Thursday, March 31, 2011

American Idol Season 10 - Top 11 Part II: March 30, 2011

Top 11 Part II - Elton John Week - March 30, 2011

With the judges choosing to save Casey last week, the Top 11 will live to see another week. Two contestants will go home tonight. In an ideal world, it will be Thia and Jacob. But I know not to get my hopes up!

1. Scotty McCreery - "Country Comfort" B

I liked that Scotty broke out his guitar for the first time on the big Idol stage. Yet I was left wondering what would have happened if Scotty had taken a better-known Elton song and put his own country spin on it? It seemed awfully basic to take a song with the word "Country" in the title, basically just for that fact alone. I would have loved to see Scotty take a risk. "Crocodile Rock", anyone? (My favorite Elton John song of all time.) That would have been upbeat, exciting, and different. What about the amazing and highly underrated 2002 hit "Original Sin"? I did agree with Randy when he said it seemed as though Scotty seems extremely comfortable up on the stage, which is an amazing feat for a 17 year old in any genre, really. Scotty is a cheeseball when he performs but I like it, mostly.

2. Naima Adedapo - "I'm Still Standing" B+

It is no secret I have not been a fan of Naima in, well, any performance of hers so far. I expected to hate this performance but I was pleasantly surprised. She is a consummate performer and I do believe that any concert she put on would be highly entertaining and creative, much like this performance. It is clear she knows who she is (a rarity on the Idol stage in the past few seasons) and is comfortable in her own skin. On paper, I never would have wanted to hear a reggae version of "I'm Still Standing" but in practice, it was pretty excellent. This performance worked very well for me, and I was confused as to why the judges criticized it heavily. They've praised performances by her that have been downright awful, so who knows. Would I buy Naima's CD? Probably not. But I respected her for taking a chance with a very popular Elton song, also a favorite of mine, and twisting it in an unexpected and original way.

3. Paul McDonald - "Rocket Man" B-

I can't lie, seeing Paul in that white suit again was probably one of the highlights of this night for me. I would have loved to see this song be completely acoustic, no accompaniment by the band. It would have really put the focus on Paul's unique voice. I was waiting and waiting for the performance to finally reach that place where it sailed perfectly away, and I don't think that moment ever came. It wasn't memorable over all, and sometimes that hurts a contestant's votes more than having an absymal performance. I wouldn't have picked this song for Paul at all. Probably my least favorite performance of his, "for me, for you", but I've gotta say he's still one of my favorites in this competition.

4. Pia Toscano - "Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me" A-

Like many loyal Idol viewers, I have the curse of not comparing current contestants' versions of songs to the original artists, but instead to the version previously performed by past Idol contestants. I know this song has been sung many times, many ways by contestants on Idol in the past, but the definitive version is, of course, Clay Aiken's crowning moment in Season 2.

Of course, Pia chose the Elton John showstopper for this night. I am left wondering what she could have done with a more understated song, something piano driven, stripped down, quiet and pure. What about "This Train Don't Stop There Anymore"? Am I the ONLY ONE IN THE WORLD who remembers this single from 2002 where Justin Timberlake portrayed a younger, 1970's era Elton John in the fascinating video? What about "Sacrifice"?

Pia has a gorgeous voice and, I believe, a true contender for the Idol crown. She puts true emotion into everything she sings and I liked the small changes and inflections she incorporated into the melody. She has the sort of one in a million voice that the rest of us would die to have. Was this song as good as her version of "All In Love Is Fair" from last week? No, but it was pretty damn good.

5. Stefano Langone - "Tiny Dancer" A-/B+ (yeah I couldn't choose a grade here)

Stefano wins this week's Most Improved award. It is clear that being in the Bottom 2 last week shook him up and gave him more of a will to try even harder this week. His enunciation was also much clearer and more carefully executed. A pretty and exceedingly competent song from Stefano. And you know J. Lo was melting when he approached the judges' table to hold her hand at the end of the song.

