Thursday, May 5, 2011

American Idol Season 10, Top 5 Compete

With just three weeks left in the competition there are many unanswered questions.   No, not who will win.  No one cares and it doesn't matter.  I'm talking about the really important ones.  Like, how many more times will judge Steven Tyler call a contestant's performance beautiful?  How many more times will we be able to hear Randy Jackson name drop someone in the music industry or tell us that someone is in it to win it?  Will we ever see Jennifer Lopez actually write on the piece of paper she always seems to refer to during her critiques? 

The theme for tonight is very wide open -- one current song, one older song.  So song choice should not be a factor as basically everything outside of the eighties and nineties is fair game.  Sadly this means, no "So Emotional" and no "I Believe I can Fly" -- both which would have been right up Jacob Lusk's alley.

Tonight's mentor is Sheryl Crow and, I have to say, she sounded better singing along with the contestants than I've heard her before.  Wasn't much of a fan, but maybe I should give her another listen.  Or maybe this shows just how average the contestants are that we've been building up in our minds the past couple of months?

James Durbin is hitting lead-off with "Closer to the Edge" by 30 Seconds to Mars.  He was excited about singing with Sheryl and it seemed the feeling was more than mutual as she said, "I got to sing with James. I can officially retire now."  I thought it was because he was so good, which he has been in every other performance since we first met him in San Francisco.  But tonight was an utter and complete vocal disaster.  Even in rehearsal he was way off -- sharp, flat, and missing notes in new and inventive ways.

Jimmy Iovine knows nothing about dramatic irony a la Mark Burnett, or he never would have sent James off with the assurance that "I don't think anything can get between him and greatness tonight."  Nothing except your jinxing him!!!  Dude.  You're on a reality show.   You say something like that, James had no option but to fall flat (and sharp) on his face.  I happen to love this song and I thought it would be perfect for James.  But literally from the first note you could tell it was time to brace yourself for a really hard landing.  His voice was weak and all over the place, like a drunk kitten on a trampoline.  When he got to the chorus, he was exhausted from running around the crowd and it showed in his weak and painfully bad vocals.

But what did the judges say after this  mix of the Titanic meets the Hindenburg?  Steven said "beautiful," JLo said "we're feeling it, grab it, take it" (whatever that means) and Randy just had to let us know how cool he is that he's heard of 30 Seconds to Mars and knows who their lead singer is (possibly the hottest man on the planet...discuss).  Wow Randy, you're just so in the know!  Oh, and did you know the James is in it to win it?

I checked with my 30 Seconds to Mars expert and this is what she said, "I listened to 6 seconds.  My ears are bleeding.  He should be sent to prison for this.  I think what he did is illegal in at least 35 states."  So there you go!  Personally, I'm wondering if those pills that Kate Winslet took in "Eternal Sunshine" to help her forget are available because I don't want to ever think back on that performance. 

Next up is new Vote for the Worst favorite Jacob Lusk.  Now that Osama bin Laden has been killed, perhaps we can use our special forces to try and locate who is voting for this guy.  How come every time he speaks I think of that "Hercules, Hercules" moment from the Nutty Professor, as if done by Kermit the Frog?  He's singing "No Air" by Jordin Sparks/Chris Brown.  Of course, Miss Judy/Liza takes the Jordin part, in all his screechy, pitchy awfulness.   

The only other time I've heard sounds like that was on the Discovery Channel and I don't recall if they were coyotes or bobcats, but they were in a vicious fight and on the losing end.  JLo is happy he picked this song and she loves the direction he's going in on his way to the top 3, uh, 2, uh, the finale.  Oops.  Meanwhile Randy disagrees and thinks it's probably not the best choice for a solo artist to sing a duet.  Especially if you're going to sound awful in either voice.  He's not feeling Jacob as a pop artist and invokes Luther Vandross' name like a mystical incantation to ward off evil singing.  Steven says Jacob needs to find a niche and doesn't seem to worry at all that it's near the end of the competition and the judges are still arguing about what kind of a singer Jacob will be.  I know...unsigned.

