Truly, "karaoke" was the theme of the night. Everyone, with one notable exception, sang fine. Even my usual go-to guys, Jacob Lusk and Paul McDonald, were not as brilliantly awful as they usually are. But that does not make for an exciting show. Quick, try and name one performance that you will remember a year from now. A year ago on Idol, Casey James sang "Jealous Guy" and recently it was one of the choices in a recent poll of the most memorable Idol moments of the past nine years. Can you think of a performance last night that will be talked about tomorrow let alone a year from now?
But, as the saying goes, the show must go on and so I will try and muster some enthusiasm about this recap.
The first one up was Jacob Lusk, usually the Don Quixote to my Cervantes. When I heard him in rehearsal trying to be sexy singing Marvin Gaye's "Let's Get it On," I thought it must be my birthday. He sounded possessed and was spewing random guttural sounds like Linda Blair projected pea soup. He looked terrified, perhaps because he could hear himself. But, no, he was afraid of singing something so sexy -- so nasty. Ooooh-kay. Yeah, he'll have a great career as an R&B or pop singer eschewing anything related to sex.
So instead Jacob decides to sing a song by Michael Jackson, and I immediately wonder if MJ is still off limits as joke fodder. I'm guessing probably. Let's just say I've always thought that one of the most ironic pairings between a song and a singer was "Man in the Mirror." Jacob sings it and it feels much more comfortable for him and he's confident that he'll do well. You want to know why? Because, and I quote Jacob here: "if I end up in the bottom three, it won't be because I sang the song bad and it won't be because I sang the song wrong. It'll be because everybody in America wasn't ready to look themselves in the mirror." I actually did a doubletake, sure that I misheard him. But my trusty DVR showed me that my ears are just fine, he really did just say that.
I'm not sure I've ever been both insulted and threatened by an Idol contestant before. It's an interesting voting strategy -- vote for me or the terrorists win. What's worse, his face was so sincere, I think he really believes this. So, I can't comment on the silly finger snapping. The annoying vibrato he whipped out this week. The fact that he can't sing the high notes during the chorus. His awkward "dancing" and pelvic thrusts (isn't that nasty, Jacob?). Or the fact that he sounds like he's underwater when he sings. Because if I do, I'm apparently in favor of poverty, war and everything else bad.
After the commercial, it's Haley Reinhart singing Janis Joplin's "Piece of my Heart." Apparently, we can blame the judges for this pairing because, when they couldn't think of what to say to Haley, they kept trodding out the name of the only rocker chick they could think of. Haley is no Janis and what she does to this song should at least required her to spend the next four months in an orange jumpsuit cleaning trash on the side of the freeway.
Now, I know what I'm about to say may be shocking. But Haley can't sing. It's a little known fact that everyone has conspired to keep secret. When she grunts and growls it's meant to distract from the fact that she doesn't know what else to do vocally. I don't know who it was that told her that mimicking an idling motorcycle randomly revving at a red light was a great idea, but it sounds forced and fake and not at all musical.
Casey Abrams rehearsed "Every Little Thing" by the Police and it seemed an obvious choice for him as it was the last (and only) time that anyone with a hit record played stand up bass. Again, I'm excited. The mentors are not digging his performance and complaining about the finger snapping (did you hear that, Jacob) and his overall "Sammy" vibe. Hallelujah, they finally notice what I've been saying forever, that his shtick is tired and sounds like an old Vegas lounge act. But, alas, this is not to be. Like Jacob, he changes his song choice and I'm more angry than disappointed.
He's singing one of my favorite songs by one of my favorite bands, Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Have You Ever Seen the Rain?" He grits his teeth and grunts and smiles awkwardly (check out the first time he sings the title). He reminds me of Billy Crystal's SNL character, the old blues guy. It's "day" not "day-uh" dude. He flies around the melody, he goes off key and back on, he sputters and shouts, all while making odd faces to the unlucky camera circling him. Barely moving his left hand, I suddenly think I should try stand up bass. Finally, an instrument that looks easy!
