I went into last night's Idol with sort of a sigh. I had heard that morning that it was Motown Week and was just sort of annoyed. I mean, way to be cutting edge, Idol. Let's troop the kids out to sing fifty-year-old songs and then tell them how old-fashioned they all seem. I love Motown music. I just wish the producers would give these kids the opportunity to tackle contemporary music and demonstrate what they would bring to the current music scene. As much as I might love "Dancing in the Streets," I can't imagine hearing it on the radio sandwiched between Lady Gaga and Ke$ha. Sure, we have Bruno Mars out there working a great retro soul vibe, but please tell me I'm not the only one who fears that his vibe is going to become passe way too soon and he'll be forgotten despite his mad talent. (PS -- I LOVE Bruno Mars. I do NOT wish him away. Just want to make that clear.)
Despite my frustration with the theme last night, though, I was completely blown away by what I saw. There is some mad talent on that stage, and I'm starting to believe in the hype that calls this the best season of Idol ever. I can't even begin to predict who the top two will be because as soon as I do that, I think of two or three others who have just as great of a shot at the final. Casey vs. Lauren? Jacob vs. James? Scotty vs. Pia? Don't just about any of those seem completely plausible on some level? And you really can't count out, say, Naima or even Stefano. There's no real clear contender like there has been for the past, well, ten years. And that's pretty exciting.
Everyone gave a pretty solid performance last night, and figuring out who is going home tonight is kind of tough. Sure, some performances were stronger than others, but there weren't any train wrecks that sent desperate signs of elimination -- and this is the top 11. Imagine how hard this is going to be when we have it winnowed down to five! It honestly would not shock me to see the judges use their ridiculous save tonight, particularly if the elimination is a huge shocker. A season like this, though, is further proof of why the judges' save is a bad idea. With this much talent, who is to decide whether someone is worth saving or not? If, God forbid, Casey were eliminated tonight, there are plenty of people left to keep the competition interesting.
While I'm complaining about Idol "features", can I also please ask the producers to please stop with the backstage camera? It's just awkward, unpleasant, and if anything, makes the kids seem unlikable as they feign humility or awkwardly talk about how their performance went. I'd rather see more stuff like Scotty's basketball hijinks at the mansion.
Ranking last night's performances is challenging, but hey...it's what I do. So here we go.
1. Jacob Lusk ("You're All I Need To Get By") Am I the only one that worries every week that Jacob is going to have some sort of seizure and collapse onstage? He always seems to POSSESSED by the spirit of the music that I honestly expect to see him pass out. The past two weeks, that possession has seemed on the verge of spiraling out of control. His "I Believe (I Could Fly)" was all over the place. Last week's "Alone" seemed almost frantic at times. If this guy does make it to the finale and wins....I'm expecting full throttle collapse, man. I was so glad last night to see Jacob rein things in just a little. I've always loved this song and was dreading the hot mess that Jacob always seems to be just about a bar away from, but his restraint and build last night was breathtaking and earned him the top spot for the night.
2. Casey Abrams ("I Heard It Through the Grapevine") Casey is my pick to click this season, but I worry about him. Outside of his health issues, I worry that he is going to struggle to maintain control, stay interesting, and meet the demands of the theme weeks. His "Grapevine" last night was really good, very cool, but it was the first one of the night and I kind of forgot about it by the time the show was over because the performances were all so incredible. I want that danger back; Casey was a little safe last night for me, and I miss that musical sex quality his voice has. His voice wants to do bad, bad things to you.
3. James Durbin ("Livin' for the City") Damn, this kid is good. There is this purity to his voice that I just love. I thought the end of the song was a little anti-climactic, but overall, a solid way to end the night. James is in this for the long haul and a finale with James would be all right by me.
4. Naima Adedapo ("Dancing in the Street") I thought Naima was screwed when Ryan mentioned right before her performance last night that Randy hadn't uttered the word "pitchy" once. I mean, Naima, after all, is the one who has probably struggled the most with pitch all season long. And then she tells us she's adding African dancing to her song. Seriously, I thought my eyes had become slot machines they were rolling so hard and fast. I wish she had gone all in and pursued that sort of funky African vibe throughout the whole song. The combination of the horns and tribal drums was kind of odd, but Naima proved herself, again, to be a potential spoiler for this season. I look at her and see the most marketable in terms of current pop music. She's like this brilliant cross between Rhianna and India.Arie with maybe just a hint of Jill Scott thrown in for good measure. I'm rooting for her.
