After last week’s drama where the judges used their one ‘save’ for the season to rescue Casey Abrams, we have now passed the point of no return for this year’s American Idol finalists. All eleven are guaranteed a place on the summer tour, but from now on the fate of the contestants resides wholly in the hands of the voting public. And this week is the most dangerous of all, with the bottom two facing certain elimination.
Let’s have a look at the contestants’ take on Elton John week – a theme we have not had since season three, when Camile Velasco gave a performance of Goodbye Yellow Brick Road which was voted the worst Idol performance ever by Entertainment Weekly. (Yes, even worse than anything Sanjaya Malakar did.)
As usual, I have scored each contestant’s song choice and performance out of five, to give a total out of ten.
Song choice: 4/5. This wasn’t a song I was previously familiar with, but having listened to it earlier today it is definitely the perfect candidate for the McCreery Country Makeover™. A very smart selection.
Performance: 4/5. This could easily be mistaken for an original track from Scotty’s debut album, as he makes it sound like a proper old-fashioned country song. There is no risk-tasking here, but when you have an identity as clearly established as Scotty’s, you can get away with singing in the same style over and over again. Tonally perfect, and with a gorgeous low baritone note at the end. Not get-out-of-your-seat brilliant, but extremely solid once again.
You have amazing instincts about performing and about what’s right for you. You’re right on. Never doubt yourself.
Song choice: 2/5. This upbeat number was performed by eventual season three runner-up Diana DeGarmo, and sent her plummeting into the bottom three. Of all the Elton John songs to choose, this is an odd one, being lightweight and relatively unchallenging, so I’m expecting something offbeat with the arrangement.
Performance: 3/5. And there it is. Naima performs a slowed-down reggae version, complete with overcooked Jamaican accent as if she is attempting to channel the ghost of Bob Marley. (Actually I would have loved to have heard a Marley version of the song – even though he would have needed to travel forward in time at least two years after his death to record it.) This is actually nowhere near the disaster I was expecting. It’s a fantastic arrangement and Naima performs it well – although the vocal aspect of it is far from challenging – and with plenty of personality. For what it’s worth, I quite like this. I suspect much of America, however, will not, and in a week when two contestants will be axed that will probably prove to be her undoing. But, let’s face it, she was always going to be in danger, so credit to her for taking the risk and for the first time making it clear what kind of artist she could be.
I love your reggae swag. I’m not sure that this song was suited for that. Some songs are just not meant to be flipped. I’m not sure it was a better idea than it was payoff for me.
Song choice: 2/5. Middle of the road. Predictable. Dull. I know Paul has a very distinct ‘lane’ that he is most comfortable in, but it’s just not going to be enough if he wants to progress further in the competition. He needs to wow us soon – or at the very least surprise us just a little.
Performance: 2/5. Not the flowery suit again! There’s not much else to say, really. It’s a bit twee, but that’s Paul. It’s a bit pitchy in spots, but that’s Paul too, and it doesn’t overly detract from his performance. At least he’s playing his guitar, so we are not subjected to his dance moves. It’s nice, that’s what it is – nice. And nice, I fear, will not pass muster for very much longer. At this stage, he really is just clinging on for as long as he can with no hope whatsoever of getting anywhere near the final.
When you get into that tender zone with that quiet, soft voice, it’s very infectious.
People with infections often get sent home …
Song choice: 5/5. It’s yet another power ballad from Pia, but no complaints. This song is the perfect match for her voice. As well as being notably covered by George Michael, it has also previously provided some of the finest Idol performances ever by Justin Guarini, Clay Aiken, Bo Bice and David Archuleta – each of them eventual runners-up in seasons one, two, four and seven. (And one particularly shrill rendition from Jasmine Trias, but let’s not go there.)
Performance: 4/5. A simple arrangement and a beautifully textured delivery, showing off a delicate balance of power and tenderness. She hits the big notes effortlessly and conveys the emotion of the song without ever becoming too showy. (Take note, Jacob and Casey.) As consistent as ever, but not quite enough to rank as a ‘moment’.
You’ve sung a ballad every time, and guess what? You slay them every time. That was unbelievable once again.
Song choice: 2/5. Meh. Obscure. Uninspired. Dull.
Performance: 2/5. Meh. He sings the song. The judges congratulate him for connecting with the audience. Apparently.
Sometimes I think you’ve got a thing about your voice, it’s a little Broadway. But tonight you really connected with the audience.
It’s hard for me to say one way or the other, because I was asleep by the end of the first verse. Obviously I needed someone to connect me to a double espresso. Once again, I say: meh.
Song choice: 4/5. Oh, my word. You cannot fault Lauren for her bravery this week, taking on the second best-selling single of all time (after White Christmas), and a song which every Idol contestant before her has steered well clear of. It’s a terrific choice which suits her voice well, but also demands a pure and pitch-perfect vocal performance with a level of maturity which has not always been evident.
Performance: 5/5. After a string of mediocre live performances, this is easily her best so far. It’s a simple arrangement, performed with subtlety, sensitivity and maturity, and with some unobtrusive country up-ticks to connect her back to her core audience. Very, very good indeed.
