Recap: ‘American Idol’ Top 7 – Songs of the 21st Century

04.20.11 7 years ago 29 Comments


Tuesday (April 20) night’s “American Idol” theme is Songs of the 21st Century, which ought to give our Top 7 the chance to be a little bit more contemporary than our recent string of old-skewing themes.

Who benefited from going modern? Click through for my recap…

Singer: Scotty McCreery
Song: “Swingin'”
My Take: Is it stretching for The Hunchback of “American Idol” to be doing a gender-bending cover of a LeAnn Rimes song? And does it make it better that Scotty knows he holds the microphone funny and he just doesn’t care? Scotty’s added some eyebrow work to his stage flirtation affectations. There’s a lot of business around him. There are background singers and a whole band, but Scott is weirdly unaware of the business surrounding them. He’s interacting only with the camera, as he walks a couple laps and sits down to curl his lip at us. There are some nice moments in Scotty’s lower register, but it’s exactly what one would expect. This is yet another performance that’s going straight to Scotty’s base and abandoning any thought of making new fans. I don’t expect this will cause any fluctuation on the Scotty-meter and given how high his vote total is, that’s probably OK. For him.
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: “I love you, I love your voices,” Steven Tyler says, though he wishes he did a bit more boot-scooting. “I love your storytelling quality,” J-Lo says, but she doesn’t feel like Scotty has pulled out the big guns. “We were expecting more from Scotty on that one,” J-Lo says. And Randy Jackson agrees with J-Lo, calling it “safe” and “kinda boring.” Yikes.

Singer: James Durbin
Song: “Uprising”
My Take: I feel like they keep pairing James and Scotty as if to contrast the one singer who keeps experimenting wildly and the other who stays pretty much the same every week. At least we’re giving America a clear choice. James enters leading a partial marching bad. Again, more contrast with Scotty’s obliviousness of the musicians and accompaniment around him, as everything James does is entirely in service of a top-to-bottom musical performance. In that respect, this is definitely the most Lambert-esque performance the frequently Lambert-esque rocker has given. He puts just enough of his cat-in-a-sack wail into the vocals to differential from the Muse original, going higher and higher and higher as he gets deeper into the song. James ends like some sort of wild samurai Harold Hill.
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: “That is going to be theatrically the best performance of the night,” J-Lo speculates. She’s also impressed by exactly how high James got. “Dude, you were unbelievable up there,” Randy agrees. “Mad Max meets storm troopers on Melrose” is Tyler’s description of James’ fashion sense, also calling him “amazing.”

Singer: Haley Reinhart
Song: “Rolling in the Deep”
My Take: Haley keeps trying to fill big shoes. This week? Adele. Last week, Haley just shouted her way through the performance, relying almost entirely on sex appeal. This week, she’s back to her kitchen sink vocal repertoire. She’s growling, doing her partial-yodel and, a little bit less effectively, working in an upper register that isn’t her strength. Unlike James, going up high is not Haley’s friend, but when she stays lower, the affectations sound better integrated than they sometimes have. There’s no question that she’s putting more effort into punching up the lyrics and I’d tip my hat to her on that. She’s trying to connect emotionally, rather than merely going for sass and tease. She also looks quite fetching.
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: Randy wants to see what kind of albums the Top Seven are going to make and he thinks Haley made a perfect choice, calling it “a great performance.” Tyler thought it was a little slow at first, but it was beautiful by the middle. J-Lo thought Haley shined when she brought Haley to the song.

Singer: Jacob Lusk
Song: “Dance with my Father”
My Take: I saw at least a dozen people on Twitter and in the blogosphere speculate that Jacob would do a killer version of “F[word] You” for this theme. That would have been fun. This is not a “fun” performance. He’s going for emotional impact. It begins awkwardly. Jacob is maybe too emotional. He’s also having trouble with his in-ear, which has happened to him before. From there, he’s holding back, visibly. He doesn’t move off his stool, which has the effect of containing his voice as well. He has a big added run toward the end, but that’s the exception. I can’t tell if he’s decided that the only way to be true to Luther and to his own father is to keep his emotions in check and keep the vocals very close to the original? But seeing Jacob do a performance like this ends up being claustrophobic, because we know what he can do and we know what his instinct is to do and this is so much smaller than that. I’d be some people will see that as a positive.
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: “You remind me all the time of why I love music,” Tyler says. J-Lo talks about the difficulties of balancing emotional and technical aspects. She praises the emotional aspect, but says nothing about the technical. J-Lo calls “Critique really helps everyone,” Randy says. Since when? Or was that the subject line of an e-mail the judges got this week from Nigel Lythgoe? He wants Jacob to go through the roof, to stop holding back.

