If I got one main impression from tonight’s episode of Idol, it’s that Vote For the Worst will be pretty irrelevant this season (unless Scotty McCreary makes it to the Top 24). Sure, the extra round of auditions may have just been a cruel ploy to extend the season and serve as an advertisement for (or against) the Cirque du Soleil Beatles show, but after all is said and done, I don’t think there are many, if any, singers squeaking through who aren’t very talented. Of course, sometimes the show is a little more fun when the singers are crappy, but fun aside, I don’t think Steven Tyler or Jennifer Lopez would deign to sit for hours listening to bad singers, so I think this year all that hype about “most talented season ever” might actually mean something. We’ll see if that translates to real entertainment. I am cautiously optimistic.
As we were promised last week, the top 61 singers grouped up and were shipped to Vegas to learn a Beatles song in 24 hours (which, sadly, was harder for some than it should have been) and perform it on a rather annoyingly whimsical set. Before singing, the contestants needed to run their performances by Jimmy Iovine in an unsexy hotel conference room: I’m not sure if he provided much concrete feedback, but if anything, he served to terrify the contestants and let them know that there will be no bullshitting this season.
I know we only saw abbreviated versions of the songs, and of course, very few Beatles covers will come close to matching the originals, and did I mention the annoying set? The spinning wheels and telephone booths and big bumbershoots? But with that said, the performances overall were, dare I say it, not bad? I wasn’t so sure about James Durbin and Stefano Langone’s “Get Back” (I can just admit now that I’m giving into a bias against James Durbin), but there wasn’t anything wrong with it, per se. By the time Pia Toscano and MySpace native Karen Rodriguez did their cute version of “Can’t Buy Me Love,” I started to unclench and get used to the fact that these were going to be Vegas-y performances and just to judge them for what they were.
“The Long and Winding Road” is one of my least favorite Beatles songs, but I liked Jacob Lusk, Haley Reinhart, and Naima Adedapo's harmonies on it, although if I were Jacob, I would take Jimmy Iovine’s advice on not going over the top all the time, as opposed to Randy’s advice, which was basically, “Go over the top, all the time.”
I’m coming around on Julie Zorrilla. Maybe her beauty is just blinding me, but her performance with Tim Halperin on “Something” was downright sexy. I’ve always felt this way about Idol, but I would really love it if duets and group numbers could be worked more into the show, by which I do not mean the hideous, choreographed lip-synched group numbers we typically see on results nights (I have a feeling that these will be 86’ed this season, or at least altered so as not to be so cringe-worthy).
I like Paul McDonald’s (Beardy Gram Parsons Charlie Day) voice a lot, although I questioned his pronunciation of some of the lyrics on “Blackbird”: “Take these suckered eyes and learn to see”?
I was also impressed by the groups that took on “Help!” and “Ticket to Ride,” which are definitely not easy songs to perform.
Youngsters Melinda Ademi and Thia Megia took on “Here Comes the Sun” after being terrorized the day before by their vocal coach, who said things like “Guess what? You’re gonna die onstage in front of all those people!” and “I’m going to be laying on my bed watching you all croak.” Somehow, this didn’t inspire the girls, and their performance of “Here Comes the Sun” was cute but weak, and the evil coach seemed happy about it.
Ashley Sullivan decided to marry her boyfriend while in Vegas so we had a little interlude for that (the bride wore a garter on top of her pleather pants and the cameraman served as the witness), but her newfound matrimonial bliss didn’t translate to a great version of “We Can Work It Out,” although I thought Ashley and Sophia Shorai’s harmonies were nice.
Lauren Alaina, Denise Jackson and Scotty McCreary couldn’t hack it when they were assigned “If I Fell” (one of my favorite Beatles tunes), so they took on “Hello, Goodbye,” which is not really a great song for performing, especially when you try to punch it up with some comic running around the phone booth prop from which you entered the stage. I really couldn’t stand Scotty’s stage presence (once again, the “pooping on the stage” pose). This was the only Beatles performance I really couldn’t stand, although I also wasn’t terribly fond of Casey Abrams’ jumping on the set bed during his performance of “Hello Goodbye.” If Knocked Up has taught me anything, it’s that I probably would hate the LOVE show unless I was on mushrooms.
