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" 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

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

American Idol Season 10 - Top 8: April 13, 2011

Top 8 - Songs From The Movies - April 13, 2011

Really Nigel Lythgoe? "Songs from the Movies" AGAIN? How many years have we had this tired theme? Oh well, here we go again.

1. Paul McDonald - "Old Time Rock 'N Roll" (from Risky Business) B-

Something came off a bit awkward and well, Paul's whole performance. And this is coming from someone who likes Paul and has voted for him several weeks. And I LOVE LOVE LOVE this song too. But something just didn't click here. Paul has a lot of energy on stage and is obviously meant to be performing with a band. He is not, and will never be, a solo artist. I think that is where the level of awkwardness comes from. I hope Paul goes onto have a niche, sort of neo-soul/alt-rock career he deserves. But it just didn't work for me, for you, tonight.

2. Lauren Alaina - "The Climb" (from Hannah Montana: The Movie) A-

Well, Jimmy Iovine was right. Lauren certainly outsang Miley Cyrus on this song and added a far more pleasant tone overall to the song (except for that one note she went way off and totally missed on, but oh well). Lauren picked a song that was age-appropriate and a song she felt she could connect with the lyric on -- and it showed. She looked like she had a lot of fun with the song and did a great job singing. Also without Gwen Stefani to "style" her this week, she looked beautiful and much more at ease on the stage. I could picture her covering this song at one of her concerts!

3. Stefano Langone - "End of The Road" (from Boomerang) B-/C+

I didn't like it as much as his great performance of "When A Man Loves A Woman" from last week (a performance, I should add, landed him in the dreaded Bottom 2). And while I absolutely love the song "End of the Road", it was all too easy to compare him to Boyz II Men and he just fell drastically, totally short. I don't think Stefano is a particularly good performer either. He can certainly improve and has a lot of room with which to do so.

4. Scotty McCreery - "Cross My Heart" (from Pure Country) A-

One of Scotty's best performances on the Idol stage! This time I really felt the lyrics from him and there was a lot less cheesy eyebrow raising and side of the mouth singing. Scotty delivered an earnest, pure performance that is sure to win him a lot of hearts of country fans. Is Scotty taking risks? No. Certainly not. But what he is doing is working and may take him to the Top 3 of this competition. I know that each week he will deliver a solid performance.

5. Casey Abrams - "Nature Boy" (from The Boy With the Green Hair, Untamed Heart, Moulin Rouge, Angel Eyes, and The Talented Mr. Ripley [take your pick]) C-/D+

His voice sounded very flat and I did not like the "scary faces" he kept making throughout the performance. I didn't think the upright bass worked on the song but I loved the other jazz musicians who added a great sense of musicality to an awful performance. There was very very little I liked about this performance. Casey's vocals were pretty bad and I honestly did not like the song. One thing I can applaud Casey for is taking a risk doing a song that has never been done on Idol and will likely never be done again.

6. Haley Reinhart - "Call Me" (from American Gigolo) A

WOW. I thought Haley picked a great song choice that really suited her unique voice. She looked great and gave a performance that demonstrated a lot of personality and was fun to watch. I could not understand for the life of me why this was the ONLY performance of the night the judges chose to criticize. And this is coming from someone who could not STAND Haley for the first few weeks of this competition and wondered how she made it through to the Top 13 over Kendra and some of the other competitors. Was this a perfect vocal? No. But like I said last week, I love that Haley isn't afraid to get messy with her voice. I can't wait to hear the studio version.

7. Jacob Lusk - "Bridge Over Troubled Water" (from The Pursuit of Happyness) C

Was this Jacob's Kristy-Lee-Cook-"God-Bless-The-USA" song choice moment? YOU BET YOUR ASS IT WAS. The whole time I was watching this, I compared it to Clay Aiken's vastly superior Idol Moment (TM) on this stage in the 2nd season, way back when I was just a junior in high school. Jacob's version came off overcooked, like melted cheese that has hardened after too much time in the oven. Oof. His "big note" sounded awful. The arrangement didn't do him any favors either. The song is supposed to build to a dramatic climax, but I felt like Jacob sang an extended first verse that never really lifted off the ground.

8. James Durbin - "Heavy Metal" (from Heavy Metal) A

OMFG. Another "I rocked so hard my hair clip fell out" moment. I think I should have fallen off my couch when I saw the great Zakk Wylde on the IDOL STAGE. My god. I would sure as hell go to a James Durbin concert. It is so clear through his song choices, metal scream, attitude, and just overall look that he loves metal. It is not an act, it is not posturing. He feels it in his soul and to the rest of us that turned it up to 11 and never looked back, we get it. I would give this an A- for vocals but having Zakk fucking Wylde on this stage boosted it up to an A for me.

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

Friday, April 8, 2011

American Idol Season 10 - Top 9: April 6, 2011

Top 9 - Rock 'N Roll Hall of Fame Night - April 6, 2011

So by now we all know that the amazingly talented Pia went home last night...I am writing this blog post a little late. I think it has taken me this long to calm down. I am sure that my writings here will be influenced by how mad I am about this, but here goes anyway.

