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Thoughts On American Idol Top 11: Motown

March 23, 2011

Finally! An actual theme! Tonight’s theme is the music of Motown. As a native Michigander and lover of hip-hop and electronic music I have a lot of respect for the production output of the great Detroit label, at least for its first 20 years until the core label moved to Los Angeles when Berry Gordy got it in his head to make movies and the music output suffered (“I’m Rick James, bitch!”). Luckily the Idol montage stops around Marvin Gaye’s “Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology).” They sure have a lot of shout outs today. At one point in the show, Randy talks about Berry Gordy like he’s dead when he was on the show maybe 2 weeks ago.

Casey Abrams – “I’m Still Alive I Heard It Through The Grapevine”

Casey kicks things off with a rousing, albeit jerky cover of the Marvin Gaye classic. His little touches in the performance like the musician trail behind the judges and shaking hands with his friends in the audience mid-song were cute and entertaining. His singing was a little off-key to me, but since he went all-out blues it was more important that he conveyed the passion and angst in the song and bring it to the forefront. It’s not his best work, but it is still going to be way better than what a lot of these fools are going to do.

Thia Megia – “Heat Wave”

This was a good choice for Thia. She looked like this was the first time she got to cut loose on stage and she turned out her best performance of the season so far. Of course, cutting loose for Thia is still rote performing. Her voice has the maturity, but not the soul or the emotion. Every time she talks she looks dead behind the eyes, like one of the producers slipped her an Ambien before the show. She’s still underwater, but she’s swimming towards the surface. She just has to not get eaten by sharks on the way up.

Jacob Lusk – “You’re All I Need To Get By”

First off, the man is dressed impeccably. Jacob shows absolute control and power as he sings, taking care not to get overshadowed by the backup singers. Seriously, the man belts as well as he dresses. He’s also taking the energy up a notch in both song choice and his stage presence. Just a notch, but it’s still an improvement from his past performances. Hell, even Steven gave him a hug at the end. And Seacrest is actually letting people up on stage (but he cuts the one dude off like a jackass).

Lauren Alaina – “You Keep Me Hanging On”

Well her opening explanation of the song is all myopic and fucked up, and I doubt her arrangement will be as gutsy as Blake Lewis’s in season 6. Her singing is very solid, but she’d have a better stage presence if she wore a dress that wasn’t in danger of dropping like a towel or causing her to trip all over herself. It undercut the attitude. If she focused more of her energy on the vocal delivery and diva power moves, her performance would have come out immensely better.

Stefano Langone – “Hello”

He should have done “All Night Long (All Night).” Stefano brings a good wail for this kind of music, but it still feels a little too prom night cover band for my taste. From his singing an octave too high, to his Gen-Y lounge singer suit, to the ersatz arrangements, the end product was melodramatic in all the wrong ways. If he said “hello” to someone like he sang “hellOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO,” he’d get a face full of pepper spray.

Haley Reinhart – “You Really Got A Hold On Me”

When you hear Smokey Robinson sing the song, when you hear The Beatles sing it, when you hear Zooey Deschanel sing it, all three mop the floor with Haley’s version. It’s not as mushy as usual, the mush replaced with twang and some Casey growl. She can’t hit the low notes, but her runs are ok. She’s showing improvements here. Maybe she should stick to the roots-rock/country thing. It won’t make up for Lauren Turner’s elimination, but it will make her less insufferable. Her teeth are too white.

Scotty McCreery – “For Once In My Life”

What, you were expecting something by Mary Jane Girls? Scotty stays true to his performance style, doing a country cover of the song made famous by Stevie Wonder. His W meter is off the charts with all the smirking, pointing and winking like it’s all some big joke (or he’s trying to be a rapper). Seriously dude, dial it down. It’s distracting from your singing, which felt phoned in today. You don’t need to overact the whole song.

Pia Toscano – “All In Love Is Fair”

Pia, ever the top professional, is in full Alicia Keys mode tonight. She had a good build up to her master blaster ending. It was a good mix of restraint and hidden power. Her dress was also an improvement – demure but it had the slit up the leg and had a peekaboo back. It was kind of hot. Randy had a good point in that Pia needs to push the tempo a little bit more. Hey even Celine did “That’s The Way It Is.”

Paul McDonald – “The Tracks Of My Tears”

Paul was more fun when he was stumbling around on stage like Rod Stewart on a bad day. Stuck behind his acoustic guitar, he’s just another low key singer-songwriter with an annoying voice for me to root against. His singing was thin and annoying. It’s a shame, because he was starting to grow on me until he threw out this lukewarm late 90s leftover. His teeth are too white.

Naima Adedapo – “Dancing In The Street”

Her opening montage shows that she has done some research into the material. She’s respectful of the song’s history and finds its connections into other areas, unlike other contestants who treat this catalog like a bunch of museum pieces. The arrangement is in half time for the first part and it’s a nice switchup before the main part of the song. Naima’s pipes are in much finer form tonight. Then she drops out the main song for a drum line and some fine African dancing (right down to her bare feet). She knocks out the last note like she just doesn’t give a shit. If she stays true to herself and keeps taking gutsy risks, we all win.

James Durbin – “Living For The City”

Once again, no soul to be found here. James marches around like Taylor Hicks and wails like a banshee who’s been punched in the solar plexus. Clearly he has forgotten his performance from last week where he used his full range to have valleys and peaks. It was back to the same joyless screaming with a lot of sound and fury and forced smiles. I was disappointed. Kathy was actually angry. In other words, James is lucky the audience hasn’t heard of the Dirtbombs.

Top 3 Performances

  1. Naima Adedapo
  2. Jacob Lusk
  3. Casey Abrams

Bottom 3 Performances

  1. Scotty McCreery
  2. James Durbin
  3. Stefano Langone
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