Tuesday, December 27, 2011

2011: Year In Review

For the first time this year, I am going to take into account my iTunes total plays for the year as well as my opinion. Why not right? Moving into the 21st century, or something.

10. Bruno Mars - "It Will Rain"

Achingly gorgeous. The kind of song I never expected out of Bruno Mars, whose catalog of songs I entirely do not care for. The song sounds like it is being sung through fog in hot rain. I find something stylistically brave in it, in the sense the song doesn't sound like any of his previous work or anything else on the radio.



9. Sebastian Bach - "As Long As I Got The Music"

An anthem for anyone who ever heard the music & believed. Sebastian released a contender for Album of the Year in my opinion back in September and this is one of the best songs on it. There were other songs I loved equally on the album but this one got the edge because of its lyrical content.


8. Lights Over Paris featuring Game - "I'm Not A Gangsta"

Every year, I have to include something completely (or at least partially) ridiculous but awesomely fun and this is it. [See: Heidi Montag, 2008; Cobra Starship, 2009; Sean Kingston & Justin Bieber, 2010.] The awesomely whack rap in the middle about Charlie Sheen is probably what cemented this song's place in history on the Annual Year In Review List (TM). The perfect party song.



7. Glee Cast - "Rumour Has It/Someone Like You"

One of the most ambitious songs Glee has ever done, in the sense of its utter emotional beauty and subtlety. So often, Glee hits the viewer over the head with theatrics and this mashup of two of Adele's biggest hits of 2011 is understated from everything to the visuals to the choreography. There is nothing like this song out there right now.


6. Lady Gaga - "You And I"

So much going on in this song. Mixes a pseudo-Auto-Tuned four-on-the-floor country beat with "We Will Rock You" handclaps. The story of a love that runs in circles and goes nowhere but means everything and is too stubborn to die. Best lyric: "It's been two years since I let you go/I couldn't listen to a joke or rock 'n roll/And muscle cars drove a truck right through my heart". I mean it wholeheartedly when I say this song is really something else.


5. Demi Lovato - "Skyscraper"

One of the best music videos of the past 5 years. A breath of fresh air in a musical landscape of "at the club" party songs. Raw emotion that slowly builds throughout the song. Her voice breaks and cracks in a way that can not be made of artifice.



4. New Found Glory - "Summer Fling, Don't Mean A Thing"

This song instantly takes me back to 2003 and that is in no way a negative statement. The kind of song I would have listened to endlessly back then and that I quickly accumulated hundreds of plays of on my iTunes.



3. Pistol Annies - "Hell On Heels"

My most played song of 2011 on iTunes. Subversive, sexy, and slinky. A Miranda Lambert side project that evolved into something that can stand completely on its own. The kind of song that doesn't get repetitive after endless listenings.



2. Vicci Martinez - "Afraid To Sleep"

The sort of song that is altogether lacking from Top 40 radio these days - a midtempo (remember those?) with driving instrumentation. Vicci dazzled me on The Voice on every performance but none more so than her utterly devastating cover of "Jolene" (which I didn't include here due to it being a cover song, but should have). This song would get stuck in my head every night before bed and basically all the time. Vicci knows how to convey more than the required emotion but doesn't overemote or rely on melismatic vocal runs to underline her point.



1. Britney Spears - "Inside Out"

Call me biased, but Britney's "Femme Fatale" album was the best album of the year, in an era where cohesive albums don't matter, just singles. This may just be Britney's most addictively listenable album from start to finish. I could have picked any of the following songs off this album to put at #1: "Up N Down", "Selfish", "Trouble For Me", "He About To Lose Me", "Gasoline", and "(Drop Dead) Beautiful".



Honorable Mentions


Country
* Casey James - "Let's Don't Call It A Night"
* Thompson Square - "Are You Gonna Kiss Me Or Not"
* Jason Aldean - "Dirt Road Anthem"
* Sunny Sweeny - "From A Table Away"
* Lady Antebellum - "Just A Kiss"
* Brad Paisley & Carrie Underwood - "Remind Me"

Pop
* Jessie J - "Domino"
* David Guetta & Jennifer Hudson - "Night Of Your Life"
* Maroon 5 & Christina Aguilera - "Moves Like Jagger"
* Katy Perry & Kanye West - "E.T."
* Rihanna featuring Britney Spears - "S&M (Remix)"
* Cash Cash - "Jersey Girl"
* Jennifer Lopez featuring Pitbull - "On The Floor"
* Selena Gomez - "Love You Like A Love Song"

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Songs I've Been Playing Obsessively

Benjamin Francis Leftwich - "Atlas Hands" (2011)

This gorgeous, all-too-short song reminds me of every song I ever listened to in college - slow, slightly distorted, achingly gorgeous. The perfect soundtrack for a cigarette & sadness that can't be extinguished.



Ryan Star - "Start A Fire" (2010)

Why Ryan Star is not the star (haha) he deserves to be is a mystery I can't figure out. His song "Breathe" was a mild hit and I believe it was featured as the Free Song Of The Week on iTunes. His debut album 11:59 is lush and full. It is a complete debut in a way that I haven't beared witness to in a long time - the lyrics are unbelievable, the instrumentation is fresh, and there is something tough and simultaneously vulnerable about his voice.



New Found Glory - "Summer Fling, Don't Mean A Thing" (2011)

Another song featured as the Free Song Of The Week on iTunes and thank God it was. This song has quickly risen its way into the Top 25 Most Played songs on my iPad. I have to be honest that I haven't thought much about New Found Glory since I put "My Friends Over You" on one of my legendary mix CDs, Senior Spring Mix II, back in April 2004. This song is catchy with just the right amount of bite - the perfect song for every summer romance that ended in bitterness.



