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Thoughts On American Idol Top 8: Songs From The Movies

April 13, 2011

Gee, J.Lo, that’s a nice looking dress you ha…what the hell is with that floof on the front of your skirt?! Congrats on the People award, though!

Tonight’s theme is my least favorite of the show: songs from the movies. I can expect wall-to-wall crum-bum ballads and histrionic waterworks of empty affirmation washing over me like a stone in a river. I feel like there are so many movies with great soundtracks out there but contestants trot out the same old songs. Have none of these clowns seen a Quentin Tarantino movie?

Paul McDonald – “Old Time Rock N Roll”

Well at least he’s starting with an uptempo song (and one by Ann Arbor’s Bob Seger)! He’s also starting with two Red Bull  and vodkas! He’s got the manic factor cranked up to 11 and decked out in his rosiest suit yet! He should dial it back just a titch though. I appreciate his energy, but all that tipsy running around has his voice thin and hoarse. Hey, some people can belt while moving around and Paul is not one of those people. By the time he got to the breakdown with the saxophonist running onstage, it was ok. Basically, Paul had a problem I typically see with James – lots of energy for little payoff. During the practice montage, Will.I.Am advises Jimmy Iovine that adding beatboxing and a drum machine to the Paul’s performance would be in direct conflict with Seger’s anti-disco lyrics. Will.I.Am: an Unlikely Voice of Reason.

Lauren Alaina – “The Climb”

Now this is the schlocky crap I was expecting! At least Lauren chose an age-appropriate song, can move down the stairs without her voice breaking and didn’t sing “I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing” again. Seriously, that’s like her “Baby lock them doors and turn the lights down low….” Other than one crack-up at the first big vocal run, she handles herself pretty well. She adds a bunch of belts and runs that I don’t remember from the Miley Cyrus original, so, um, points for originality? She had a technically solid performance, but I didn’t care for the song.

Stefano Langone – “End Of The Road”

Heh, Stefano smirks the left side of his face, the opposite of Scotty. This is slightly different kind of performance for Stefano, as the song is by Boyz II Men so it was built to be a group harmony tune. Stefano has plenty of room for vocal pyrotechnics while the backup singers lay the foundation, so he seemed much more powerful than his normal “stark arrangement + wail” performance style. He still felt a little insincere, but this was an improvement for him.

Scotty McCreery – “Across My Heart”

It figures that Scotty, the literal guy that he is, would find a movie with “country” in the title and pick a song from that (the movie being Pure Country). It was also a switcheroo from a Harry Nilsson song (what is with people changing their songs mid-practice?). The performance itself isn’t too shabby. It’s your garden variety big country slow song, but Scotty does well in those confines, even belting a little. I’m not even fazed by his smirks and the way he holds the mic. What does faze me is what Randy Jackson says during the judging – “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” That says more about Randy and his musical conservatism than it does about Scotty sticking to his strengths.

Casey Abrams – “Nature Boy”

Casey got a haircut! He really is cleaning up and I’m not sure I like it. The jazzy arrangement is retro hot, right down to the bass + piano + bongos three-piece combo and vintage microphone! Casey keeps quiet and cool for most of the performance, whipping out the wail for the big build. I loved the outro, with Casey taking the audience out of the song by just jamming with the other players and knocking out a few well-placed notes. Casey may lose a few votes with his snarly belt, but I loved that he defied Jimmy Iovine and went with what he felt comfortable with, namedropping Esperanza Spalding “who dat” analogy after the performance. Even Randy liked his choice! For awhile I felt that Casey was coasting and taking fewer risks, but he’s coming back. Go Casey!

Haley Reinhart – “Call Me”

Wow! That’s a great song to choose, though I was worried about how such a stylish song would translate to a square journeyman performer like Haley. There’s a subtle, desperate passion in the Blondie original that hits you hard and gets your heart racing. I just wasn’t feeling it in the performance. That’s not entirely Haley’s fault. She was fairly off-key and a bit too soft, even when she let her now-signature growl out on the chorus, but she was energetic enough to get my attention and did ok on the Italian + French in the bridge. The music also lacked the punk edge of the original song. It felt more like a wedding band cover. I appreciate Haley trying something fun and risky (go fuck yourself, Randy), but you know what they say about good intentions…. During the criticism Jennifer Lopez points out the gender voting disparity and becomes my favorite judge this season.

Jacob Lusk – “Bridge Over Troubled Water”

Jacob looks beaten down during the pre-song montage. It looked like Jimmy Iovine forced this song on him. It shows in the performance. Jacob goes through the vocal motions and raises himself up for the big chorus, but otherwise he’s as stiff as a board. I didn’t hate the performance. I pitied the performance. I’ve given up on Jacob ever becoming a fun contestant, but I’ve given him a ton of props on his sheer vocal talent. However, the past few weeks it’s felt like he’s been phoning it all in. Jacob, you may have more raw talent and old school R&B moves, but you are this season’s Anoop Desai – immense talent and wasted potential.

James Durbin ft. Zakk Wylde – “Heavy Metal”

Here we go again with the literal song selection, only replace country with metal. I have to give him credit for picking a slightly more obscure song (Sammy Hagar solo), openly defying Jimmy Iovine and convincing Will.I.Am (who should be a fucking judge at this point) to come to his side. We also have former Ozzy guitarist Zakk Wylde shredding away on guitar while James wails like a banshee, only this time a banshee in top form instead of one who’s been punched in the solar plexus. The whole thing really fit together for me. Maybe this is just James sticking to his strengths, but I feel like he’s gained a little bit more control of his voice since the top 24 round. When he let out the big Durbin screech at the end during Wylde’s big solo, it just felt right.

While I had a hard time picking a top 3 for this week, I was happy to hear that it wasn’t wall to wall ballads. About half of the performances had decent song choices and about 30% were well-sung. The big takeaway for me was how much of a tool Jimmy Iovine is – all of Randy’s musical conservatism combined with the self-righteous air of authority and general New York pushiness. It’s combo package of punchability.

Top 3 Performances

  1. James Durbin
  2. Casey Abrams
  3. Will.I.Am – for assisting in the takedown of Jimmy Iovine

Bottom 3 Performances

  1. Jacob Lusk
  2. Paul McDonald
  3. Lauren Alaina
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