Recap: ‘American Idol’ Top 12 Performances

03.16.11 7 years ago 17 Comments


Songs From The Year You Were Born. No, not songs from the year I was born. Songs from the year the “American Idol” singers were born. It’s almost never a good theme, unless your definition of “good” is “makes everybody watching feel old.”

How did this year’s singers do on Wednesday (March 16) night? Click through…

Singer: Naima Adedapo
Song: “What’s Love Got To Do With It?”
My Take: Well, we now know that Naima got her sense of style from her father. Naima’s doing Tina Turner, which is another of those perpetually awful choices for Idol contenders. It turns out that no matter who you happen to be, you’re probably not Tina Turner. And Naima, alas, is no Tina Turner. The song is too low for Naima at first, especially since she’s concentrating on not falling down the steps. There’s a little extra rockin’ in the backing track. She tries to strut her way through the song, which isn’t anywhere near trying to sing her way through the performance. There’s energy here. Naima doesn’t lack for energy. And there’s style. Naima doesn’t lack for style. But good gracious there’s no singing. There’s hardly even shouting. The arrangement and her presence are so loud she seems to be figuring she needn’t do anything else. Ummm… We’re only two weeks past it, but does anybody remember just how good Naima was in her Wild Card song? I swear I do. But I’m becoming increasingly less sure.
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: “You’ve got a sorcerer’s grasp of melody”? That’s what Steven Tyler says. J-Lo says that last week she gave Naima a pass on the whole “singing” thing, but this week? No pass. Randy admits that he enjoyed last week’s performance more in person than when he rewatched it. He calls this performance “all over the place.” Naima says she can understand what the judges are saying and she can roll with it. Guess what? The show is one performance in and it’s hard for this writer to imagine Naima avoiding quick elimination.

Singer: Paul McDonald
Song: “I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues”
My Take: Paul was a stylish child and it’s no wonder he’s covering Elton John tonight. I hate to say this, but we’re early in the season and I’m tired of this version of Paul. This is Rod Stewart singing “Maggie May” singing Elton John only with a cold. He does his shambling thing and fights with every bit of the melody, but it’s like a drunk guy standing up on the bar counter and trying to be heard over the rabble. Part of the problem is the hoarseness that the producers made sure to introduce into the equation before he sang a note, but it’s much more than that. He’s hoarse on the notes he can hit, but he has no upper register at all. The ending is absolutely excruciating. Embarrassingly bad. Those last few notes are as brutal to listen to as any singing in the history of the “American Idol” finals. I know he’s sick. I feel so sorry for him. It’s awful that he has to perform for 20 million people in this condition. But I shouldn’t need to be tortured and then go, “Oh, it’s OK. You were ill.” I still had to listen to the pillaging of a song that I normally quite like. Paul ends with a “Lord, I’m So Sorry” smile.
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: “I know you felt like you were struggling out there,” J-Lo says. She insists it still sounded good. She was listening to an entirely different performance. “I’m not gonna give you a pass because you have a cold,” Randy says. The he proceeds to say give Paul McDonald a pass. “Get the notes right,” Randy says. “You define ‘cool dude and loose mood,'” Steve Tyler says.

Singer: Thia Megia
Song: “Colors of the Wind”
My Take: Thia Megia has only two purposes on “American Idol”: To sing a little and to make me feel OLD. 1995? Oy. Thia is going to KILL on Song of Disney Princesses Night. Almost the anti-Naima, Thia doesn’t believe in big arrangements. Or performance. she believes in standing in the middle of the stage and singing, preferably with as little accompaniment as possible. There’s no doubt that she’s taken Jimmy Iovine’s advice to emote a bit more this week. By that, I mean that her eyes are actually open. She has at least vague awareness of the camera. She even smiles, as she advises me to paint with all the colors of the wind, whatever that means. Perhaps because she’s distracted by that responsibility to connect, there are some rough notes here, more than in any performance she’s done previously. I think Thia may be a stealth genius though, picking these middle of the road ballads that she can’t screw up and little the field thin a bit as the more adventurous singers go down.
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: Randy thought the vocals were OK, but he has a problem, as the booing begins. “There was nothing special, unique about it,” Randy says, urging Thia to take a risk and not be boring. Steven says it was beautiful, but he asks, “Is that song who you think you are?” Thia says that she felt the song fit with the world today. Thia swears that she’s not just a ballad singer. J-Lo felt that Thia was unique when we first met her and that she hasn’t be unique since. J-Lo also would like to stop thinking about Thia’s vibrato. She’s no question that the little girl with the jazzy voice we met in the auditions has vanished entirely.

