Tonight all 13 performers took the stage for the first time and things were quite different from American Idols past. Looking less like a reality TV competition show and more like an artist spotlight, the focus seems to be on tapping into the Glee zeitgeist by presenting polished young people singing intensely produced songs which will be instantly available to DOWNLOAD NOW. Putting aside any pretense of discovering undiscovered talent or watching a new artist's "journey," we're now watching "make a record" boot camp.
Gone also is theme night, unless you count as a theme "music I like," which is roughly the idea behind tonight's choices. So music savant Jimmy Iovine, Chairman of Interscope records, and his cadre of Grammy Award winning producers now groom the contestants each week to "perfect" their songs. Part of the fun of AI had been seeing what each contestant brought to the song, whether they copied or innovated. So we should have less crashing and burning than in years past, right?
First up tonight is newly countrified cowgirl Lauren Alaina singing "Any Man of Mine" by Shania Twain as twangy and hokey as anything you'd see come on stage after Minne Pearl. Why someone who can belt it out without screeching, who has such a strong, pure voice, would waste her time -- and mine -- singing such a cheesy, lightweight performance is beyond me. I'm now under the compulsion to yell Yee Haw at the top of my lungs...does that happen to anyone else when they hear this music? But all is well, because Lauren had a good "tahhhhm."
I'm temporarily thrown off by the fact that the judges seem to agree with me. This is a dangerous precedent. But no fear it will continue, because their big cuddly teddy bear pet is up next. Let the fawning begin!
So here his is, the Idyllwild trained musician who keeps me up at night trying to find more ways of describe his unique combination of smugness and false humility. Never exercising and forgoing basic grooming does not endear him to me, but it apparently is a very in-demand combination for much of the women out there if audience squeals are any measure. So Casey Abrams, the unlikely sex symbol of AI10, does Joe Cocker's version of "With a Little Help from My Friends."
Hey who was that guy behind Joe Cocker in that video from last year's AI finale? Probably doesn't matter.
It starts out well, actually, and my faith in my taste and judgment are immediately under attack. But no fear, cavalier (little nod to REM, sorry), as Abrams resorts to more of the shouting-in-lieu-of-singing that is becoming his trademark. Is this the spoken word part of the concert? I beg you, Casey, try singing. You did it for the first fifteen seconds and it wasn't bad at all. But, of course, the judges love him, telling him, in effect, that they are so under his spell at this time that nothing he does vocally really matters. The other contestants die a little inside.
Okay, time for the first real clunker of the night. Ashthon Jones had been one of my favorites early on. But her version of "Hero" -- well, I won't say is a zero, I'm above that -- is strained and not in the least tuneful. But her hair alone deserves a few votes for defying the laws of gravity and aerodynamics.
Paul McDonald. What can I say about Paul McDonald that I haven't already? Scratchy voice? Check. Overrated? Check. Unrecordable voice? Ditto. He starts out possibly worse than I've heard him before, oozing a creepy breathlessness better suited for stalkerish midnight calls to the babysitter. He has so little breath control, and such a thin, reedy whisper of a voice, that I want to put him on a ventilator -- not listen to another second. But I soldier on and listen to the complete breathy, squeaky performance -- and I'm rewarded with Tosh.0 web redemption worthy dancing. Okay, dancing is a charitable word, more like awkward scooting across the stage. But at least it helps distract from his singing.
Pia Toscano is the new Andrew Garcia. Remember last year, after his amazing performance of "Straight Up" how week after painful week he was reminded how he was a'ight, but not up to that earlier height of brilliance? Well, Pia killed it last week. So no matter what she does for the rest of the season, it will always pale by comparison. Her copy of Celine Dion's version of the Eric Carmen sop-fest "All By Myself," was fine, good actually. But after her brilliance of last week, good seems like abysmal. I'm sure she'll be okay, but someone should have explained to her the concept of peeking too early.
