Wednesday, April 06, 2011

American Idol Top 9

Live DVR blogging, as the Top 9 take on songs that allegedly "shaped the face of Rock and Roll" or something along those lines..... is the mentor this week? He is on the show again? What? Does he have naked photos of Nygel Lythgoe or something?

1. Jacob Lusk- "Man In the Mirror"

We are told by Jacob that late in the game, he decided to switch his choice from the somewhat raunchy "Let's Get It On" to the well-known Michael Jackson tune, as it is more in line with his personal moral convictions. The fact that this information is even being shared with us appears to be a ploy to appeal to religious Idol voters. Maybe he could have done a mash-up of the two songs. R. Kelly would have done something like that. What's this business he is giving us though about how if he winds up in the Bottom Three, it will be because America was unwilling to look in the mirror and make that change? Oh please. Is that going to be the campaign theme of Obama 2012? Don't get preachy and cocky with us Jacob. You have been likable thus far but that might come back to bite you.

I recognize the woman singing along with Jacob as the writer of the song, and as it begins, he decides to discard one of his ear monitors. It must have been giving him some problems. To my untrained ears, I thought he sounded pretty decent and I think he was able to keep the appropriate amount of control on it, while still "taking it to church" in his usual gospel-esque way. I am also sure that many others will say he overshot again and got too carried away. Jacob's gyrations and hip thrusts though during his performance might have been better suited for the Marvin Gaye song. Grade: B

2. Haley Reinhart- "Piece of My Heart"

America's new favorite underdog has really picked up steam in this competition, after so many people loved her performance last week. I for one, never expected I would still be seeing government placed "Vote for Haley" billboards in my neighborhood into April. Throughout the competition, the judges have been urging the bluesy singer to take on some Janis Joplin, so that is what she decided to do tonight, while sporting hair that I probably could have seen in my older brother's High School yearbook. (The local Fox affiliate is teasing a story about Haley and Casey Abrams hooking up on the show. Sort of scary. My mother emailed me last week that they do should a duet that involved their common love of growling. I don't think that is what she had in mind.)

I sort of expected that Haley would actually be good on this starting off, and while I do not think she was horrible, once again I think she fell off the mark. Besides continuing to be a bit of an awkward performer, it seemed to me like she was having to try too much to capture the intensity of the song. I think a true female rocker voice like Allison Iraheta could have been more credible on this. The way Haley was singing, I genuinely wonder if she will be able to talk tomorrow. I hope she is not doing long term damage to her vocal chords. And why is it that she is the only contestant who always walks away from Seacrest after he gives the numbers and is still talking? Grade: B-

3. Casey Abrams- "Have You Ever Seen the Rain"

With this performance, we had a couple of American Idol competition firsts. Casey was the first singer to also accompany himself on the upright bass and I am pretty sure this was the first Credence Clearwater Revival song ever done on stage.

It was alright for me, but maybe just alright. There was a bit of a cool jazz club vibe to it perhaps, as Casey once again demonstrated the different inflections of his voice and how he can quickly change from one sound to another. He certainly has talent, but it just did not do a whole lot for me. I liked him better last week. It is almost impossible for me to see how he could be marketed in the "real world" of mainstream pop music after this show. I think his fans might like it, but it's the kind of performance that probably will not win any converts to his cause. Those who were put off by his growling and somewhat scary faces are probably going to find parts of this to criticize as well. He may wind up surviving this week, but the fact that he had the lowest number of votes already, indicate that he really is on borrowed time for this competition. Grade: B-

4. Lauren Alaina- (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman"

Whether she was aware of the history or not, it was a bold decision for Lauren to take on this song, which is one that Kelly Clarkson had one of the first "Idol Moments" on back in Season 1. The rehearsals indicated that Lauren would do a soul/country hybrid version of the Aretha Franklin number, which described as "Countroul" (could be a good first album name for the young singer.)

I detected the soul aspects but did not really hear much of a country influence on it. I think she probably should have played to her strength and made it more country. She sounded pretty good for most of it, but it seemed like she was mostly just imitating the way Kelly Clarkson sang it, without nearly as much power. Also, Lauren has absolutely no idea who Christian Slater is and why he might have been in the audience. Grade: B

5. James Durbin- "While My Guitar Gently Weeps"

I understand that James has performed this song before and there are versions on YouTube that I have not to this point bothered to watch. He had also mentioned in at least one interview that he hoped to be able to sing it on the Idol stage. So, even though it was "Rock" week, he decided to shake things up a bit by showing a different, more vulnerable side to himself. James was genuinely emotional and teary after the performance and that is certainly not going to hurt his cause to go deeper in the competition.

To me, the song choice was a smart move. The focus was on his vocals (even his face was mostly in shadows) instead of his running around on stage and for the most part, it was another extremely good vocal. There was a big scream note at the end that was perhaps not even necessary for the performance. He does not have to incorporate it in every single song, as some singers in seasons' past have been criticized for.

James has a very powerful voice though and I think he would have been perfect back in the glory days of late '80s/early 90s hair metal (even if his own hair is much like David Cook now). James can rock and he can do the power ballad thing. I really like what he does every week. He is the closest thing the show has ever had to a Sebastian Bach-like singer. I have no idea what he will do after the show, perhaps front some sort of mostly soft-rock band, but for now, he is playing the Idol game extremely well. Grade: B+

6. Scotty McCreery- "That's All Right Mama"

Last week it was about his grandma, but there was no in song shout out to his mama this week. Also, there was no awkward "mama" banter between Jimmy Iovine and leading up to the pretty different performance by the country crooner.