Small Town Sleeper - "Backseat" (2007)

I was originally introduced to this song through Sirius/XM Radio's Hits 1 station - which has consistently broken new and upcoming artists in a way not mirrored by their ClearChannel peers (I'm looking at you, Z100). Seriously, check out Hits 1 because admist the Katy Perry and Usher songs, you just might find a plethora of not-quite-famous amazing artists. I can't find the studio version of this song anywhere on YouTube but this acoustic cover live in the studio is pretty damn close to the studio version. An ode to vehicular sex that is both visceral and wistful.



Therapy? - "Lonely, Cryin' Only" (1998)

My obsession with the song goes back to the date of its release, where I originally heard it as the soundtrack to this excellent Buffy The Vampire Slayer video I am embedding below. I downloaded this video, back on my 4GB hard drive Toshiba "gray box" laptop, sometime around 1999 and spent the next 12 years searching for this song on MP3, CD, import, anywhere. A hard driving guitar song, with a Gothic element, and perhaps one of the best lyrics ever written - "give me two more minutes of your twisted love." I could not love this song, and by extension the Buffy video, more.



Lovesick Radio - "I Wish I Didn't Care" (2009)

I desperately wish their debut album "Heartbreak 4 Dummies" was available on Amazon, Ebay, anywhere, but I'll have to settle for purchasing it off iTunes. They have a sound (particularly on this song) that's reminiscent of Hinder, but a little bit more raw. The break-up song for anyone who has ever spent a tortured night wondering how their ex could move on without them.



Ben Harper - "Waiting For You" (2006)

This song evokes college to me as well, waiting for the fulfillment of a dream that never came true. One of the most devastating songs I have ever heard.

"I would have given you everything I had, mortgaged my soul for a shot at heaven."

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Top 10 Best Reality Show Performances Of All Time

10. Carly Smithson & Michael Johns, "The Letter" (American Idol, 2008)

It is a complete and total shame that Carly and Michael didn't finish higher in American Idol's Season 7 - but it was a season filled with talent in a way that hasn't really been mirrored since and, of course, someone had to go home each week. They reunited on the live finale show for this cover of the Box Tops' 1967 hit and sang the hell out of it - and made it FUN, something that is rarely genuine and all too often manufactured on the reality show stage. Their voices blend perfectly and make me wish that they recorded a CD of duets.



9. David Cook - "Billie Jean" (American Idol, 2008)

Haunting and subversive - the performance that launched the beginning of a new era of guys-and-guitars on American Idol. But you'd be hard-pressed to find any performance that followed this one that could even come close to matching its quiet ferocity. The sense that you are watching a true rock star in the making - it's intoxicating and all-too-thrilling.

http://youtu.be/h_aiawC-9aM

8. Allison Iraheta - "Cry Baby (Elimination Performance)" (American Idol, 2009)

With hardly any time to recover from the injustice that was Danny Gokey being deemed safe after his horrendous performance of "Dream On", Alison Iraheta took the stage for her elimination performance - the rare moment where she improved on her original performance and showed the audience that she could sing circles around Danny. Her voice cracks with the raw emotion she infuses into her performance. Absolutely devastating.




7. Haley Reinhart - "Bennie & The Jets" (American Idol, 2011)

An essential performance for Haley that elevated her from a frequent place in the Bottom 3 to a Top 3 finish in a season whose end was predetermined by the producers from the start. The kind of performance that reinvented her persona on the show and generated genuine buzz around her. An absolutely genius song choice and one that made me fall in love with Haley and her incredible voice. Haley would go on to kill it in weeks to come (see her amazing versions of "You And I", "House of The Rising Sun", "I Who Have Nothing", "Rihannon", and "Who Is And Who Should Never Be") - but I have picked this performance because it made me believe. And what more can you ask for, really?



6. Chris Rene - "Young Homie" (X Factor, 2011)

I think Chris so far on the X Factor has suffered from a particular and all-too-sad talent show syndrome - peaking too early with an incredible performance (see: Andrew Garcia, "Straight Up") and never reaching that height again. Was it his sad story? Was it his smooth delivery or his intensely personal lyrics? Whatever made this performance such a success, it is one worth watching over and over again. Currently this video has amassed 8.9 million views on YouTube in just two months.



5. Adam Lambert - "Mad World " (American Idol, 2009)

Interestingly enough, the first time I heard his performance I rated it only a solid "B". It's the kind of take on the song that grows on you over time, organically, as the meaning seeps in your soul. Everything about this performance was perfect, from the arrangement to the haunting blue light. Subtle and understated - in direct contrast to many of his in-your-face previous performances (see: "Black Or White", the sitar-singed version of "Ring Of Fire"). Beautiful and ethereal. The kind of performance people are still talking about 2 years later.

http://youtu.be/PfR0JGWX62E

4. Drew - "It Must Have Been Love" (X Factor, 2011)

I don't know how someone so young (just 14 years old) has the maturity and the forthright honesty in her voice to make me believe every word she sings so completely. But it is so evident from this unbelievably crystal clear performance that Drew has the purest, most heartbreaking interpretation of almost every song she sings. This version of Roxette's amazing 1991 hit takes on a new, fresh light through the lens of Drew's voice.



