Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

American Idol: "11 Finalists Compete (Again)"

Illustration for article titled American Idol: "11 Finalists Compete (Again)"

If you’re like me, you’ve found Elton John vaguely annoying the last few years. It's nothing major, just stupid showbizzy stuff like performing at Rush Limbaugh’s wedding or adopting a baby at the age most people are becoming grandparents. And his toupee is never not-annoying. But after tonight’s Idol, I remembered why we all liked him in the first place. He and Bernie Taupin’s songs were the best thing to happen to the Idol contestants so far in the season. They were songs that let the contestants fill in the spots where they’d been a little bit patchy, whether it was sincerity or ‘tude or showmanship or what have you. Jimmy Iovine was even unexpectedly on point tonight, helping the singers figure out what it is about them that we want to see more of or never hear again.

Scotty, acoustic guitar in hand, took on an Elton song I’ve never heard before called, of course, “Country Comfort.” Before he performed, Jimmy noted that many people may view Scotty as a one-trick pony, but that he does that one trick pretty well. While I don’t think Scotty did anything new and amazing with his performance tonight, I realized that he’s going to have a pretty good career after Idol whether he wins or not. He definitely found his niche, which the judges praised him for. (Steven was outstandingly unhelpful tonight, saying, “There’s nothing I can say to you that an ol’fashioned pair of high heeled cowboy boots wouldn’t fix.”) I even thought it was cute when Scotty gave a shout-out to his grandma in the song. I realized, though, that he has some George W. Bush-type mannerisms when he sings, the old grin-and-squint-at-a-person-who-probably-isn’t-actually-there.

Naima’s becoming the fun one to watch, because she always does something different and it always ends up messy-but-entertaining. Tonight, she sang “I’m Still Standing” to a reggae beat. Randy and Jennifer thought it was a better concept than a reality, but for Naima, I thought it kind of worked. I thought it was silly that she sang in an accent (you can sing a reggae song without putting on a Jamaican accent, right?) and dedicated it to “all the people of the world who are still standing." But I actually thought she sounded more in tune than she has over most of the season and seemed more comfortable in her skin. Her performance was like her pinstriped African jumpsuit: It would look stupid on someone else, but I didn’t hate it on her.

Paul put on his Gram Parsons suit tonight for “Rocket Man.” It was a pretty arrangement, but I had to wonder how Paul made it through Hollywood week, since it was pretty obvious the song was rearranged so he could avoid having to sing too many difficult notes. Even then, he still talk-sung his way partially through it, whispering the last note of the song. In addition to his smile and unique tone, he must be able to actually sing more than eight notes, right? And we’re just not seeing it? Is that possible? I thought the quiet beginning of the song was lovely (I liked the slide guitar; it was a nice arrangement), but I was waiting for a special moment that never came. He shook his head at the end as if he knew he didn’t nail the tune. The judges once again talked about how much they like Paul, but this time advised him to push his voice further, by which they mean, I think, sing more notes. I noticed that he has very pretty eyelashes.

Despite being advised to sing a non-ballad, Pia tonight sang “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down On Me.” Jimmy wanted her to deliver a cross between Fergie and Axl Rose tonight, which she didn’t quite do, but I felt a little more partial to Pia tonight, since she sang something a little bit more pop-oriented. I liked her more tonight the way I liked her more when she sang “I’ll Stand By You,” just because she seems a little more accessible and interesting than when she tries to be another Whitney or Mariah (both of whom she was compared to by Randy, who backpedaled on the whole “don’t sing a ballad” thing). My only complaint is that I felt like the chorus was singing over a few of her big moments, but otherwise, she was strong as always. (But seriously, now, I want to hear a non-ballad.)

Stefano sang “Tiny Dancer” tonight, and while he’s not exactly a fiasco onstage, I think his weaknesses as a singer grow more apparent each week. I couldn’t help but unfavorably compare Stafano’s high, thin voice to Elton’s, primarily because he didn’t bring much to the song to prevent me from doing otherwise (the arrangement was pretty dull, especially the flaccid bridge, which is the best part of the original song). Stefano did do a better job of not closing his eyes, but I think he connected more with the cameras than with the audience. I thought it was incredibly corny when he reached a hand out to Jennifer at the end of the song and was happy when Randy took it instead. The judges all gave him encouraging remarks, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he was in the bottom three again.


