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Thoughts On American Idol Top 9: The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame

April 6, 2011

Tonight’s theme is songs from artists who are in the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame. During the intro montage, Steven Tyler demoes a wax bust of himself mid-scream. It looks like a soul frozen in hell. Also, Interscope darling Gwen Stefani is styling the ladies in L.A.M.B. and Will.I.Am is backing up Jimmy Iovine as a mentor. I like both artists as performers, but we’ll have to see if they can make the transition to this show. On the judge fashion front J.Lo’s hair and makeup are impeccable and Randy Jackson is wearing a pleather raincoat. Hey Randy, 1995 called….

Jacob Lusk – “Man In The Mirror”

So Jacob allegedly picks “Let’s Get It On” to be his song, then chickens out saying “it isn’t me.” So I guess “fun” isn’t him. Instead Jacob picks one of my least favorite MJ songs (though something tells me that he may have had some backstage pressuring). Poor song choice aside, Jacob does some neat things during the performance including ripping out his earpiece 4 notes in (take that, Marc Anthony!) and generally vamping it up with the crowd. He’s showing more animation than he normally does, which I appreciate. In short, I liked Jacob’s performance, but would it have killed him to have done “Bad” or “Another Part Of Me?” I have little patience for his good intentions.

Haley Reinhart – “Piece Of My Heart”

Oh snap! Did Mush Mouth find a song that turned her weakness into a strength? Haley’s manic growl sounds right at home with the Janis Joplin classic. She’s generally strutting around and rocking out with everyone and getting compact on the low notes and for once she looks and sounds like a pro instead of a punk. I agree with the judges’ comments here – she should stick to the blues. Hell, you never heard diction as a selling point for B.B. King. There were some moments when she sounded out of her league, but overall this was a good performance. Haley had a good performance. Wow! Did I just write that?

Casey Abrams – “Have You Ever Seen The Rain?”

Casey turns in another mellow performance on the upright bass accompanied by some guy with a mandolin. The arrangement is cool and Casey’s singing is sweet but still has some color, kind of like John Fogerty had with CCR. He was kind of stuck in one place with his bass, but he still tried to look out into the audience and engage a little. That said, this performance felt a little bit like coasting to me. It didn’t have the risks or emotion of some of Casey’s past performances. It didn’t crash, but it didn’t engage me either.

Lauren Alaina – “Natural Woman”

Will.I.Am is very animated and funny in these mentoring sessions. He’s way more fun than Jimmy Iovine for sure! Meanwhile Gwen Stefani sure fucked up Lauren’s hair. It looks part rooster comb and part erupting volcano. As for her singing Lauren was solid, but it felt like she was hiding in the backup vocals and her ending belt had more cracks than the U.S. corporate tax code. Plus there’s the whole thing about her singing about being a “natural woman” when she’s only 16. It’s a good song and she may indeed feel like a woman or want to project that adult theme (hey, creepy old Steven Tyler bought it), but it made me a little uncomfortable. She’s still underage and it’s inappropriate!

James Durbin – “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”

Ooh, Mr. Histrionic is going mellow! He even has the smoked out floor like when Adam Lambert did “Mad World” two seasons ago. I’m reminded that Durbin is no Lambert in that whenever he tries to sing at a higher volume he stumbles (especially at the end), but overall this was a good move for him. He didn’t come across like a jerk, he seemed involved with the arrangements, the gray motif was cool, and the song just was pleasant to listen to. And he actually mentioned his family at the end. It’s about damn time!

Scotty McCreery – “That’s All Right Mama”

Scotty is trying to sound different tonight, but he still holds the mic like a flute. It’s a vocal mic, Scotty, not a boom. We’ve previously established Scotty’s fondness for The King, so this is a good choice for him. He’s also singing in a much higher range than normal, but still manages to hold his own. He gets points for moving outside his comfort zone, though he gets docked a few for continuing the gang sign antics (which J.Lo seemed to like for some reason). Overall good for him.

Pia Toscano – “River Deep Mountain High”

Oh snap! Is Pia actually pushing the tempo? This arrangement rocks pretty hard for this show’s backing band and Pia carries all the power, pipes, and professionalism over from her slow jams into a song that’s actually fun! She knocked this song out of the park, and it’s a Tina Turner song so that’s actually a challenge! Keep up the good work! It’s just a shame she had to do it all in a cow suit. For shame, Gwen Stefani!

Stefano Langone – “When A Man Loves A Woman”

Hey Stefano, you may think you’re singing Percy Sledge but you’re singing Michael Bolton. Will.I.Am is right to coach him on soul singer moves but that’s more Jacob’s bag, and there’s no way Stefano can out-Jacob Jacob. Also, Stefano is back to the same old awkward, desperate plead-singing that makes me want a giant cane to yank him off the stage. Why does no one ding this saccharine asshole for doing too many ballads? By the way, that sparkly tie makes him look like a Glee reject.

Paul McDonald – “Folsom Prison Blues”

Paul sure looks happy to be stuck at Folsom Prison! Then again, when he sang about shooting the man in Reno to watch him die he seemed like a gleefully crazy motherfucker and at this point in the season I could sure stand to see one on the show. Lyrical incongruities aside, this was some rootsy uptempo goodness. Paul had a few cool blues/country righteous wail moments throughout the song and when he broke it all down for the handclap bridge, that was just magnetic. Great closer!

This was probably the most consistently good episode this series. Overall everyone played to their strengths and some even overcame their performance flaws if only for one night. Will.I.Am also makes a good case for sticking around. I’ve been hard on him for his live performances on the show, but this guy can give great performance advice and be entertaining while doing it. He seems way more connected and involved than Jimmy Iovine has ever been this season. Can we vote mentors off yet?

Top 3 Performances

  1. Pia Toscano
  2. Paul McDonald
  3. James Durbin

Bottom 3 Performances

  1. Stefano Langone
  2. Lauren Alaina
  3. Gwen Stefani, because the women contestants were a trio of trainwrecks, style-wise. The only person Gwen Stefani should be styling is Gwen Stefani.
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