But wait, the debate is not over, now Jacob weighs in.  He goes combative and shows that unpleasant side that told us all to go look at ourselves in the mirror and he's arguing that he could sing the Carpenters and be current.  The Carpenters?  Just how out of touch is he?

Lauren Alaina comes along on her white horse to come save the show.  She sings like her life depends on it (which after the tepid responses from the judges recently, it might) and wows with a Carrie Underwood song, "Flat on the Floor."  Finally, the Lauren from Hollywood week is back.  She had energy and enthusiam and confidence.  It was fantastic.

Randy thinks she's in it...then he stops.  Well, he's right.  Even Jacob, until he's booted tomorrow (spoiler alert) is in it.  I think he was going to complete the expression until he got a sign from the producers that they're no longer backing Lauren so he should hold off on too much praise.  And you barely see the strings being pulled.  Steven uses niche in a sentence again, but this time in a positive way showing just how versatile he is as a judge and a linguist.  JLo loved her and told her all she needs to do is be perfect like that every week.  No pressure. 

Scotty McCreery was up next with Montgomery Gentry’s “Gone."  In rehearsal everything seems great and on stage it is.  Now, I'm pretending I like country music for the purposes of this recap.  I'll imagine that I like twangy, drawly, good-ol'-boy songs with a fairly simple melody that don't require too much of the singer.  Scotty comes alive tonight.  He is all over the stage, as if filling the vacuum left by both Paul McDonald and Casey Abrams.  Listening to the performance was quite different than actually seeing it with all the distracting facial expressions and mugging for the audience.  Yes it was cheesy, but it fit the song and fit his age.  He is too young to stand still awkwardly holding a mic and I prefer him hamming it up. 

The judges heap praise on him, Steven stammering something about dancing with the devil which, of course, is a good thing in his book (the book, 101 Things to Do With the Devil) and he invokes the "beautiful" word that we've missed hearing for every single review.  JLo says she lost it, whatever it was and Randy says Scotty's in it ... wait for it... to win it. 

Last up is Haley Reinhart and she is singing an unreleased Lady Gaga song, "You and I."  Because Jimmy has pull.  He's Italian and can get things done, capisce?  But is doing a song only people who've gone to Gaga's concerts (which is roughly a third of the population, but still) have heard risky?  Did the risk pay off?   Depends on who you ask.  At first, I thought she was doing a Jason Mraz song, which might explain the "unreleased" part.  Haley tries her best, she puts a nice bluesy spin on the pop diva's song.  But the pitchy gremlin who's been wrecking havoc tonight bops her on the head and she veers off at times.

There's no question Haley can sing, but the song really didn't do her any favors.  JLo agrees with me!  Should I worry??  More importantly, should Haley worry that JLo just said she didn't come out like James and Scotty did??  Oh no, Randy agrees too.  And he apparently doesn't think Haley is in it...for any reason.  Steven says she's just one perfect song away from being the American Idol.  Wow, that's going to make song selection very relaxing if she's here next week.

Then it's time for the singers to hop into the Way Back Machine and sing something from before CDs, illegal downloading, and Autotune -- all things that have conspired to kill music (admit it, your old LPs sound infinitely better than your new CDs). 

James Durbin sings Harry Nilsson's "Without You" and he was an emotional wreck singing the song during rehearsal and it carried over to his teary, shaky performance that took away from the vocals.  I appreciate the sincerity and feeling, but oh how I wish Simon were here just to suggest that falling apart on stage is a bit self-indulgent.  But, don't get me wrong, I'm still a James fan and there were a few really sweet notes that he hit in this song that reminded me why.   Everyone's entitled to an off night.  but it's a little risky to have it when you're singing first and there are only five contestants left.

Seriously, before tonight did you know there was a band named Nazareth?  Me either.  They did that song that we had heard before, "Love Hurts," which is monotonous and whiny.  But not when Sheryl sang it!  So guess what we're going to get from Jacob?  Well, the whiny came first, followed by the shrieky, but the monotonous was close behind.  When he goes for those low notes, I just want to help remove the phelgm that's choking the notes.  As the song goes on, Jacob becomes possessed. to the point that by the last note he just starts randomly making sounds until finishing off calling in the neighborhood dogs. 

