Thursday, April 7, 2011

American Idol Season 10, Top 9 Perform

"I used to feel so uninspired...."  So wrote the unmentioned songwriting genius behind "Natural Woman,"  Carole King.  That pretty much sums up how I felt after watching the Top 9 of American Idol perform songs from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  There were no train wrecks, no disasters, nothing that would inspire a 24 hour news channel to create new graphics and pulsating intro music.  And there were no transcendentally memorable moments -- not that you could tell from all the judges' lavish praise. 

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'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.


  1. Paul's take on Folsom Prison Blues was better than he's been in previous weeks and I did enjoy it. Maybe it was because with the guitar attached to him he does less of that crazy chicken-flapping on stage. However, all the smiling during lines like "I shot a man in Reno..." came over more serial killer than outlaw.

  2. Love James Durbin! He is still my favorite, and really thought all nine were very good compared to past seasons, but none measure up to Casey James from last season.

  3. Karen Smith from HillsboroApril 7, 2011 at 10:31 AM

    Here I go. Right click "copy", right click "paste"...Casey James has ruined Idol for me forever. Doesn't anyone enjoy watching a person standing or sitting perfectly still and delivering a vocal performance? How did James Taylor make a dime? I love Scotty's voice but I want to close my eyes to enjoy his voice. It is just creepy how he twists and turns his body...and the poor mic...!!! Settle down, Scotty, and sing your song. Don't make Casey James sing Sinatra and don't make Pia sing rock and roll. I seem to always agree with you, Shari. But my favorite of the night was Lauren, I liked the fact that she didn't push it to the limits like Haley, whose throat should be hoarse today. Bottom three for me, Haley, Paul, Stefano.

  4. Sorry to say that I don't remember Casey James' song from last year...but I must agree that last night's performances were lackluster. Paul seemed comfortable and was enjoyable. My favs continue to be James, Scotty and Lauren. Sadly, even with Pia's performing arts school background, she really only wants to continue with the ballads without having much stage presence, and comes off seeming older than her years. Going home...Casey or Pia.

  5. You wrote a horrible review! Just horrible...Casey and Haley continue to be two of the most talented contestants this season! For you to say that Haley can't sing, and that Casey's style of singing's getting old lets me know you know nothing about the music business!

  6. Is it possible to be put in the very same prison you sang about because you sang about it so badly? Paul had that weird Gary-Busey-doing-Buddy-Holly slither going at full tilt, sliding over the stage like a pickpocket moving through a subway crowd at rush hour. It's like Sanjaya squared.


  7. Im really trying to let new undiscovered talent in..BUT since David Cook won that crown... Im bored bored bored! Now he got my attention..commanded that stage with daring risks, brilliant song choices, vulnerability, charm, amazing vocals..and just enuff attitude~ all to keep my world arocken to this day!

  8. Personally, I thought that Lauren was the best of the night. She does connect with her audience and her voice is always on-key, on-pitch.....she is perfect in every way.

  9. Shari, you get funnier and funnier every week. LMAO! I agree with pretty much everything you said with the exception of Lauren. I like that she didn't over sing it, which is what I thought she was going to do.

    Bottom 3: Haley, Liza/Jerry (although he was more Jerry Lewis this week with those damn screwy faces), and Stefano.

    I think Stefano's number is up. Paul has too big of a following to go and they won't send another girl home. I wish Haley would go.


  10. You are hysterical Shari, and this show just gets worse and worse. I've watched all the seasons and this one I can't even watch the results show. I don't even buy into the judges, just boring now. And to think I laid on the floor and pressed redial for Casey James for hours last year. I liked David Cook too, but Casey James took the cake, and now I think I'm over American Idol.

  11. What fun, I agree with most of the comments tonight, (its night here in the UK)especially "one of the best American Idol performances ever Casey James and Jealous Guy". I still love Paul though and can't stop listening to The Grand Magnolias.

  12. I don't agree with anything you said!

  13. Casey Abrams was my early fave. After that crappy take on Nirvana song, and inevitable growls every week, I've given up. Ah Idol, I tried... really.

    How I hoped there's a Kelly Clarkson, Adam Lambert or Bo Bice/Underwood this season. I'm not even a fan of any of them, but when I searched up YouTubes from these people I uttered "wow, amazing!". This season, I didn't feel or thought anything. And they said these are the most talented bunch? Ok then....

  14. I think you're wrong about Pia, don't think she's going anywhere. I though Paul was horrible. The only thing that guy can really sing & pull off to me is Rod Stewart songs. Everything else makes him sound like he has a sisy voice that is as weak as water. James Durbin is my pick this year, but the dude has either got to get those ears pinned back, or grow his hair out long to cover them up. Then maybe I could look at the tv when he sings without laughing...and, it would add credentials to his rocker image if he had long hair as well. He needs to grow a Casey James' do. JS

  15. Ha ha. Wow. So, the judges now realize they blew their "save" too early. Where to begin...

    "Jacob sounds like he's underwater when he sings." Ho Ho. Yes. That's absolutely true. Good call.

