Thursday, May 19, 2011

A Mea Culpa to MY American Idol

Friends, imagine last night's Idol without Haley Reinhart. Imagine two hours of lackluster country "hits" sung by two very sweet but ultimately not terribly interesting teenagers. Throw in a lot of meaningless patter by self-satisfied celebrity judges, some tearjerking video moments, and you have next week's finale. As much as I have grown to love Haley over the course of the past couple weeks (and I have to admit that I DO love Haley), I have a hard time imagining her making it into the finale next week despite the fact that she gave the most solid performances of last night. Go to the American Idol website and watch her performances. Here's a girl who had the balls to tackle Led Zeppelin (and a more obscure Led Zeppelin at that), Stevie Nicks, and Alanis Morisette all within the scope of two hours. And outside of her stumble on the steps, she didn't miss a single beat or a single note. Her "What Is and What Should Never Be" was a rager, full of the fire and excitement that was lacking from every single one of Scotty and Lauren's performances last night. Add to it the beauty of having her father onstage playing guitar, and it was the kind of performance that should go down in Idol history.

Her second performance was "Rhiannon." She brought a dark, raw elegance to the tune, staying true to the lines set forth by Stevie Nicks but using some inventive shades within those notes that made it her own. She also show remarkable restraint by limiting her growl and instead basking in the glow of that kick ass wind machine they gave her. (Credit the producers for at least giving Haley the pimp spot as well as the pimp effects that the other contestants last night did not receive.)

I would say that her performance of "You Oughtta Know" that closed out the show was probably her weakest of her three numbers, but it still beat anything Scotty or Lauren did. I don't know what show Randy and JLo were watching last night to NOT declare Haley as the best of the night, but we all know they clearly have an agenda that does not include a Haley finale. Bless you, Steven Tyler, for fighting for this girl the past couple weeks and giving her the love she has so clearly earned.

But back to "You Oughtta Know" any woman in her 30's can tell you, that's a tough song. Those of us who found ourselves blasting that song in the mid-90's know that it's not an easy song with which to sing along, so it's no wonder that Haley struggled with the crazy syncopation Alanis lays out in that track. But man, despite some rhythmic challenges here and there, she still blew everyone else out of the water with those last notes. DAMN!

I know that Haley is facing a tough battle. The judges gave Scotty and Lauren a lot of praise last night. They are clearly nice kids and they sang well. For me, though, their performances were lacking something -- heart, passion, soul. They hit their notes, they did everything they were supposed to, but they never gave me that surge of adrenaline that Haley gave me with every single note she sang last night. Sure, part of the issue, I'm sure, is that I am not a country music fan. It's probably not that surprising that my favorite Scotty performance last night was his performance of "She Believes In Me" because it was a song I actually recognized (and have always kind of liked). To be quite frank, country music largely bores me, and so Scotty and Lauren, by never straying from their country game plan, have begun to bore me as well. It also doesn't help Lauren that she was assigned "I Hope You Dance" for one of her performances -- a song that I have always loathed with a passion second only to my hatred for No Doubt's "Don't Speak." (Seriously, that song gives me hives of hatred.)

Here's the thing, though. No matter what the outcome is this week and next, I have no doubt in my mind that Lauren and Scotty have careers just waiting for them. I have a hard time imagining that Nashville isn't chomping at the bit to get those two into studios. There is a large portion of the country demographic that is young -- at least if the number of teenaged country fans I'm surrounded by on a daily basis is any indication. Scotty and Lauren give Nashville the chance to jump on that demographic and give them their very own version of Justin and Miley (or whoever the big teen idols of the day are). These two are cute, clean cut, perfect for posters, t-shirts, and lunch boxes. (Put the two of them together in a duo ala Sugarland or Lady Antebellum, and they could be unstoppable.)

I'm not sure that the same is true of Haley, though. It seems that it's a lot tougher to break into the rock industry than the country industry. Haley needs all the exposure she can get to help her make it. Haley needs to win. But I don't know that America is going to embrace this spunky little rocker the way she she needs to be embraced. And maybe Haley is content with going back to Chicago and banking on a third place finish to book slightly larger clubs and continue to jam with her mom and dad's rock band. (And how cool is that to grow up with parents who have their own rock the Chicago area? Answer: VERY FREAKIN' COOL! I kind of want Haley's childhood!) I think, though, that she deserves better than that. I think she could take advantage of the wave of kick ass female singers out there and maybe carve a nice little niche in that market alongside Adele, Christina Perri, Colbie Callait, and even Lady Gaga. But she needs a win, I think, to get that shot.

Friends, I recognize the irony of this post. Believe me, I found myself laughing last night as I continually dialed Haley's number to cast my vote for her while also sitting online to cast my vote for her on the website. Weeks ago, I looked forward to the idea of Haley being voted off, was ready to pop open a bottle of champagne to celebrate said elimination, and here I was voting frantically for the same girl. But over the past few weeks, Haley has won me over with her tenacity and talent. Once I realized that my iPod is littered with chicks just like Haley (and, frankly, once Casey Abrams was gone), I embraced this plucky little diva. I just wish America would join me and not let the finale be a two-hour country jamboree. I would rather listen to "Don't Speak" for two hours on an endless loop than be subjected to that.

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