1. Jacob Lusk - "Man In The Mirror" C

Was it as bad as his rendition of "Alone"? No, nothing is! (Trick question, duh.) I kept thinking about Kris Allen's vastly better rendition of the same song during the semi-finals of Season 8. I absolutely hated when Jacob started waving his arms back and forth, and doing some sort of suggestive pelvic thrust at the backup singer/co-writer of the song! UGH UGH UGH. Every song he performs comes off way too dramatic. My original grade was a C+ which was far too generous.

2. Haley Reinhart - "Piece Of My Heart" B+

Overall, a little too growly throughout the whole song, but I was fascinated to watch her. I found myself surprised to realize that she was one of the singers I was really dying to see perform on Wednesday. She brings a grit to her performances I don't see in any of the other contestants. I like that she isn't afraid to get a little messy and dirty with her vocals. She really has grown on me over these past couple weeks and I am glad she is still on the show. Must say though that I prefer the studio version to the live performance.

3. Casey Abrams - "Have You Ever Seen The Rain" A-

I am a sucker for classic rock and unique weird people and this performance combined both of those things. I liked that Casey (finally) broke out the upright bass on a song that lent itself to that kind of arrangement. I also liked the guy with the ukelele sitting beside him. There was an intimate feeling to parts of the performance, but it's hard to achieve true intimacy with that fake rain drop background on giant HD screens behind you. I thought the second part of the performance was where he hit his stride with some awesome classic-rock-style moments in his voice.

4. Lauren Alania - "Natural Woman" B+
It is tough to go out there and sing a song that was done so memorably in the very first season (perhaps the first true "Idol Moment" [TM]??) by Kelly Clarkson. I think Lauren has a great tone to her voice that I find really nice to listen to. Did Gwen Stefani do any of the girls any favors tonight with their awful wardrobe and styling? NO. Maybe she wanted to make herself look better in comparison. That said, I liked Lauren's performances of "I'm The Only One" and "Candle In The Wind" much better, but she is still one of my favorites to watch.

5. James Durbin - "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" B

It is clear James put a lot of emotion into this song; he truly felt the lyrics in his interpretation (something that is missing from some of the other contestants). I loved the staging of the song, the all black background and just sitting on a chair with the violinists and guitar players. It truly did feel intimate, unlike the staging of Casey's song. Did James sort of fall flat at several moments? Yes. But I loved his song choice if I didn't perfectly love his rendition of it. I originally gave this a B+ but on second listen, there are some places where his voice comes off a bit jarring.

6. Scotty McCreery - "That's Alright Mama" B-

I hate to admit this but sometimes I feel like I should like Scotty more than I actually do. This truly wasn't my favorite performance but he did put a bit of a rockabilly edge in the song. I would have liked to have seen him take a bit more of a risk with arrangement - maybe taking a rock n roll song or even something by Lynyrd Skynyrd and changing the arrangement to seem a bit more country. This performance came off a bit repetitive at parts to me, which isn't good for a 2 minute performance. I could definitely see the influence of Elvis on his singing style. (Original grade was a B.)

7. Pia Toscano - "River Deep Mountain High" A-

Oh beautiful, doomed Pia: I am keeping my original grade for you. Did Gwen Stefani's hideous styling hurt your votes? You looked amazingly fabulous on the night you were eliminated. If only you had worn that during your song. Of course I would have liked to see you not wearing 6 inch heels that inhibit your ability to walk. Maybe you would have been able to work the stage a bit better. Your voice is phenomenal, as are you. And I am hanging my head in shame as I admit I did not vote for you on Wednesday night. Instead I voted for Stefano, James, and Casey - all of whom I realize did not deliver the kind of performance you did. Yes I gave Casey an A-, and James a B+ originally (which I then changed to a B). I gave Stefano an A/A- originally, which would have been a higher grade than I gave you, but based on my grades alone, if I voted for 3, it should have been you, Stefano, and Casey. So I am ashamed beyond belief to say that I thought you were safe and that Stefano was in more danger of going home. I should have voted for you. My heart breaks. God, I love this crazy show but I sure hate it sometimes.

8. Stefano Langone - "When A Man Loves A Woman" A/A-

The first time I watched this performance it made me cry and the second time I watched this performance it made me cry for different reasons. The falsetto part of the song was beautiful and I loved the staging of this performance. Stefano still needs to work on his enunciation. But there were some true moments of beauty in this performance that I thought was stunning. I really felt the passion behind his vocal, perhaps for the first time, and maybe that is what moved me to tears the first time around. But the second time I watch it back, it makes me cry because at the heart of it, I would have rather seen Stefano go than Pia, and yet I didn't vote. I do have to say the last note he held reminded me of someone singing in a school play.

9. Paul McDonald - "Folsom Prison Blues" A-

I must disclaimer this by saying the first time I watched this I had two glasses of wine and I must have been blinded and hypnotized by Paul's shiny teeth. I originally gave him an "A" and wrote "OMG" and lots of other things in ALL CAPS. Would I give him an A again now? No, probably not. But I still stand by the fact that I thought it was a good performance and at least one that embodied the qualities of rock 'n roll to a much greater extent than many of the other performances. Did I feel the lyrics from Paul? No, but I'm not sure I'd want to. I will go back into caps to repeat this sentence from my initial notes: I LOVED THE END! (And I still do.)

Best of the night: Pia or Stefano
Worst of the night: Jacob