Not having to better her first performance was Lauren Alaina who decided to do the Simon Cowell Memorial Favorite Song of All Time, "Unchained Melody."  Maybe it should be called, Untuned Melody.   Get it?  Since she was off key at the beginning.  She eventually pulled it together and it was fine, I even enjoyed her falsetto, but I wasn't digging the growly finish.  I swear, Casey Abrams casts one hell of a shadow, we have people running around on stage and others growling, I just need teeth gritting menace.  Oh wait, Hannibal Lecter is in the audience.  Score!

Scotty sings "Always on my Mind" and I'm reminded that Willie Nelson is an amazing singer who is so unconventional, so wrong, he's right.  This is not the right song for Scotty.  Possibly it's a mistake for someone who could call Justin Bieber "Pops" to sing a song with that much intensity, longing and passion.  Putting aside that he couldn't sell the message, he also went off key in places and when he wasn't flat, he was boring.  Even grandma couldn't come up with anything good to say when, after prompting from Ryan Seacrest, all she said was, "He's my Scotty."  Very cagey grandma.

Haley's wrapping it up with The Animals' "House of the Rising Sun."  It's a great song and there isn't a snowball's chance in Sacramento in the summer that any judge will ever say wrong song choice.  She starts a capella and the concept was eerie and cool, but Haley's high notes are not working for me.  If I had one of those rating dials I'd have Carpal Tunnel Syndrome by now, turn to the right for the lower notes, which are a mixture of honey and whiskey, smooth and a little dangerous.  When she sings the middle part of the song, she nails it.  But then it's back down to the left with the dial for the high, piercing notes.  Haley has a great voice, but she needs to learn its strengths as well as its limitations.  But it was an electrifying performance on a night that was up for grabs and I can see Haley as the new front runner.

No bottom/top this week... Jacob is going.  James has a huge fan base and has been so great up till tonight's stumble, so he's not going anywhere despite his unfortunate first performance.  For the record, I checked the iTunes version and it sounded pretty good. 

That's all folks!


  1. There were a couple of instances in last night's show when I expected the Navy Seals to storm on stage and make it two for two.

    Jacob's "Love Hurts" was his true shot at convincing us that he is much more than a poor man's Luther. Instead, we got the Howling Luther in afterburner mode with many notes bordering on the threshold of pain. JLo said that the notes were "out there in the....." and she almost said "hemisphere", which would have completely blown her shot at the Nobel Prize in Pop Astrophysics. The last seconds were so far outside of any known musical scale that if mice had cellphones, they would use those notes as their ringtone.

    James Durbin's first song was an example of bad choice. In the Indy 500 of Rock "30 secs to edge" is a crawling VW Beetle. And this VW was badly out of tune. The 2nd song is ruined by the interlaced emotion of family or something. Hey kid, this is the pros. Learn to play hurt.

    Scotty paired up a couple of country tunes. (oh really?). The first was an M & W (Marching & Waving) jogarama. The microphone and head are in perfect sync and I'm seriously thinking Scotty Bobble Heads. The 2nd song was a Willie Nelson standard, modified by Scotty to contain some extra ear diddling notes that interrupted the flow of this normally unadorned tune. Tracking the inserted vocal inflections was like playing golf with Tony Soprano and hearing a pistol cock in your back swing. I wasn't ready for it.

    Lauren's first tune was well done. The 2nd song, Unchained Melody, was painful. The reordering of verses, no real money note, and the forging of an old standard into a country mold didn't work at all. In her favor, this was the first time I've seen Lauren in an outfit that didn't make her look like a Wynonna Judd popsicle.

    Haley's first tune was an unknown Gaga thing which was done reasonably well. I'm not sure what "unfamiliarity" has to do with the ability to judge or sing, but it was something that bothered the judges. There were a few rough spots in Haley's "House..sun", but overall, she did well with a difficult song in delivering the best performance of the night.


