American Idol: "Top 12 Perform"
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American Idol: "Top 12 Perform"

We returned to a well-worn theme on Idol tonight: songs from the year the contestants were born, IE the You Are Old episode. 

Naima kicked things off with “What’s Love Got to Do With It,” but first we had a look back at her childhood. Naima’s parents helped confirm my suspicions that she’s probably one of the most fun people on Idol this season to hang out with: she comes from the kind of bohemian stock that probably make up the real-life versions of the wedding reception in Rachel Getting Married. Plus, she wears one of those COEXIST t-shirts made up of all those religious symbols, so I bet she is partial to tolerance and also possibly smoking good weed. Unfortunately, none of this translated into a great rendition of “What’s Love Got to Do With It.” Once again, it was a song choice that didn’t seem to reflect her on-stage personality and her pitch was just never really on-point. Steven, who I think just likes Naima because, stylewise, she’s the girl-version of him, said “You got a sorcerer’s grasp of melody, girl,” and basically contributed nothing of value all night.

Paul sang “I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues” and apparently he was sick and out of sorts but after last week’s performance I thought he sounded streets ahead. I really like Paul and so I listened to his performance twice to make sure I just didn’t want him to sound better than he did. Basically, I like a subpar scratchy whispery performance from Paul more than a good performance from, say, Haley. He looked a little defeated towards the end, but I thought he picked a good song—if he makes it until next week, I look forward to hearing him sing at full capacity. The judges continue to love him despite his imperfections.  I continue to like him despite his bolo tie. 

I’m starting to dislike Thia now.  She chose “Colors of the Wind” by Vanessa Williams (and honored the great tradition of Pocahontas by wearing a feather in her hair. She was at this point the third person on this show to wear a hair-feather, plus one real-life person I know has taken to wearing one, so rush out and get yours now before they’re irrelevant.) She sounded okay but she had as much charm as a little spinning ballerina in a jewelry box: you say, “That’s nice,” then you want to put it away. The judges are ready for her to break out and do something new, but to that feedback Thia set her face to “bitch”. She replied that this song is really reflective of what’s going on in the world today (does the color of the wind change if it’s got radiation poisoning? And don’t blame me for that joke, blame Thia, because that was a stupid thing for her to say) and in the same breath alluded to the fact that she didn’t have a wide variety of songs from which to choose.  Plus, she talked over Jennifer. So I’m done with her. 

James Durbin was maybe the cutest of the former Idol babies (I love a fatty fat little baby) and he played with a doll, too, which is probably the root of all his problems. He sang “I’ll Be There For You” by Bon Jovi. James sounded out of tune a bit in the beginning and then settled in pretty well, but overall I thought the performance was inferior to last week (the random solo guitarist onstage was an odd touch.) He did get fireworks though at the end, so that’s very special. The judges by and large liked it, and James asked Steven if he would sing an Aerosmith song with him at the finale, so we’re getting a little cocky there. James’ tail was back, so I think for me it boils down to James With Tail: No. James Without Tail: Sure, okay.

Poor Haley. She sang a song tonight but moreover she made the whole nation go “LIPSTICK. YOU HAVE LIPSTICK ALL OVER YOUR FACE AND TEETH. OH MY GOD.” Apparently the mic touched her bright red lips and then she touched the mic to her face and it was incredibly distracting from there on out, especially as Jennifer said “You look beautiful tonight. Doesn’t she?” almost as if she was making fun of her. I’m sure at the moment Haley didn’t appreciate Ryan trying to wipe her face on live TV but he was doing her a big favor. This is the kind of thing that makes me have to like Seacrest a bit. Anyway, her performance of “I’m Your Baby Tonight” was neither bad enough to be worse than the makeup incident nor good enough to make that seem like nothing more than a funny footnote. She sounded a bit too high and nasal, and maybe I’m thinking of Whitney singing the song on SNL but I wished her performance had more strut. The judges told her she needs to pick better songs. I’m still cringing on her behalf though about the makeup thing: that’s like walking down the street with your skirt tucked into your underwear only in this case the street is populated by millions of people and they all showed up to watch you specifically.

Stefano cheated tonight and performed “If You Don’t Know Me by Now” by Simply Red, when Simply Red just covered the song by Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes. Stefano pulls a lot of faces when he sings and seems to itch for the time when he can throw his head back and hit his high notes. It was fine but I don’t think Stefano brings much to the show we haven’t seen before. The judges all adored it, though. I get a Mary Kay Letourneau vibe from Jennifer when she looks at Stefano. When Stefano begged the camera for the audience to call up his number (six) it looked like he was mouthing “Sex! Sex! Please! Sex!” 

