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Thoughts On American Idol Top 13: Your Personal Idol

March 9, 2011

Image from Celebrity Smack

Now the main part of the show begins! Gosh, it feels like this show has gone on forever. Seacrest congratulates Lopez for her single going #1 on iTunes. That’s why she’s on this show!

In place of weekly celebrity “mentors,” the show’s mentor this season is Jimmy Iovine, all decked out in his Beats by Dr. Dre gear. I know, Dre is an Interscope employee, but Jimmy looks like such a tool in that ensemble. Time has not been kind to his face. This is what you get for decades of drug use. The contestants also work with Interscope-established producers like Don Was, Rodney Jerkins, and Rock Mafia for the studio arrangements. They still have to perform the songs live with the shitty house band (who are really pushed offstage this season compared to past seasons).

The week’s theme was quite vague: contestants must sing songs by their “idols.” I don’t like these vague categories. They allow the contestants too much freedom to flaunt their terrible tastes.

Lauren Alaina – “Any Man Of Mine”

The Chosen One kicks things off with a straightforward cover of the Shania classic. For singing such a nice, breezy song she sure looks stiff out there on stake. Her backup singers look to be a pair of blonde 14-year olds. What is up with these Disney Channel theatrics? At least she was matched by her support team. Her guardian Steven Tyler dings her for not having enough punch. Her reaction to the judges’ criticism is a half-hearted “aw gosh ah am so sorry” in a drawl that is thicker than usual. Bleh!

Casey Abrams – “With A Little Help From My Friends”

During the mentoring rounds we get Iovine giving Casey pointers on how to emulate Joe Cocker. Cut to a clip of Joe Cocker sounding like he’s dying on stage. Casey’s choreography was a little silly, with the backup singers emerging from the stage and all. His emoting is alternately passionate and cloying, though maybe that’s just his sense of humor and overall “can you believe I’m the frontrunner?” schtick. That Cocker clip was a good reference point, as Casey channels those guttural growls for better or worse. Points for accuracy.

Ashthon Jones – “When You Tell Me That You Love Me”

We see Rodney Jerkins do her mentoring/studio round. I have never heard of this Diana Ross song (and neither has Lopez – I guess we’re both fans of her disco records). Her dress emulates the Ross of old with its one-shoulder strap and fabric draping, but her singing falters. I’d be embarrassed to give that performance in front of Berry Gordy. Ashthon knows all the steps to emulate this R&B icon, but she lacks any of the singing power of her competitors. She has the plan, but just can’t execute. She feels like a stand-in for the good singer that should be there.

Paul McDonald – “Come Pick Me Up”

I’ve never heard a Ryan Adams song on the show [update: I lied, Blake Lewis did “Stars Go Blue” in season 6], so that’s kind of different, but that’s as far as it goes. Paul’s scuffed military-inspired outfit looks like a bad approximation of Coldplay circa Viva La Vida. His eyeballs are creepy, his singing is half-assed and bleary, and his inebriated stage moves has me convinced that he did 6-7 shots of tequila backstage right before he went on. He reminds me of certain guys that I (and maybe you) went to school with – pretentious douchey hipsters who fetishized/pretended to be rootsy outsider types (or “I’m so quirky. Quirky, quirky, quirky!”).

Pia Toscano – “All By Myself”

Ah shit, she’s doing Celine. I don’t care for this kind of music and I don’t care what Carl Wilson says. Pia’s performance is clean, assured, and powerful; and her diva arm movements fit right up there with the pros, but damn it’s wasted potential and that train completely detracted from her dress. I still like her, but I was disappointed squarely by song choice since it’s doubtful the scrubs are going to do anything fun.

James Durbin – “Maybe I’m Amazed”

If you idolize Paul McCartney, why do you sing like a speared elephant? The song’s new arrangement with more pronounced “hip-hop” drums is unoriginal, but it peps things up a little. I also give him a few points for trying to slow things down, but he still wails and wails with little regard to the song’s actual meaning. Kathy’s reaction to this performance was a lot of mehs and fart noises.