3. Matt Giraud - "Let's Get It On" (American Idol, 2009)

Matt Giraud was the infamous Judges' Save in the first season where such a trick was employed - and one of my favorite American Idol contestants ever. Matt faltered during several weeks and soared during many more of the weeks. But it was his cover of Marvin Gaye's perrenial classic "Let's Get It On" that won him a permanent place in my heart. Matt could be the successor to Justin Timberlake in this all too gorgeous version of the song.



2. Carrie Underwood - "Making Love Out Of Nothing At All" (American Idol, 2005)

I had to include this as it is in the Top 25 Most Played songs on my college laptop. I had never heard this song before hearing Carrie's version and I loved how she seemed to tell a story in just a minute and thirty seconds. She sings softly at all the right places and belts it out in all the remaining places. It's a song that is difficult, with lots of words and not a lot of space to sing them, and Carrie tackles it in a way that is effortless. Watching this performance, it is clear why Carrie walked off with the Season 4 Idol crown.



1. Vicci Martinez - "Jolene" (The Voice, 2011)

It is a fucking shame that I can not find the original live performance on YouTube. It was beyond breathtaking and the kind of performance that brought me to tears each time I saw her perform it. The studio version of the track is embedded below. Vicci makes the audience - and, certainly, me - believe each word she sings with a desperate ache that is so rare in a musician these days - let alone one who is broadcast to an audience of millions, rather than one who is breaking hearts and bar stools in a dingy bar somewhere.

Ode To The Mix CD

We Are Crazy Mix

The mix was not originally made for me. I always thought it was titled “We Are Crazy Mix”, however a close glance at the full title reveals it to be “We Are Crazy Nuts Driving Around.” And we were young, we were brave, but most of all, we were crazy with all the false bravado and not-so-secret insecurities of teenage girls.

The mix starts out with the perennial teen girl favorite “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun”; the sonic throb of the intro would pound through her old car’s speakers each time the CD began. I would rest my hand on the windowsill of the passenger side and chomp on Starbursts and Hostess cupcakes as we drove all over our county in search of boys and adventure.

Nearly each time we were in her car, I demanded to hear this mix. Mostly, I was indulged. It was a welcome respite to the sweetly, softly sad indie rock we would often listen to, bands with names that hinted at places I would never see.

The CD itself is a psychologically fascinating mix of girl-power anthems (Cyndi, No Doubt) and misogynistic rap songs (Ludacris, DMX, Cam’ron). Thrown in the middle is one seemingly throwaway track – “Kick Some Ass” – which stands the test of time as the best driving song ever written (ever) and one sadly longing quirky ode to transience (“Every Me, Every You”).

And we drove everywhere, with the recklessness I once had and the knowledge we didn’t really have anything better to do besides our homework. There were boys that we only wished were ours. We clung to them as if they meant so much more than they did. If good girls go to heaven and bad girls go everywhere, we went nowhere.

The CD held thirteen songs and four seconds of a fourteenth song. But thirteen is an unlucky number and the last four seconds of the mix foreshadowed one of the habits that ultimately tore us apart.

I still drive around listening to this mix. I ended up in possession of it, most likely due to my undying devotion to the songs I had heard over and over again. But this time I am in the driver’s seat.

WE ARE CRAZY NUTS DRIVING AROUND MIX

  1. Cyndi Lauper – “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun”
  2. Cam’ron featuring Julez Santana – “Oh Boy”
  3. The Bloodhound Gang – “The Bad Touch”
  4. The Ramones – “I Wanna Be Sedated”
  5. Aqua – “Happy Boys And Girls”
  6. Fat Joe with Ja Rule and Ashanti – “What’s Luv”
  7. Madonna – “Like A Virgin”
  8. No Doubt – “Spiderwebs”
  9. Ludacris – “What’s Your Fantasy”
  10. Stroke 9 – “Kick Some Ass”
  11. The Beach Boys – “I Get Around”
  12. DMX – “Party Up”
  13. Placebo – “Every Me, Every You”
  14. Afroman – “Because I Got High” (4 second clip)

1/5/10, 7:51 PM

Stroke 9 - "Kick Some Ass"

Placebo - "Every Me, Every You"

Ludacris - "What's Your Fantasy"


Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Top Ten Guns 'N Roses Songs of All Time


The most dangerous band in the world.

Their impact, their immediacy has refused to be stifled even though it has been 24 years since their epic debut album was released. Sure, Axl's gone crazy, but didn't we all know he was always a little off-the-wall? Band members have come and gone but truthfully, it will always be Slash, Axl, Izzy, Duff, and Steven that cemented their legacy in rock 'n roll history from the first police-siren wail of "Welcome to the Jungle".

The band only released three full-length, proper albums - the GNR Lies EP has an important place in the GNR pantheon but at only 8 songs, can't be classified as a full length LP, and The Spaghetti Incident is an album of all cover songs, and god knows how to classify Chinese Democracy (which, in all fairness, has its moments).

So in honor of one of my "Top 5 Favorite Bands of All Time (TM)", here's my list of the best GNR songs of all time.

10. You Ain't The First (1991)

This song, unlike any other GNR song, evokes the old time country feel of singers like Hank Williams. Raw with a sweet veneer over nasty break up lyrics. I am almost positive this song would not be included on anyone else's Top 10 GNR songs list, but it stuck with me for some reason over the years.



9. Think About You (1987)

Softer lyrically than most everything else on Appetite For Destruction, but the crunching guitars of this song retain all the bite associated with the band. The perfect song to listen with the windows down and the sunroof open.