    "Scotty looks like a drunk wedding singer trying to hold on to the mic." That's a fantastic way to describe it. Bingo.

    "Paul actually sounded the best he has all season. I think I need to lie down." And right after your recent blog post attacked solely him, too. But don't worry. I'm sure he'll screw up and be gone in another week or two. Right? I mean, I'm asking you because lately, your insight seems to be "in it to win it", as we all figured out tonight.

    "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. The public does not like to be bored and good singing, with nothing more, is boring. Going home: Pia" All true.

    Holy $#!t. You nailed it. She was one of the best and yet, so what? Pia was the odds-on Vegas favorite this season and no professional blog-analysts thought she was in danger. Not even close. So, maybe you got lucky. Or, maybe you're just brilliant.

    You should win an award for your level of commentary. If you charged an access fee, I'd pay it. Sign me up.

  16. Your blog is mean spirited and a real example of bullying! How is it funny or admirable to celebrate when someone's dreams are shattered. I am surprised that Casey James continues to be associated with you after reading your American Idol blogs. As for Pia, she was eliminated because she was so superior, people didnt vote, believing she didnt need their vote, she would have the majority. She will have a career regardless of the elimination and regardless of your cruelty.

  17. And Shari will have a blog regardless of your cruelty. Yeah, this blog is mean-spirited, though I think "insensitive" is what you really mean. Being insensitive is her schtick, just like it was Simon Cowell's schtick. And Simon was the founding spirit of American Idol, so this schtick is quite appropriate for analyzing American Idol. Therefore, if you didn't like Simon, then you won't like this blog. But, is this blog an example of bullying? No. This is an example of bullying: Go f@ck yourself. :)

  18. omg!what is happening on here,there are actually people saying Shari is mean spirited
    on here.she is the most honest writer i've seen in a long time.she tells it like it is.everyones taste is different.i have to agree with shari about paul.he's just plain horrible,not sure what her opinion is about Casey A.but he is awful.and could someone please help this guy pick out clothes.something maybe that doesn't look like it comes from the salvation army.when I heard Haley is sneaking around with Casey A.I lost all respect for her.small town I live in are full of girls just like her.she's starting to listen to him about the growling and goofy noises she is starting to do.can't believe Pia was voted other interests for me on the idea I've heard for voting system is to let voters pick bottom 3 then judges make final elimation.

  19. Gosh. Mean-spirited? Bullying? Cruel? Really? Let's compare this blog to what's happening in Libya and Yemen and GET A GRIP.

    This is a reality show. The contestants signed up for the gig - good and bad. And I'm sure they are not all lying prostrate on their beds sobbing their hearts out over what mean, cruel Shari has to say about their performances. Lordy.

    Shari's take makes me laugh. I agree with her about half the time and the other times I shrug and say 'well, that's her opinion.' I don't rant and rave and curse her out. It's her opinion. It's my choice to come here and read. If it made me hot under the collar I wouldn't come around anymore. That simple.

    All that to say - Shari, kudos and props to your call on Pia. I was stunned, quite frankly. Not stunned in any kind of "I'm heartbroken" way. I don't have a connection to any of these peeps this year, sad to say. But I really thought Pia was the most marketable and would be on for awhile.

    Which brings me to a final point that I never used to think about when I watched AI. Not until last year when I became, finally, a commited fan to one of the contestants and followed them after the show ended....

    Are any, any of the remaining group commercially viable? My take: NO.

  20. James is the only one I really get, but Lauren could amount to something in time. Oh, and Scotty has a lock on a country career.

  21. James is a hard rocker. That's what he wants to do after the show. What self-respecting hard rock fan is going to follow an AI contestant? I suppose he could go the pop rock road.. but we already have an Adam who is a better singer and showman.

    Lauren might be okay in country - but so far, she's shown she can be a good karoke singer. Nothing special as of yet. IMHO

    Scotty is going to have a tough time. How many country songs can really be sung by a 17 year old boy with any authenticity? Not many. Yes, he has a very good voice, but it sounds very much like other country singers already out there making a living. Give me Josh Turner any old day to a 17 year old.

    Maybe Scotty and Lauren down the line will do something. Maybe they will grow into their voices and make something of themselves. But in the near term? I'd be astonished.

  22. rar, wish I knew who you were because I'd thank you for two things -- your support and your correct spelling of schtick which I keep forgetting to fix in my posts!

    Thanks to everyone for their positive feedback!! And to anon 8:14