Haley Reinhart – “Blue”

I’m not familiar with any of the other versions of this song, but Haley’s yodeling moves were kind of neat in that Jewel way. Otherwise Mush Mouth just slurs and mumbles her way through the rest of the song. How else can I describe it? It’s like when you’re playing the singer in Rock Band and you have to sing a song where you don’t know the words. You kind of listen for the vocal track, look at the vocal line and mumble your way through. That’s how Hayley sings all the time. That’s acceptable for playing a video game, but not for performing on national television. I hope it’s game over for Hayley soon.

Jacob Lusk – “I Believe I Can Fly”

We have learned that R. Kelly is Jacob’s idol. Hopefully it’s for the singing and not for the pedophilia. The presence of the gospel choir has Jacob usurping Lauren for that Chosen One spot. The problem is that “I Believe I Can Fly” is such an empty, boring, pappy dirge. A voice with as much color and richness as Jacob’s is better served with a bouncier song. R. Kelly has done plenty of those – “Snake,” “Thoia Thoing,” “Burn It Up,” etc. Failing that, do broadway or the renaissance of uptempo R&B. More wasted potential.

Thia Megia – “Smile”

Of all the MJ songs to pick, of all those all-time great super fun songs that everyone know, she picks the snoozer. Her vibrato and slight voice cracking in the start of the song really did remind me of MJ but by her first real vocal run when the full arrangement kicked in the wheels came off and stayed off for the rest of the song. If you were paying attention last week, the lesson here is that Thia can’t sing with any instruments behind her. She’d sound “more better” on The Sing-Off (or Judge Judy given her malapropisms and grammatical butchery). Crummy arrangement, ugly shoes, and an overall disappointing performance.

Stefano Langone – “Lately”

With Polow Da Don doing the arrangement of this ballad, perhaps we’ll have some fun here. Instead, we get the kind of half-assed disco beats that used to provide the backing to the introduction number of beauty pageants. Relisten to the performance and imagine ladies in tacky dresses walking down the runway. Stefano’s singing is competent and faithful, but his selection of yet another zzz ballad doomed him from the start. He just seems like such a nonentity to me.

Karen Rodriguez – “I Could Fall In Love”

It’s cool seeing a Latina singer really sticking with the music (in this case, Selena) that speaks to the experience of the Latino culture, especially given all the anti-immigrant sentiment you see today. She rocks cultural pride and I respect that. She’s probably one of the more original and authentic contestants. It’s a pity that the monitoring, acoustics, and shitty house band sabotage the song.

Scotty McCreery – “The River”

The George W. comparison continues, as Scotty likes baseball and doing smirks whenever he nails a low note. Taking on Garth Brooks is a good call for him. It’s at least as authentic as Karen’s song choices. He holds his microphone like he’s making a steeple with his hands. He seems kind of manic, almost laughing as he’s singing. Was he doing shots with Paul during the preshow? That’s how Bush this kid is. Paul will introduce him to alcohol, James will introduce him to cocaine, and in a few years he’ll plow his car into a house, prompting an intervention from his family and the local minister followed by a string of failed business ventures until he’s propped up into a run for office and this whole era of our nation’s history will start all over again.

Naima Adedapo – “Umbrella”

And we have current music! And actual dancing! I’m tempted to knock her singing but I’ll refrain since Rihanna would sound about the same live but – holy shit! Is she doing dancehall? Is she toasting like Elephant Man? Oh fuck, she just blew the doors off this competition! Even stodgy old Randy is encouraging her to break it off! Naima is the winner of tonight’s episode, even if she gets voted off.

Top 3 Performances

  1. Naima Adedapo
  2. Casey Abrams
  3. Randy Jackson, because I found myself actually agreeing with a lot of his criticisms.

Bottom 3 Performances

  1. Haley Reinhart
  2. Paul McDonald
  3. Thia Megia

Overall this episode was disappointing. With such a diversity of contestants you would expect to hear fewer crummy slow songs from the early 90s. I’m especially disappointed that Jimmy Iovine, the guy who signs Gwen Stefani and Lady Gaga’s paychecks, didn’t nip that boring claptrap in the bud. What a waste.

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