8. "Buick MacKane / Big Dumb Sex" (1993)

The beginning is almost apocalyptic; you can picture the opening notes playing in the background of a Michael Bay movie. The song slides along with nonsensical lyrics that manage to paint an evocative picture of nights spent making it hurt so good. The guitars scream sex over and over again. It's sinister and sexy, there is no choice to be made, just sex to be had. A bit of a strange choice for a GNR Top Ten list.



7. So Fine (1991)

Highly underrated and sweet track where Duff shares lead vocals with Axl and sings a understatedly moving tribute to Johnny Thunders (former member of the New York Dolls who died the same year Use Your Illusion I & II were released). The groove of this song is just perfect and it leaves me wondering what would have been if Duff had written more song for the band.



6. Don't Cry (1991)

Haunting, evocative and the kind of song that never leaves your blood. The video is mesmerizing, another entry in the canon of epic GNR videos. Shannon Hoon's background vocals add another layer to Axl's dual voice, and add a poignancy to the song illuminated by his death not long after. The alternate lyrics version is equally inspiring as the original - a rarity.



5. Rocket Queen (1987)

Like no other song recorded before or since. I read once somewhere that Appetite for Destruction is an album of the harsh truth of reality, no holds barred, and no redemption. Yet, the song (and thus, the album) ends on a positive note, offering an overarching theme of hope through the darkness of seedy, backalley LA.



4. You're Crazy (Acoustic) (1988)

Slowing down the tempo and the instrumentation allows the true backbone of this song to show through the trappings. It becomes almost a threat and takes on a life of its own. The acoustic version featured on GNR Lies becomes an entirely different song from the electric version on Appetite for Destruction. And it's entirely awesome.



3. November Rain (1991)

Axl's unashamedly epic ode to Elton John. Perhaps one of the best music videos ever made. Watching it makes me mourn the end of the music video era, because it is clear how amazing the visual component of a song becomes when the artist has true vision and spirit for the form. Do yourself a favor and watch this video to remember the hedonism and the heartbreak of it all. Watching Guns 'N Roses videos made me read Del James and want to buy the intricate, heavy metal jewelry by the infamous designer Axel. And maybe that was the whole point.



2. Knockin' On Heaven's Door (1990/1991)

The video I'm posting is from the Freddie Mercury tribute concert in 1991. And it's proof, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that when Guns N Roses had their shit together, they were the greatest rock 'n roll band our generation has ever seen. EVER. This video, this performance captures everything I wish everyone could understand about GNR. Axl is so perfectly Axl here, from the bandanna, to the kilt, to the Kill Your Idols shirt. Slash with the double neck guitar and without the top hat, Gilby Clarke, Duff, and the way Matt Sorum beats the shit out of the drums at the end of the song. They don't make 'em like this anymore.

I have to say, unequivocally, I love this cover far more than the original. So sue me.



1. Paradise City (1987)

I love this song so much that I have included it twice (supposedly by accident) on every party mix CD I have ever made. What could I love more about this song? The beginning which quickly evolves into a "We Will Rock You"-style anthem, and you think you know what's coming next, until it explodes in a cacophony of wall-to-wall chaos. The music video which details their epic concert at Giant Stadium and performance at Monsters of Rock Donington festival in 1988? It is a tragedy beyond words that there hasn't been another Monsters of Rock festival in the same place, in the same vein since 1996 (where KISS and Ozzy co-headlined).

But back to the music. This song is what Guns 'N Roses are all about. Courting controversy, simultaneously captivating and destroying the world with their music. THIS is the song I would play someone who had never heard of GNR, to capture what they were so wholly about: kicking ass, taking names, and burning so brightly they were destined to only blaze for a little while. But in that time, they set the world on fire.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

American Idol Season 10 - Top 2: May 24, 2011


Top 2 - May 24, 2011


So here it is, the culmination of 100,000 auditions, the devastating cuts of some astoundingly talented people, 400 proclamations of "IN IT TO WIN IT" by Randy Jackson, and almost a billion text messaging votes by people who have AT&T. The Scotty & Lauren finale.

Contestants picked their favorite performance of the season to sing first, the contestants' idols picked their second songs, and the third song was their potential first single.

1. Scotty McCreery - "Gone" A

This was definitely my favorite Scotty performance of the season; it's the kind of song that sticks in your head long after you hear it. I have never heard the original version by Montgomery Gentry so I have a feeling Scotty's voice will be the one I always associate with this song. I enjoyed "Gone" more the first time around but still a worthy performance tonight. A perfect song choice for Scotty to remind the viewers that he has been solid, if not fascinating, all season.

2. Lauren Alaina - "Flat On The Floor" B+

I loved the entrance, with Lauren slowly rising on the platform and descending down the magestic stair case. Definitely not the song choice I would have picked for Lauren's "best of the season". I am sure no one remembers them now but her "Turn On The Radio" and "I'm The Only One" were vastly superior, and for sure her best performances of the year! For all the drama surrounding Lauren having lost her voice, there were only two parts of the song where it sounded like she was struggling.

3. Scotty McCreery - "Check Yes Or No" B

A perfect cheeseball song choice for Scotty, yet it disappointed when compared to the similar lyrical content of "Are You Gonna Kiss Me Or Not" from last week. This is the kind of song I can picture Scotty having on his record. Who knows, maybe he'll do a cover of it? More hamming it up courtesy of Scotty's eyebrows - what, it wouldn't be a finale without them!!! While this was a decent performance, I can't lie, it sort of bored me. I didn't like the arrangement of the song either.

