Four down, nine to go. With Naima Adedapo and Thia Megia leaving American Idol last week in a double elimination, we are fast approaching the point at which we are running out of weak contestants to lose, and where firm fan favourites will start to feel the inexorable pull of the Stools of Doom™.
This week’s theme is the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, so let’s dust off some golden oldies and take a stroll down memory lane. Whose performances will be Jailhouse Rock, and whose will be more Fraggle Rock?
Jacob Lusk: Man in the Mirror – Michael Jackson
Song choice: 3/5. Potentially an excellent choice, but how does this qualify as rock and roll? It is a hand-in-(white)-glove fit for Jacob’s voice but it also demands that he moderates his tendency for excessive vocal gymnastics.
Performance: 3/5. This starts off as his best performance so far in this finals series, but gradually starts to slide. There are moments of his trademark warbling and vibrato that work beautifully within the song without overpowering it, but as he builds to the finish he slips into his old, over-the-top habits and drifts out of tune a couple of times. Not even a few nifty dance moves and hip thrusts can save this. It’s okay, but it could have been so much better.
You know what you do? You make everybody know that if you believe in yourself and you stick to what feels right that you can do anything in this world. That’s what you do when you sing.
Haley Reinhart: Piece of my Heart – Erma Franklin
Song choice: 4/5. A great selection to allow Haley to get her growl on. I love the Erma Franklin original, and Janis Joplin also produced a well-known cover with a slightly rockier edge. Season four winner Carrie Underwood took this on in a semi-final round, and made a bit of a hash of it in truth.
Performance: 2/5. I love the way the arrangement plunges straight into the heart of the song, but it’s downhill from there. Haley seems to struggle with the relatively fast tempo, and it sounds as if someone told her to concentrate on turning the sexy growl up to 11 throughout. Consequently, although there are some excellent moments, too much of the performance feels as if she is trying too hard and veering towards shouty karaoke. There’s enough gravel here to pave an entire street. Disappointing.
That bluesy kind of soul thing that you have – that’s what you did with this song. That’s the Haley that we loved when we first saw you. Haley, welcome back!
Casey Abrams: Have You Ever Seen the Rain? – Creedence Clearwater Revival
Song choice: 4/5. Only Casey could have chosen this track. I mean that in a good way, as it fits his growly voice well. This Creedence classic is 40 this year and is one of those songs that many people will know without realising it.
Performance: 5/5. The upright bass is back, and its inclusion doesn’t feel gimmicky. This is a more restrained Casey who allows the tone in his voice to shine through, dipping down low in his range and then floating into his upper register. If a growl can be silky, this was it. This is a lovely, radio-friendly update of a classic Seventies track. Very good indeed, although it’s not for everyone.
You definitely made CCR proud. You’ve now made the upright bass cool. You put it in popular music – this is revolutionary.
Lauren Alaina: (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman – Aretha Franklin
Song choice: 4/5. Having taken on Candle in the Wind last week, Lauren again makes another immensely brave selection here with a song which has only ever been performed in the finals series once before – by no less a contestant than the original Idol, Kelly Clarkson, who gave one of the all-time great performances. It’s a good choice, but taking on Franklin and Clarkson is following in mighty big footsteps.
Performance: 4/5. The subtle country twang she puts on the song works really well, and this is a good performance with a nice balance of control and power. She hits the power note at the end well, but it’s still not a patch on Clarkson’s version – that single note was possibly the purest in Idol‘s history (check it out at 1:15 in the video below). Overall, though, she’s moving up the gears nicely.
Four months ago you came in here an immature little girl and tonight you are a natural-born woman. I love your voice. I think you’re great.
James Durbin: While My Guitar Gently Weeps – The Beatles
Song choice: 4/5. An inspired switch, as James moves down-tempo to take on this Beatles ballad. Although it’s not the biggest risk, as a quick YouTube search shows that this is a song he has been performing for several years. Nonetheless, a striking and memorable choice.
Performance: 4/5. James is proving to be one of this season’s most versatile contestants, and he underlines that here, stripping away the rock and roll performer he has been throughout the competition and laying bare his vulnerable side. It’s a strong and emotional performance – not quite enough to rank as a ‘moment’, but it’s money in the bank, for sure.
I love seeing the real true emotional side of James Durbin, to see you be that sensitive and engage and emotionally connect with that lyric.