6. Lauren Alaina - "Candle In The Wind" A-

I was fascinated that Lauren chose to sing the original Marilyn Monroe version for this performance, I just automatically assumed that she would sing the Princess Diana version. For anyone of my generation, we will never forget where we were when the beautiful, larger than life Princess died. Then I realized that Lauren was born in 1994, making her just 3 years old when Diana passed away. (For point of reference, I was 11.) That fact both terrified me and explained why Lauren chose the original version of this song to perform.

However, it was nice to hear Lauren sing something emotional, soft, and poignant and give a quiet country twist on the song. I love her voice and I really think she will go on to be immensely successful in the country world.

7. James Durbin - "Saturday Night's Alright (For Fighting)" A

Now THIS was a performance by the contestant that was tailor made for me. I loved everything - the attitude, the clothes, the way he worked the crowd and the stage. This is someone I would LOVE to see in concert. Let's just put it this way, I rocked out so hard to this performance that my hair clip fell out. Now that is a compliment of the highest order. A spectacle that was both visual and aural, that was literally on fire. AWESOME.

8. Thia Megia - "Daniel" C

Oof. Where do I start? I don't like the tone or sound of her voice. I don't like her performance style. I am not convinced that Thia is not a robot. Poor little Thia, who dedicated this song to her brother who "moved away". Cry me a river, "sixteen year old" Thia. Call me when something really tragic happens to you. It was such a blatant ploy to garner votes after she landed in the Bottom 3, so very saccharine. It all rang false to me. She gave, I guess, a better performance than she has in the past. I GUESS. There was one pretty moment where she went up into a falsetto, towards the 2nd half of the song. Other than that, I could deal with never hearing the words "Thia Megia" again.

9. Casey Abrams - "Your Song" A-/B+

It seems Casey really took the judges' advice (OK, J. Lo's advice) to heart this week. He stripped it down to just him singing and a piano. He trimmed his beard! He got rid of the ridiculous and out of place growling! It all added up to a great performance. I saw in his eyes this week a hunger that had been missing before. Up until this point in the competition, I know he believed his own hype and wasn't taking the competition seriously (kiss of death to Idol voters who, like me, take this show very seriously). Was this vocal absolutely perfect? No. But I felt a sense of emotion behind it and it was understated and musical. And just what we needed from Casey this week.

10. Jacob Lusk - "Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word" D+

I am SO very ready for him to be gone. Again, like Thia, I just don't like the tone of his voice. Too much emotion and theatrics disguises real emotion. I am also tired of Jacob's crying faces and how I am convinced he is going to burst into sobs at any moment. I never want to hear or see this performance again. I actually yawned during this performance. Sorry, Jacob, it is time to go.

11. Haley Reinhart - "Bennie & the Jets" A

A true Idol moment for Haley. I honestly have not liked Haley very much at all in this competition, but I must give credit where it is due. She gave a sexy, unique vocal and performed it perfectly. Haley definitely had fun with this performance and it showed. Was it gimmicky? In a sense, yes, of course. But, by far and away, a great way to close the show on a high note.

Best of the night: James
Worst of the night: Jacob

Monday, March 28, 2011

Year End Wrap Up: 2002

The hardest year of my life and one I try my best not to remember. But, musically speaking, it might just be the year I solidified who I am and the music I would listen to for the rest of my life. I fell in love with guitars, three chords, and the truth.

Top 10 Songs Released In 2002

10. Nick Carter - "Do I Have To Cry For You"

A largely forgotten but pretty ballad off Nick Carter's solo album. Nick was always my favorite Backstreet Boy, with a pure, sort of sophomoric type of voice. A great song I still like.

9. Incubus - "Are You In"

Very ethereal and slightly drug-soaked, with a simple drum beat and lyrics that mean nothing and everything. This one reminded me of red lights dripping down walls of velvet. The first song on my infamous Summer 2003 Mix, back when I went through a vague sort of Incubus phase and had a mad crush on Brandon Boyd.