Singer: James Durbin
Song: “I’ll Be There For You”
My Take: Sadly, we’ve already been told that James Durbin’s actual childhood sucked. Rather than dwelling on that, we get lots of footage of fat-cheeked Baby James. He’s workin’ out a little rock balladry tonight, tackling Bon Jovi. James appears to have followed Jimmy Iovine’s advice: Don’t kiss Paul McDonald and get his cold. After the first three performances James’ confident rock proficiency is a welcome change of pace. This isn’t even slightly inspired and the obligatory wail is introduced and then vanishes so fast you wouldn’t know it was there at all. But after a slightly off beginning, James finds the melody, hits the notes and even navigates the stage without running out of lung-power. I may not be telling anybody how awesome this performance was, but I also won’t be telling anybody how bad it was, which Naima and Paul can’t say.
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: “I got leftover sandwiches under my bed older than you,” says Steven Tyler, who tells him not to get too poppy. James jokes that he’s holding onto the Aerosmith for the finale and Tyler agrees that he’ll sing it with him. The shake on it. J-Lo loves that James made her want to sing along. Randy says James figured out how to make it his own and raves at the tasteful inclusion of his patented high note. Now we pause to see the leather bandana and dog collar that has been added to James’ boots.

Singer: Haley Reinhart
Song: “I’m Your Baby Tonight”
My Take: Haley Reinhart’s dad had a mullet and her mom had the biggest of big hair. She’s now become extra awesome. This is a smart arrangement. It’s been remixed as a jazz song, which plays to Haley’s strengths — the growl, the teasing phrasing — and prevents anybody from saying that she didn’t sound like Whitney Houston, which she doesn’t. One of these days, she’s going to figure out how to handle stairs, though with her six-inch heels, who can blame her for a bit of uncertainty? But maybe going down the stairs at the most lyrically complicated part of the song wasn’t such a super idea? There’s a long stretch where instead of singing, she’s practically sneezing the lyrics they’re coming from so high up in her head. She ends with a growl. It’s not just that Haley has been a different type of performer each week. This individual performance has five or six different styles and personalities to it.
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: Uh-oh. J-Lo begins by saying that Haley looks beautiful. J-Lo recognized the tension in Haley’s movement and her body. That’s actually constructive. Go J-Lo. Things pause while Ryan Seacrest attempts to wipe lipstick off of Haley’s chin. She’s mighty embarrassed and coos, “It’s my first red lipstick massacre.” Randy thinks Haley was only OK and that he still doesn’t know who she is and what she wants to sing. “That was sweet and tough,” Tyler says, before lamenting the disappearance of the Janis Joplin/bluesy side to her voice. Haley stands around wondering why Janis Joplin didn’t record any good songs in the year she was born and feeling self-conscious about her make-up.

Singer: Stefano Langone
Song: “If You Don’t Know Me By Now”
My Take: James Durbin told us that 1989 was a year for some of the greatest music ever. Stefano appears to have been less convinced. Because he couldn’t find a song from 1989, he decided to cheat. BOO. You’d have been better off singing “Funky Cold Medina.” Leaving aside the cheating, this is a really good performance from Stefano, easily the least distracted I’ve been by his flawed phrasing and his faulty breathing. He’s still a stinkin’ cheater, but he’s good tonight.
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: Randy calls it the best performance of the night, which is hard to debate. “You’re gonna make Jimmy Iovine more famouser,” Tyler says. “You could take this thing,” J-Lo says, urging Stefano to sing more to her.

Singer: Pia Toscano
Song: “Where Do Broken Hearts Go”
My Take: Pia Toscano was a TERRIFYINGLY intense child. It’s another Whitney Houston cover. When did the “Idol” singers get so bold? This is definitely more up-beat than Pia has been previously. That is to say that she is actually walking at the beginning. She definitely has the voice to pull this song off, but how can I listen to her sing when I’m being distracted by the background screen, which appears to be all spinning Prince-style glyphs. What the heck does any of it have to do with this performance? Anyway, big notes aplenty. Big notes nobody else in the competition can hit. This wasn’t a version of the song that had to be rearranged to coddle Pia. Again, though, she’s not quite dynamic. But she’s really pretty. Is she the non-country equivalent of the Carrie Underwood-bot? And yes, Pia is a good deal more expressive than The Carrie-Bot, but the makers of The Carrie-Bot have had five or six years to make refinements. Top notch work!
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: “You are why this show is called ‘American Idol'” Steven says. “You’re perfect every time you get up there,” J-Lo says. “Pia is in the competition to win it,” Randy raves, cautioning her fellow singers.

Singer: Scotty McCreery
Song: “Can I Trust You With My Heart”
My Take: Scotty idolized Elvis. Elvis, however, sang no songs in 1993. Travis Tritt, however, sang this song that I’ve never heard before. Will Scotty do it justice? I have no idea. I don’t know why Scotty refuses to keep his head straight. And I don’t know why he doesn’t quite seem to know how to hold a microphone. And the lip-curl is getting a little silly. But when I turn my attentions to the college basketball on my TV, the vocals that I’m hearing are flawless. Again, I’ve never heard this song before. And I wasn’t all that interested here. But I know with certainty that this will make Scotty fans happy and I know you could put this on the radio tomorrow with no complaints from country listeners.
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: J-Lo’s relieved that Scotty is expanding his range a bit. She urges him to keep growing. Randy is Travis Tritt’s buddy and says Scott did his friend proud. Tyler predicts that Scotty is going to go far.

