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Thoughts On American Idol Top 4: Inspiration / Leiber and Stoller

May 11, 2011

Tonight we have two rounds. Round one is songs the contestants find inspirational (did anyone miss Idol Gives Back night?) Round two is songs by the songwriting team of Leiber and Stoller. The mentor for round two is none other than Stefani Germanotta, Mother Monster, the Hardest Working Woman In Show Business…Lady Gaga! Isn’t it funny how this show brings in the interesting mentors when the themes focus on really old material? This reminds of season 9 when Adam Lambert came in to mentor during Elvis week. Silly Idol….

James Durbin – “Don’t Stop Believing”

“Does anybody know this song?” yells James as the piano vamps up. He also calls out Randy “Status Quo” Jackson (a former Journey member) before he starts….singing? James holds the notes at inappropriate times, sings incredibly off key, and just bleats in that way that made me root against him when the Top 24 was picked. He also seems to have caught the old Mush Mouth disease from Haley when he sings about taking “the fidnight train going anywhere.” I’m upset because this is a popular, catchy song that has been sung by a lot of people and at best James’s performance was drunken karaoke. Not to be outdone by the flubs, Status Quo offhandedly calls James “girl” during the criticism portion.

Haley Reinhart – “Earth Song”

Why don’t people do the fun MJ songs on this show? Resembling Victoria Jackson circa 1993, Haley does the minimal accompaniment intro thing again and she sounds alright but when the song tries to take off poor Haley gets sucked into its engines. By the big sing off closing, Haley sounds like her voice is about to blow out. During the criticism J.Lo talks to Haley like a disappointed football coach talks to a quarterback who throws the third interception of the game (I’ve been watching Friday Night Lights on Netflix.) I wish she displayed this kind of tough love earlier in the season. When Status Quo tries to pile on, Haley brushes his words off like so much dust. She is so completely over it and it’s awesome. I’ll reiterate: I really like Haley as a person, but her performances can be wanting.

Scotty McCreery – “Where Were You When The World Stopped Turning?”

Scotty takes on the 9/11-inspired Alan Jackson song. He sings it competently enough and the arrangement is nice but….ah fuck it! This feels like total patriot-bating. My visceral reaction is to say, “It was 10 years ago and you were, what, 6 years old?!” In the past people have appropriated this tragedy to come across as “down home” and push whatever reactionary bullshit they want (and don’t even consider New York to be real America.) It feels like Scotty is trying to equate voting for him with patriotism. That’s not patriotic, that’s cynical and disingenuous. Fuck that shit and fuck the judges for affirming it!

Lauren Alaina – “Anyway”

Wearing the most WTF outfit of the night (seriously she looks really uncomfortable up there) Lauren also goes for the “affirmation in the face of tragedy” angle. However, her choice feels more genuine that Scotty’s since she is from down south and she has mentioned the recent tornado disasters earlier in the show. She also doesn’t pick a song that calls out the specific event that inspires her (maybe that’s only because one doesn’t exist yet.) Performance-wise she sings well enough, though I wasn’t wowed by it. Maybe if she picked a different dress she wouldn’t seem so uncomfortable.

Haley Reinhart – “I Who Have Nothing”

Gaga tells Haley to go psycho and up the theatrics. That’s a dangerous game given Haley’s past history of mugging. The arrangement is cinematic to the max, with a big orchestra set against some crisp rock drumming. It kind of works. Haley sticks to her spot onstage and goes for a controlled chaos. She builds up her volume, minimizes the growl, and (dare I say it) sticks the held note at the end! Haley makes almost no eye contact with Status Quo during the criticism. You can cut the tension with a knife.

Scotty McCreery – “Young Blood”

During the mentor round Lady Gaga tells Scotty to sing into the mic straight on, advice he could have used at the start of the show. Also, Scotty seems to be really nervous around people who are different from him, saying he needs to “kiss his cross” after meeting with Gaga as if she’s a vampire, or other minion of Old Scratch. Ugh. However, this is a good song choice for Scotty. It has a nice rockabilly feel to it and he can fit his voice to its playful tone. He’s a little off key at times and his usual stage crap is in full effect, but when it comes to the singing he’s competent.

Lauren Alaina – “Trouble”

She got hung up over the word “evil?” It’s pretty central to the song. Did she not know the song when she picked it? Did she think it was “I’m a weevil?” Did she think her glittery 80s Tammy Faye grandma outfit was a good choice? Questions aside, I felt that she was overwhelmed by the arrangement. She just couldn’t climb her way out of the mix. She had good energy though and if you’re gonna dress like Tammy Faye you might as well work it like a televangelist.

James Durbin – “Love Potion #9”

The highlight of the mentor round was Lady Gaga grinding on James to get him to loosen up and move his hips. James’s performance feels like an 80s pop metal show, right down to the purple and green lighting. He doesn’t seem to show any more wiggle in his hips than before, but his singing is more on point and on key. He also employs the right amount of showmanship. I admit I was a little pleased when he stopped the song to do a little wailing theatrics. It was still self-indulgent but still kind of fun.

Tonight’s episode was mostly ok. There were one or two songs that made me angry, but otherwise nothing was terribly disappointing. With two weeks to go in the show, I still don’t feel much star potential from these contestants. They just seem like really lucky regular people who sing about as well as your more talented classmates or co-workers. We need a Max Martin night when everyone gets to use vocal processing. Then we’ll see who can be a pop star.

Ranking

  1. Lauren Alaina (She’s the closest to being an artist)
  2. Haley Reinhart (She’s the most likable)
  3. James Durbin (Mostly craptacular with the occasional bright spot)
  4. Scotty McCreery (Anger-inspiring!)
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