Man, I have missed you guys! Hopefully some of you stuck around while I tossed my life in to the washer and hit "spin", because I am really excited about American Idol so far this season. It's like I have been saying to anyone who will listen...the secret to a successful Idol season has nothing to do with the judges and everything to do with the contestants. As long as you have talented and compelling contestants, the audience is going to be engaged, and only then will they even care what the judges say. And this season offers a very diverse and talented group, several of which I am really looking forward to hearing every week, as opposed to last season when there was Siobhan and Crystal and really not much else.
Let's get on with it!
Lauren Alaina - "Any Man of Mine": Ugh. She's off to a horrible start for me already, because I HATE HATE HATE this song. Apparently what Shania REALLY wants is a doormat. Was this supposed to be some sort of ironic statement against the objectification of women in most popular music? Either way...it sucks.
Anyway, this is...fine, I guess. She doesn't do anything different from the original, as far as I can tell. You want to know what Simon was saying all those years when he called something "karaoke", this was pretty much it. Don't get me wrong...she has a very good voice. I mean, she would probably WIN the karaoke competition.
She is also completely out of breath by the end of the song. She obviously had fun with it, but that's really all it was. A nice, fun, ultimately forgettable performance.
Casey James - "A Little Help From My Friends": This is exactly what I was missing from Lauren's performance...an interpretation of the song. I LOVED the arrangement, loved the performance. Casey is quirky, no doubt, but he hit EVERY note that he attempted, and hit it with style. I worry that he could become Taylor-Hicks-y at some point, but for now I love him. Plus I think he is a LOT more self-aware than Taylor Hicks has ever been...he seems to get the joke more than Taylor did.
This was really, really good.
Ashthon Jones - "When You Tell Me That You Love Me": Here's the thing about Ashthon for me...she has all of the makings of a diva, but without the diva voice. She looks great, I actually love her attitude most of the time, and her voice is fine...it's just not "big" enough for me. She's hitting the notes, but there isn't enough power and OOMPH.
This was another example of what I'm talking about...she certainly looks the part. VERY Diana Ross, with the hair and the earrings and what-all. But she just doesn't quite pull it off. It gets better in the bridge after she steps out from behind the mic, but she is extremely shouty on the high parts. This was OK, definitely good enough to stick around, but it was good-not-great for me.
(I just used "for me" twice in my critique of one performer, which leads me to the most disturbing development of the Idol season so far. I am agreeing with Randy almost 100% of the time. I KNOW!!! I'm TERRIFIED as to what this might mean. Is there a glitch in the Matrix?)
Paul McDonald - "Come Pick Me Up": I knew I liked this guy...Ryan Adams has a prominent place on my MP3 player, and his style fits perfectly with what we have seen Paul do so far.
This performance was....hmm. I think I would have enjoyed it more live, and I DEFINITELY think I enjoyed it more than most other people, since I am a big fan of this style of music. But it was the very definition of pitchy, and the whispery tone of his voice never did really get strong enough during the chorus and he was overpowered by the band and backup singers. For once, I don't blame the production crew for that. He certainly uses the whole stage when he performs, though.
Like J-Lo, I hope that America gets what the guy is about and keeps him around. That was a very chill performance, and I liked it...but at best he was only "around" the pitch for a good portion of the song, and I don't know that he has the fanbase to stick around for very long.
Oof. J-Lo has never heard of Ryan Adams. Randy, on the other hand, is dropping names like WOAH. And Ryan continues to be awesome, doing the "Paul McDonald" as he gives out the numbers.
Pia Toscano - "All By Myself": For the second week in a row, she definitely picked a "singer's song", one that if you have the voice for it you can really show out.
And...WOW. She really showed out. TREMENDOUS vocal performance. And she looked fannnnnntastic. Almost distractingly gorgeous.
She needs to work on stage presence...not a lot "there" in her presentation of the song, other than the annoying "Aaron Kelly Arm". You know, the move where you raise one arm to just over shoulder level, hold it there for a second, let it drop....and repeat about 30 times in a row.
As for now, her vocal chops and striking beauty are enough to overcome the lack of stage presence...Carrie Underwood was able to ride that particular train all the way to the Idol crown, and then got some help on her performing style and has sold about a bazillion records. Idol itself has changed a lot since then, so it will be interesting to see if Pia can pull off the same accomplishment using the same bag of tricks.
James Durbin - "Maybe I'm Amazed": I have to admit...I don't like this guy. He's way too "try-hard" for me...the forced banter, the constant playing to the crowd, and the devil horns MY GOD the devil horns PLEASE KNOCK IT OFF WITH THE DEVIL HORNS IT IS NOT 1986 AND YOU ARE NOT MOTLEY CRUE.
Ahem...sorry. Having said all of that, I was pleasantly surprised that he picked Paul McCartney as his "Idol", and this was a perfect song choice for him. This was a great opportunity for him to dial it back and show us that he is not all flash and forced-rocker...he can really sing. He has a very nice tone to his voice, and his "scream" was used to great effect here...it came at a natural place in the song, fit the melody, and was perfectly on pitch.
I still don't like a lot of his affectations on stage, but overall this was a series of very smart decisions executed with a lot of talent and skill. Well done.
Haley Reinhart - "Blue": I am constantly forgetting that this person exists. I was surprised that she picked a country artist as her "Idol" (which...I don't think that is really what she did. She picked a song she wanted to sing and then tried to play it off like freaking LeeAnn Rimes is her Musical Idol. Whatever.)
