Wednesday, May 11, 2011

American Idol Top 4

I watched the first couple performances of American Idol live tonight, but then something came up, but I always think ahead and had the program recording on my DVR at home, so I will do the best I can to recap this evening's episode as I go about watching it.

Tonight, the Final Four will each sing two songs. The first is being billed under the "inspirational" tag, while later, the kids will take on songs from the near ancient Lieber and Stoller songbook, while nonsensically being mentored by Lady Gaga. Is she going to tell them how to rip off Madonna or come out of an egg or something?

Idol junkies are keen on looking for any example of producer manipulation or "busing", especially on a night like this. The three remaining contestants will head to their hometowns this weekend as conquering tv heroes, and next Thursday's footage of those typically emotional segments could go a long way in determining the eventual winner in just two weeks.

Round 1 (the songs that would have been performed if there was an Idol Gives Back this year)

1. James Durbin- "Don't Stop Believing"

Very interesting that he is made to perform in the lead-off position two weeks in a row. This is the first time this iconic feel good song has been done as part of a competition round. It has to be a bit hard to condense it into a minute and a half, as the original songs builds up and the chorus does not even kick in to the end.

Rock singer James did a credible job on the Journey number, but it felt lacking. This song has been done by so many cover bands, and as a group number on a previous Idol show and tour, and on Glee, etc. etc. There were some pitchy spots and for the most part it sames almost as if James was on cruise control. If you are not going to be somewhat as good as the original, he should have at least tried to bring something new to it. Even on the very high notes in the chorus, it seemed as if he was deliberately holding back. Love the song, really like what James usually does, but this was just so-so. Grade: B-

2. Haley Reinhart- "The Earth Song"

Now, this song I hate. A lot of Idol viewers may not even know it among Michael Jackson's discography. There is a whole lot of left-wing whining, particular environmental nonsense in the lyrics. At one point, there is a line about not being able to breathe. If that was an issue the King of Pop was having when he wrote this song (if he even did), maybe it was partially due to his lack of a nose.

Is this song even inspirational? Maybe to liberals. Anyway, Haley is in a difficult position, because people are expecting her to be voted off this week, (with the cooperation of Idol manipulators) themselves. If Haley does go through, her hometown of Wheeling, Illinois already has a run-down of activities for her visit this coming Saturday. As part of it, she will parade down a street about five minutes from my residence.

Back to the environment though, we had thunderstorms tonight in Chicago, and while Haley is singing, the local Fox affiliate here posted warnings, with big "storm-watch" graphics, and scrolls, as if we had never seen rain before. While this is going on, taking up close to a quarter of the screen, the HD capability of the Idol feed goes away and it sounds like the stereo sound was gone as well. There were all sorts of distractions going on the tv set during this performance for Haley's hometown crowd. Jennifer Hudson was eliminated in a surprise during a Chicago storm. Even Mother Nature may want Haley gone!

Trying my best to focus on the vocals, I did not like the first part of her performance at all. It just did not seem like it was her typical thing. At the end, as a dramatic choir joined in, she did her impressive shouty growly stuff, but it still felt a little forced. I have recently found most of her performances to be pretty good, but there was just something about this that was not as appealing to my ears as I would have hoped.

Randy Jackson and Jennifer Lopez tended to agree with my thoughts on this, but their critiques of the performance led to some of the most dramatic and tension filled moments of the season. They criticized her for choosing the song and the way she sang it, and Haley icily stared back at them, and eventually started openly talking back. We have not seen that this season. The studio audience booed the criticism from the two judges, and Haley's significant number of blogosphere fans and professional writers such as Michael Slezak must have gone absolutely postal. The main reason being that Haley has seemingly been treated to a different and more critical standard most of this season by the judges, Jimmy Iovine, and producers. They feel she has been persecuted and they take it very seriously. Slezak even produced a brief audio clip from last week of Randy being caught on an open mic after Haley's first performance that he was not "rooting for her."

If the show wants her to be eliminated because they do not think she will be marketable or whatnot, that would not be unprecedented, but I really do sort of wonder if there is something going on backstage that makes people not like Haley. I have to admit, that while her personality has been sort of "cute" at times, I also get a bit of a "mean girl" vibe from her. She seems a bit colder and not as humble as many past Idol contestants. While it may be unfair, that is even more dangerous for a female contestant to exhibit those traits. If Haley is really getting jerked around though by the show, maybe we should be applauding her honesty and unwillingness to be Hollywood fake during all of this.