4. Lauren Alaina - "Maybe It Was Memphis" A

Carrie Underwood chose an amazing song for Lauren - one that I didn't know at all but fell in love with instantly. Lauren did some interesting things with her voice throughout this one - drawing it back to whisper and pushing it forward on the line "sitting there looking at you". I felt some of the emotion we have been lacking from her all season in this performance. I am not sure what I felt about the bedazzled (TM) tutu dress with coffee colored cowboy boots, however.

5. Scotty McCreery - "I Love You This Big" B-

I truthfully just do not like this song - the melody, the lyrical content, the supposedly swooping chorus. I am positive Scotty could have done better with another song that so clearly wasn't trying to pander to the "I'm just a small time country boy with not much experience" narrative Nigel & Friends have set up the whole season. Scotty's voice also didn't seem to reach the heights intended on the "big" choruses. Big, get it? HA. No. I also love the "BIG" hand gestures Scotty employed on this song. Excellent.

6. Lauren Alaina - "Like My Mother Does" A

Fascinatingly, Ryan Seacrest failed to mention that this song is off Season 7 Contestant Kristy Lee Cook's first album. Wouldn't that have been an interesting fact for those of us who have followed Idol for many years? OF COURSE. Ugh. Anyway, back to Lauren's performance. Lauren, again, infused this song with a lot of raw emotion that was beautiful (as Steven might say, and probably did say after this performance). I thought Lauren might have a chance of winning it all with this song.

Overall, Lauren was better in her performances, but didn't we all know she stood no chance against "Scotty The Body"?

It's been a great season everyone! Now counting down the days to Season 11.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

American Idol Season 10 - Top 3: May 18, 2011


Top 3 - May 18, 2011


1. Scotty McCreery - "Amazed" B

Scotty's version of one of my favorite country songs was good to be sure, but nothing amazing or spectacular. I was happy to see he dialed it back on the cheesy faces and eyebrow lifting; he actually looked very sincere and it was a lot easier to watch. I have a feeling if Simon was still here, he would have many critiques for Scotty that would involve the words "karaoke", "lounge singer", "cruise ship performer", "theme park singer", the list goes on. This did come off a bit karaoke to me, but the kind of karaoke you would be happy to hear after a night of people assaulting your ear drums with off-key versions of "Like A Virgin".

2. Lauren Alaina - "Wild One" B

Lauren struggled with breath issues and didn't complete a lot of her phrases, letting them sort of dissolve abruptly into nothingness. It was a cute and appropriate song choice that seemed to fit with the kind of songs Lauren will likely go on to record for 19 Entertainment and Simon Fuller. I am interested to hear the Studio version of this song which I have a feeling will be far superior to the live version.

3. Haley Reinhart - "What Is And What Should Never Be" A+
This was nothing short of astounding. I loved her interactions with her father who played lead guitar on the performance - he was awesome too! Clearly where the girl gets her talent and love for music from. I loved the melodic choices she made with the song. This song was absolutely electrifying. She recovered quickly and professionally from her fall which would likely startle many less intense performers into messing up the rest of the song. I did not like Haley early on in the season - her performances of "Blue" and "I'm Your Baby Tonight" were messy. However, since then I have consistently liked her more and more as she is the only contestant (with the obvious exception of James) who really is unpredictable. I am excited to watch Haley each time she sings because she brings something new and different.

4. Scotty McCreery - "Are You Gonna Kiss Me Or Not" A-

Scotty's best performance of the night -and in a long time. A perfect song choice for him by Jimmy Iovine. His voice sounded like this song was written for him. I liked that he played his guitar, although he seemed to be holding it a bit awkwardly. The kind of performance I could listen to over and over again. He did get a bit cheesy with the eyebrows at the end - I could tell he had been holding it into for too long and those eyebrows just needed to escape. Or something.

5. Lauren Alaina - "If I Die Young" A-

Another good song choice by Jimmy Iovine. Jimmy has been hot and cold all season - giving amazingly perfect advice to giving the worst advice I've ever heard in life. Lauren's best performance of the night. I liked that it was more of an understated performance and she wasn't drowned out by the backup singers until the end of the song - where she missed a line or two. A great performance by Lauren but not the Idol Moment I think the producers were dreaming of.

6. Haley Reinhart - "Rhiannon" A

A gorgeously heartbreaking performance. I liked the beginning of the song the best, when the focus was just on Haley's voice and the piano. She got drowned out a bit by the insistent drum beat in the background as the second verse started. The wind machine and fog drifting across the stage added to the ethereal quality of Haley's performance. I was more than impressed. She seemed natural and beautiful, flawless and even Randy couldn't critique this one.

7. Scotty McCreery - "She Believes In Me" B+

The judges were right when they said this was the first song Scotty had tackled on the Idol Stage that really had a big, soaring chorus in the tradition of Lite FM. I liked the string section behind Scotty - for some reason, for one of the first times this season, it felt like the CLASSIC American Idol of maybe circa Season 4? Call me a nostalgic sap, but I love anything that feels like a throwback.

8. Lauren Alaina - "I Hope You Dance" B-

Anyone that knows me halfway decently knows I absolutely HATE this song. While I suppose Lauren's rendition was competent, I could not get over my disdain (to put it mildly) of this song for the entirety of her performance. I also realized how difficult of a song this song is to sing from listening to her, when compared to the original. Then again, I turn off this song as soon as it comes on the radio most times, so what do I know? I did like the part when she sang "one door closes" and pushed her voice a bit farther than we've seen.

