It’s Now and Then Night on “American Idol,” meaning that each member of the Top 5 will sing their favorite songs from the soundtrack of that bad movie with Demi Moore and Rosie O’Donnell.
What now? Oh. Sorry. Each contestant will sing one current song and one song from a far more nebulous “then.”
Click through for all the excitement…
Singer: James Durbin
Song: “Closer to the Edge”
My Take: Darnit. There went my hopes for a full-on Music of Jared Leto Night. The song starts a little low and James isn’t quite sure on the pacing. Reaching into the Paul McDonald playbook, he interrupts his singing and urges the audience to scream. They kinda do their best. When it gets higher, it gets better, but James makes a misguided move into the crowd, with his pitch wavering with every jarring high-five. The overall effect is not nearly as contemporary as Jimmy Iovine told me it would be, though I understand the logic in James’ picking this song. The role Leto plays as a rock star is similar to the role that James has been playing all season. But should I really have come away appreciating Leto more? Cuz that’s what happened. And it felt weird. Not James Durbin’s best.
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: “I think you kicked that song’s ass,” Steven Tyler says. “We’re feeling it right here… It’s yours to take,” J-Lo says. Randy Jackson makes sure we know who 30 Seconds to Mars is/are. “James is in it to win it,” Randy observes, sagely. That’s exactly what he said was important tonight! Being in it to win it! The prophesy has been fulfilled!
Singer: Jacob Lusk
Song: “No Air”
My Take: Jacob says that this is the song that he would like to release. As Jimmy observes, Jacob’s challenge is singing both sides of a duet. He’s also doing it while wading through a thick pea soup of fog. Jacob starts high and just keeps going higher. And higher. And higher. He also keeps sticking his fist out in a determined way that I wouldn’t necessarily want to do on a Chris Brown song. But that’s just me. The higher he goes, the wobblier the notes get and there are many raw notes that just don’t work. I kinda understand the value in rearranging the song for a single vocalist, but maybe it should have been rearranged so that it was also a song within Jacob’s range. Like how hard do you have to work to arrange a song that a guy with a 17-octave (not literally) range is incapable of singing? This hard! Congratulations? Yeah, not really. This is not an encouraging start to tonight’s show.
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: J-Lo had been wondering what kind of songs Jacob would record. But did this song convince her? We don’t know. She says absolutely nothing about this particular performance. Not a word. “I differ with that opinion,” Randy says. What opinion? Randy wasn’t pleased. He calls it corny and VERY accurately says that most of the song was short. “I don’t think it’s the way you should go,” Randy says. Steven loves Jacob’s voice, but he seems not to think that this performance was him either. “I think I’m an artist who appeals to everybody,” Jacob says. Randy tells Jacob that his voice is bigger than either Chris Brown or Jordin Sparks’ voices.
Singer: Lauren Alaina
Song: “Flat on the Floor”
My Take: From one “American Idol” winner to another. Lauren begins by successfully counting to four, before setting up the fiddle player who I think has upstaged her before. Far more than James or Jacob before her, Lauren’s illustrating her proper position in the contemporary musical landscape. She’s got a little strut, a little attitude and there’s some singing here also. Yes, the song is too big for her, but she fights her way through it, which was exactly what Sheryl Crow told her to do. There have been times this season where one fumbled note has gotten Lauren down, but tonight, she maintains energy even if it sometimes requires sacrificing a note or two. Lauren is winning “Now,” at least for now.
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: “Lauren, that is the direction for you!” cheers Randy. Lauren is *also* in it, Randy crows. Steven tells Lauren that she’s it, that the sky is the limit. “You ate that up,” J-Lo says.
