Wednesday, April 13, 2011

American Idol Top 8

I watched tonight's episode live, so I will be writing these comments based on my recollection of what I saw and heard. It was sometimes hard for me to hear all the judges' comments, etc. Watching in High Definition always makes things look a little differently too.

Tonight was billed of "Songs from Movies", but in actuality, it was far more open than that. Tons of songs, that have already been recorded, and in many cases were hits, have appeared in movies. It seems that was the case for most of the songs tonight. Very few of them seemed to actually have been written or recorded specifically for a film.

I was sort of disappointed for much of this episode. Perhaps, I felt the absence of Pia Toscano. Some of the contestants might have as well, because a couple of them picked songs with some pretty fatalistic lyrics that could make them wonder they picked the songs, if they are voted off this week.

While the judges once again loved just about everything they heard, I have a feeling America will find plenty to criticize with the performances tonight. One positive thing is that there sure was a wide variety of musical styles presented tonight. That sort of keeps things interesting, but because the songs were so diverse, there are going to be divisive performances that people will either love or hate.

Another things that struck me is how with Simon Cowell gone, and with the three current judges being so universally positive and feel good towards anyone, the Idol producers are now pushing in house mentor Jimmy Iovine as the "villain." Look for him to continue saying inflammatory things and to try to come across as a jerk, after being sort of boring the first couple of weeks. I would also expect the ever present (or maybe some other performer) to be alongside Jimmy as a counter balance with the kids in the studio every week. One reason might be that will allows Idol to have another African-American face on every week, but more importantly, that Jimmy by himself is just not that great for tv.

The performances:

1. Paul McDonald- "Old Time Rock and Roll"

I will have to go back and check, but did Jimmy suggest he perform this song in his briefs, a la Tom Cruise in "Risky Business?" that definitely would have gotten him the cougar vote! Then, Paul had to go and fake me out by not saying something like "what's up, yo?", right when the song began. Of course, he did manage to get that in as the performance went on.

His gleaming white teeth are even whiter in HD (and maybe there can be some connection in the future with future President Mitt Romney and his new Aquafresh-esque campaign logo) and I liked the red and black suit with roses, which I could take as an homage to future NBA MVP Derek Rose of the Chicago Bulls, but more than anybody in the history of Idol, I think Paul secretly wants to get voted off. He is lasting in spite of himself.

Once again, I just did not think he was very good vocally. Now that he has gotten this exposure, I think Paul is looking forward to eventually getting back with his band and not play "cover tunes" anymore. It seems to me as if his performances and energy on stage are about him maybe having a good time, but not really caring if he stays or goes. I can definitely appreciate the fact that he has talent and in the right context of an indy singer-songwriter sort of low key vibe, he could excel, but since I am watching Idol and doing my rankings based on who has the best voice, he just is far from the level of others. Grade: C

2. Lauren Alaina- "The Climb"

First of all, they had her go second? Do they not realize the girls are being picked off faster than Democrat House Members in the 2010 midterms? I would have expected Lauren to have been given the pimp spot this week.

Last year, Miley Cyrus was a mentor on American Idol and gave advice to the contestants on how to sing. Tonight, Jimmy spoke all sorts of smack about Miss Hannah Montana herself. He told Lauren that she was a much better singer than Miley and needed to "bury her" by singing the song far better than the original artist ever could. I actually agree that Lauren is a naturally better singer than Miley (and that young girl from last year whose name I forget that butchered it) , but I am not sure Lauren was able to really put that much of a mark on it. It was ok, but I feel that Lauren lacked the connection with the lyrics and the audience needed to have it be emotional enough. It just felt a little too slow and might have been a lost opportunity for a "moment." Also, the lyrics mention that "sometimes, I'm going to have to lose." Risky!