9. Haley Reinhart - "You Oughta Know" B+

Very interesting, and odd song choice from the judges. The beginning of the music sounded exactly like "Gives You Hell" by All American Rejects....just a thought. Haley messed up the words a little bit going into the first chorus. Haley really owned the stage in a way not many contestants have this season (again, besides James. Can you tell that I miss James?). I LOVED LOVED LOVED when she got in the judges' faces during the "scratch my nails down someone else's back" part. You go girl.

I'm going to forgo the best and worst of the night this time since we're down to only 3 contestants. But clearly, in my opinion, the best of the night was HALEY.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

American Idol Season 10 - Top 4: May 11, 2011

American Idol - Top 4 - Inspirational Songs / Leiber & Stoller Songbook - May 11, 2011

If this wasn't one of the most convoluted theme nights in American Idol history, I am not sure what is.

1. James Durbin - "Don't Stop Believin'" A-/B+

I absolutely loved the blue starry staging of this. This performance proved that James could have a great future starring in Rock Of Ages on Broadway - and trust me, that is a complete compliment coming from me! I loved that he actually wore a Journey shirt on stage. Heavy metal jewelry! Fire! Starry eyes! This had it all.

2. Haley Reinhart - "Earth Song" B-

Probably my least favorite performance of hers in a long long time. I felt the song was a difficult one to translate to the Idol stage. I do commend Haley for sticking to her guns and standing by her song choice - after all it wasn't songs that inspired Randy Jackson, it was supposed to be about songs that have inspired the contestants to become singers. However, it is almost certain that if Jacob or Lauren had given the same performance the judges would have fallen all over themselves praising their artistry and that they were "IN IT TO WIN IT". UGH.

3. Scotty McCreery - "Where Were You When The World Stop Turning" B

It is 100% certain that Scotty will be in the finale after his performance of this song. Scotty knows how to cater to his audience in a way that seems authentic and natural. Yet, there was nothing about this performance that really stood out to me besides the lyrical content of the song (which really has nothing to do with Scotty, as he didn't write it). A solid if not particularly memorable performance.

4. Lauren Alaina - "Anyway" B+

Lauren hit one note that reminded me of Carrie Underwood, which impressed me. I am trying to figure out whether it was her tone or phrasing, because it is clear Lauren doesn't have the kind of range Carrie does. I love how she ended the song on a soft note instead of trying to belt it out, but I am so sick of her ending every performance with a giggle and a "Thank you". I think it was cute the first time, back when she sang "Turn On The Radio" (one of her best performances), but after 6 or 8 or 10 weeks, it's grown old.

5. Haley Reinhart - "I Who Have Nothing" A

Haley came back on the stage with a fire in her eyes and a tear in her voice. This was a true Idol Moment in a season very sadly lacking in Idol Moments...come on, we had to put up with Season 9 having hardly any moments, and now we have the judges clearly gunning to get Haley voted off? She is consistently the contestant who gives "Moments" on this stage, except for maybe James. Lauren has never delivered a true Idol Moment and Scotty had his moment (I think) with "You've Got A Friend" but that was more his moment than a true overall moment.

6. Scotty McCreery - "Young Blood" D+

This was so hokey and over the top, I really did not like anything about it. From the strange cadence to the song to the cheesy facial expressions. An awful song choice. I did like the dramatic ending to the song, but honestly when the ending is the best part, that's not saying much. It came off very dated, and I honestly have no clue what the song is supposed to be about.

7. Lauren Alaina - "Trouble" B

My favorite thing about this performance was Lauren's sparkly shoulder pad enhanced jacket from the Rhythm Nation Janet Jackson collection. The first half of the performance was much better than when she started into the fast chorus part of the song, which got boring and I kept thinking how Little Lauren was so afraid to sing the line "I'm evil" in the song. Towards the end of the song, her voice seemed to give out a bit and she didn't go for any sort of "big note".

8. James Durbin - "Love Potion #9" A+

Amazing. This reminded me of everything I love about hard rock and metal music, in the great tradition of rock bands that cover unexpected songs. (See: Twisted Sister - "The Leader Of The Pack, Ugly Kid Joe - "Cats In The Cradle", Faster Pussycat - "You're So Vain", etc.) After watching this performance, I realized just how much James has been MY contestant all season and how he does things that are consistently different and exciting. (Does that even make sense? "Consistently different"?) I LOVED LOVED LOVED how he drew out the ending, in the way that only a real rock 'n roll singer can do. I could listen to this OVER and OVER and OVER again.

Best of the night: James
Worst of the night: Scotty

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

American Idol Season 10 - Top 5: May 4, 2011


Top 5 - Now & Then - May 4, 2011

1. James Durbin - "Closer To The Edge" (by 30 Seconds to Mars) B-

I found that James's studio version of this song was far superior to the live performance he gave on Idol. I did not at all like the song live, as James's cadence at the end of each line seemed to veer into a shouty territory that did not flatter his voice.
I could not stand the backup singers shouting "NO NO NO" at random intervals in the song also. I so badly wanted to like this performance more than I actually did. Check out the Studio version though - it's pretty good! I do have to give James credit for picking a current song that may foreshadow the direction he will eventually take in his career.

2. Jacob Lusk - "No Air" (by Jordin Sparks & Chris Brown) D+

Jacob is now blaming this awful performance on Jimmy Iovine. While Jimmy is to blame for a myraid of things on Idol this season, I do not know how this disaster could be his fault. Due to the duet nature of the song, the backup singers had to take a leading role in the music and Jacob was reduced to yelling random things like "without me!" and "can't breathe, no air!" God help us. I have heard worse songs on the Idol stage this year, and I guess that's the best compliment I can give.