Singer: Casey Abrams
Song: “Harder to Breathe”
My Take: Casey’s taking a more humble approach to his disagreements with Jimmy Iovine this week and he earns a kiss on the cheek for his humbleness. Leaving the standing bass behind, Casey is Maroon 5-ing on a guitar. The guitar is only an occasional prop. Casey’s also prowling the stage. Maroon 5 songs have a very precise rhythm and Casey is trying hard to pay off the lyrics and their pacing, but he also adds his typical intensity — shouting/growling/wailing — that kinda makes sense within the context of the lyrics. He ends by singing the last line right in J-Lo’s face, closing by kissing her on the cheek. Well, if you’re gonna have that opportunity, you’ve pretty much gotta take it. It’s a miracle Ms. Lopez’s ginormous bodyguards don’t attack Casey. It’s a Passover Miracle! [And Casey Abrams doing an Adam Levine song on Passover is just a total gift for The Tribe.]
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: “See now? Casey’s not playing fair. Casey’s got soft lips,” J-Lo raves. “I loved it,” she adds, clarifying that the performance was great. Wanna know what Randy loves about Casey? “Always it’s about surprise, surprise, surprise.” Randy says that unlike Jacob, Casey takes chances. “You already are a cult here,” Tyler tells Casey. Tyler then goes off on a profanity-laden critique that gets lost in the bleeping. I think it had something to do with Casey changing… something? Randy joins in the fun. Ryan then shows up in an Amish beard.

Singer: Stefano Langone
Song: “Closer”
My Take: Apparently at Jimmy Iovine’s urging, Stefano has decided to make his flirting much more aggressive this week. He’s not being Mr. Sensitivity on this one. Stefano Langone is impregnating the “American Idol” audience whether they want little Stefano babies or not. I’m not saying there’s any lyrical greatness to this particular Ne-Yo song, but this is Stefano at his most mumbly. By the end, he turns the actual chorus over to the background singers and he just struts around making falsetto noises behind the judges. I’ll leave it for others to decide if they like this more confident Stefano, but there’s much more posturing and assertiveness here than at any point previously this season.
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: Randy doesn’t know what to say. He stutters for a while and eventually praises Stefano for taking his time. “Nobody can say you weren’t all up in it,” Tyler says. “Speaking for the girls in the audience, I thought it was very, very good,” J-Lo giggles.

Singer: Lauren Alaina
Song: “Born to Fly”
My Take: Lauren hasn’t done an up-tempo country song for a few weeks and this is a return to the sort of thing that she indicated she wanted to be associated with early on. She’s totally upstaged by the beefcake fiddle player throughout and she doesn’t seem to care. Lauren stomps around in her cowboy boots with some authority and hits all of the notes, but nobody’s yet arranged a song to let Lauren out-shine an original. With each week, my hopes that Lauren is going to open up and actually do a season-defining vocal get dimmer and dimmer. She and Scotty both seem content to reenforce their existing audiences and let other singers take risks. They’re both safe for a couple more weeks without breaking a sweat.
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: Tyler says… little of note. J-Lo praises the color in Lauren’s voice, but she wants Lauren to let it all out next week, or at least in the shower. Randy agrees that Lauren needs to believe in herself and be bigger. “Challenge yourself, Lauren,” Randy says.

TONIGHT’S BEST: Twas a decent week. I most enjoyed James Durbin and Casey Abrams’ performances, but they’ve been my favorites throughout. Among people I’m usually less enthusiastic about, I salute Stefano for actually giving people something to vote for, for reaching out beyond his core. I suspect Stefano will be rewarded for that.

TONIGHT’S WORST: Nobody was really bad this week. Haley hit some rough high notes, but was good otherwise. Lauren and Scotty took no risks, but didn’t botch what they did. Jacob wasn’t bad, but between the early tech problems and the later restraint, he may have done the least for his cause tonight.

IN DANGER: I think Haley and Jacob are locks for the Bottom Three, which makes the third slot a bit of a challenge. Stefano’s usually the default choice, but he may have done enough to get a one-week reprieve. But if that happens, somebody surprising has to go instead and Casey’s probably the most likely. And who goes home? I’m guessing Haley, though this was far from her worst week.

Who did you like? Who did you dislike?

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