Tuesday, May 3, 2011

A Tapestry of Idols

Carole King … what an odd choice for Idol, no? And yet…….

If I have any real disappointment in last night, it is that I wish Carole herself had been present. I would have loved to have seen her sitting beside Jimmy to talk these kids through her songs and the emotional resonance that so many of them still have today. With that being said, though, I thought Babyface was a great addition to the mentor sessions and did a great job of giving some real, honest feedback. There’s a reason why he’s one of the most powerful producers in contemporary music – he’s not afraid to tell you when something’s a mess or something’s brilliant. And the Idols got a little bit of both last night.

Obviously, the big headline that is going to emerge after last night’s show is James being dubbed the heir apparent to Lee DeWyze’s crown. Finally, after seven weeks of competition, we finally seem to have a legitimate frontrunner, something I announced to my home audience of one (my sis – audience of four if you count the three cats who curled up with us to watch the show) just moments before Randy pretty much said the same thing. James surely has some obstacles to overcome (Can America really embrace a metal Idol? Will Americans actually vote for the best since they’ve kind of shunned frontrunners for the past several seasons?), but the fact is that the guy is consistent in terms of giving exciting, creative, and just damn good performances every single week. There’s a reason why the guy keeps topping my ranking list even though he’s not necessarily my personal favorite performer. He’s just plain talented, and his performances last night highlighted that more than ever. By taking it down a little, James was able to highlight the fact that he’s got a tremendous voice – and not just when he’s hitting those big notes. But we’ll talk more about that later.

Before I get to the rankings, I do want to talk a little about the duets from last night. The duets lost a little of their excitement for me simply because we’ve already seen two of these duos perform together already at this point. I love the addition of duets and smaller group performances to the results night shows, but the novelty of it is gone now, leaving last night’s duets to gain a bit of a “been there, done that” feel . I mean, we knew that Casey and Haley were going to be awesome because their “Moanin’” from a couple weeks ago was one of the season’s highlights. (Singing with Casey makes Haley EXTREMELY likable, no?) This was the THIRD pairing for Scotty and Lauren, who are a great country duo in the making, although last night was the weakest of their three duets, in my mind. (Seriously, sign these two up to become the new Sugarland or Lady Antebellum because they sound so gorgeous together…better than when they’re singing on their own. Seriously!) James and Jacob were, um, well, interesting. I mean, God bless ‘em for trying, right? It was a weird song choice. I had no idea Carole King wrote “Something Good”…a song I love, to be sure, but not necessarily a good fit for James and Jacob. It ended up being really kind of corny, and the two of them really don’t have voices that complement each other the way that Casey and Haley or Lauren and Scotty complement each other. I wonder if the producers would not have been wiser to force those two duos apart and mix the elements up a little more, take them all out of their comfort zones. It seems almost unfair to James and Jacob to be “stuck” together while the others have a perfect partner with whom they’ve already collaborated. Of course, that would have meant NOT getting that electric “I Feel the Earth Move” out of Casey and Haley. That would be a tragic loss for all the babies that were surely made after that sexually charged performance. (PS – I think Steven is right that Casey TOTALLY loves Haley, but you know, the soap opera fan in me always loves to imagine that sort of stuff going on backstage at Idol.)

On to the rankings….

1. James Durbin – I’ll be honest; ranking James first is getting kind of old, but what can you do? The guy consistently sets the bar and leaps over it with the ease of a gazelle. A hard rocking gazelle. His song choice (“Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?”) was brilliant in that it allowed him to really showcase his voice while still maintaining the edge. It was a tremendous performance. Here’s hoping being the “frontrunner” now doesn’t cost him votes from the fickle voting public.

2. Casey Abrams – Casey’s “Hi-Dee-Ho” was a lot of fun. There is a sparkle about Casey that doesn’t seem to be there with a lot of the other performers. Casey seems to have decided to just go with it and have fun, and that’s what he did last night with a terrific jazzy number. I also LOVED the staging as he mingled amongst his band and played off each musician with a wink and a smile. This kid is a showman, even if the judges told him he needs to work on his physicality a little more. And Casey, please don’t listen to Randy and be less growly. It’s the growly that makes me love you.