Scotty McCreery: That’s All Right – Arthur Crudup
Song choice: 4/5. Fortunately, the definition of rock and roll extends all the way out to the Delta blues of 1940s singer Arthur Crudup by virtue of the fact this was the first single ever released by a young fellow named Elvis Presley. As good as it gets in terms of requiring the minimum effort to complete a McCreery Country Makeover™.
Performance: 2/5. For one week only, Scotty does light, fluffy and up-tempo with a wink in his eye and his tongue lodged firmly in his cheek to reassure you that this is just for fun and normal service will be resumed shortly. It’s pretty much of a muchness vocally – a real wedding singer’s performance – but Scotty’s fans won’t care and will see this as proof positive that their potential Idol is no one-trick pony. Personally, it’s way too twee for me.
I thought you were all hat and no cattle, but you brought Elvis into that. And I heard girls screaming in the audience. You did it well.
Pia Toscano: River Deep Mountain High – Ike & Tina Turner
Song choice: 5/5. Incredibly, this has never been done in the finals series before – an indication of both how challenging it is to sing and how easy it is to go all karaoke with it. Pia has been promising to do an up-tempo number, and this certainly gives her the opportunity to let rip and stamp her voice and personality onto a crowd-pleasing performance. This is a defining moment for her – a potential car crash or the free pass she needs to sing ballads for the rest of the season.
Performance: 4/5. In terms of her stage performance, there is still a little work to do here as she is not the most natural mover. Everything else is spot on. While she is clearly more comfortable with slower songs, her voice shines through – both technically and in terms of delivering some emotional punch – and she absolutely nails the closing power note. She definitely earns her free pass.
Murderer! You killed it. Pia, you’ve got to know, there’s a million guys out there in a million bars having a million drinks about you tonight.
Stefano Langone: When A Man Loves A Woman – Percy Sledge
Song choice: 2/5. An old favourite. Michael Lynche gave a so-so performance of this last year, and it is a song that I had actually picked out for Stefano a few weeks back. Two or three weeks ago that would have been fine. But after one dirge-like performance after another, this is too plodding and predictable a choice for this year’s die-hard crooner. Unwise.
Performance: 2/5. I don’t like the arrangement. I don’t like the flatness and lack of emotion in his voice. When a man loves a woman, he sounds like he genuinely means it. For all the pleasant tones in Stefano’s voice, I have forgotten this performance the moment it ends.
I really, really felt for the first time … that had another layer of emotion to it.
I couldn’t disagree more. If there was a layer of emotion in that performance, then it was firmly buried under six feet of concrete. Dire.
Paul McDonald: Folsom Prison Blues – Johnny Cash
Song choice: 4/5. Well, well, well. Paul finally veers off the beaten track with this Johnny Cash classic. I’ve been desperate for him to choose something just slightly left of centre all along, and he finally delivers. His best selection so far – by a distance.
Performance: 4/5. If Johnny Cash had a happy-go-lucky brother, this could have been his performance right here. I really liked this – it’s fun, energetic and Paul’s vocal is strong. I’m not sure it will necessarily win him any more fans, but this is what I have been hoping to see from him all along.
For once, I’m in total agreement with J-Lo when she says:
It was a perfect way to end the show. Right in your lane.
This was another decent week, in terms of both quality and variety, with several contestants reaching a long way back into the history books and performing outside of their comfort zone. Casey was the pick of the bunch for me with, oddly, Paul not far behind. Identifying the bottom three is trickier, though – Stefano for sure, but beyond that it could go either way. With so little separating most of the contestants, could we be in for a shock this week?
Here are my predictions.
Safe as houses: Lauren, James, Scotty, Pia
Stuck in the middle: Casey
In danger: Paul
Bottom three: Jacob, Haley, Stefano
Going home: Stefano
American Idol posts
Auditions: New Jersey, New Orleans, Milwaukee, Nashville, Austin, Los Angeles, San Francisco
Hollywood Week: Solo auditions, Group round, Final round
Las Vegas & Green Mile: Las Vegas & Green Mile part 1, Green Mile part 2
Semi-finals: Boys, Girls, Results/wild cards
Top 13: Performances, Results
Top 12: Performances, Results
Top 11: Performances, Results
Top 11 redux: Performances, Results
Link: American Idol website