably taking the highest amount of votes at this stage in the competition, the producers likely assumed that unlike the Casey surprise last week, Scotty would be safe going in the lead-off position in the two hour broadcast.

I had never heard of this Elton John song before, but Scotty did a very good job of interpreting it in his country style. I have to assume the original sounds a bit different. The judges loved it and the night appears to be a winner all around for the North Carolina hopeful. He got a chance to play his guitar "Scarlett" (sister Stacey must have been left at home) and give an in song shout out to his Grandma, who got all sorts of screen time. Can you hear those Granny votes coming in? Vocally, Scotty sounded good, as he always does, although it's just not the kind of music I am into. Lots of people will continue to love it though, including the "young ladykiller" low note at the end. Can he take this all the way though to the winner's circle, considering the one lane he keeps traveling on? Perhaps not quite, but with each passing week, he is certainly not hurting his future career path as a country artist. Grade: B

2. Naima Adedapo- "I'm Still Standing"

On one hand, it is a great story that Naima is still standing in this competition long enough to make the tour. I believe she was heard mentioning during the dramatic Results Show last week that now she will be able to afford to buy a house for her family. On the other hand, with her summer paycheck assured, either Naima herself or someone associated with the show really wants her gone this week, because this was horrible.

Was this really her idea to do the song reggae style? Even if that is the kind of music she likes, it just did not work at all. She sang the entire thing with a completely put-on Jamaican accent, including a corny spoken word intro that we all saw Jimmy Iovine tell her to say. That is artistry? There different styles of singing that different songs call for, but singing in a completely fake voice is not what America wants to hear, I have to believe. The vocals themselves were quite subar. It reminded me of how Tim Urban butchered the Rolling Stones calypso-style last year. If Simon Cowell were still a judge, he would tell Naima to "pack your suitcase." I think she knows she is leaving too. Her ending statement of "Boom Fiyah" was perhaps a closing word for her part in the competition. Grade: D+

3. Paul McDonald- "Rocket Man"

With a well-paid summer gig lined up, Paul is another contestant who I feel would not exactly be crushed to be voted off this week. After all, he felt it appropriate to bust out his somewhat famous "rose suit" on the Idol stage. As he does every week, he begins with a spoken shout out to the audience, and I make a mental note of the fact that all three contestants have done something similar already this evening.

Playing guitar once again, there were parts of the version of the song, (his second Elton one this month) he did that were moderately cool sounding with his indie vibe, but it really did not go anywhere and felt sort of listless at the end. Dentists and toothpaste company CEOs might be motivated to vote by his blinding white teeth. Grade: B-

4. Pia Toscano- "Don't Let the Sun Go Down On Me"

Stubbon, stubborn Pia. Despite the admonition of the judges and all sorts of Idol blogosphere criticism of her for only singing ballads and becoming "boring" or "predictable", Pia did not go up tempo, but sang another ballad, and of course did a great job on it. Back in Season 7, the gruff Amanda Overmyer dismissed the style by saying "ballads are boring." Pia is the anti-Amanda thus far. I half expect Ms. Overmyer to ride up on stage on her Harley and smack Ms. Toscano to the ground.

I am not certain it was the best or most emotional version of the many times this song has been done on Idol, but Pia never has an off night. She is an amazingly good technical singer, and even if people get pissed by her song choice this week, they will not honestly be able to say she sounded bad. As with some past Idol standouts going back to LaToya London to Chris Daughtry to Melinda Doolittle to David Archuleta to Crystal Bowersox, people might be asking something like, "why haven't they been discovered before this competition?" In fact, like the others, that could ultimately could back to hurt Pia's chances of a first place finish. Idol voters really like the whole growth, development, improvement, what have you, story line that show loves to focus on.