In any event, Haley at many times this season has seemed really close to just wanting to absolutely go off on people, in front of the cameras. If she thinks this is truly going to be the end of the road for her, she may just really let the fur fly either later tonight or tomorrow during the results. I think she made a big mistake though by singing this dumb left-wing song about the planet, and now the gas guzzling bus is coming for her. Grade: B-

3. Scotty McCreery- "Where Were You When the World Stopped Turning"

Musically, I find this song about as boring as they come, but as far as Idol strategy, if I may channel a certain judge, Scotty is in it to win it! After Haley pandered to the lefties, Scotty turned right around and made a move for the conservatives and Middle America. Who is more likely to be watching?

Great timing of course. I mentioned last week, that one of the kids probably should have found a way to bring the Osama offing into the competition, but it was too late that week to make a song change. Scotty, who was the only current contestant, who took to Twitter last week to mention the historic event and praise the troops, goes and trots this patriotic country song about 9/11. All that was missing was if former President George W. Bush, who looked a lot like Scotty, as a rambunctious young Texan, was there in the audience!

Seacrest continues to be a bit creepy when talking to and about Scotty, but he has acted that way with teen males on this show before for whatever reason. I do not know if there is a connection or not, but the host's hair this season sort of makes him look like Chris Hanson, of Dateline NBC's "To Catch a Predator"

This is the first time I have actually heard this whole song and I have to say, the lyrics are pretty stupid, but they talk about America and G-d, so it's pretty much a sure fire winner for Scotty. Vocally, he sang it reasonably well, while sitting on a stool and playing his guitar. That allowed his strong story-telling ability to take precedent over his at times weird facial expressions or the way he holds a microphone. With the exception of last year's winner, Scotty may go on to be the Idol winner winner with the least amount of vocal versatility, but he is one smart contestant.

It is interesting to me that throughout the whole season, Scotty has yet to have the "pimp spot." Based on voting patterns, he probably does not need it, but do not be surprised if he has it next week. It might be a perfect time for him to pull out Brooks & Dunn's superior country song, "Only in America", the musical theme of the glorious 2004 Bush/Cheney reelection. Grade: B

4. Lauren Alaina- "I Do It Anyway"

Much like Scotty, Lauren sings a modern country song, and she chooses to dedicate it to the people in her home region who have been impacted by the storms. Yes, "Lauren is also in it to win it, Dawg!"

Due to her Idol obligations, it is possible that Lauren is missing out on going to her High School Prom, but she seems to be making up for it by wearing a Prom dress on the show every week. She also continues the unfortunate habit of giggling and saying "thank you" right as she finishes singing. People have probably told her not to, but like her song, she does it anyway.

So, anyway, it was a pretty good vocal performance. She did not sound like the most amazing singer ever, but she once again was able to combine emotions and vocals successfully. I can see her at the Finale doing something like this. Not saying I would love it, but I can see it. Grade: B+

As Lauren was singing this song with the southeast storms on her mind, Fox Chicago continues to run their incredibly annoying graphics about flood and thunderstorm warnings here, completely distracting from the show. Yes, it rained here, but my goodness, it wasn't even bad enough to cause more than a slight rain delay at Wrigley Field, before the tarp came off, and the Cubs immediately began to pound the St. Louis Cardinals. I will be inspired to believe that this was an historic thunderstorm after all in Chicago, as the Cubs curse will now be broken!

At the end of Round 1:

4. Haley Reinhart
3. James Durbin
2. Scotty McCreery
1. Lauren Alaina

Seacrest brings the other kids out on stage so the judges can declare a winner. J Lo and Randy do not exactly do that, but basically declare that Haley was the loser. It looks like they are going to be singing in a different order for the next round and that Haley is up first. She is ready to cut a bitch.

Round 2. I am watching this late at night and Lady Gaga is going to give me nightmares!

Sure enough, as soon as Haley's second segment begins, we get another storm warning on screen in Chicago! This rain is in it to win it.... or ruin it!

1. Haley Reinhart- "I Who Have Nothing"

Four years ago, this was the song that made Jordin Sparks a force to win her season, and Haley was certainly hoping for a similar moment tonight. Truth be told, I think I preferred Jordin's version, but Haley did pretty good as well. Gaga instructed her to be as dramatic and "psychotic" as possible while singing this pleading song about a woman stalking her ex or something like that. Considering the anger that Haley has seemed to have all night, it might not have been a stretch.

For the second week in a row, after two of them panned her first performance, all of the judges now give her a standing ovation and proclaim it as terrific. I just do not know what to believe anymore, and her die-hard fans must be even more emotionally confused. The mind of Nigel Lithgoe is too much to fathom.