Stuck in the middle is James Durbin singing the only really great song that Paul McCartney wrote post-Beatles, the classic "Maybe I'm Amazed." Now, weeks ago, I called James a poor man's Adam Lambert and mocked his oversinging. Last week I took that back, noting his was the best performance of the week. Well, ditto this week. If anything, it's like a rebirth. James the shrieker has been replaced with James the gifted singer. His was the only performance of the night I was sorry had to be cut short and the only one I'd consider buying. No snark here, boys and girls, I'm really digging this kid.
Would someone explain to Randy Jackson what the phrase "turn the other cheek" means? Thanks.
Next up is the yodeling Haley Reinhart, covering LeAnn Rimes' "Blue." She looks nice, she sounded fine, she's just sort of there. She has no star quality whatsoever. Uh oh, I'm agreeing with Randy Jackson again. Sleepy. See also, boring, uninspired, lazy.
Oh, lord, it's Jacob Lusk. I find it interesting that he was just as bad at concierge service as he is at singing. Did anyone else understand a word he said in that mock phone call at the beginning of his segment? Didn't think so. So the inarticulate one opens up his oversized mouth, let's us examine him for strep, while singing R. Kelly. Seriously. "I Believe I Can Fly" is an overwrought song to begin with, so what happens when Jacob puts his particular form of extreme vocal makeover on the song? It's typical Jacob -- Broadway, theatrical, histrionic. He gets a church chorus to sing for him! Don't we usually save excessive pimping till the top 3 finale?
About those notes near the end, you know the piercing, unending, tuneless shriek, I have this to say. Ouch. Next time, I'll have my thumb hovering over the mute button.
Thia Megila has been on my radar since early on. Underrated, she has one of the best voices in the competition. And she showed it during that stripped-down intro to "Smile." She's got it all, looks, a great voice that sings the melody (take note Casey and Jacob) with a sweet, pure, rich tone. The judges don't see it, complain about the arrangement, and bring her to tears. And I'm confused.
Stefano Langone violates one of Randy Jackson's cardinal rules...though shalt not sing Stevie Wonder. That one has always confused me since I've never thought of Stevie as a great, or even good, vocalist. Regardless, after hearing how Stefano mangles "Lately," I'm going to agree. That horrible, disco arrangement did him -- and the song -- no justice.
I've never believed the excuse that someone couldn't hear themselves on stage, but after hearing Karen Rodriguez' shaky, off-key singing, that is the only reasonable explanation. She was only slightly more interesting than Haley, but her voice was all around the notes desperately searching for the right one yet invariable missing the mark. You know the judges' comments are not going to be good when they start by telling you how prety you look, fyi.
The Soup has already noticed Scotty McCreery and commented on some of the strange faces he makes when singing, a strange smirk that is a tad menacing. So when you go see Scotty in concert, don't spring for the expensive seats. Just sit way back and enjoy his voice. Because, while it is NOT my genre, he has a nice, strong yet soothing sound. He sand Garth Brooks' "River," and did a good job. I suppose my only concern is that country songs don't have much "oomph" to them, so they tend to sound like you're not working very hard and the judges and the voters may prefer someone who sweats more.
Lucky number 13 is Naima Adedapo and I'm a fan. I didn't think she should have made the top 13 over some of the other, better singers, but this girl went out and performed! Her version of Rihanna's "Umbrella" was one of the most entertaining performances of the show so far. Is every note perfect? Okay, I'll admit to being a little hypocritical No, she's not pitch perfect. Did I love the weird funked out bit? It was a little weird. I can't explain why I like her. She's just got IT. I love the tone of her voice which hits the sweet spot for my ears. She's vibrant and exciting and immensely watchable. I just hope giving her a wacky dial in number, 36 insead of 13, won't hurt her chances.
So that's my take on the top 13. I predict Ashton, Haley and Karen in the bottom three. As Bill O'Reilly says, what say you?