We knew what you were all about the first night we heard you. That was just perfect.
Song choice: 3/5. An obvious choice, I suppose, being one of Elton’s few rock-based songs. Just a shame that it gets lost in the middle of the running order, as this would have made a great song to go out on.
Performance: 4/5. We can always rely on Lambert-Lite™ to let rip and have some fun with his performance. And that’s exactly what he does, sprinting around the audience, setting a piano on fire and building up to his trademark scream. It’s not a great vocal showcase, but there is no denying he has stage presence and it is a fun performance bristling with energy on a night packed with low-tempo covers.
You enjoy yourself. That’s the greatest thing about any performer performing. I really felt like you were having a good time. Dude, that was a great, great, great performance.
Song choice: 2/5. No surprise here. After last week’s toe in the water of mid-tempo, the Singing Statue™ reverts to the most ballad-y ballad she can find. Too conservative a choice for a contestant who must know she is much closer to the bottom of the order than the top.
Performance: 2/5. I have said it before and I will say it again here: Thia has a technically excellent voice. But in the pre-performance clip, we see Jimmy Iovine (who is clearly not a fan) making pointed comments about the poignant nature of the song, and how she needs to think about the lyrics and sing from the heart. Thia fails. Yet again, she hits all the notes well, but there is not one iota of emotion in her voice, and she just sings the song rather than telling the story. It’s desperately disappointing and really rather dull – after 15 seconds I already feel the urge to hit the fast-forward button. And, of course, she stands rooted to the spot – again. It’s like turning up at a Whitney Houston gig only to find they’re piping muzak into the arena.
I think you sang a great Elton John song well.
Now is not the time to kill Thia with kindness. I think the end of the road is fast approaching for her. Not sure if it’s a yellow brick one, though.
Song choice: 3/5. A brave but necessary choice to re-establish himself after the judges’ save last week, Casey needed to perform something simple and stripped down to get back to basics.
Performance: 4/5. After the last couple of weeks when he started to drift, this was a return to the kind of balance Casey needs if he is to fulfil his early promise. It is unmistakably him, with that growly tone he has, but it comes without the amateur dramatic excesses we have seen from him recently. It starts mellow and builds to something more intense, but ends with a delicate little three-note run that rounds off the performance perfectly. Not quite his best, but certainly back up and running.
That performance – hearing you sing but not lose all of who Casey is that makes you different – was absolutely brilliant. That was so nice and so tender.
Song choice: 3/5. I can’t fault the song choice. Slow, dramatic, full of range – right up Jacob’s street. And yet somehow all too predictable.
Performance: 3/5. Previously, this song has been performed twice on Idol. Robbie Rosen sang it in this season’s wild card round, while Von Smith also did it two years ago. Both were eliminated. That won’t happen here. This is trademark Jacob, but without the over-the-top elements which marred his performances in the first two weeks. The first half is faithful to the original, while the second half veers a bit more off-piste and suffers somewhat for it, but he just about holds it all together (despite pulling some very odd faces) and nails a terrific final note. Overall, it’s decent but not brilliant. I still constantly feel he’s just one over-dramatic performance away from a surprise exit.
It was really beautiful and that last note – you don’t see that every day.
Does Jennifer have some form of super-duper vision that allows her to see notes that us mere mortals can only hear?
Song choice: 4/5. One of my favourite Elton John songs, and a very smart choice. This is one of the few in his catalogue which is neither up-tempo nor a weighty ballad, and suits a more playful treatment. It’s not a foot-stomper, but it’s still a great number to finish on.
Performance: 5/5. Wow. When I saw that Haley was in the all-important final slot, I feared it would be her death knell. Instead, it may be the moment she moves clear of the ranks of the also-rans. Aside from the slightly stilted hand-waving, it’s hard to fault this in any way as for the first time in the competition she genuinely cuts loose. Starting off on top of the piano à la Michelle Pfeiffer in The Fabulous Baker Boys, this is a confident, vampish performance, full of blues overtones and her trademark rasp. Down low, up high, punching out the power notes – this is arguably the best performance of the night. Two very good weeks in a row.
That was it, Haley. It all came together: the voice, the moves, the confidence. It was a great way to end the show and it was amazing.
In terms of overall quality, this was the best week of the finals run so far. No one really had a stinker, and I have had to be quite picky in separating out the poorer performances. Most remarkable has been Haley’s renaissance from bottom three fixture to solidly middle of the pack. She fits in somewhere between Pia and Lauren at the top, and Thia and Naima at the bottom – with the clock ticking ever more loudly on the latter pair.
There is a clear pecking order starting to form among the boys too, with Scotty out in front ahead of James, with Casey and Jacob tucked in behind them and Paul and Stefano bringing up the rear.
Here are my predictions for the public vote:
Safe as houses: Scotty, Pia, Lauren
Stuck in the middle: James, Casey, Jacob, Haley
In danger: Stefano
Bottom three: Naima, Paul, Thia
Going home: Naima and Thia
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Link: American Idol website