I have sort of mixed feelings about it. On one hand, it was good to see Scotty do something a bit different stylistically than what he has done. On the other hand, I am pretty sure that nothing from his inevitable late 2011 or early 2012 album will sound remotely like this. I guess it was a good move for him considering the Idol competition aspect. The producers really want him to do well, based upon the immediate unleashing of the rabid tween girls onto the stage who pounced on his as if he were the Country Bieber (well I guess they were pretty restrained considering.)

As for the vocals? It was ok for me, like it always is with Scotty, but certainly nothing to make me think he is close the most amazing overall singer I have ever heard in any genre. He really did sound like Elvis though, or at least what a credible Elvis impersonator sounds like. So, it was basically a fun performance for all, for the contestant who can probably afford to be as easy going about the show at this point than anyone else. When it comes to his stage performing and facial expressions though, I almost feel bad for him. I have a hunch that Scotty was one of the most popular kids back home in his High School, but he really can look like a dork at times on stage. Grade: B-

7. Pia Toscano- "River Deep Mountain High"

Keeping her word from last week, Pia performed this Tina Turner tune (try saying that fast) and as usual, did a very good job. It seemed a lot more mid-tempo than up-tempo though, and to my ear, I actually detected a couple notes that she failed to hit perfectly. Mostly though, she did what she wanted to do vocally, while moving around the stage and judge's table area, albeit a bit tentatively.

Every judge has liked every performance thus far tonight, especially Steven Tyler who thinks every song is "beautiful" and he made a comment about how a "million" straight guys liked what Pia did tonight. Someone should tell Steven that there are probably only about 342 of us in America who admit to watching the show, although perhaps Pia and Haley are making it somewhat more acceptable this season. (Not sure if I am totally on board with the styling that Gwen Stefani has done for the girls tonight, but I will definitely leave that area for others.)

Back to Pia, she was good, but I do not know if she had a "moment." She may be saving one for a future week. Grade: B+

8. Stefano Langone- "When a Man Loves a Woman"

This season, I have mostly liked all of his performances, but like another contestant last year, Michael Lynche, who I also thought was pretty good, Stefano is a bit divisive and I think a lot of Idol fans may be "over him." Like "Big Mike", he can maybe come across as a bit cheesy and a bit too sure of himself.

I would have liked to see if he could have pulled off something a bit more uptempo rock like or R&B like, instead of another emotional, pleading ballad, but Stefano chose to go with a well known song that has been on the charts by different artists in a couple different decades. Stefano showed off a lot of falsetto, runs, and vocal gymnastics this evening. There were parts of it where he sounded really good and others where he once again seemed to me to be trying to do too much. Randy Jackson and Jennifer Lopez got into a tiff about this, but on that matter, I agree with the Dog. For Stefano, will his looks and potential, (still mostly unproven) as a viable current artist be enough to save him against those who think who is too loungey? Grade: B

9. Paul McDonald- "Folsom Prison Blues"

What's up, yo? Paul McDonald has the pimp spot! Interesting choice, since I would have assumed The Powers That Be would have really wanted Paul to be voted off this week, as perhaps the most likely suspect of the first guy to go. I am also completely convinced that Paul himself wants to be voted off. He was told to sing this song like a "crazy person", and I think his supporters from the Vote for the Worst website, probably appreciated the idea.

By picking this Johnny Cash song, Paul swung the total balance to 5-4 in favor of dead singers. I had to look up whether Percy Sledge was still alive or not. Congrats to him for apparently being so. I thought this number started off pretty bad vocally, but then after a somewhat lengthy instrumental interlude, it got a bit better and was sort of fun. Paul of course interspersed the lyrics with lots of spoken banter and commands to the audience. I do not know what to make of him at this point, but Paul just does not have the vocal skills of the others. Maybe he has those rumored nodule problems. I also refuse to believe that someone who smiles so much and spends so much time brushing his teeth could have ever shot a man in Reno just to watch him die. Grade: C+

Before I post my rankings from least to most, I am struck by the fact that while I think this is a strong season, with tight competition, I am giving very few A's this year in my grades. I think I might have been giving a couple more last year from time to time. Maybe I am tougher now, or have higher expectations for this season, or it was just that there were so many bad performances last year, that one really good one (mostly by Crystal Bowersox) just seemed that much better in comparison. I still am waiting for that one performance this year that will make me want to watch it multiple times on YouTube. Hopefully, it will happen. Perhaps in a Pia vs. James finale, since I have been consistently having them at the top.

This week:

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

Who will leave? Tough call. I know it will not be James or Pia or Lauren or Scotty. Everyone else is very much at risk.

Haley is at risk for being the only other female, in a year where everyone to leave thus far has been a female. Jacob is at risk perhaps for being a racial minority (and for going first) in a year where everyone who has left thus far has been a racial minority. Paul is at risk because he is the weakest singer, was in the Bottom Three last week, and seems to want to be voted off. Stefano is at risk because he has been in the bottom three before and because I think a lot of so called Idol experts are probably going to be predicting elimination for him tonight. Casey is at risk because he has already been voted off by America.

So, after giving her reprieve for a week, I am going to once again, put my imaginary elimination points on Haley. After getting so much praise last week, maybe too many people are going to assume she was safe?

If I would have voted tonight, I might have decided to vote for the contestant who appropriately looked the most ashamed and embarrassed of the dancing they were all doing on stage at the end of the broadcast. I think that might have been Pia.