Thoughts On American Idol Top 5: Then and Now

May 4, 2011

Hmm. No judges’ intro (or maybe our DVR didn’t catch the beginning of the show.) For tonight, each contestant gets 2 performances – one from recent memory and one for the old folks. We’re down to the top 5 contestants and I can’t say I’m really rooting for any of them. Dueling Chosen Ones Lauren and James seem to be the best singers, but they bore me or come across as too cloying. Meanwhile I’ve come to like Haley as a person, but as a singer she’s not very good. Let the battle begin!

James Durbin – “Closer To The Edge”

Dressed in a denim vest with lots of studs like he’s been ripped from a Guitar Hero game, James wails over a 30 Seconds To Mars song that I have never heard. He sounds fairly on pitch and I imagine that Jared Leto sang the original song just as high and waily. I also imagine the original song to be just as full of empty affirmation. Technically the performance ranks in the “good” to “very good” portion of James’s performance rubric. Something tells me that if James takes the prize and Iovine gets his hands on him, he’ll come out as a Daughtry clone. He may look like the second coming of the “New Wave Of British Heavy Metal” (go ahead, look it up), but he’ll end up like David Cook and make a bloated rock record devoid of fun.

Jacob Lusk – “No Air”

I give Jacob points for singing both parts of the Jordin Sparks/Some Asshole duet, and he makes it sound like the song was written for one singer (though it’s too much for Randy Status Quo Jackson). Jacob tries to put a little pep in his step and be more contemporary, but his pipes suffer greatly. There are brief moments of talent, but he’s faltering. On the other hand, I liked when he stood his ground during the judges’ criticism. I don’t know why Randy’s pushing Jacob so hard to be Luther Vandross. I ask again, how is Ruben Studdard doing these days? And why did Randy diss Jordin Sparks on national TV? She was the last woman to win the show, and that was back in 2007. Fuck you, Status Quo Jackson!

Lauren Alaina – “Flat On The Floor”

Wow! Another song by an Idol alum (this time Carrie Underwood)! Way to be creative, Lauren! Maybe it’s the mixing, but the Former Chosen One sounds overwhelmed by the music. She lives up to the title of the (admittedly very catchy) song by falling flat on every vocal build and run in the song. She even flubs a few notes to catch her breath early on in the song. She’s trying to be on top of her game and she looks the part, but it just never takes it anywhere. The judges need to be meaner, dammit!

Scotty McCreery – “She’s Gone”

So Scotty has the most fun performance so far. The song is uptempo and has a blues-rock flavor that allow for Scotty to have a hot call and response with the two backup singers. However, when he’s running around the theater he’s super manic – pied piper, rap hands, and a smirk that’s thankfully more Jerry Lee Lewis than George W. Bush. I kind of agreed with the judges’ criticism that Scotty showed some range, but it wasn’t his best singing. Also, stop saying that every contestant is “in it to win it,” Status Quo. Your catchphrases have no meaning!

Haley Reinhart – “You And I”

So Haley will perform an unreleased song by Lady Gaga. Since Jimmy Iovine is Gaga’s boss, he can pull that sort of thing (and push it on Haley – kiss of death?). As contestants go, Haley is probably the one I would most want to hang out with. She has grown on me as a person. However, her vocal shortcomings continue to dog her performances. While she shows some range and a little emotion, the whole thing felt a little too recital for me. I think Haley was right to show hesitation here. The song swallowed her like a Tic Tac. Maybe it would have been better if she rocked a meat dress or covered herself in blood. Status Quo continues to step on toes by dissing Gaga. Careful, dawg, a few Gaga fans might be looking to hold a Monster Ball on your trachea.

James Durbin – “Without You”

During the practice footage, we get to see reused film of James’s family. Has his wife taken his kid and up and left him and the whole family thing is now just a façade? Is this why we never see them and rarely hear them mentioned? This show does feel like a total sham at times. As for the song: “Flat flat flaaaaaaattttttt. Yell yell screeeeeaaaaaammmmm!” The only genuine part was the crying. The other lesson here is that James can make ballads sound the same no matter what era they come from. Go home to your family, man (if it’s still there for you when this whole thing is over.)

Jacob Lusk – “Love Hurts”

I know this song as a sports drink commercial. Anyways, I cannot understand a word Jacob is singing beyond “Love Hurts.” He’s especially incoherent when he goes into the big vocal runs. How to do a Jacob Lusk impression: scream the highest note you can and hold it. Then grab the front of your throat and move it in and out.  It was like the worst of James’s performances. Crash and burn, asshole.

Lauren Alaina – “Unchained Melody”

So this is her parents’ wedding song? I thought “I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing” was her parents’ wedding song (it’s what she said back in herNashvilleaudition.) You’ll just co-opt anything, won’t you, Lauren? She does show a lot more control in this performance. She did really well on her vocal runs and it fit the swelling nature of the song. I question her motives, but her execution was good.

Scotty McCreery – “Always On My Mind”

While Scotty kept his tics to a minimum for this song, he didn’t sound like he was trying. His voice was kind of flat, he didn’t really push his voice out to the audience, and he sat there stiff as a board. He had movement in his face, but it was that kind of sheepishness and choreographed emotion you’d see in Bush’s speeches during the first round of bank bailouts in 2008. J. Lo tells Scotty that he can sing “anything.” Really? Anything? I guess as long as that anything fits within the “both kind” continuum—“Country and Western.”

Haley Reinhart – “House Of The Rising Sun”

They kicked her “boyfriend” off the show, Iovine’s treated her like crap, and now Haley is ready to bust some heads in the name of sweet revenge! Taking a winning play from Adam Lambert, she starts things off acapella, with a plaintive wail that successfully conveys the regret and pain in the song. Then the blues arrangement comes in and she turns up the heat! Her singing and the music go together like Anderson Cooper and disaster zones. Every run, every belt, every quiet moment was right on. I was stunned. And that expression Haley had at the end, the “y’all can fuck off and die” smile, that was the perfect ending. You go, player!

At this point in the show I guess I’m rooting for Haley. That was a hard conclusion to come to, but she’s the only contestant still standing who seems human to me. Everyone else seems content to mug it up like assholes. I recall a criticism I had of Top 13 casualty Ashthon Jones: placeholder – someone who can look like a star performer, but lacks the substance and talent of someone who actually is one. That’s how I feel about four of the contestants. The other has comparable talent but lacks the pretension, and that is why she tops the ranking this week.


  1. Haley Reinhart (did not see that coming back in Top 24 week)
  2. Lauren Alaina
  3. Scotty McCreery
  4. Jacob Lusk
  5. James Durbin

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