3. Haley Reinhart – Yeah, this is a shocker, isn’t it? And no, I didn’t allow the duet with Casey (which I absolutely adored) to bump Haley into the top three instead of the bottom three. While I agree with Randy that the beginning of Haley’s “Beautiful” wasn’t great (was actually kind of jarring, to be frank), the last 75% of the song was really solid and engaging. She managed to use her growl more conservatively (and thus more effectively). The real thing Haley needs to work on is her stage presence. Her body seems more nervous than her voice does, and she needs to work more on owning that stage the way that James or Casey or even Scotty do. Slowly but surely, Haley started to grow on me last night between this performance, her duet with Scotty, and the grace with which she seemed to handle the technical difficulties that delayed her performance ever-so-briefly.

4. Scotty McCreery – Unlike the judges, I was honestly not a fan of Scotty’s performance last night. Yes, hearing the upper end of his register was a nice switch, but I thought the performance seemed a bit lethargic at times. Scotty’s schtick is really starting to wear thin for me – the smirk, the eyes, the head tilt, the microphone hold. I still don’t sense a lot of growth there outside of the willingness (which seemed more forced than anything) to try some new notes. Yes, I know Scotty will likely be safe tonight. Teen girls love this kid, and I get that, but I’m starting to have real issues with the idea that he is probably the other frontrunner at this point in the competition. I wish, too, Scotty had maybe gone with a slightly less iconic song. I mean, “You’ve Got a Friend” is a great song, but it is such an integral part of our musical culture that it makes it difficult to pull off in an interesting way. Perhaps something like “So Far Away” (one of my all-time favorite Carole King songs) would have served him a little better. I will say, though, that he did a lovely job with Lauren on “Up on the Roof” and brilliantly compensated for her those couple of times where she seemed to go a bit flat.

5. Lauren Alaina – Someone’s a Gilmore Girls fan! There was not a single fiber of my being that was shocked when Lauren announced she was doing “Where You Lead.” Come on, this girl is smack dab in the middle of the ABC Family demographic and probably spends her summer afternoons the way I often do – curled up watching the hijinks of Lorelai and Rory Gilmore. Lauren’s country swagger on the song was charming, and I didn’t dislike it as much as the judges seemed to. I have to say, though, that it still felt safe for her to go with this song. I want to see Lauren shake herself up a little more. She’s got the talent, and she knows she does. She just needs that confidence to take the same sorts of risks that James or Casey or even Haley are willing to take every week. Go all in, sweetheart. Your safety may not be a foregone conclusion much longer (although I suspect Haley will likely land in the bottom three this week rather than Scotty or Lauren – of course, just when I get to like her!).

6. Jacob Lusk – While I suspect Haley will reside on the bottom three tonight despite strong performances, my stronger suspicion is that this may be the end of Jacob’s Idol journey. I’m not sure anything he did last night was even remotely on the same level as what the other five performers did. His “Oh No, Not My Baby” was fun but largely forgettable outside of the ridiculous outfit he wore and the dance moves he threw in. (My sis was offended at the continued push for Jacob to move, accusing the judges of wanting a minstrel show from Jacob rather than a fully-realized performance.) When you factor in his weak duet with James that unfortunately closed the show, we’re left with an impression of Jacob that, honestly, isn’t too impressive or memorable. Jacob has never quite lived up to the promise of “God Bless the Child”. I could be wrong and all of the Naked Gun fans out there may vote in record numbers in honor of Jacob and James’s duet, but considering that James was most definitely the stronger half of that performance, it may be time for Jacob to step back into the choir.

Bottom three prediction: Jacob, Haley, and Casey (Oh, I hope not Casey because then he’ll go all “safe” and “boring” again. Fun Casey is finally back. Don’t send him away again with your inability to vote, America!)

Going home: Jacob.

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