Recap: ‘American Idol’ – Top 8 perform Songs From The Years They Were Born

04.07.09 9 years ago 3 Comments

Michael Becker/FOX

Tuesday (April 7) marked the return of that old “American Idol” thematic standard, Songs From The Year They Were Born. It also marked the return of the one-hour performance episode.

How would the Top Eight handle this latest task? 

Full recap after the break…

Song: “Stand By Me”
My Take: Have you always supposed that Danny Gokey was really 48 years hold? Wonder no further, as Gokey selects Ben E. King’s 1961 classic. Why was this an acceptable song choice? Not only it a dreadful, amelodic arrangement of the oft-covered song, but it’s cheating the theme for no good reason. Paula is very excited, but I’m not quite getting it. I guess he’s going for a Revival Tent Preacher vibe, but the version of the song isn’t as rousing as his performance mannerisms seem to imply. Oh and having one shot of The Observer in the “American Idol” was creepy. Having two and then three shorts? Kinda demystifying.
Harpo, Chico, Zeppo and Simon Say: Alright, so, dude. Randy did not love the arrangement, but he loves that Danny made him love the song anyway. Kara also didn’t like the arrangement, but he killed it and turned it on its head and did his own thing in his own time. Paula warns that the bar has been set so high that everybody after him will have to run fast to keep up. What does that have to do with the height of the bar. Simon thought the beginning was good, the middle was lazy and the ending was terrific. By Simon’s math, this equals an overall “great.”

Song: “All She Wants To Do Is Dance”
My Take: Kris, who formerly aspired to be a taxi driver, has been given the same sort of awkward mid-audience placement that squished Matt Giraud last week. It’s an awful idea, because it prevents the performers from having any room to develop a performance, any room to use the stage, any room to breath. Kris just isn’t a big enough personality to command this type of staging and on this limited a song, he lacks the voice to even become noticeable. He stepped out last week and actually forced me to remember who he was. This week, he’s back to Kris “Who?” Allen.
Harpo, Chico, Zeppo and Simon Say: Kara’s glad Kris chose something up-tempo, but she calls it “jazz-funk homework.” Paula thinks Kris has to be one of the most likable contestants they’ve ever had. Simon whips out words like “indulgent,” “boring” and forgettable.” He blames the arrangement. Randy agrees that Kris got lost in the music.

Song: “What’s Love Got To Do With It”
My Take: After doing Celine Dion last week, Lil tackles Tina Turner, doing a disappointingly mellow rendition of the song. She’s doing the exact Turner version of the song, but she lacks the plaintive wail that Turner brought to the chorus, the intensity that sells that song. It’s just low-key and sing-song-y karaoke performance. If you’re going to do Tina, you can’t do just a half-assed version of Tina. Otherwise, you’re just some woman who stayed married to Ike for 50 unpleasant years. No. You’ve got to be that banshee, that warrior. Lil is no so far past her last very good performance that I’ve begun to doubt my memories of that one shining moment.
Harpo, Chico, Zeppo and Simon Say: Paula begins by telling Lil she looks hot, which is never a good start. Paula wanted Lil to take liberties and show who she is as an artist, but this wasn’t distinctive and Lil. Simon calls it a second or third rate version of Tina Turner, complaining, “It’s literally like we’ve lost you.” Randy repeats what the others have said. Kara wants her to make the leap from singer to artist. For the fifth or sixth consecutive week, Lil tells voters that if they voter her back, she’ll do better next week. I hate to say it, but I no longer believe her.

Song: “True Colors”
My Take: Anoop starts with a shout-out to his NCAA Champion Tar Heels. He continues by apologizing for getting lippy with the judges last week. Since Defiant Anoop was poorly received, Ernest Anoop is back. At this point, it’s his his best bet to continue. Maybe it’s just my jet-lag talking, but Anoop is just sleepwalking along, singing out of the top of his head. It’s just so still and serene, like the a cappella veteran in him is just laying back waiting for the rest of the group to join in and expand the sound. Yeah, it’s a bit nasally, but it’s nice and unlike with Kris, I’m hearing Anoop’s voice.
Harpo, Chico, Zeppo and Simon Say: Randy says that Anoop was as hot as the Tar Heels, calling it “a very nice vocal.” Kara explains that Anoop controlled the song and interpreted it. Paula says Anoop showed his true colors. “You’re like a singing yo-yo,” Simon says. Everybody reassures Anoop that he had nothing to apologize for.