8. Christina Aguilera - "I'm OK"

A heartbreaking and aching song by Ms. Aguilera off her immensely awesome album "Stripped" which came out in 2002. The power in her voice is very understated in this song and every word just drips with regret and sadness. Beautiful and mesmerizing.

7. justincase - "Don't Cry For Us"

A completely forgotten song that was a mild hit on MTV at the time. You know it's really forgotten when no one has uploaded the video on to YouTube...I could only find this audio-only video. Looking back, I find it odd that I ranked this song so high on my Top 10 of the year but I still do like it.

6. The Donnas - "Take It Off"

The Donnas released an incredible album of party anthems called "Spend The Night" in 2002 and this was the lead single. Brash, sexy, unapologetic, with the right mix of spit-in-your-face and pretty. Looking back on this, I'm surprised I didn't include my personal favorite off the CD, "Too Bad About Your Girl" on my Top 10 list.

5. Bruce Springsteen - "The Fuse"

Slow burning and sexy, from one of Bruce's best albums, "The Rising", which was one of my favorites at the time. Almost 10 years after the terriorist attacks on September 11, this album still holds up as one of resilience and a nation attempting to rebuild itself to the soundtrack of the man that voiced the power and heartbreak of America itself, the Boss.

4. Sugarcult - "Pretty Girl (The Way)"

To this day, this song still reminds me of late nights in the dark listening to this on WinAmp. Another song off this Top 10 list that made it onto Summer 2003 Mix. A few years later, Sugarcult would go on to release one of my favorite songs of that year, "Memory", but for now, 2002 and this song will always be linked in my mind.

3. Bret Michaels - "One More Day"

Bret wrote this song after September 11, one of the most beautiful songs to come after the tragedy. It hit home for me that year. The kind of song that brings me to tears 9 years later. The quiet acoustic vibe of this song allows the painful lyrics to ring through, bright and clear. Looking back, I should have ranked this song as the #1 song of 2002, both for its meaning and quiet beauty.

2. Matchbox 20 - "Disease"

Most people don't know this song was co-written by Mick Jagger. Fun fact! I have never heard another song that resembles this one in any way, which is rare in this day and age. This one resonated with me in 2002. Everyone has that person that "left a stain on every one of my good days" and in 2002, in my most lovestruck moments, I had two of them. Rob Thomas's enunciation and phrasing in this song is phenomenal, making it one of their most memorable songs.

1. Bon Jovi - "All About Lovin' You"

One of my favorite songs released off the "Bounce" album, except for the immensely unique "Right Side Of Wrong" which I maybe should have included here, in hindsight. One of the classic Bon Jovi power ballads for the 00's!

Some of the albums I listed as my favorites this year included:

~ Matchbox 20, "Mad Season"
~ Motley Crue, "Girls Girls Girls"
~ Guns 'N Roses, "Appetite For Destruction"
~ Bon Jovi, "Bounce"
~ Nirvana, "Greatest Hits"
~ Bruce Springsteen, "Greatest Hits"

Thursday, March 24, 2011

American Idol Season 10 - Top 11: March 23, 2011

Top 11 - Motown Night - March 23, 2011

As Randy might say, "we got ourselves a competition dawg! That was hot!" And honestly, it was. I don't think I have been this impressed with a collective show of performances since Season 8 and maybe not even then.

1. Casey Abrams - "Heard It Through The Grapevine" A-

I loved his take on this. A lot of soul and I heard a bluesy quality in his voice I had been missing in last week's performance of "Smells Like Teen Spirit". He is a real performer and someone that is always entertaining to watch. Unlike some of the other contestants, I feel that he really connects through to the lyrics of the song and incorporates some emotion. Unfortunately, Casey's last note sounded a little painful to my ears, but all in all, a fun performance. Good way to start the show.