After she receives her over the top praise, which Haley pretty much takes in stride for the second week in a row, without any excitement, Seacrest awkwardly brings her downstage to hug Randy Jackson. Haley still looks revolted. Grade: B

2. Scotty McCreery- "Young Blood"

I do not know this song, but I guess it is an appropriate title to be mentored on by Lady Gaga, who often performs covered in fake blood. She has some inappropriate advice for Scotty about his microphone technique. I do not even know what to say. (Well I could, but I won't go there.) Jimmy Iovine similarly sits by looking stupefied, but at least he is wearing pants. How is Scotty going to explain all this to his two grandmas?

My goodness. What a horrible song. This may be one of the worst songs I have ever heard in my life. This makes Rebecca Black's "Friday" seem like a Grammy winner. It's not that his vocals are atrocious, but I feel so embarrassed for Scotty, considering I want him to do well and represent the Red State people and all. Then, I remember, Scotty has absolutely no shame. If he ever drinks in the future, he better watch himself. Tonight, he pulls off his entire facial and eyebrow arsenal and prances around the studio limp wristed. (Gaga or her backup dancers had to be involved in that somehow.)

I am just at a loss. I guess I sort of have to admire the fact that Scotty does not care about what is going to be said about him. This was truly a Vote for the Worst worthy performance. I guess he is thinking about all the money and available women in his future. While it was hard for me to not cringe at this song, Scotty did at least do a couple interesting things vocally, such a low 50's style doo-wop bass line. I will also say that the last time Lieber and Stoller was done on American Idol, Anthony Federov's performance of "Poison Ivy" made me even more embarrassed for a contestant! Grade: C+

3. Lauren Alaina- "Trouble"

This round is just too weird. Lauren resists singing that she is "evil", because she is not of course. Lauren is approaching the word evil, the way Democrats do, when Republican Presidents use it to describe the enemies of America. She may also not have been born standing up and talking back, but she is ok with those lines. Gaga and Jimmy Iovine encourage her to embrace the character and pretend to be evil.

So, she goes with it, and vocally, I thought it was a bit of a mess. She was too breathy at parts and lost in the rhythm at others. It just did not seem believable. Whether it is the theme, the song choices, or Gaga trying to turn Scotty gay or Lauren into a slut, I thought it was a bit of a step backward for the two teen country hopefuls. Grade: C+

4. James Durbin- "Love Potion Number Nine"

Yet another horrible song. People actually admit to writing these? It is a good thing we were not defeated by the Communists during the Cold War when this sort of stuff dominated the radio.

Gaga wants James to move his hips during this performance (as if he had been reluctant to do so already this season.) It's just a shame that Lady Gaga did not get to mentor Jacob Lusk.

Surprisingly to me, James does a campy rock version of this song and it actually works. He knows how to perform and hit some big notes. and it seems to me like he was trying harder here than he was on the Journey song. Maybe he belongs on Broadway doing "Rock of Ages" and not doing rock music in the studio. So, it was interesting, perhaps because it was so easy to not take seriously as actual art. More than anyone else this season, James is good at the television performance aspect and "putting on a show." Grade: B+

Round 2, where the FCC gets some emails and the Family Research Council maybe issues a press release:

4. Scotty McCreery
3. Lauren Alaina
2. Haley Reinhart
1. James Durbin

I am scared to have to average these rounds together, but here goes.... looks like I have two separate ties to break:

4. Scotty McCreery
3. Haley Reinhart
2. Lauren Alaina
1. James Durbin

I feel bad having Scotty at the bottom this week and really think he is unlikely to leave the show, but that's just the way the grades went. His first performance was good, if not a little boring, while his second was anything but boring, but the song was just so horrible in my view, I could not justify giving him a higher grade. It's not like I think he bombed it though.

I am going to predict that Haley will be the one cut. Nothing is a given though. Her fans and others might be so motivated to save her, after the way she was treated in the first half of the show, that they vote like crazy and she moves on. That is a very real possibility. That leads to the question as to if that is exactly what American Idol wants to happen? Even with Simon Cowell gone, mind games may very well be at play.

Lauren was in the bottom two last week and with the fans of both country and teenagers voting for Scotty, I would not at all be surprised if she is eliminated, especially after what I thought was a subpar second performance. It also would not surprise me if somehow Lauren finds a way to win the whole thing in two weeks.

This really is the most unpredictable season of Idol ever, but unless Haley's people are ultra-motivated, this is probably it for her.