Singer: Scotty McCreery
My Take: Scotty’s putting things together. It’s not together yet, but he’s moving in the right direction. I kinda wonder why nobody gave him the kick in the pants five or six weeks ago. The microphone is straight (if you pay attention, you’ll see him correcting his flute posture a couple times, but at least he’s actively making that effort) and he’s steady on his feet. He’s working his way around the stage, playing with the background singers and the judges and the audience, rather than just tilting sideways and sneering. It’s not a perfect song for his voice, but it’s yet another effort by Scotty to show that he’s perfectly capable of doing things other than rumbly low ballads. Put a song or two light this one on an album along with seven or eight of those ballads and you have a hit. The best recipe for succeeding in the “Now” appears to be singing country.
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: “I saw you dance with the Devil tonight and that’s a good thing,” Steven says. “I lost it there for a second, I was so excited,” J-Lo cheers, adding, “That is some American Idol stuff right there.” Here’s the deal for Randy: He thought he was sitting at Concert Scotty. “This guy’s in it to win it, too!” Randy closes.
Singer: Haley Reinhart
Song: “You and I”
My Take: An unreleased Lady Gaga song? Why would anybody think this is a good idea? Singing songs the audience doesn’t know is as dangerous as it gets for “Idol.” But you know what? This is far and away the best vocal of the show’s first half. Is it the best song? Well… Maybe. I’m not a huge fan of any of the five “Now” songs the singers performed. This just happens to be the mediocre song that hasn’t gotten airplay. Will voters punish Haley for not being able to sing along? Probably, yes. But this is a powerful, rangy vocal delivered with sexy confidence by an ever-improving singer.
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: J-Lo doesn’t think Jimmy’s advice to do an unreleased song was a good idea. Here’s where a judge’s approval would help. Randy’s not sure it was that great a song, again repeating the risk. Once again, here’s where a *judge* would help. Steven Tyler says it was hard and risky, but adds that she’s still “one perfect song away from being ‘American Idol.'” Sigh. The judges? Their job is to judge the performance. Not to judge the motivation. Especially not when a singer has tried as many things as Haley has tried this season. If they didn’t like Haley’s performance of that song, they could say that. But none of them said that. Haley smiles and says that it was an opportunity and she took it.
Singer: James Durbin
Song: “Without You”
My Take: The emotion of this song overwhelmed James when he was rehearsing. Will that emotion come through in his performance tonight? It’s certainly right on the surface from the beginning. As he hits the first bridge, all of America is wondering if he’s about to break down. It’s close, so close it’s uncomfortable and not just because James isn’t landing either the notes or the lyrics crisply. It takes a really long time before he finally fights through whatever was blocking him. The effort is on his face and in his voice and as he ends, the director pushes up into his red, weepy eyes. It’s not his best vocal, but nobody going to doubt for a second that he meant every word of it. The crowd stands for James’ passion.
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: “No, it wasn’t perfect, but it was emotionally perfect,” Randy says. “This competition… it’s yours to lose,” Randy tells James. “That was just as beautiful as it gets,” Tyler says, though he also calls it “pitchy.” J-Lo also appears to have been a bit teary, calling James “a true, true artist.” James is still crying as he says that every week he leaves everything on the stage. Jennifer joins him for a weep. If Haley hadn’t just gotten slammed for a technically superior performance, I’d be feeling more generous towards the love for James’ spiritual purge.
Singer: Jacob Lusk
Song: “Love Hurts”
My Take: I believe Jacob’s initial nervousness was based on not knowing this song, because why would this feel like such a stretch? And once you bring out a harp, in what way is Jacob doing a rock song? This is just an Aaron Neville version of “Love Hurts,” which isn’t a stretch for Jacob at all. It’s certainly falsettorific. This is the third or fourth straight Jacob song that was all about going higher and higher until glass shatters everywhere and dogs the world around howl at the moon. And when Jacob starts wailing and stamping his feet and yelling, “It hurts,” more than a few viewers at home are going to agree. Jacob ends in tears and… ANTHONY HOPKINS. Wait. Sorry. I know he has a movie to promote, but there’s still something weird about Anthony Hopkins being in the “Idol” audience, even though I believe he’s been here before. Anyway, though… Better than Jacob’s first performance.