So, that is why I think Pia may actually be doing some strategy beyond just staying in her ballad comfort zone. She may just be teasing everyone by sticking with the ballads, when everyone keeps expecting her to do something faster. Eventually, I think she will do something up tempo and the judges will go nuts about it and she will get the "growth" label attached to her. She promises that next week she will "make people move." We will see if you keep your word Pia. You tease. Grade: B+

Commercial Break and Pia announces back stage that if she makes it through, next week she will be doing "River Deep Mountain High" Wow, a 7 day song spoiler. We have never seen that on Idol before. Should I surmise that next week will be movie songs? Songs about "the endangered environment with special guest mentor Al Gore?" A lot of Idol viewers would have preferred for Pia to spoil the outfit she will be wearing on stage next week instead.

5. Stefano Langone- "Tiny Dancer"

After a disappointing last week, that included an appearance in the Bottom Three, Stefano was in need of a comeback performance. I think he picked a great song to do that, although I sort of get a kick out of the fact that song includes one of the all time most misheard lines, that sounds like Elton is singing, "hold me close young Tony Danza." A lot of people think a young Tony Danza is who Stefano resembles! But I see more Matt LeBlanc.

Anyways, this was a pretty solid job. While he is lacking Pia's technical mastery in vocals, he improved quite a bit on making an emotional connection to the song and the audience. I felt though like he was trying to reign it in a bit though, in order to keep his eyes open and not go off the tracks on the big notes. If he would have had the confidence to find a middle ground on the big notes, it really could have been great, but all in all, it was something that worked for him and I think people will like. Grade: B

Yes, Howie Mandel and Stefano's dad look very much alike. Creepy almost. Ernie seems to want no part of Seacrest and his new haircut though at this moment. I bet the Langone Family likes Howie a lot more than Gordon Ramsey though. I pause to write on here, and then I go back and they keep talking. Is it ok to ask an Italian guy to hold up a sign that says "Mobbed." Fox better brace itself for phone calls and emails!

6. Lauren Alaina- "Candle in the Wind"

This was the first time this song has ever been done on the show and the first ballad that Lauren has sang on the Idol stage. She stuck with the original version dedicated to Marilyn Monroe, instead of the Princess Di inspired remake or an even more timely version dedicated to Elizabeth Taylor or Knut the Polar Bear.

I think Lauren did a pretty good job but was maybe a bit overpraised by the judges. She sang it in sort of the same way I could envision Taylor Swift singing the song, and along those lines, there were a few notes that did not sound perfect. I think Lauren is a very good singer (probably much better than T. Swift), but maybe just needed more time or practice to perfect this performance. She seemed a little stiff during it (maybe due to the dress) and probably should not smiled just as she was ending the song was wrapping up. Grade: B-

7. James Durbin- "Saturday Night's Alright (For Fighting)"

Another consistent, entertaining, high energy performance from James, with vocals that have to be considered about as good as possible, considering the amount he was running and jumping around. He certainly knows how to work the stage and is probably going to love every minute of getting to play arenas this summer. He probably should do something more low tempo next week though. It would be a great time for a power ballad!

While the vocals were not perfect, it certainly had to be difficult to remember and execute them all considering the choreography involved in starting in the audience, walking down the stairs, and all sorts of David Lee Rothesque jumps. Someone on Idol really likes James considering they once again gave him pyro, this time in the form of a piano literally on fire. The contestant also was perhaps paying homage to Sir Elton by wearing a British Union Jack bandana around his neck. I guess it is better than using it as his tail.

Finally, I loved the way he mentioned that his hairspray worried him considering the fire and he was trying to avoid a "Pepsi moment." How many young kids will get that reference? Is it still "too soon" for Michael Jackson jokes? My impression is that of people with Asperger's Syndrome, James probably has a very high I.Q. Frankly Randy Jackson looked a bit offended right after James made the remark, but there were probably high-fives in the corporate offices of show sponsor Coca Cola. Grade: B

8. Thia Megia- "Daniel"

Is she still on the show? Why does it seem like Jimmy Iovine is not too fond of her or Stefano? He doesn't really seem to like Haley either. Come to think of it, Jimmy Iovine just seems to be sort of a drag in general.