Before she sang though, Jimmy also told Lauren that if she could pull of this big voiced ballad, she could inherit Pia's fans. That definitely felt like a message to those people to vote for Lauren. Later on in the show, J.Lo also directly pleaded to the voting public to support a girl. The song itself might have been picked to get young girls to spend time voting for Lauren instead of their favorite cute boy. In spite of all that, I think Lauren may very well be making an appearance in the Bottom Three, and because of her gender, could even be facing elimination. I will give her points though for the way she has improved in avoiding being annoying on stage with Seacrest or in interviews. If she were a politician, it would not be any less impressive. Grade: B-

3. Stefano Langone- "End of the Road"

Wow, nobody has ever been brazen enough on Idol before to sing about the "end of the road." Stefano must have had a very emotional week, after standing there next to Pia and being told he was safe, surprising the nation. He has likely gotten all sorts of hateful tweets and whatnot by angry Pia fans and those calling for the vote to be overturned and for her to replace him moving forward in the competition. Nancy Pelosi may now feel that "elections maybe aren't as important", but that is not how it works.

The judges really gushed over it, but this week, I was not feeling Stefano vocally as much as I have before. He has a good voice, but all the criticisms of his style might be having an effect on me. He is also always singing the same sort of song. It appears to me as if he is reluctant of the risk of doing something up tempo and current, as if he does not feel he can pull it off. So instead, he showcases his impressive voice with all sorts of runs and vocal gymnastics. I think he might be overdoing it in that regard. I also still feel as if his phrasing continues to need work and I am not sure how it sounds like he has an accent at times when he sings. I will have to look into this further later, but right as J. Lo, "The World's Most Beautiful Woman" was finishing her critique, the audio on the television dropped. Did she say that he was "the s&^t?" Grade: B-

4. Scotty McCreery- "I Cross My Heart"

I had never heard this George Strait song before, but I think Scotty was wise to go against Jimmy (which would become a bit of a theme as the evening progressed) by picking this song over the alternative "Everybody's Talking." I think the love song nature of it will only appeal more to his female fans and he could afford to go back to a ballad after doing the Elvis number last round.

Every week, I have had Scotty sixth or seventh, but while I still found his country stylings a bit boring, this week he was better than almost everyone else by comparison. I have a hard time detecting him going off pitch much and while his hand and facial movements can be a little weird, there is no doubt he knows how to perform to an audience and connect to a song. He is definitely "in it to win it" and has come a long way since his "nuts of wonder" Hollywood disaster. I think that Season Nine's Aaron Kelly must really wish that Scotty McCreery had never tried out for Idol, because Aaron is going to have a hard time getting his teenage country career off the ground. Grade: B

5. Casey Abrams- "Nature Boy"

This week, Casey had a bit more of a swank look (or maybe more like a young Rabbinical student) and once again played his upright bass on an old time Nat King Cole song. Jimmy was pissed because he preferred Casey to do Phil Collins "In the Air Tonight." When Phil's name was mentioned, I half expected it to be followed by "Against All Odds" since that has only been done 34 times on Idol seasons past.

The judges went nuts over this and felt that Casey absolutely made the right decision, but on this one, I might have preferred to hear the other song. It just did not work for me. Maybe I am in the minority, but I think this jazz performance might create a schism between the "elite" and the "heartland." I think a lot of people may agree that Casey is musically gifted, but that this was just not their cup of tea (of Coca-Cola as the case may be.) It certainly was not horrid, but I felt it lacking punch and the growls and scary faces that Casey continues to make did not work for him. The reaction to it was so positive though that a lot of Idol voters may incorrectly assume he is safe. The judges really talked him up, perhaps wanting to leave the impression that they made the right decision in saving him, even if it means that he is still around and Pia is gone (but with a reported record deal already) Grade: C+

6. Haley Reinhart- "Call Me"

To the extent that the judges were hard on anyone tonight, it was Haley. I actually thought it was one of her better performances. Perhaps she is growing on me or maybe I was hypnotized by her multi-colored dress. Also, I will have to look into this further because I could not really hear, but did Steven Tyler say that he enjoyed looking up her dress?