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: Steven says taht everybody got lost in Jacob, because Jacob got lost in the song. “You just brought it home in the end,” J-Lo says, though she points out a mid-song wobble. “You redeemed yourself,” Randy says, adding that Jacob may have sung the highest note ever on the “Idol” stage. Somewhat, Adam Lambert is taking that as a challenge and James Durbin knows he has something to prove.
Singer: Lauren Alaina
Song: “Unchained Melody”
My Take: Awww. This is Lauren’s mom and dad’s song. Because Lauren’s parents are in their 20s, they must have been “Ghost” fans. Is it possible that this is the hardest song Lauren has approached all season? It would be, if the song hadn’t been rearranged to either cut out the biggest notes, or down-shift out of the biggest notes. She hits some good ones, but every time you think she’s about to blow the door off the barn? She wimps out. This could have been the song that won her “American Idol.” Instead, it’s just a good vocal. And since you know they would have let Lauren do the glory notes if she could, this does more to expose her limitations than to show her range.
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: “Nothing to say, it was beautiful,” J-Lo says. “This girl can sing like a bird,” Randy says. Steve agrees that there’s nothing to judge. Will J-Lo and Steven be returning this portion of their checks?
Singer: Scotty McCreery
Song: “Always on my Mind”
My Take: Scotty retreats into familiar turf and terrain. It’s earnest, deep-voiced and delivered on an angle sitting on a chair, giving the camera that expression he’s convinced (and American agrees) reads as “dreamy.” The harmonies aren’t very good, which is the fault of either the arrangement or the background singers. Or maybe Scotty’s just a little sharp? Regardless, if you like Scotty, this performance probably made you happy. But otherwise? Nothing to see here. Or hear here. This is not an in-it-to-win-it performance. This is a “I already gave full effort once tonight. What do you expect from me?” performance.
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: J-Lo figures she’s seen what a well-rounded artist Scotty is. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” Randy adds pointlessly. Randy loves it. “I love it,” Steve agrees. Steve adds, “I can’t pick that apart.” In the house? Scotty’s Puerto Rican grandmother. “He’s my Scotty,” she says.
Singer: Haley Reinhart
Song: “House of the Rising Sun”
My Take: Gee. I’d have thought Siobhan Magnus would have put this song on “American Idol” ice for at least one year. Haley begins a cappella, just as Siobhan did last year. But Haley’s voice isn’t Siobhan’s voice. Siobhan’s rendition last year was a show-stopper, but it was all about the astounding scope of her voice, building to that stage-shaking scream of hers. This, in contrast, is a more appropriately bluesy arrangement that’s all about Haley’s nuance and the texture of her voice. It’s a song made to capture the gritty, dirty heat of a New Orleans club and Haley’s got the rawness and the passion it requires. This one’s a knock-out for Haley. The judges are on their feet as she finishes and puts on a “Yeah. Say some s*** about that,” smirk. Haley Reinhart is *not* a humble gal and she knows she did well with this one.
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: “The award tonight for the best performance of the night goes to Haley,” Randy cheers. “I think you sold everybody tonight,” Steven says. “That song has never been sang like that before,” J-Lo says, putting a cap on things.
TONIGHT’S BEST: I don’t much care what the judges have to say. Haley’s “House of the Rising Sun” was the night’s best performance, but “You and I” was the second best performance of the night. I think Scotty and Lauren’s first performances belong in a respectable second tier.
TONIGHT’S WORST: Jacob’s “No Air” was bad. And James’ “Without You” was a mess. I also deduct points for Lauren wussing out on “Unchained Melody” and Scotty napping through “Always On My Mind.”
IN DANGER: Haley was going to be in trouble before that last performance, even if she didn’t deserve to be. Instead, with that last performance, I’m pretty sure she sent Jacob Lusk home.
Who did you like? Who did you dislike?