3. Lauren Alaina - "Flat On The Floor" (by Carrie Underwood) B+

It was nice to see Lauren do an uptempo song with an attitude - trying to break out of the storyline the show has set for her perhaps? This is the kind of song I could picture her doing in her post-Idol career. At least hopefully - maybe she'll get buried beneath the strain of a multitude of forgettable midtempos (kind of like her Idol run). I'd love to see Lauren have a true Idol moment this year.

4. Scotty McCreery - "Gone" (by Montgomery Gentry) A-

Randy finally had it right when he said that it felt like we were at a Scotty concert this week! Another "I rocked so hard my hair clip fell out" moment. A truly enjoyable performance and the best at this point in the night. I liked how he actually seemed to embody the lyrics in his style of singing. This song has a very fast succession of lyrics and Scotty handled them admirably.

5. Haley Reinhart - "You And I" (by Lady Gaga) A

Truly transcendent performance by Haley. I absolutely adored it. I was stunned when the judges gave her bad feedback and criticized her song choice (mainly because it was an "unreleased" song that many people did not know). I never heard the song "Gone" before but I truly enjoyed Scotty's performance! UGH. This was the absolute perfect song choice for Haley, who gave it a whiskey-soaked barroom flavor that truly fit the song lyrics. I could not have loved it more.

6. James Durbin - "Without You" (by Badfinger) A-

Yes, there were a few pitch problems here and there, but on a show where the judges always stress connecting emotionally to the lyrics, James excelled far and above his younger peers on this show. He could have hit some of the notes better, and it might have been amazing to see a completely acoustic version of the song, but all in all, the kind of performance that makes an Idol moment.

7. Jacob Lusk - "Love Hurts" (by Nazareth) C-

You know what else hurts besides love? My poor ears after listening to this song. There was one note that sort of sounded like "bleeeeuuuuuughaaah" which is not the kind of thing anyone should be singing on American Idol. EVER. I absolutely love this song and when I heard Jacob would be singing it, I think my stomach sank a little bit.

8. Lauren Alaina - "Unchained Melody" (by the Righteous Brothers) A-
A beautiful, lilting take on the song, but I think it really hurt Lauren when she failed to hit the "big glory note" of the song.

9. Scotty McCreery - "Always On My Mind" (by Willie Nelson) B+
This reminded me of Scotty's best performance on the Idol stage this year ("You've Got A Friend" from Carole King Week). Clearly a song that meant a lot to him and he delivered it in a way that was authentic and understated (unlike many of his previous performances).

10. Haley Reinhart - "House of the Rising Sun" (by the Animals) A+
The true kind of Idol Moment (TM) that can not be denied, even by Nigel Lythgoe's pre-determined script for the show and the judges clearly being told to take swipes at Haley whenever they can.

Best of the night: Haley
Worst of the night: Jacob

Thursday, April 28, 2011

American Idol Season 10 - Top 6: April 27, 2011

American Idol - Top 6 - Carole King Night - April 27, 2011

Not a trainwreck performance in sight from our Top 6 Idol contestants of the post-Simon Cowell era.

1. Jacob Lusk - "Oh No Not My Baby" B+

This performance had a fun groove to it that I surprised myself by enjoying. One thing I did not enjoy was Jacob's bizarro suit and bow-tie combination. But oh wait, this show is supposedly about the singing, right? So anyway. It was nice to see a song where Jacob smiled and appeared to be enjoying himself, as opposed to the dramatic histrionics of oh, every other performance by Jacob. I am shocked to be writing these words but I think I will ACTUALLY download this performance by Jacob. There were a few notes here and there that didn't come off as good as they should have, but overall, it worked.

2. Lauren Alaina - "Where You Lead" B+

I am not sure there was much about this performance that was shockingly different from last week's plucky performance of "Born To Fly", despite the producers (oh Nigel there you go again) trying to convince us of some sort of upward trajectory story. I don't think like Randy said, she came out with a vengenance...her attitude and performance seemed pretty much the same to me from last week. That's not to say I didn't enjoy it overall. My best advice to Little Lauren would be to stop choosing midtempo numbers that all sort of blur together into one. Her performances of "I'm The Only One" and "Candle In The Wind" stood out because of her unique country twist on the songs.

DUET #1: Haley & Casey - "I Feel The Earth Move" A-

While not as good as their brilliant duet of "Moanin'", Casey and Haley had a playful chemistry during this duet. Haley clearly outsang Casey on this one, but what else is new? I loved the way the performance was choreographed and the way the two singers play off each other. And that last note was pretty awesome.

3. Scotty McCreery - "You've Got A Friend" A

It was incredibly refreshing to see Scotty dial back the cheesy facial expressions, side microphone holding, and sly eyebrow raises. He really focused on the lyrics this time and gave a song we've all heard a thousand times a nice new meaning. I loved the way he didn't prance around the stage but sat reflectively, bathed in reddish black light. Perhaps Scotty's best performance and certainly his most unique. This was the first time I thought Scotty truly meant what he was singing and it made all the difference in the world.