Singer: Karen Rodriguez
Song: “Love Will Lead You Back”
My Take: We’ve been joined tonight by Retro-Futuristic Karen Rodriguez. Why is Karen Rodriguez’s mother Elvira so much more genuine and likable than Karen is? That’s a charming woman. In contrast, Karen looks like Jennifer Lopez. In one of the fetish sequences in “The Cell.” Karen has utterly lost confidence in her voice since last week stumbling. She’s anxious and floundering melodically, rushing notes, rushing runs. Maybe she’s confused by the pacing of the arrangement? Maybe she’s unconvinced she can hit the notes she’s supposed to be hitting? Because she can’t and she isn’t. And then, for no legitimate reason, she starts singing Spanish for two lines, before returning to English. Singing a sing half-and-half? That feels natural. Two lines? Pandering. Nothing was added to that performance by singing 10 seconds out of 90 in Spanish, other than to remind that portion of the viewership that you sang in English last week and made the Bottom Three.
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: “It was definitely better than last week,” Randy says, in a fine backhanded compliment. Tyler raves about her “Ethnic what-it-isness.” J-Lo gives a great piece of advice, which is that you don’t need to sing notes you can’t hit. J-Lo has made a career of this.

Singer: Casey Abrams
Song: “Smells Like Teen Spirit”
My Take: Kudos to Casey for becoming the season’s first contestant to pick up an instrument, even if he’s pandering to Randy with his electric bass. I love Casey [Not in the same way I love the Pia-Bot]. I’m saying absolutely nothing else. This is a tiny bit freakishly odd, but it’s a good deal more freakishly awesome. Kurt Cobain is happily rolling over in his grave.
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: Tyler says that Casey was part of the goop that talent is made of. Or something. J-Lo warns Casey that he was a bit too shout-y. Yes. Because Kurt Cobain was absolutely never raw and shout-y. Especially when he performed live. You could just NEVER find a live performance by Cobain where he was a bit harsh and raw. Randy talks about his own talents. “I like that you’re fearless,” Randy ends.

Singer: Lauren Alaina
Song: “I’m The Only One”
My Take: Lauren Alaina is sick. Thus, we aren’t allowed to critique her performance at all. Sorry. I’m totally superfluous. You can definitely hear the strain on her voice. Especially at the end. But kudos to Lauren for trying. That’s what I’m supposed to say, right? I’m not supposed to note the countless notes she missed in her illness?
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: J-Lo felt that Lauren stayed true to the song and made it her own. Randy calls it “Very nice” and urged her to have a cold every week. Tyler agrees that colds are awesome and we should all get them before every performance. I’d say, “Paul wasn’t so lucky,” but the judges loved Paul and his horrible, horrible performance. Lauren coughs all over Peaches. Infected Peaches is the name of my new punk band.

Singer: Jacob Lusk
Song: “Alone”
My Take: Ew. “Lusky stank.” Never again, Jacob. Say this for Jacob, he starts off with the dial turned to “11” and by the end, he’s somewhere around a 15 or a 16. This is a big, bold, preening performance. And it’s a bit hard to listen to at times it’s so over-the-top. But after last week, this is a return to at least being impressed with Jacob’s ridiculousness.
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: Randy calls it a “very nice” performance. You know what Randy loved the most? He loved the way Jacob caressed the last notes. Jacob is also in it to win it. “The Gospel had a baby and they named it Jacob Lusk,” Tyler says helpfully. J-Lo loves Jacob’s full commitment. J-Lo and Randy agree that “American Idol” is a competition.

TONIGHT’S BEST: I like the audacity and musicality of what Casey Abrams did more than anything else all night. Stefano Langone cheated, but at least did well in cheating. James Durbin was solid. Pia Toscano was solid.

TONIGHT’S WORST: Paul McDonald was the night’s worst. Nobody else was close. That doesn’t mean there weren’t lots and lots of other bad performances. Naima was bad. Haley was not good. Melodically, Thia was not good. Karen was not good.

IN DANGER: Naima’s going home. I just can’t see any alternative. I’m guessing Haley and Paul for the rest of the Bottom Three, but only because of my foolish belief that America won’t cut Paul the same slack the judges did. Karen’s going to get a one-week bounce off of singing in Spanish and being in the Bottom Three last week, but she’d be my alternative Bottom Three-er if Paul skates by.

Who did you like? Who did you dislike?


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