Thia did ok with the ballad, which she said was inspired by her brother leaving home. (Is that who Elton was singing about?) She got a little emotional at the end. Had she really wanted to pull out a "save me card" to the viewing public, she would have turned on the waterworks full blast. The song pretty in parts and a bit pitchy in others. Thia is trying to be the kind of singer that Pia has been on Idol, but is just nowhere near that level. Maybe she never will be as naturally gifted vocally as her rhyming named Season 10 compatriot, but she will probably get a bit better with age. At least she did not pull out a horrid performance on Elton John week like another Filipina; Season Three's Camile Velasco! Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, indeed. Grade (for Thia): B-

9. Casey Abrams- "Your Song"

It's a good thing I am not invested in who does well or who does poorly this year, because I would have the colitis anticipating Casey's attempt for redemption. He was advised to lose the beard, but he compromised by trimming it a little bit. Perhaps keeping the beard was an homage to the time in the 1980's when Elton John was married to a woman.

In order to rebuild his Idol good name, Casey needed to do something dramatically different than the past few weeks, and I think he more than succeeded in doing so. He picked a great ballad to sing and did it with strong vocals and appropriate sensitivity. Still though, he added a bit of his trademark growling and grunting in the song. I don't think it took away from the performance, but others may not like it. That's either just his way of connecting with a song, or he is just so used to having bathroom issues in recent weeks. Anyways, he did his part and sang well enough to allow the judges to be able to pat themselves on the back for saving him. Good to know that J. Lo won't be losing any sleep tonight. Grade: B+

10. Jacob Lusk-"Sorry Seems To Be the Hardest Word"

All the time he was singing, I was trying to recall where I might have seen this same song done recently on Idol, and I paused to do some internet research, before Jennifer reminded us it was done by Robbie Rosen a few weeks ago, in his unsuccessful attempt to get a wildcard slot.

This is a hard one for me. I sort of really liked it and in a way I did not like it. Go figure. When it started off with Jacob singing in his lower register, it sounded sort of bad for me, but when he gets into it, it's really something to behold. Part of that are his crazy facial expressions. I know I should not be judging on them, but they are hard to ignore, and part of what makes him the performer he is. You definitely cannot claim he does not really feel every live performance. I have listened to a couple of his Idol studio tracks on YouTube and found them horrible, so I guess one really has to look at his crazy trembling mouth to appreciate the Lusky Stank in all his glory. He needs a one man show on Broadway or something. Grade: B

11. Haley Reinhart- "Benny and the Jets"

It has seemed as if Idol had wanted to get her off the show before the previously scheduled Top 10 tour slots were locked down, and I have predicted her to go a few times. Since Haley seems to have as many lives a cat, and has somehow made the tour, the producers just decided that they might as well give her the pimp slot.

In many ways, this sort of cabaret meets jazz interpretation was her strongest performance, but I still think she was overpraised by the judges. This particular song does not really have a chorus that makes a singer sound very good in my opinion. I definitely do not think it was the best of the night as Randy claimed and while Haley has vocal chops that seem to gradually grow on a listener, there are still several better singers in the competition. She has lasted this far though and going last almost certainly means she will survive another week. Whomever has been voting for her the whole time probably loved it, as well as her choice of outfit. Grade: B-

While I cannot claim that a single performance absolutely blew me away tonight, this was a very strong night for the field. Minus one near musical abomination, everyone was pretty good, and the competition was tight! The closeness of this season makes things interesting. Of the nine that I think will be continuing after tomorrow night, I think all of them could potentially crack the Final Four.

As for my rankings, starting at the bottom and moving on to the best vocals of the night, I find that I seem to have a few of these kids in just about the same slot every week.

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

Who will be the two to leave? I have to think that Naima totally ruined things for herself (intentionally?) this week and will be leaving. Even Elton John won't be able to blame this on racism, as he did in Season Three, when Jennifer Hudson was unfairly cut. The other one? Well, if it were up to me based on tonight, it would be Paul, and if it were up to him, it might be Paul too, but there have to be a ton of cougars voting for him. My analysis is that the most logical candidate for eviction from the supposedly haunted Idol Mansion (if they are even still living there) is Thia.