2. Thia Megia - "(Love Is Like A) Heat Wave" B+

Oh Thia. Finally proof you are not a robot!! I thought this day would never come. I'll never be a big fan of Thia. But this performance was the first (and only) one I've really liked by her. It was a fun uptempo song. She looked cute, and age appropriate. (If only Ryan would stop reminding us at every chance that she and Lauren are 16 years old.) There was one moment where she turned away from the camera a bit and seemed to stumble over her words, or at least pause in a way that suggested she was going to, but kept it together.

3. Jacob Lusk - "You're All I Need To Get By" B-

I do not, and will never, understand the judges eating up every word Jacob sings. He is killing every overwrought syllable he sings with his cheese-drenched delivery. That said, this was probably his best performance since Hollywood Week. It wasn't the hideous mess that was "Alone" and yes "I Believe I Can Fly" (I really don't want to go down that road again). I was surprised by Jacob tonight exercizing a little restraint...oh wait, there goes the crazy-ass notes at the end of the performance. Ouch. He makes weird faces as he sings which bothers me more than it should, I suppose. Every performance he has, he turns into a gospel song. Which is great, I suppose, if you are singing gospel songs. "Alone" by Heart is a heartbreaking song of "desperate desires and unenviable plans", with credit to Brand New. It's not a Hallejuah chorus with the nuns from Sister Act dancing around in the background. Oof.

4. Lauren Alaina - "You Keep Me Hanging On" A

A very fun, upbeat performance. Lauren brought a lot of attitude to the song, which it definitely needed. I loved her zebra print dress and basically everything about this performance. She has been fairly consistent so far with selecting good songs, which is key to navigating the Idol experience. I loved how she started off the song slow, under the spotlight, before the song got more uptempo. I didn't necessarily like the posturing off of and singing to Randy Jackson though. Always so awkward. Why do it?

5. Stefano Langone - "Hello" B-

Stefano's performance was perfectly competent. But this version will forever be hiding in the shadows behind David Cook's entirely perfect version in the semi-finals of Season 7. David Cook had a true "IDOL MOMENT (TM)" in that instant, and continued to do so throughout the season ("Billie Jean", "Always Be My Baby", "The Music Of The Night", etc.). There was a sexy, stalker, desperate edge to Cook's performance which changed the meaning of the song in that instant. But that's Cook and not everyone is going to interpret the song that way, which is fine. Stefano needed to sing the song like he was telling a story, writing a letter (as J. Lo said) and something was off. Stefano has a great voice and I do like him, but this performance fell way short of the high expectations set by Cook in the stellar Season 7.

6. Haley Reinhart - "You Really Got A Hold On Me" B

I cringed when I heard Haley was selecting this song, one of my favorites both in the Beatles version and in the Smokey Robinson & the Miracles version. Yet, she managed to do much better than I could have expected. For some reason, Haley's performances always remind me of a girl doing a last-call karaoke song, lots of slurring, wobbling around, and flashing some leg. Yet she can obviously sing better than a typical karaoke singer. There were parts of this performance I loved and other parts that went off into an alternately growling/screechy mess. Haley is this week's most improved.

7. Scotty McCreery - "For Once In My Life" B+

I loved how Scotty turned a song we've all heard many many times into his own country version. The arrangement was pretty decent and suited him very well. His voice cracked a little bit on one of the notes however. I love Scotty and I think he will go on to have a huge career in the country music world.

8. Pia Toscano - "All In Love Is Fair" A-

A very haunting, emotional performance by Pia. She is always stunning, both in her looks and her voice. I felt like she was telling a story with this song. I really felt the sadness in this song. She has the kind of voice most people dream of having and I love watching her sing.

9. Paul McDonald - "Tracks Of My Tears" A

The first time I heard this, it gave me chills. I felt it, I loved it. I would love to go to a dark club and see Paul up on the stage singing and playing guitar. One of my favorite Smokey Robinson & the Miracles songs of all time. I could not agree more with the excellent Michael Slezak over at that had he stripped the song down to just him and his guitar (forget the band and their always cheesy arrangements) he could have had a true Idol moment, David Cook style. Even still, a great performance and one I will be listening to over and over on iTunes.

