Thoughts On American Idol Top 7: Music From The 21st Century

April 20, 2011

Never failing to impress, J.Lo rocks the most sequined set of pajamas I have ever seen. Let the butchering of fairly current music begin!

Asthon, Karen, Thia, Naima, Pia and Paul – “So What”

All the castoffs, right and wrong, get one surprise shoutalong number. Karen looks good with curly hair. So what if she stole it from Ashton? Anyways, Pia and Paul are the only ones who get decent camera time (though they did last the longest on the show), Naima’s opening note is a wasted opportunity, and I wish Thia (props for showing a little attitude btw) looked right at Steven during the line “and you’re a tool, so,” but I suppose….ah fuck it, this still sucks. Do you see who makes up that group? Imagine if that sing-off happened one week earlier!

Scotty McCreery – “Swingin’”

Again I concede I’m ignorant of most country music, but I did not know LeAnn Rimes had a music career after 2000. The way Scotty comes down the stage is especially smarmy and smug. At this point it’s beyond George W. At best he’s like a silent film actor who has to be extra expressive since sound recording wasn’t invented yet. At worst he’s like an inexperienced poser actor auditioning for a Fool part in a play by Shakespeare. Vocally Scotty is coasting and it shows in his face. He may have had fun with it but there was no challenge in that performance. He can do better.

James Durbin – “Uprising”

Why is James dressed like a priest or a bad Bond-style Communist? (Though he does quickly correct with a Mad Max-inspired military jacket.) Backed by a drumline and a surprisingly close facsimile of the original Muse arrangement, James initially comes on strong and shows control. Then by the second chorus James tries to do falsetto pyrotechnics and the whole thing falls apart. Otherwise I’m gonna borrow from my review of Haley’s performance last week:

–        “There’s a subtle, desperate passion in the [Muse] original that hits you hard and gets your heart racing. I just wasn’t feeling it in the performance.”

–        “I appreciate [James] trying something fun and risky (go fuck yourself, Randy), but you know what they say about good intentions….”

Seriously, whose idea was it to up the octave? All bleat and no punch – you disappoint me, James. There are thousands of Guitar Hero players who could do better.

Haley Reinhart – “Rolling In The Deep”

Rocking a gorgeous red polka-dot dress, Haley tries to get keep her soul train running and it kind of works until her growly mugging tendencies take over and her reach exceeds her grasp. She’d do a lot better if she didn’t sing from her throat so much like it’s the last 30 minutes of karaoke night at the bar. All the emotion goes out the window when she tries to “perform,” which is kind of sad both because you do not want to lose the emotion when covering Adele and because I was beginning to think that she was growing as a singer and a performer.

Jacob Lusk – “Dance With My Father”

How come no one dings Jacob for singing too many ballads? On the surface this performance sounds fine enough, but right underneath there’s a constellation of failure. Right off the bat Jacob forgets the words, he quavers like a bad Aaron Neville impersonator, and he comes across as dumpy as James can be at his worst. The emotion itself is fine and it’s a shame that the backing track fucked up on him, but I really wish the judges wouldn’t be so damn nice to everyone. Emotion is important in performance, but so is the ability to translate that emotion into a gripping performance.

Casey Abrams – “Harder To Breathe (“Please Don’t Put A Hit On Me, Marc Anthony Mix)”

I’m not a fan of the acoustic intro. It made no sense for Casey’s fast, growly vocal style. Once the main music kicked in the song rocked hard enough, but Casey was still a little too screechy and menacing (especially at the end). The power walking during the verses was also a little awkward. He should have stuck to rocking out with the axemen or dropped the guitar altogether and got his swagger on. The ending made me uncomfortable when he took the menace to the max and got uncomfortably close to J.Lo. I hoped he had a mint and I hoped she had pepper spray. She seemed to take it all in good stride and Steven Tyler dropped a shit ton of f-bombs (at least that’s what it seemed like) in praise of Casey’s performance style.

Stefano Langone – “Closer”

(Ah shit, Jimmy Iovine raided Michael Jackson’s estate; that is an awfully familiar red leather jacket)Wow! An uptempo number for Stefano! Stefano sang all the notes right and even tried to dance a little (and not enough to deserve praise for it), but he totally lost the meaning of the song. The snarls and arm pumping and attempted swagger – it came across as inappropriately cocksure. The thing I’ve gathered from Ne-Yo’s music, especially this song, is that his best work evokes a kind of vulnerability. Listen to the lyrics: the singer is powerless but he kind of likes it. He might be an alpha otherwise, but the attraction to the subject has knocked him off his game and it’s amazing. Stefano never picked up on the helplessness in the song, and I partially blame Jimmy Iovine’s ham-fisted interpretation during the mentor session for this failure. Fuck you, Jimmy Iovine. You’re nothing but a tool!

Lauren Alaina – “Born To Fly”

Lauren is well dressed tonight. Her outfit is very teenage country, and that’s cool because she’s a teen doing pop country. Her singing is solid, she came across as very earnest but still kinda professional, and it felt like she was connected to the material. Even her vocal run fit with the song, unlike a lot of the performances tonight. Good for her.

Tonight was very disappointing. Based on tonight’s performances, I can’t imagine commercial recordings from any of these assholes except Lauren and maybe Casey. I apologize for jacking a Cowellism, but too many of these performances were between bad karaoke and orgies of manic shouting.

Top 3 Performances

  1. Ryan Seacrest, because his off-the-cuff comments were hilarious tonight
  2. Lauren Alaina
  3. Um, Casey Abrams? Maybe? I dunno. It was good, I guess, Dawg.

Bottom 3 Performances

  1. Jacob Lusk
  2. Stefano Langone
  3. James Durbin

One comment

  1. […] As I said when this song came up on Idol a few weeks ago, this song can be challenging to sing competitively because of its vulnerability. Simply belting this song is missing the point. To do this song well is to be both a good singer and a good actor, as Cee Lo indicates during the coaching. […]

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