Song: “The Search Is Over”
My Take: Uh-oh. Somebody punked Scott and sent him out on the stage with a guitar instead of a piano. For a while, he stands confused, arms limply at his side. Then, when the music gets very loud, he moves his fingers around the guitar either pretending to play it, or at least confident that if he’s playing badly, nobody will notice. Nobody notices anything that Scott actually does in this competition. He doesn’t have nearly the voice to pull off this sort of guitar rock ballad. He doesn’t come close to hitting the high notes. Any of them.
Harpo, Chico, Zeppo and Simon Say: Kara commends Scott for playing his guitar, saying he had good moments and bad moments. Ah, the coddling. Paula also gives him credit for leaving the piano aside and gives him a “bravo,” even though she says some of the high notes sounded screechy. Simon says the song was atrocious and the guitar playing wasn’t better. Randy says it was all just OK.

Song: “I Can’t Make You Love Me”
My Take: This isn’t a song that would seem to lend itself to Allison’s standard pyrotechnics. Like everything else she does, it starts off too low and she’s too mumbly, but the chorus doesn’t immediately go as big as she’d normally prefer. She pushes it to places Bonnie Riatt wasn’t interested in going (it really isn’t that sort of song, no matter what the arrangement tries suggesting at the end) and gives what is, by her standards, a gentle and nuanced performance. It’s not great, but it’s different. For Allison, I’ll accept different.
Harpo, Chico, Zeppo and Simon Say: Paula knows Allison from her first note. She mistakenly calls it the same arrangement as the original. It’s just not. Simon says it was “very good,” but that they need to make her more personality come out more. Randy compares Allison to Kelly Clarkson. Kara raves that Allison took adult content and made it contemporary.

Song: “Part-Time Lover”
My Take: Growl. Falsetto. Growl. Falsetto. Matt’s take on Stevie Wonder — no creative arrangements here — starts off rough. Very rough. He’s insecure about his actual voice and he doesn’t need to be. When he’s just singing the song, he sounds great. I don’t need the runs, the gratuitous falsetto, the falsetto growls. He has absolutely no trust in the melody, in the lyrics in anything about the song-as-written. And it’s not even like he’s skatting or adding to the performance. It’s just showing off, but what’s being shown off is beyond me. This isn’t a great song because Stevie liked to make funny noises to fill every pause. It’s a great song because it’s a great song.
Harpo, Chico, Zeppo and Simon Say: Vocally one of the best of the night, Randy cheers. Kara calls it “incredible on every level.” Simon gives him a Standing-O. Simon calls it a million times better than last week. Blech.

Song: “Mad World”
My Take: FOX is going to be mighty proud of the ratings for “Fringe” tonight, with “Idol” running seven minutes long. I can no longer tell the difference between the Gary Jules and Tears For Fears versions of this song, though I think Adam is mostly doing the former, albeit with some embellishments. All I know is that week after week, Adam’s just better than everybody else. I sit through whole episodes waiting for somebody to do something that fully captures my attention and week after week, he’s the only one able to do it. Occasionally he’s captured my attention for the wrong reasons, but mostly not. This isn’t his best performance and just because he’s capable of doing the stupid things Matt tries to do doesn’t mean that Adam isn’t oversinging. Still, he’s the one I’ll remember tomorrow. Again.
Harpo, Chico, Zeppo and Simon Say: There’s no time for the other judges to talk, but Simon gives Adam a standing ovation. I have no memory of Simon ever doing this for a previous contestant at this stage in the game.

TONIGHT’S BEST: Adam Lambert. Big gap. Maybe Anoop? Maybe Allison? Maybe Matt for the line or two he wasn’t noodling? I have no enthusiasm for seven of the week’s eight performances.

TONIGHT’S WORST: Scott is, again, the week’s worst. The less focused parts of Matt’s performance probably belong here. This is yet another week where the majority of the performances are trapped in an unremarkable, barely offensive middle ground.

IN DANGER: I think your bottom three with be Scott, Lil and either Kris or Anoop. Eventually the unwarranted support for Scott’s going to run out, but I wonder if this will be the week that voters tire of Lil’s regular excuses.

Agree? Disagree? Who’s going home tomorrow night?

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