The first cuts were then made, and we bid adieu to White House intern Molly DeWold, kooky dude Carson Higgins, and good ol’ Ashley Sullivan. I was worried that Ashley would melt down and maybe throw her wedding ring into the Bellaggio fountain (she did get married in the same chapel as Britney Spears did that time she was married to that dude for a day), but I was happy to see that she had a healthy attitude: Idol was fun, but, more importantly, she’s married to her honey. And guess what: Anything can seem important and uplifting if set to “Hey Jude,” including American Idol cuts.
For some reason, we got a whole new show intro for the second part of the episode, which took place in an airplane hangar. The producers really went berserk on the set designs for this episode: The singers played their last gasp performances in front of some old-timey planes. I was grateful that we didn’t need to sit through the full round of final performances, but instead just got glimpses at them as the contestants were brought up.
Naima Adedapo (whom, I would like to point out, I selected as a potential winner in her first audition) was the first to make it through, although I have no idea what she was doing with her crazy, baby-blue ensemble. The judges this time went all-out with their fakeouts. “I’m sorry to say that you’re going to have a long, long haul in this business,” Steven said, which could be interpreted to mean, “You’re going to have a rough time” but he really meant, I think, “Your journey will be long.” By the way, what was up with Steven’s shoes? They sort of looked like little buckle shoes like you’d see on Martin Prince or the animated Pinocchio.
The next contestant to take the long walk up the airplane hangar path was Hollie Cavanagh, the girl who melted down during her first audition but who was given a second chance. Could anybody pinpoint her accent? She sounded like a Bostonian leprechaun. The judges gave her a very encouraging reject, telling her to come back in a year or two when she has matured. The rejects this season felt more like those on So You Think You Can Dance, where the judges are sympathetic, due to the amount of time they’ve spent with the contestants, seeing how much work they put in.
Clint Jun Gamboa made it through to the Top 24 though, as did Paul McDonald, Ashthon Jones and Hailey Reinhart. Her dumb fakeout: “I’m afraid to say that…you’re a yes.” That’s one stupid part of the show that still hasn’t gone away.
There was one big reveal left before the show paused to give us the rest tomorrow, and that’s Chris Medina. His last-chance rendition of “Fix You” was pretty strong (although it’s not my favorite song, by far), but I didn’t want him to make it to the Top 24. I didn’t want to think about his fiancee every episode and see her in the audience (or not) and hear the judges talk about how he was singing for her and how it would probably be unfair to the other contestants who didn’t have as deep a backstory. And then when he did get cut, I felt like an asshole. So did Jennifer Lopez, who cried about breaking the news to him. Chris was immensely classy about his cut, although I’m not sure about Jennifer’s reaction. I don’t doubt that she is invested in the contestants. At times, she seems downright maternal, but she made the moment all about her as she cried over whether she broke the news to Chris the right way. Ironically, if anything, it made me think about how kind and comforting Steven Tyler is, as he reassured Jennifer that she did a good job cutting Chris.
Tomorrow night, Ryan Seacrest asked us, will Jennifer find the strength to continue? I hope so: I am really worried about her.
- Rachel Zevita wore a dead bird on her head for “Eleanlor Rigby," and Robbie Rosen wore a short-sleeved leather jacket for “Got To Get You Into My Life.” What’s with these kids?
- There was something sort of interesting about watching Jennifer Lopez listen to the singers perform Beatles songs, like, yes, you may be rich and famous and beautiful but, financially and artistically, you are a pauper compared to Paul McCartney.
- Was Steven trying to make a point with his “one hand clapping” routine, or was that just Steven being Steven?
- We saw a shot of the stage rising in front of the judging table about ten times: Did that actually happen or was that just camera trickery?