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!