4. James Durbin - "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow" A+

A TRUE IDOL MOMENT (TM) FROM JAMES DURBIN! One of the first of the season besides Haley's "Bennie and the Jets". James's vocal was heartbreakingly exquisite and reminded me of all the great Idol contestants who took an unexpected song and made it their own (David Cook, Kris Allen, Adam Lambert). I loved how he started completely acapella; I was instantly captivated. A performance I could listen to OVER AND OVER.

DUET #2: Lauren & Scotty - "Up On The Roof" A-

I hope that we are afforded the opportunity to hear Lauren and Scotty sing many more duets over the next few weeks. They seem to complement each other in a way that is both natural and refreshing. Lauren's voice always sounds more breathy and beautiful when she is singing a duet with Scotty - maybe she feels less nervous, who knows. But I really would buy a CD of them singing duets!

5. Casey Abrams - "Hi De Ho" B

Loved the beginning of his performance, which seemed like a return to the original Casey before all the growls and theatrical faces. I am sick of his vocal tics and growls though, which seem to be covering-up for something Casey is lacking. That said, this was a MUCH better performance than last week's "Harder To Breathe". There were moments of greatness in this and moments that made me wince slightly. Overall, it was solid, but I am still waiting to see more from Casey.

6. Haley Reinhart - "Beautiful" B-

Haley got off to a rough start right before she started to sing with some technical difficulties. While Haley sang the song in a solid and likeable way, I realized almost instantly that I just did not like the song. I really shocked myself when I say this for the first and last time: I liked Jacob's performance signficantly more than Haley's. This was sort of a boring midtempo which sounded very dated. I don't think this song let Haley's voice shine at all.

DUET #3: Jacob & James - "I'm Into Something Good" C+

This was just sort of all over the place. It was clear that these two singers were put together only because of the prior success of duet pairings with Haley/Casey and Lauren/Scotty. I am also troubled by the white pant/dark suit jacket combos that they were wearing...who let James wear an undershirt with the tightest white pants I have seen this side of 1989? It wasn't a disaster; it was actually sort of entertaining in the "oh fuck it, let's have fun with this" kind of attitude that the two were projecting.

Best of the night: James (by a mile)
Worst of the night: Haley

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

American Idol Season 10 - Top 7: April 20, 2011


Top 7 - Songs From The 21st Century - April 20, 2011


1. Scotty McCreery - "Swingin'" (by LeAnn Rimes, 2010) B+

I loved that the arrangement was slightly Motown, slightly different than what I expected it. I also loved that there was someone playing an 80's style keytar (although I am not sure what this contributed musically to this performance). Scotty's delivery was way cheesy and as always, over the top. Yet I do think he has discovered how to successfully tell a story with the way he sings. His lyrics are always clear to understand. I wish he had chosen a song with perhaps more lyrical message or one that would have surprised us a bit. Scotty is still waiting for his "Idol Moment".

2. James Durbin - "Uprising" (by Muse, 2009) B+

I absolutely hate Muse and I hate this song. Had James chosen any other song, I am sure my grade for him would have been higher. That said, I loved how James clearly had an artistic vision for his performance. Even though we don't have Kara Dioguardi on the voting panel this season, I can still hear her pleas for "artistry". And I think James is probably the only contestant this year who has a concept of the word. I loved how effortlessly he switched back and forth between his regular singing voice and his metal scream.

3. Haley Reinhart - "Rolling In The Deep" (by Adele, 2011) A

It was fantastically brave of Haley to take on a song that is a current hit on the radio. Remember Ta-Tynesia and Jordan Dorsey with their respective takes on "Only Girl In The World" and "OMG"? NO? REALLY? OK fine. Haley excelled at this song; it was a perfect fit for her unique voice. One thing I would fault her on is her sometimes awkward hand gestures while she sings. It seems as though she is thinking too hard about what to do with her arms when she performs. Luckily, if SOMEONE like Jimmy Iovine (yeah, right) would give her some actual guidance, this is something easily fixable.

4. Jacob Lusk - "Dance With My Father" (by Luther Vandross, 2003) A-

Jacob's best performance on the Idol stage to date! I am normally not a fan of Jacob's at all. However, his restraint and raw emotion served him well tonight. He also did something few contestants have done this season - picked a song with an emotional impact for them personally which translates to the stage. Randy and J. Lo gave him horrible advice after this performance....since when has J. Lo sang a song where she has to rein in her emotions? And Randy, shame on you for encouraging Jacob to "let loose" again...do we really want another "Alone"???

5. Casey Abrams - "Harder To Breathe" (by Maroon 5, 2002) C+

In the beginning of this performance, I thought I would like it. It had me going for a little bit. I liked that Casey brought out his guitar and it seemed natural. But somewhere along the way, he lost me. "For me, for you, it just didn't work for me dawg." And it didn't. It all seemed very contrived and it didn't seem like the right song for Casey, who used the angry nature of the lyrics to make more growly/scary faces.

6. Stefano Langone - "Closer" (by Ne-Yo, 2008) A-

This was the performance where I fell in love with Stefano. I loved that he tried something different besides the same type of ballad each week, and it worked! His best performance in a little while. It was uptempo and fun, although the sort of staccato rhythm of the song makes it the kind of music I wouldn't call a "singer's song".

7. Lauren Alaina - "Born To Fly" (by Sara Evans, 2000) B+

At times, Lauren falls behind the backup singers with her vocals, much like Stefano in his performance of "Closer". This week she picked a song that seemed perfect for her age group and personality. It came off very cute and spunky. There was one golden moment around the one minute mark of her performance where the song slowed down, the backup singers quieted, and her voice really got to shine.

Best of the night: Haley
Worst of the night: Casey