Lauren performed “Candle in the Wind,” hoping to show her softer side. Initially, I thought it was a nice if unspectacular performance, although I think it was a better showing than I initially judged, since we’re used to so many big performances this season. She was in tune and vulnerable, and I even liked the little mini-yodel country fillips she added to the notes. Again, I think Lauren is something of a sleeper in this competition. The judges loved her, and she makes Steven grin his cute extra-big smile.

James came pretty close to annoying the shit out of me tonight, yet somehow was able to pull back just enough, I think, because he actually sang “Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting” pretty well, and, clearly, has more fun than anyone else on the show. That song is hard to sing—you can tell that Elton John can’t sing it the way he used to these days—but James hit the song’s bratty high notes. He turned the whole thing into a mini concert, too, running around the audience, leading the crowd into a stomp/clap breakdown, tossing his mic stand and rocking out to a flaming piano. My only critique is that all the running around made him seem a little breathless at times, but as much as I sort of wanted to hate it, I couldn’t. I think if he were wearing the tail I would have hated it. The judges loved it (although Steven advised him not to wear out his welcome when he’s mingling in the audience). Ryan asked him, of all the big moves he busted, which was scariest, and James came up with a clever, if not very tasteful joke about wanting to avoid a “Pepsi moment” onstage re: his hairspray and the flaming piano.


Thia sang “Daniel” (a favorite of mine). I don’t think she’s clambering her way up through the ranks of the other singers, but I thought tonight was a better week for her than usual, since the song forced her to have an emotion and be a humanoid. We couldn’t hear the lower parts of the verses that well, though, and I wish she could have been able to more clearly hit the high part of the song wherein Daniel is told he’s a star, so it wasn’t perfect, but for Thia, it was better than usual. I think I almost saw her shed a tear toward the end of the song, but she seemed to force it down, since it would cause her to short-circuit.

Jimmy Iovine made Casey sit and watch his performance from last week, saying, “You know what was wrong with that? Everything!” Well, once again, no one in a position of authority on the show actually articulated what it was about Casey that failed to generate votes last week, although producer Rodney Jerkins correctly stated that losing the beard couldn’t help. So, sitting on a stool penitently, as if wearing an invisible dunce cap, a trimmed-up Casey offered up a scaled-back (for him) version of “Your Song,” the words “I hope you don’t mind,” sounding especially humble. He couldn’t help but grimace a few times during the performance, but staying grounded on his stool, in his suit, and not terrorizing the audience was a good thing. Casey reminded us that he can sing and doesn’t just do whatever the hell he wants when he goes onstage. He ended the song on one of those high sweet notes of his I like so much. He was good and not annoying, so he is back on the right track.  The judges all complimented themselves on saving him last week.


Was everything okay with Jacob tonight? He sang “Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word,” and while he managed not to go apeshit on the drama as he sometimes does, he looked like he was about to cry throughout the entire song. It made the performance less fun to watch. I understand channeling pathos, but I still like to think that maybe the performing is a pleasant, not piercing experience. Jacob continued to look upset, even after the judges praised his performance, with Steven saying “The first half blew me away; the second half was equally good.” What? Steven, come on, get it together: You don’t want to be the Paula of season 10. Randy advised Jacob to try and just pick one part of the song where he really shows off, which is hard since Jacob's range extends from dramatic to very dramatic.

I’ve heard that the producers of Idol stick the strongest performance of the night at the end, and I have to agree with them and Randy that Haley covering “Bennie and the Jets” was the highlight of the evening. (It helps that it's my favorite Elton song.) I haven’t been the biggest Haley fan so far, but Jimmy Iovine was right in that all of her best assets came together tonight. It was an unexpectedly good song for her raspy voice, and something about the semi-nonsensical bravado in the lyrics made it work for a young girl. She took her time and seemed confident, like she really likes the song. I even liked her springy dress, which made her come off more as the talented young lady she is, as opposed to a wanna-be sexpot, which we get sometimes. It all came together for her tonight.


It turned out to be a pretty solid episode. If life is fair, Stefano, Naima and Thia should be in the bottom three (maybe Paul, but you know I like him too much to admit that for real.) What is not fair? That Will.I.Am is going to be on the show again tomorrow night. With Jamie Foxx.

Stray observations:

  • If the show Mobbed is anything like the segment of Howie Mandel begging Stefano’s dad to say that the show looks great, then the show will be screamingly awkward.
  • Jacob wore one of my least favorite Idol male fashion trends tonight, the never-tied bowtie.
  • Fantasia will be performing tomorrow night. I wish they could bring Simon back just so he could make this face again.