This is a very difficult song to sing, and she definitely struggled the first couple of times she had to transition from the falsetto "yodel" back into her chest voice, but it did get better as she went along. She really didn't do more than just a karaoke version of the song...no spin, no interpretation. She just sang it, and in an relatively acceptable fashion. That's all I got out of it.
Jacob Lusk - "I Believe I Can Fly": Again...R. Kelly is not Jacob Lusk's idol and inspiration. He just wanted to sing this song.
And, MAN....he SANG it. One quibble was that he overshot the pitch quite a bit in the build up to the finish, but once he got there...I struggled to come up with words to describe it. He took it to CHURCH. Musicality at its purest form. The guy is an undeniable talent, and this is now two weeks in a row that I feel like he has dialed his performing style back several notches to great effect. Wonder if that's coming from the mentoring sessions?
Either way...this was fantastic, and probably should have closed the show.
Thia Megia - "Smile": Ah, she takes on that Charlie Chapman classic.
This started off really, really well...beautiful tone, and even more impressive control. Unusual to see that level of restraint in such a young singer.
But then, the tempo changed...and this went horribly, horribly wrong. Pitch problems all over the place, awkward "dancing", fake smile that does nothing to hide the abject terror in her eyes as she realizes that this was really an awful decision. Just tough to watch.
Stefano Lagono - "Lately": Oh, man...this is J-Lo's favorite by TONS. She loves this guy. And Ryan loves him too...he makes Ryan look normal-sized.
The beginning of this was really rough...he has a very nasally quality to his voice when he is in his lower register that is going to be a problem for him. Then the club beat kicks in, and this turns into the dance remix. He definitely SOUNDED better in the second half of the song, but I really didn't like the arrangement. This was probably one of those arrangements that sounded a lot better live.
Karen Rodriguez - "I Could Fall in Love": She bores me to tears, and I'm seeing the light at the end of the tunnel for this recap, so I don't have much to say. Except that she is probably the most pageant-y contestant this show has had in years, and I have yet to see any other side to her than that. I think I'm going to start calling her "Intermission", since her performance is an excellent time to take a bathroom break, grab a snack, check e-mail, etc....
Scotty McCreery - "The River": OK. I don't get the appeal to this guy. At all. Is it a generational thing? Because, MAN...the screams every time this guy says or does something sounds like a Beatles/NKOTB/Bieber level collective explosion. I just....don't get it, I guess.
And if you are going to sing a Garth Brooks song, why pick the absolute WORST Garth Brooks song EVER? I would have rather him done some Chris Gaines than this boring generic faux-motivational crap. "These waters are my sky"? What does that even MEAN?
So he sits there and does the EXACT SAME PERFORMANCE HE ALWAYS DOES. And the judges just slobber all over it, and then Scotty says he tried to show them something "different" tonight.
Am I losing my mind? HOW WAS THAT DIFFERENT? Because it wasn't that stupid Josh Turner song that I had never heard of before Scotty showed up, but now is embedded in my brain?
Scotty and his apparently legion of fans just make me feel...old.
Naima Adedapo - "Umbrella": And now I have to apologize to Naima, because that whole Scotty thing just took me out of that really happy place I was in for most of this show.
She looks really comfortable on stage, and she was able to use her dance background to create what was really a very good performance. The vocal was only OK...I agreed with Randy (again? WHAT IS HAPPENING TO ME????) that the biggest problem was the end of the phrases. She was just letting them drop as she moved to her next dance move. Which is actually fine, considering the fact that she was attempting to create more of a "concert" feel to it.
Say what you want about it...it was definitely "her", and it was different from anything else we saw tonight.
- I know I picked some of them apart, but there is no doubt about the fact that every single one of these people can flat sing. TONS of talent. It's going to be very interesting to see which way the voting goes, especially with the new Facebook voting this season.
- Nigel Lythgoe is back in charge of the show, and one of the first things he did was the long overdue firing of the director. Thirteen performances tonight, and the show not only came in on time, but Ryan and the judges had to vamp a little to fill the last few minutes. Great job with that, and also the production values seemed higher...no weird camera shots of the backstage area, the sound seemed to be mixed properly, etc.
Just found out that last night's show was actually taped on Tuesday. So...never mind. It's easy to have a well produced show if you get to tape it the day before.
- Really like the new "mentoring" thing they have going on with the Interscope folks. I'm interested to see if any of those producers start to stand out and become crowd favorites the way some of the choreographers have on SYTYCD.
- Looking back this show seemed REALLY frontloaded. After Jacob performed, there was nothing but cannon fodder.
MY TOP THREE:
1 - Pia
2 - Casey
3 - James/Jacob (Tie. Yeah, I know...it was just too hard)
MY BOTTOM THREE:
11 - Lauren (This was pretty surprising. Had to factor in level of difficulty and song selection, which is why Paul beats her out this week)
12 - Scotty (He beat out Thia because at least he managed to stay on pitch, and let's be honest...it was a smart decision to keep doing the same old crap.)
13 - Thia (Sorry, sweetie. That was just not good)
Who SHOULD go home:
Karen. Not in my bottom three, but I think at least two of the people in my bottom three have the potential to be interesting.
Who WILL go home:
Stefano. Just a hunch, really, and probably not right since he's young and cute and will probably get some of the teenybopper vote. IF all of the teenybopper vote doesn't go to Scotty for some unexplained and possibly supernatural reason.