  2. Jared Leto's rendition of "Closer to the Edge" is pure mastery compared to James. And yes, Shari, Jared might well take the crown of best lookin' rock dude ever. I would be happy if he just stood there on the video being pretty. He doesn't even have to sing to get my engines running. LOL

    All of this to say, that if James wins, we are going to have another WGWG who sinks slowly into the mists of time. He's good compared to what's left, but that ain't saying much.

  3. Haley has the whole package as a singer and performer. If you look away from the screen and listen to her vocals, it's undeniably the most ear friendly vocals of all the final five contestants. That raspy voice can send chills and it's unique, no matter what the judges say.
    The judges and mentors' opinion always make a big impression on young voters though.

  4. I listened to Haley's 'Gaga' song hoping I'd like it better than last night, and I actually did, but I still agree with you, Shari. The song just didn't do her any favors. So glad for song choice #2!!
    Speaking of re-plays. Listening to Lauren singing Carrie again reaffirmed what I thought last night. Her one song away from the win just might have been that one! I'd sort of written her off with comments like, 'she's showing immaturity & weakness that can't be fixed in just a couple weeks." I recant!
    James and Scotty seem to be doing pretty much the same thing each week .... no growth ... little change. James had a bit of a down week this week but I don't think it will hurt him. Fans will rally ... we Casey fans know how that goes ... remember?! I think they'll be in the top 3 and would be surprised if not. But who will #3 be?!
    With all the negative backlash, If Jacob was nicer I'd actually feel badly for him. Can you just imagine the reactions if he survives another week?!

  5. I dont know what happened to James, he was not singing, but rather yelling the first song; and Shari nailed it when she called his emotionality, self indulgent. Cmon, Dude be smart enough to pick another song. The tears did NOT impress! It appears that Jacob has now joined in a battle with James to see who can screech the highest. Damn. But James is entitled to one bad night, he is still the best performer and best contender for the Idol crown and I'll put all my money on him! Haley killed it with her last song, and is the next best contender!

  6. THE BEST OF THE NIGHT - SCOTTY and HALEY !!!GREAT VOCAL, NATURAL CHARISMA, TERRIFIC STAGE PRESENCE, LOOKS.....I'm fine with Scotty or Haley winning, but do not want James to win...especially after last night !!! GO SCOTTY !!!!!!! GO HALEY !!!!!!!

  7. Shari, I'm surprised you didn't like Haley's high notes on House of the Rising Sun. I was actually thinking that the tone of those notes was tremendous, better than some of the high notes sung by some of the other contestants this season. The last note was so pure. This performance was a contender for the best of the season. I actually liked the performance just as much, if not more, when I listened to it without watching it.

  8. "Sheryl Crow sounded better singing along with the contestants than I've heard her before." I especially liked her "Unchained Melody". Just gorgeous tone. Michael Jackson was certainly no dope.

    "Now that Osama bin Laden has been killed, perhaps we can use our special forces to try and locate who is voting for this guy." Interesting concept. But it seems like you're reaching for ideas with this one.

    "Every time Jacob speaks, I think of that 'Hercules, Hercules' moment from the Nutty Professor." Ha ha ha. That's right! He does sound like that. Good memory.

    "On his way to the top 3" AND "He was going to complete the expression until he got a sign from the producers." I just try to ignore how the producers are yanking the puppets around, and therein, enjoy rooting for the contestants as if I knew each one personally and I wanted the best for each of them. But it was a surprising move on the judges' part to actually let us peek behind the curtain for a second, by catching themselves saying what they're not supposed to say, letting us in on how the show is rigged.

    "He invokes Luther Vandross' name like a mystical incantation." Heh. That's one way to look at it. Randy's Vandross thing is just another way to say that the contestants need to decide on their role as an artist - their identity - so any song they sing will be sung by them acting out their onstage persona. But these kids are often too young and cared for to have any useful amount of suffering that would hold together an onstage persona. (Maybe James does. It's hard to see through all of the pimping he's been receiving lately from TPTB.)

