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Thoughts On American Idol Top 6: Carole King

April 27, 2011

Tonight’s theme features songs written or performed by Carole King. Boomer singer-songwriter types like Ms. King are as outside of my music radar as most country musicians, so I can’t really ding anyone on song choice tonight. Maybe my ignorance of Carole King’s music will help me focus on the contestant’s performances.

Randy, ever the square, is dressed in some faux-prep letter sweater. Meanwhile Steven is once again the disco grandma. J.Lo just looks nice.

Jacob Lusk – “Oh No Not My Baby”

Jacob gets things off to a fairly upbeat start performing a bouncy number while dressed like The Love Below-era Andre 3000. He’s even dancing around like a dork, which is a good move for the mostly-serious Jacob. He seems stuck in his higher range, but overall he has good control. This was a good recovery from last week. Steven was right to give him points for having fun but it may be too little, too late.

Lauren Alaina – “Where You Lead”

Iovine surprises Lauren with a surprise pep talk from Miley Cyrus. It was “pretty cool.” Lauren’s performance is clean and solid. She seemed to work well with the backup singers and she didn’t go out of control on the harder parts. Did she really need to pull a (19 year old?) guy on stage from the audience? On one hand I appreciate a little surprise spectacle. On the other hand it felt unnecessary, especially when she moved to sing behind the judges’ desk and left the guy all by himself onstage looking like a tool (she did eventually come back around and sang all up next to him – yeah, creepy) This felt a little safe for her, but she did it well.

Haley and Casey – “I Feel The Earth Move”

That’s right. The contestants have to sing duets to pad this thing out to 90 minutes. These two were a good pair a few weeks back and while tonight’s performance is a case of diminishing returns, the duo is still solid. They share the time pretty well but neither really rocks nor crashes. Their style and arrangement are good and when the pair harmonizes they make each other sing better. Alone Casey is inappropriately growly and Haley stretches her voice too thin. It was phoned in, but it was good.

Scotty McCreery – “You’ve Got A Friend”

Scotty starts things off right by holding his mic like he’s supposed to and using his low range against a single acoustic guitar. It was all kind of Chris Isaak in a way. Scotty picked up more emotion in his voice and face as the string section came in. While he fell flat towards the really heavy moments in the song, it still felt like kind of a growth moment for him. Yet just like Jacob, I wonder if it’s too little too late. I wish he pulled this kind of thing earlier in the show.

James Durbin – “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?”

Apparently James picked this song from forum requests. They can do that? James also announces that he wants to distance himself from the poorly-executed gimmicks of his past performances. He makes good on his promise by also doing the sparsely arranged vocal intro before kicking into the main song (and playing guitar). I see where James is going here with the doo wop-lite thing, but it all felt like he was kind of going through the motions. He was still too wail-y in the song’s bigger moments and he didn’t sound like he was connecting to the song’s material. Like some of Casey’s weaker performances, James started out strong and the awkwardness just seeped in like an I.V. drip. Randy gave him a hug at the end and it was as uncomfortable to watch as you probably think.

Lauren and Scotty – “What? Again?” “Up On The Roof”

Seacrest tries to imply romance between the two, what with all their duets. Lauren kind of plays along, but Scotty has zero tolerance for this forced bullshit and wastes no time in shutting it down. As for the performance itself, they initially try to sell it by looking at each other as they sing, but it quickly devolves into an oversinging contest as the kids try to one up each other while mouthing false platitudes of love. Stefano couldn’t have written a more muggy melodramatic farce. Based on J.Lo’s compliments and Lauren’s devilish facial expression, it appears that she won the round.

Casey Abrams – “Hi De Ho”

Rocking a hat that is way too small for his head (and as a large cranium-ed gentlemen I feel his pain, as hats in our sizes are hard to come by) Casey leads us around the bluesy backing band one instrument at a time as if he was presenting an animatronics exhibit at a Disney park. Performance-wise he is in pretty good shape. This bluesy stuff is totally in his comfort zone and is maybe a little too conservative, but he makes it count with a gradual display of vocal power. Here his growls make sense and the fun he had “jamming” transferred to my viewing experience.

Haley Reinhart – “Beautiful”

Initially Haley sounds like she’s found the right range for her voice and it isn’t until maybe 2/3rds into the song where she starts oversinging, though she quickly recovers. I’m reluctant to give her too much credit since she still sings way too thinly, though I feel like she’s been working harder to cut the crap. I felt like this was one of her better performances. The only other knocks I have were for her dress and mugging pageant moves.

James and Jacob – “I’m Into Something Good”

Il Divo and Mr. Histrionic team up! The matching suit jackets and jeans the pair is wearing make them look like Glee’s The Warblers. At times they were stiff and other times they were too awkward. It was only the inherently upbeat nature of the song that forced the guys to be more fun than they were for their individual performances, albeit some of that fun came from the unintentional comedy that occurred whenever they had to look at each other.

Okay so no one had a real shit show tonight, but no one really blew me away either. The contestants who took “risks” (Jacob, Scotty, James) did so too late in the competition to really count. Everyone else just kept doing their thing, but they felt more like skilled pretenders than genuine pros. Tonight was kind of boring, and it wasn’t Carole King’s fault.

Top 3 Performances

  1. Casey Abrams
  2. Lauren Alaina (until the end)
  3. Jacob Lusk

Bottom 3 Performances

  1. Haley Reinhart
  2. Lauren and Scotty
  3. James and Jacob
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