5. Scotty McCrery ("For Once In My Life") I worried for Scotty. I've said all season that I didn't know how Scotty would be able to meet the demands of the theme weeks considering the limitations of his vocal style. Scotty is never going to sound right singing straight pop or rock. He has a country voice, and it's a country voice that could serve him very well and make him a very successful singer when this competition is over. Motown is a far cry from Nashville, but Scotty found a way to bridge that gap last night with a lovely country take on one of my all-time favorite songs. I did find that sort of twitchy thing he kept doing sort of off-putting, but otherwise, it was a fine performance from the country heartthrob.
6. Lauren Alaina ("You Keep Me Hangin' On") I thought her dress was icky. I have to say that. After that, though, I thought her performance was fine. I really loved the way she opened the song, and I wish she hadn't then fallen back on the more traditional instrumentation after that opening lick. Lauren is working that country lilt in her voice, and that's great. She shouldn't be afraid to go all in for the country thing. A country-fied version of this song would rock and would be much better than this sort of hybrid she gave us last night.
7. Paul McDonald ("Tracks of My Tears") I love this guy. Take one look at my iPod and you'll see how well Paul would fit right in. I know he's quirky and probably not as strong a singer as the others above him (and even below him) on this list, but seriously, I love this guy and I hope he gets some kind of a career out of this.
8. Pia Toscano ("All in Love Is Fair") I don't get Pia. Yes, she's pretty. Yes, she has a lovely voice. But she just feels so dated and pageant-y. There's a lack of any real fire to her, and watching her is just really boring for me. Look at her last night. It was like something out of Mahogany -- right down to her dress. If she could step it up and break out of the ballad prison, sure, she could be a contender, but right now, I think she's in jeopardy of fading into oblivion and being overshadowed by the more daring performers above her on this list.
9. Haley Reinhart ("You've Really Got a Hold On Me") If I don't look at Haley, I kind of like her. But when she's doing that growly-faced, full-body twitch thing she does, she's frankly unpleasant to watch. Plus, I have to say that she really does seem like she's a bit of a biz-nitch. Just watch her in her sessions with Jimmy Iovine. This guy is a freakin' legend, and Haley looks like she's bored and barely masking her contempt for anything he says to her. Add to that the fact that Haley has yet to show any consistency in terms of her style -- country one week, R&B diva the next, bluesy growler the next -- and I have a hard time mustering up much enthusiasm for her. The fact that she's been in the bottom three every week tells me that America feels the same way. Unfortunately, the judges adore her, and she could very well be the recipient of the save. (Have I mentioned how much I hate the save?)
10. Thia Megia ("Heatwave") Yes, Thia finally changed things up by going uptempo and ditching the ballad, for this week. But I found her performance of "Heatwave" to be really vanilla -- like something you'd see on Glee or Star Search. Thia is technically proficient, but there is something TOO proficient about her. I struggle to picture her going much further in this competition because she doesn't seem to have that creative spark that the people at the top of this list have, that creative spark that makes us look forward to their performances and wonder what will happen. With Thia, you know what you're going to get. Sometimes, that's not enough.
11. Stefano Langone ("Hello") First of all, wrong song choice, dude. I love "Hello", but it such a song of the 80s (and has become such a campy song of the 80s at that when the video is factored into it) that finding a contemporary hook for it is really just not possible. I found Stefano's take really kind of overwrought and theatrical and yet still lacking in any genuine emotion. I love that J.Lo is pushing these kids to find that emotional angle to their music, to give the music more than just technical perfection. I just don't know if Stefano has that in him. He's my pick to go home, but a judges' save wouldn't surprise me nor would it shock me to see him be safe since he's quite a cutie and we know the tweens are voting with their hormones and not their ears. (PS -- Ryan, that was a dick move giving Mama Langone's pasta to Gordon Ramsey. That woman made that food for those kids out of love -- maternal instincts in full mama mode -- and you turned it into a joke and basically let Ramsey humiliate her in front of America by saying it was "fine." Not cool, dude!)