10. Naima Adedapo - "Dancing In The Streets" C

This is the kind of Motown song that always puts a smile on my face no matter what. I absolutely adore this song. I guess the best thing I can say about Naima's interpretation of it was that it was "creative". Very very 70's, from the bell-bottom-three-piece suit-whatever-that-was, the four hundred bracelets on her arm, the drums, even the lighting.

11. James Durbin - "Living For The City" A-

Can I just say how much I love James's voice, his look, and that awesome jacket with the skulls and chains on it? If there was any American Idol contestant that was tailor made for me, it would be James Durbin. He has an infectious quality when he performs. I didn't love the song as much as I loved "I'll Be There For You" last week, but I liked this week's performance by James much better.

Best of the night: Lauren
Worst of the night: Naima

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

American Idol Season 10 - Top 12: March 16, 2011

Top 12 - Songs From The Year You Were Born - March 16, 2011

Yes, I am back. And yes, I have missed this crazy show more than even I care to admit. Hard to believe this is my 3rd year of blogging about American Idol and my 4th straight year of watching it obsessively. Yes, I admit I only watched the finale episode of Season 1, where Kelly Clarkson won the crown and I cried. And I watched every single episode of Season 2, loved Clay, but for some reason was out on the night of the finale episode and never saw it. I skipped Season 3 (Fantasia), but tuned back in for Season 4 (Carrie Underwood & Bo Bice - awesome). Skipped most of Season 5 but loved Taylor Hicks. Skipped Season 6 (Jordin Sparks) entirely except for the Bon Jovi episode. But, yes, I found my obsessive way back to the show for David Cook, Kris Allen, and Lee Dewyze and all the people we loved and lost along the way (Michael Johns, Carly Smithson, Matt Giraud, Tim Urban).

So here goes, without a delay, the redemption season!

1. Naima Adedapo - "What's Love Got To Do With It" (1984) C

I was not impressed by this rendition by Naima of one of my favorite songs from childhood. Should I feel old now? (No let's wait until we meet a contestant born in 1995. WOW.) Naima brought nothing exciting to this song, except a bit of way-too-obvious pitchiness. That is not to say it was a disaster but it was instantly forgettable. The first contestant of the night is always in a bit of a precarious spot - that they might be forgotten by the audience when it comes time to vote. Well, I think Naima just might be in that spot.

2. Paul McDonald - "I Guess That's Why They Call It The Blues" (1984) B-

Oh Paul, you are so unusual and offbeat, but those eyes, that smile, you remind me of every guy I've ever had a crush on and wondered why because they were just so damn weird. Luckily "for you, for me" that works well. I'll give you a free pass because you were sick this week. But please work on those weird hand gestures. You have such a unique, distinctive, and awesome voice that I will keep voting for you, but please bring it next week.

3. Thia Megia - "Colors of The Wind" (1995) B

A competent, pleasant, and unoffensive performance. Yet, this is not the stuff of dreams, or what should win American Idol for that matter. The Pocahontas soundtrack was one of the first I ever purchased, mind you. Personally, I feel Vanessa Williams's version of this song is much better. Randy gave Thia a good piece of advice when he said that she has been sticking to ballads and not showcasing all of her ability. All in all, an ok performance, but nothing too memorable.

4. James Durbin - "I'll Be There For You" (1989) B+

OK, here we go. The moment the show really, truly started (you know I love you, Paul). I think James could have honestly done better with this song. It seemed the tempo and lyrics were sped up in a way that was unnecessary and even irritating. But there were...these the song that were just so good (OK, not so much the chorus). I agreed with Steven Tyler when he said James should not make something so poppy and just stick to his roots.

I felt the tempo and arrangement of this song definitely leaned more toward the pop side, and really made me appreciate the genius that is Richie Sambora as one of the greatest guitarists of the past 30 years. I don't think James brought the sorrow and regret of this song to the forefront, or even anywhere in the song. I was disappointed the scream James went for fell mostly flat when I knew he could bring it the whole way (ok, here I am talking like Randy again). But I want James in this competition, more than anything, because he said he would sing Motley Crue, Guns N Roses, Skid Row. If there was ever a contestant made for me (besides Matt Giraud and Tim Urban), it was James Durbin.

