Hi! I’m back after being Second Opinioned. Thanks very much to Donna Bowman for stepping in for me last week. I'll admit I rather enjoyed a night off where I could watch American Idol the way I like best: while reading magazines. Plus, I’m glad that on my night off, someone from what I considered my Idol axis of self-indulgent evil (Jacob and James make up the other two) got eliminated.
This week, the contestants each sang two songs: a contemporary tune and then something from the ‘60s or ‘70s, which for some reason always ended up being a ballad. Sheryl Crow coached the contestants tonight. Based on her song catalog and experience, she's one of those people who seems like she should have been a mentor by now if she hasn't. She was actually a good mentor, obviously a fan of the show, who sang with the contestants more than maybe other adviser.
James kicked things off. Now, I know that James can sing, and I know that he can work the stage, but with his contemporary song, “Closer to the Edge,” his stage showboating overshadowed the song. The notes were sloppy, covered up by backup singers and loud music and fireworks and a lot of high-fiving. I hate when things are supposed to be “epic” and just feel contrived. I think Idol might be going a little far by indulging the concept of the contestants’ “concerts,” because ultimately they’re going to be selling albums first. The judges adored him.
For his next song, I took big points off James for overemoting, even though he was relatively mellow throughout most of the performance. The lyrics to Harry Nilsson’s “Without You” made James cry so hard in rehearsal that he had to stop singing and go sit poignantly in the handicapped parking spot of the studio. He started the song understated but then, of course, took it big. He shut his eyes, and a tear came to the fore. He gave that eye a few squeezes and finally coaxed the tear out. Then James really began crying, and the judges praised him for being emotionally perfect and told him the competition is his to lose. Every now and then, I kind of like James, and then I return to my home in Eyeroll City.
Well, at least James wasn’t alone when it came to contestants who made me crabby. I found Jacob’s take on the Jordin Sparks/Chris Brown duet “No Air” (a song I adore) excruciating. Just one person singing it reminded me of how little range the song actually has, and it was so so high. Jacob at that range for so long begins to sound… what is it? Adenoidal? Whatever it is, it’s just not right. He also chewed up the stage, dancing around and looking very serious next to his serious backup dancers and serious fog machine. The judges’ input on the song was very interesting: Jennifer spewed some positive bullshit until Randy articulated everything I felt, including that Jacob doesn’t work in a poppy vein. (“You’re not Chris Brown or Jordin Sparks.”) Jennifer tried to argue weakly with Randy, who stood his ground, and ultimately, Jennifer and even Steven admitted that the song wasn’t really Jacob. It was refreshing.
Jacob’s second choice of the evening, “Love Hurts,” worked much better for him in terms of style, but I found it unintentionally hilarious. He sounded very girly when the song burst into the loud part, and he sang “Ooh! Ooh! Love hurts!” and sounded in pain when he sang “Love hurts! Love hurts!” Why is this guy still in the competition? I mean, seriously. We all know he’s fun to watch, but nobody is going to hear him through his or her earbuds, yet the studio audience never gets enough of him.
I’ve decided I want Lauren to win the competition, largely because she annoys me the least of the other contestants and also because it seems like it’s time for another countryish normal-sized girl with big pipes to win the show. While the country-rock violinist next to her in the glittery t-shirt, wallet chain, and sparkly garter was just slightly ridiculous, Lauren rocked it tonight on “Flat on the Floor.” She (by and large) listened to Jimmy and Sheryl’s advice to stand still and sing out. She sounded a little breathy sometimes on the verses, but she sang with a lot of power, and I thought she sounded great when she pushed it all the way out. If she started smoking a lot, I'd bet she could really develop that rasp. I found it was much closer to what I think she’s capable of. As Randy put it, “Lauren is in it, y’all!” My only complaint is that sometimes Lauren gets styled like she’s 36, not 16, but it’s a minor issue.
I didn’t love Lauren’s second selection as much. She sang “Unchained Melody.” (Jacob should be singing the Righteous Brothers, no?) Both her singing and her look were pretty, if a little overdone. Whitney Houston-type flourishes were sprinkled throughout the song, partially, I think, to make up for the fact that she wouldn’t tackle the falsetto notes at the end. It was all right, but it didn’t make me love Lauren. Randy got his coveted “tender moment” though, and Steven thought Lauren was… ripe? What? That can’t be right.
I’d never heard “Gone” by Montgomery Gentry, but I have to admit if I heard Scotty’s version of it in a restaurant or car, I would probably secretly think, “This is a catchy song.” It seems like we finally heard Scotty be contemporary tonight without having to leave his genre, and I have to say, I was impressed. He’s come so far from that doofus in the early episodes. He used the stage a lot, flirting with the backup singers, and, well, I liked it. All I think he needs is a good hat, so he can cover up his jug head, and he’ll be a huge success. The judges were thrilled, Jennifer especially so.
Once again, though, I didn’t love Scotty’s second song, “Always On My Mind.” It was just boring, is all: nothing we haven't seen from Scotty, with a sleepy arrangement to boot. He looked nice in his crisp shirt and jacket though.
I think Haley got talked into some bad choices on her first number. To begin with, her heavyhanded makeup job and sparkly pants did her absolutely no favors. Secondly, I’m not sure why she agreed to sing a song barely anyone’s ever heard (an unreleased Lady Gaga song called “You and I”), since you’d think you’d want to entice your fans by singing their favorite songs. Haley’s voice sounded good on the song, but it was too heavyhanded for her, like she was trying to portray some boozy Bette-Midler-as-a-saloon-singer. I also didn’t think the song’s tedious “Hey Jude” type ending worked on the show either. The judges actually agreed with me, and I think Haley was aware that she rolled the dice and lost.
Similarly, with her second song, Haley sounded good, but I had a hard time connecting with her performance. She sang “House of the Rising Sun” as if she was the House’s alcoholic, part-time prostitute maid. It was sexy, and she certainly gave it her all, but Haley is just 20 years old. I like it when she can be the young woman with the whiskey voice, not when she’s trying to force it on us too much, like suddenly she’s Janis Joplin. Randy awarded her with Best Performance of the night but I thought she oversold it the way Jacob and James oversold theirs.
I would like it if Jacob went home tomorrow night, but James would be good too.
- Did anybody get a look at what the country violinist’s t-shirt said?
- Jennifer will be performing her song tomorrow night. We’ll have to compare it to the time Paula performed her song. Note here that I am not saying “sing.”
- Jennifer looked lovely tonight. That is all.