It was far from a perfect vocal, but it was more of a fitting song choice for Haley in my view, as she was able to put a bit of a rock edge to it, at least in the chorus. The verses were not as good, but I don't think Debbie Harry is that good on the original anyway. I still feel a bit bad for Haley as she feels like she needs to bring sultriness and now hairography to these performances. With the right songs and more refinement though, I think Haley is going to be even better. If Idol really wanted to assure a girl stays this week though, they should have let the two girls close the show. She has a lot of fans, (and was looking a bit pleasantly surprised on the couches last week when Pia was voted off) but anything might happen. Grade: B

7. Jacob Lusk- "Bridge Over Troubled Water"

Mr. Lusk was another one who picked a song against the better wisdom of Jimmy. The in house mentor also scolded Jacob for his "preaching" last week as to why it would be impossible for him to be in the Bottom Three on merit. Jacob was not given a chance to respond. I am disappointed, because I really want to know what he was thinking when he said it last week. He needed to show contrition for those who are going to remember what he said. It's just hard to root for him with that in my mind.

For the most part, Jacob did a good job vocally. I always acknowledge his talent. There were parts of the song though that felt a little tedious to me. We have seen his thing for a few weeks now and the element of surprise is gone. It is completely impossible to picture him doing something very current or "happy." I suspect that there are not a lot of people voting for him anymore (perhaps for a while) that are not African-American. I am not going to say that is completely an example of racialism because his style just may be more appreciated in the black community.

And I'm just going to say it. With all the girls being voted off, and with the amount of lip gloss that Jacob seemed to be wearing, he really should consider taking the Idol stage in drag. This performance would have been a lot more dramatic and powerful with a wig and a dress. Grade: B

8. James Durbin- "Heavy Metal"

The final contestant of the night got into quite a disagreement with Jimmy and over his song choice. I am not sure if they are sort of staged or not, but James really held his ground over doing this song. As an ardent fan of '80s metal, I have to say I am a bit disappointed that I did not really know this Sammy Hagar song. I think I might have possibly heard it at some point in time. I did instantly recognize though guest guitarist Zakk Wylde as soon as he came out with James. That might be a new thing this year; having established music personalities performing on stage with selected Idol contestants in the actual competition.

A lot of people will love what James did and a lot will hate it. I really liked it, for nothing else but the awesomeness of Metal actually being done on the show! It sounded pretty good to my ear at first listen and I cannot deny that James is a great singer and a true hard rocker. Idol has tried to force feed us supposed "rockers" before like Constantine Maroulis and Adam Lambert, and I will not deny that they are talented, but they were never rockers. I really believe James is and I enjoy him every week, whether he does something hard or softer. There were long stretches though this week where James did not sing anything, but the focus was on him interacting with his famous guitar sidekick (who stood alongside James the entire segment) and doing "rock moves." I might have preferred to hear more actual singing.

Randy Jackson said James is the real deal and all that and will be on Ozz Fest one day soon. I am not so sure about that. Even if James wins Idol this year (and I might be sort of rooting for that) , I cannot picture the cheesy tv show producing a performer who is genuinely going to be embraced in the world of hard rock. His Idol experience may likely make James more famous and more affluent than he would have ever otherwise been, but it's not going to get him real street cred in his genre. Grade: B+

In movie critic fashion, from thumbs down to thumbs up:

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

After the big surprise last week, I am almost even afraid to say that Scotty and James at least will be safe. Who even knows anymore? I do think though that all the rest are probably at risk o f a Bottom Three appearance, as the numbers dwindle down. If I had to guess, I think Jacob will return once again, and Lauren will make her first appearance on the stools (in what might be an emotional scene for her.) Are Paul's fans going to keep him against his secret will? Probably. Is the shirtless photo that Stefano took of himself and posted on his Twitter going to win him some additional female votes? Maybe.

So, I will go out on a limb and say that because as a contestant in a previous season once said upon being cut, "America doesn't like jazz", Casey Abrams will be eliminated, again.