    "Lauren Alaina comes along on her white horse to come save the show." Yay! She pushed herself and it paid off. I thought her outfit choices this week were very flattering as well - great colors. And her hair... don't get me started - lovely! I hope she makes it and doesn't get scared or screw up her chances by being timid/boring while singing next week.

    "Scotty comes alive tonight." I was really worried he was going to trip and fall, he was moving about so much. But I agree, he did a good job with his first song. Of course, us adults can see right through his schtick, but kids can't. Anyway, if he wins, I won't really be pissed. I just won't really care. His voice is remarkable, but let him sing to somebody else.

    "The vacuum left by both Paul McDonald and Casey Abrams." Who?

  9. "I wish Simon were here just to suggest that falling apart on stage is a bit self-indulgent." God, I miss him. His words would almost be soothing on the show at this point. He told the truth. We trusted him to do that (until he pimped Lee like he was his own son last season). I'm just so damn tired of Ryan's "Let's go to the judges" when they're just going to pontificate in the same predictable directions: "the wrong song" or "it's yours to lose" or "the singing was iffy, but I felt you". They have evolved into "commentators" and not "judges", which is fine, but let's not call them "judges" then.

    You should do a blog post about what these commentators usually say, and when they've slipped by providing useful statements. It's always a pleasure to hear specific performance analysis minus the you're-just-a-sweet-child sensitivity gloss, which neutralizes their authority as Overlords of the Realm. Without Simon around, I am much more aware that AI is merely manufactured drama.

    "'Love Hurts' is monotonous and whiny." Bleccchh... a crappy tune, which happens to be a tribute to the melody and mood of "Unchained Melody". I have heard of the band before, and I cringed when Ryan said the band's name, because I knew it would be that song - Nazareth is only known for one song. And I quickly grew tired of people calling the tune "rock". It is so far from what I consider "rock"; maybe it's "soft rock" but whatever. Originally sung nauseatingly and melodramatically by a very strained shouter of a vocalist, it would've been perfect for James' timbre.

    But Jacob simply does not have enough true courage to sing I've-lost-my-girl/guy songs while fully expressing "Come see the violence inherent in the system." He is still too idealistic to be angry, at least along the lines of "Help! Help! I'm being repressed!" Jacob is definitely church-ish because he is a big chicken (or turkey) when it comes to anything "sinful". And I'm so sorry, but having shit happen to your siblings and elders and your own reputation is not the same thing as taking a big chance with your heart/career/property/art, and having it just blow up in your face, or at least get seriously abused. Empathy is not equivalent to suffering. If Jacob sticks to the "black church" style of singing - which he can do sincerely - I won't be nearly as angry if he gets to stay another week.

    "I just need teeth gritting menace. Oh wait, Hannibal Lecter is in the audience." That was weird, having Sir Philip out there. Clever how you worked it in. Lesser writers would just list the celebrities who had cameos, but you mention him when it is relevant to the point of the article you are writing. Bravo.

    "I can see Haley as the new front runner." After being in the bottom 3 all those weeks, I'm just not confident she has a large enough voting bloc to be on top. Her performance was indeed filled with some fantastic melody choices, though she slightly missed several notes while sliding about the scales. I think what happened to her in the past few weeks is that she chose an onstage persona whom already won AI, and she's a good enough liar/actress to pull it off. It's as though she's confidently making the argument every week for people to vote for her by convincing them she's going to win. Maybe that's what all of the top AI puppets/contestants eventually figure out: how to instantly manufacture onstage drama by learning from some of the best drama manufacturers around, the AI production team.

  10. Both Lauren and Scotty's range are too limited; deserve star status in Nashville, but fall short as all American Idol top two. Jacob deserves much more respect than the personal comments made in this thread against him, and I am disgusted by such comments. I have faith that James learned a valuable lesson this week that will serve him well towards re-establishing a consistent rock star finish to the top two. Haley has been inconsistent so far, but if she continues to perform on the level that she did this week as when she sang House of the Rising Sun, she will also finish in the top two. James is still my favorite!!!

  11. Here is the studio recording of "Without You" by James Durbin: