We reach a critical juncture in the American Idol finals series, as this week sees the selection of this year’s top ten who will participate in the lucrative post-season nationwide tour. This can be critical in terms of exposure and solidifying a fan base for the contestants’ future careers. And this round marks the first potential stumbling block for a number of them, providing the initial genre-specific theme of this season’s run: the music of Motown.
Anyhow, here are my thoughts in running order, scoring each contestant out of five on both their song choice and their vocal and overall stage performance. You’ll find my voting predictions at the end.
Song choice: 3/5. A bit of a departure for Casey, being a more intimate track rather than a big theatrical performance-style song. It is also a deceptively difficult to sing well, and has been done several times before on Idol, both superbly (season three winner Fantasia Barrino) and appallingly poorly (Andrew Garcia last year).
Performance: 2/5. It doesn’t really work for me, not helped by an arrangement which is a bit too experimental for my liking. It’s growly rather than screechy, but it does at least underline his unique and soulful sound. However, I can’t help but feel he needs to demonstrate he isn’t just throwing the same curve-ball week after week, as he is in danger of becoming something of a self-parodying caricature of himself.
You are definitely a true original. You know what’s so perfect about you? You can only do you and that you is great.
Song choice: 3/5. I had feared the ballad-singing, non-moving Singing Statue™ would choose something dull and suicide-inducing like Endless Love, so Thia gets a bonus point for at least listening to the judges’ critique last week and choosing this bouncy, upbeat number.
Performance: 3/5. Not that she had previously set the bar particularly high, but this is her best performance so far. What could have been a disastrous – and potentially fatal – step up-tempo is handled competently by Thia. As ever, she masters the technical aspects of the song with aplomb, but I’m not sure she ever really connects properly with either the words or the audience. She even moves (a bit). It’s still an instantly forgettable beauty pageant-style performance, though. She has a long way to go before I have any idea whatsoever what kind of an artist she wants to be at the end of all this, and despite the improvement is in real danger of sliding out of the competition. There simply isn’t any compelling reason to vote for her.
It was great to see you let loose like that. Who knew you had that in you? I need you to dig even deeper each week.
Song choice: 3/5. I’m always a little wary of contestants choosing duets, and this is a surprisingly low-key number with an uncomplicated melody and just a handful of brief high notes for Captain Camp™ to exhibit his range. It’s a decent choice for me rather than a brilliant one. The last time this song was attempted in the finals series was by the awful Jasmine Trias. I’ll say no more.
Performance: 4/5. After a couple of iffy weeks, this is more like the Jacob we saw in Hollywood and Vegas. His rich voice still shines through, but there is more restraint and control evident here, and his performance is much the better for it. It’s as if the penny has finally dropped that he doesn’t need to have his voice turned up to 11 all the time. And his deeper sections at either end or the song are simply beautiful. He’s back.
You held it back, you milked it, man, and at the very end it was beautiful.
Song choice: 3/5. Bingo! This is the first of two song choices I predicted correctly in advance in last week’s results show review, with the expectation of a country/rock arrangement closer to either the Kim Wilde or Reba McEntire versions. (McEntire again? Lauren is clearly a fan.) It has been performed three times on Idol before, resulting in two eliminations at the top 12 stage – the karaoke stylings of Vanessa Olivarez and Leah LaBelle in seasons two and three, with the latter being eviscerated by the judges (see below). Nonetheless, the song is a brilliant crowd-pleaser when done well, and is suited to Lauren’s belting voice. It’s a hell of a risk, though, not just because of its chequered Idol history, but because both the original and the Wilde tracks are recognised classics of their era. There is a reason the song has been inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.
Performance: 3/5. The start is slow and dramatic and really quite wonderful, showing off a control in her voice which hasn’t always been obvious in previous performances, but it never really takes off from there and settles into a by-the-numbers cover version. Her voice shines through, but she never quite owns the song and comes across as being a bit young for it at times. It’s a polished, professional showing, but it never quite hits the highest heights. A shame – this could have been a real ‘moment’ for her.
Last week that girl returned to the stage to compete in season ten. She’s now got her swagger on high. She’s ready.
Song choice: 3/5. Nearly. Having sung Grapevine at his initial audition, I had predicted My Girl for Stefano only for him to trump that and choose this crooner-ific classic. It’s a song which I must admit I have never liked, but it’s a good choice which cements Stefano’s preference for the slower stuff. As Ryan Seacrest reminds us, Idol fans will remember this as one of David Cook‘s break-out performances in season seven (see below).
Performance: 2/5. Stefano admits in his pre-performance clip that he hadn’t heard the song before this week, and it shows. Like Thia, he sings the words rather than connecting with the emotion of the song, and this song is all about the emotion. So although there is nothing technically wrong with his performance, it is utterly unconvincing. And, even though he promises not to close his eyes while singing, he gives us the old constipated look towards the end of the song anyway. He really can’t help himself. Despite J-Lo’s unstinting – and now quite tiresome – advocacy, Stefano remains no better than middle-of-the-pack. And if you watch this performance side-by-side with Cook’s, that becomes all too obvious.
You’ve definitely got the pipes – you can sing, you can soar. You bit off a big chunk today. You sounded good, but it was like there was no real connection.
Song choice: 2/5. Probably not a song that many will be familiar with, so good in the sense that it allows Haley to put her own stamp on it. But the original is slow, sits within a narrow vocal range, and is the kind of song you might expect to hear at a funeral. Even Smokey Robinson‘s silky voice isn’t enough to rescue it. It’s just really, really dull – hardly the best the Motown catalogue has to offer.
Performance: 4/5. After being in the bottom three in both previous weeks so far, Haley desperately needs a stellar performance. And she very nearly produces it here. Despite the tedious song choice, she belts the notes off what is a pretty limp number with a lovely bluesy quality that reminds me exactly why she was in the final 13 to start with.
You sang your heart out. You don’t look a day over fabulous.
And she really was rather good tonight – perhaps even second best behind Jacob. Even though I still can’t get that yodelling from two weeks ago out of my head, that may be good enough for a reprieve for this week at least.
Song choice: 3/5. Well, well, well. This week’s theme not only enforces a different genre on Scotty but a step up in tempo too – although you know even before he starts the arrangement will be country-fied to within an inch of its life. It can only end one of two ways: a Megan Joy-like car crash from which his huge fan club will rescue him, or a defining moment in the competition as he cements his position as one of the red-hot favourites to win.
Performance: 1/5. This is one of those performances that starts with your heart in your mouth – and ends up with your fist jammed in there too. It varies between amusing and downright painful, but credit to him for not hiding and giving it a good go. That’s about all I can give him credit for, though, as the only other positive comment I can muster about this God-forsaken mess is that he has very expressive eyebrows. It will make no difference though – his fan club will ensure he finishes nowhere near the bottom three.
You can’t make a three-point shot from under the net. You took a big chance in doing that. When you go down to those low notes, man, you tweak everybody. That is your niche.
Mid-temp Motown, however, is most definitely not his niche.
Song choice: 4/5. A relatively obscure but strong choice. I don’t believe this was ever released as a single, although it has been performed on Idol before (but never in the finals series). Whatever, this is the perfect fit for this year’s big female balladeer – a song full of emotion and drama which requires a combination of power and subtlety.
Performance: 2/5. It’s technically excellent, just a bit dull. We already knew she could sing, and this does nothing more than confirm what we already know. Sorely disappointing. Move on.
Again you kill us with one of your killer ballads. You can have a career like Celine Dion. I know you can do it, we just need to see it.
Song choice: 2/5. Double bingo! I’ve got Paul worked out now, with his tendency to opt for slightly weedy middle-of-the-road fare in a ‘what would James Blunt do’ sort of way. Tracks of My Tears is dead centre of his vocal range. It’s a good fit, but it’s also woefully predictable, and it has to stand against Adam Lambert‘s memorable acoustic version from two years ago (see below). Bad move. I really want Paul to surprise us one week with a left-field song choice. Not this week, though.
Performance: 2/5. When the most interesting thing about an Idol contestant’s performance is noting their use of syncopation in the arrangement, you know it hasn’t quite worked. The most interesting thing about Paul’s performance here is his use of syncopation. It’s okay, but I also hate the fact he smiles through much of what is an incredibly sad and melancholy song. It’s not right, I’m telling ya. Still, at least he has his this guitar this week, which limits his bizarre dancing. Heading for the bottom three, methinks – possibly even elimination.
You’re kind of the complete package. All you need is a good producer, and there you go.
I think he needs a bit more than that, Jen.
Song choice: 4/5. Without yet making it clear exactly what (if any) genre she fits into, Naima is to dance-around-your-handbag quirky what Paul is to middle-of-the-road-ness. Bouncy and fun – a strong selection.
Performance: 2/5. I was expecting a lot from this, but Naima never really delivered. There are some bright spots – I love her tone when she digs into the bottom of her range. And whoever decided that she should keep the singing and dancing bits separate rather than trying both at the same time was also spot on, because she stays on key throughout. But I still can’t shake the feeling that she will never be more than a good karaoke singer with some interesting dance moves. Even at her best, she never seems to be more than just okay.
It was A to the Z to the twiddle-le-dee. Once again we see the whole package.
Song choice: 4/5. From the same Innervisions album as Pia’s choice, this has enough of a swagger and a rock edge to put it in range for Lambert-Lite™. A great song to finish the show on. (Although I will forever associate this song with season five winner Taylor Hicks‘ purple jacket – see below.)
Performance: 3/5. Yet again, I am distracted at how much he resembles the love child of Matt Damon and Wayne Rooney. As a performance, this is good but not great. James is a real showman, and he keeps the screaming in check again this week, but it never quite takes off the way I was hoping it would. In the context of the other performances, however, this is more than solid enough.
I think sometimes it takes a little bit of being crazy to make a difference in this world, and that’s what you’re all about.
Overall, after two fairly lacklustre weeks, this was pretty middle-of-the-road fare. None of the big favourites were particularly good and no one was downright awful. Indeed, a number of the more lightweight contestants – Haley in particular – upped their game. So, no stand-out performances which will live long in my memory and no one who managed to complete the holy trinity – weak singer, poor song choice, terrible performance – which are key components of a truly great Idol episode. And that is reflected in a narrow range of scores which saw me award everyone a middling mark between four and seven out of ten.
All of which leads me to think that maybe this is the one week we typically get every season some time before the top seven where one of the favourites surprisingly slides into the bottom three, serving as a wake-up call for both them and the voting public. For sure, I think we are going to end the monopoly the girls have had on the bottom three so far. Off the back of a stronger performance this week, I can see Haley avoiding the Stools of Doom™, while the likes of Stefano and Thia continue to flirt with danger.
Anyway, here are my predictions for the public vote.
Safe as houses: Jacob, Lauren, Scotty, Pia, James
Sliding backwards: Casey
Stuck in the middle: Stefano, Haley
Bottom three: Thia, Paul, Naima
Going home: I’d like to say Paul, but I suspect it will be Thia despite her improved showing.
American Idol posts
Link: American Idol website