5. Haley Reinhart - "I'm Your Baby Tonight" (1990) D+

Her voice sounded so bizarre here. Half the time she is trying to take a jazzy affect with her voice, a la Adele, and the other time she is trying to attempt some sort of sex-kitten growl. This is a performance i never hope to hear again. Her performance illustrated what a wonderful vocalist Whitney Houston was and what a hard song this is to sing. Could this be her last performance on the Idol stage? I wouldn't be surprised. If Simon were here (and he was allowed to say this), I am sure he would say this performance was something you would hear at a strip club. A classy one.

6. Stefano Langone - "If You Don't Know Me By Now" (1989) A-/B+

Thank you Stefano for redeeming the night. A beautiful and distinctly R&B take on a song we've all heard many times (even by Carrie Underwood on this very stage). Is it truly the kind of performance we'll remember long after this night? Perhaps not, but it was lovely and that is the highest compliment I can give Stefano in this moment. As Randy might say, "Dawg, you can really sing!"
7. Pia Toscano - "Where Do Broken Hearts Go" (1988) A-

An interesting arrangement of this sad Whitney Houston classic. At this point, I am convinced Pia is our Whitney-Mariah-Celine savior we have been looking for since 1993. I say that without the slightest trace of sarcasm. Pia is beautiful, poised, and sings those heartbreaking notes the rest of us only dream of reaching. She is my odds on favorite to win.

8. Scotty McCreery - "Can I Trust You With My Heart" (1993) A-

Wow, Scotty has progressed quite a way from "Baby, lock them doors". I can picture myself listening to him on Sirius Channel 60 The Highway (New Country), if he gets the right songwriters and production team. He could be the Next Big Thing. I always enjoy listening to him and his deep tone. He also makes the songs sound like his own (to be fair, this may be because I don't know a lot of the original recordings) and I always enjoy hearing him perform. Great job Scotty!

9. Karen Rodriguez - "Love Will Lead You Back" (1989) B

OK, let's just get it clear, Karen chose one of my favorite power ballads here. She started off the song strong and had me singing along. I was extremely disappointed with her turn into Spanish, as A) this is not a song that lends itself to that, and B) her voice and pitch faltered greatly in that part of the song. The first time I listened to it, I gave it a B+, but based on a second listen, I may have to give it a B.

10. Casey Abrams - "Smells Like Teen Spirit" (1991) B+

This gave me the chills. All over. Unusual and awesome. Maybe one of Idol's darkest moments besides Adam Lambert's haunting rendition of "Mad World" in Season 8. Was Casey really on pitch? No. Did he take the song into a screaming sensibility that may not have been the most aesthetically pleasing? Kind of. But who else had the balls to perform Nirvana on Idol? No one. Casey is fascinating and the kind of Post-Empire contestant Idol so desperately needs. Crazy crazy good.

11. Lauren Alaina - "I'm The Only One" (1994) A

One of my favorite songs by one of my favorite singers of all time (Melissa Etheridge). Lauren gave the song a country edge that worked so effortlessly it stunned me. One of the rare songs I increase a grade on after listening live the first time around. I honestly like her rendition more each time I listen! Amazing! Do I think she put the passion Melissa has naturally into the song? No, of course not. But who would? Lauren gave the song a twang I loved and will listen to over and over again on iTunes. Excellent!

12. Jacob Lusk - "Alone" C+

His voice is shaky (always) and weird (perpetually). This performance almost sounded like a parody to me. A ballsy choice after listening to Carrie Underwood truly sing the hell out of this song back in Season 4 (the performance, you may remember, where Simon correctly predicted she would win the whole competition and go on to sell more records than any other Idol). His voice always sounds like it is about to break and I am always turned off by his theatrics.

Best of the night: Lauren
Worst of the night: Haley