Salvation seems to be here in the person of one of my favorites, Lauren Alaina. She's introduced as singing the mis-attributed "Natural Woman." Yes, Aretha sang the hell out of that song, but so did the song's writer. I'm looking forward to finally hearing someone who can sing, but as she starts I find myself overcome with disappointment. Then it occurs to me, perhaps a 16 or 17 year old needs a little more life experience before they can carry this song. She sounds fine, her voice is always good, but there was nothing behind the eyes. There was a total disconnect between the song and the singing.
I've been waiting for James Durbin, knowing that rock is his genre and he's going to melt my face. But instead, he goes the other way and takes the sweet, if lyrically anemic, "While My Guitar Gently Weeps," by George Harrison. In rehearsal, James' voice is heartbreakingly beautiful, but on stage it's not as pure and evocative. It's still good and he continues to prove he's the best male vocalist in the competition and that his Lambert-esque excesses are for extra flavor not to mask lack of talent. He tears up at the end and while I'm pretty cynical, it seems genuine and makes me feel sad that the performance he left on stage did not measure up to that emotion.
Scotty McCreery does Elvis. Or at least tries to. He runs around the stage singing "That's alright, Mama" and at first I wonder how he can learn such complicated lyrics in just a week? But early rock was not about the message so much as the feeling. And, for better or worse, that's what Scotty brought. He went full rocker, going up to sing around the judges and all over the set and seemed to have a blast. He doesn't have the King's swagger, but his voice is very good, as always, and it's nice that he could show a different side of himself. However, I wish there were a class "Holding Your Mic 101" that Scotty could take, because the two-handed, turn the mic sideways look is so distracting. It's looks like a drunk wedding singer trying to hold on to the mic and I worry he'll scare small children. But have no fear, they instead see the two-handed hold as reminiscent of the pied piper and come charging him after the song.
Last week Pia Toscano told us that she was going to change it up this week and finally stop with the ballads, and she delivered singing Tina Turner's version of "River Deep, Mountain High." I know I'm going to sound like a broken record (a reference kids may not get any more), but she has two-thirds of the package. She looks great and has the best voice of any of the women, probably the best in the competition. But she has yet to learn how to perform. I'm reminded of Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood who both came to Idol with remarkable voices but had to learn how to deliver the performance to match the vocals. I hope Pia is allowed to stay on by the voters to develop that other piece of the puzzle. If she doesn't she'll be a great back up singer, but won't get the spotlight.
Stefano Langone takes on "When a Man Loves a Woman," by Percy Sledge. He has a nice voice (does he remind anyone else of Season 9's Andrew Garcia??), but there's no there there. He just doesn't make me want to hear more. I did enjoy how he ignored will.i.am's repeated instruction -- complete with fully acted out scenes -- on how to sing the song's title. Don't rush it. Start it and then go out for a sandwich. It was inspired -- and entirely disregarded.
At long last, it's Paul McDonald. Let's try and figure out what song he should pick. Well, he bounces around on stage when he's not playing his guitar, he's got a blindingly white smile permanently plastered on his face and he's goofy. So of course he chooses a song by the Man in Black, Johnny Cash. No, not the funny, silly, "Boy Named Sue," but the wistful, tortured "Folsom Prison Blues." And moments later Paul is standing on the stage, his bright smile a mile wide, singing "I shot a man in Reno/just to watch him die." Way to connect with a song, dude.
Here's the hard part -- he actually sounded the best he has all season. Maybe he's found his genre, boogie woogie meets country. I have to agree with Steven Tyler's assessment -- imperfectly perfect. Everything that's wrong about his voice -- and there's really too much to mention here -- somehow works tonight. It's still shaky and creaky and trembly and tuneless. But tonight it worked. I think I need to lie down.
So my bottom three tonight: Casey, Haley and Jacob
Predicted bottom three: Stefano, Lauren and Pia
Going home: Pia
Hope I'm wrong, but girls are dropping like -- well -- girl contestants on American Idol, and the public does not like to be bored and good singing, with nothing more, is boring.