Pia sang “Where Do Broken Hearts Go” by Whitney Houston. Vocals-wise I can’t criticize Pia very much (I even approved of her outfit to the extent of which I can approve of a sleeveless white satin jumpsuit) but too much big mama diva music makes me sleepy. I would love it if next week she did not sing something by Celine, Whitney, Mariah or anywhere near those three.  I’m a little worried that this season the contestants aren’t going to be asked to go out of their comfort zones, but that’s always my favorite part of the show,  to see who can handle a curveball and make it interesting vs. completely melt down. 

Aside from the fact that he tends to hold his microphone like he lacks opposable thumbs, I couldn’t find too many bad things to say about Scotty tonight. He sang “Can I Trust You With My Heart,” by Travis Tritt and the fact that he was trying harder to actually emote and push himself in his song was evident, including a big note (for him) at the end. Scotty’s not one of my personal favorites but he had his best night so far tonight. The judges loved it. 

I like Karen (and her sweet little mom) but basically, I think Pia’s going to absorb her like an underdeveloped conjoined twin. She sang “Love Will Lead You Back,” dressed like she was going as J.Lo for Halloween. Her performance was okay, but she sounded rough when she transitioned into a few words of Spanish, so few it was more like a gimmick at that point (even though Steven says he loves her “ethnic what-it-is-ness.”) Randy summed it up by saying that it was better than last week but he wasn’t jumping up and down about it. I like to think that Jennifer was a bit cool to Karen because at first she was flattered but now it’s just getting creepy. 

I will leave it to you guys to debate over what Kurt Cobain would think if he were alive today to see “Smells Like Teen Spirit” performed on Idol by Casey. He took it on, playing the electric bass, and I was with him, actually curious about what his take would sound like, until about six bars in when he just started impersonating Kurt. I was pretty disappointed that the entire performance was so soundalike, especially paired with the yellow lighting that hearkened back to the video (contrasted with Casey's Charles Nelson Reilly-type kerchief). I would have rather heard Scotty sing his version of the song than listen to Casey’s retread, which wasn’t even in tune (even when Cobain shrieked, there was a melody to it in the song.) Steven and Randy were amazed by it but Jennifer agreed that Casey went too yelly.  Meanwhile, Casey's parents remind me of Rachel Dratch and Will Ferrell as the “lovahs” on SNL.  

I wonder if Ryan really is too tired to play with Lauren all the time or if that’s just an act, but he didn’t feel like goofing around with her funny flu masks with her. Most of the time tonight I couldn’t believe all the contestants were as young as they are (no songs tonight came from 1979, that’s for sure) but I couldn’t believe that Lauren is as old as she is, since she and her parents look about the same age. She sang “I’m the Only One” which was a great choice for her. She put some country phrasing into it, and while not every note was a success, it was a big improvement from last week. She did a great job delivering a performance you could pick out as being a Lauren Alaina tune. Also, she wore a feather in her hair too. Was this all Steven Tyler’s doing, or did the machine in the sky that decides what's stylish declare that this is the thing this year? And does this mean I can finally fulfill my lifelong dream of wearing a headdress? Because I think I would look really good in one.

Another Tuesday, another night where I wonder if the judges hear something else than I do when Jacob Lusk sings. Why, by the way, was Jacob the only contestant to have no footage of what his childhood was like? I’d love to know what kind of little kid he was. His Lusky stank was stanky as hell tonight as he took on “Alone,” by Heart. I was really excited for this performance, actually—"Alone" rules, and I like it when a dude takes on a girly song. However, the performance quickly slipped and slid into a big bombastic muddy mess that I just couldn’t deal with. Can you imagine how this song would sing if you stripped away all the backing music and vocals from it? Not so good. But the judges proclaimed Jacob a genius, a real challenge to the competition, better than putting on sweatpants right when they come out of the dryer. But they were wrong. 

Steven declared this the best night of the season since Beatles night, but I found it flagging a bit. I think we’re getting to the point of the competition where we need to clear some dead wood before it gets good. Tomorrow night we kick somebody off, and you fulfill your weekly duty of seeing the Black Eyed Peas perform on TV. 

--If you buy a song on iTunes tonight from Idol the proceeds will benefit the Red Cross helping out in Japan.  Or you can just kick the Red Cross a few bucks if you’re not an Idol song-downloader.

--I wish the contestants weren’t allowed to use the backup singers until later in the competition. I think they cover up the voices too much, both good and bad.

--The Happy Coke moments tonight were less stiff than the weeks before where the contestants tried weakly to convince us they all like each other, as if that’s what we want to hear anyway.

--At one point during Karen’s performance I had a hallucination where she ripped that thing off her head and threw it onto the stage with passion, but it was just wishful thinking.

--Pregnant Kate Hudson covers her face with individual sized bags of Cheetos and Fritos! She’s just like us!

--I do not care for Mary Murphy as a blond. She is not on the hot tamale train with that look. No woo. 

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