American Idol brings us up to date with this week’s theme as the seven remaining finalists take on songs from the 21st century. This gives the contestants a chance to shine by taking on contemporary tracks which are less likely to have been sung on the Idol stage before. Indeed, six of the seven selected songs are new to the show. But at the same time they will be performing tracks whose original versions will be more familiar to the programme’s audience, increasing the risk of an unfavourable comparison.
Still, nothing can be as bad as the truly appalling group performance of Pink‘s So What? which is rolled out at the top of the show by the six previously eliminated contestants – Ashthon (anyone remember her?), Karen, Naima, Thia, Pia and Paul. Can it?
Song choice: 2/5. No surprises as Scotty heads deep into the heart of country yet again. This John Anderson song was originally released in 1983, but qualifies for this week by virtue of being covered by LeAnn Rimes last year. Seriously, couldn’t he have found something genuinely contemporary? As songs go, this is predictable, unchallenging and more than a little dull. It gives the impression of a contestant who knows exactly where his comfort zone is and shows no interest of even dipping a toe outside it, even as a one-off change of pace. Poor.
Performance: 2/5. Scotty has been gradually sliding backwards for a few weeks with a series of safe but dull performances, and this week continues the trend. I think it was quite poor, but I’m not sure because I fell asleep halfway through. Scotty is in real danger of focussing too much on pandering to a country fan club which will love him no matter what, while alienating every non-country viewer out there. He is certainly having that effect on me.
For me that was so safe. It was really kinda boring.
I couldn’t have put it better myself. Carrie Underwood won in season four by sticking strictly to her country lane. I’m not convinced Scotty can, though.
Song choice: 4/5. A good choice, as James picks the only rock song of the night and continues to carve out a distinct niche for himself. Unlike Scotty, he seems much more willing to play around with his song choices without contradicting his position as this year’s rocker.
Performance: 4/5. Another strong week from the consistent James. A solid rock performance that leads into an adventurous octave jump – which he nails – and his trademark scream, which he continues to successfully incorporate into his songs without them becoming the sole focus in the manner of last season’s Siobhan Magnus. The best of the night.
That was really amazing. I think that was the highest we’ve ever heard you sing.
Song choice: 4/5. Risky – this is about as contemporary as you can get, and it’s Adele‘s biggest-selling hit in the US – but absolutely the right choice in terms of vocal fit and for giving Haley the chance to make a big statement about where she wants to go as an artist.
Performance: 3/5. A mixed bag. The opening bars are perfect, and she is now working in her signature growl with increasing confidence. But she loses her way a bit in the middle of the song, falling off the high notes and exposing a lack of dynamic range. I’m not sure she ever really connects with the raw emotion of the lyrics either. This is a song which speaks of deep heartbreak, but Haley never really gets beyond suggesting that she’s slightly miffed because she’s snapped a stiletto heel. It’s a decent performance, but compared to the original vocal it’s like listening to a little girl lost.
You brought it up in the middle and did what you do best.
Unfortunately Haley’s best isn’t a patch on Adele’s. Close, but no cigar.
Song choice: 3/5. Having previously been compared to the late Luther Vandross, Jacob takes the plunge and takes on one of the great man’s most emotional tracks. This is the only song this week which has previously been heard on Idol, having been
performed murdered by serial killer lookalike Scott Savol back in season four (see below).
Performance: 2/5. Jacob stumbles over the second line but recovers his composure well to give a solid, measured performance, but one lacking in spark. I can only repeat what I said last week: when Jacob is as restrained and controlled as this, he is merely a good singer. Somewhere between this and his worst excesses is a potentially great artist. We are now at the stage where merely good is not enough. Whatever that happy medium between this toned-down version and Jacob’s earlier diva excesses is, he has yet to find it.
Emotionally it was a great performance. Vocally it was good but it didn’t make me jump up and down.
Song choice: 3/5. An odd choice, but not a bad one as a change-up. Up-tempo and not an obvious match for Casey’s voice, but a definite opportunity to re-work the song and do something original with it. I’ve never been a big fan of Adam Levine‘s vocals, so any change is a good one.
Performance: 4/5. The upright bass is replaced by a guitar this week, and this rendition gets off to a strong start with a stripped-down, unplugged opening. Like Haley, he loses his way somewhat in the middle section before venturing off-piste at the end, even throwing in a bit of scat. It’s all a bit of a mish-mash. For me, the combination of styles just about works – for many, however, it will not. This was a good performance, but I can’t help but feel Casey is trying so hard to maintain his unique style that he is losing his way in the competition itself.
What I love about Casey is always it’s about surprise, surprise, surprise. Amazing job, dude. Keep taking chances.
Stefano Langone: Closer – Ne-Yo
Song choice: 1/5. Oh dear. Stefano finally ventures from his comfort zone of slow crooning into the R&B world of Ne-Yo‘s mid-tempo crooning. This has karaoke written all over it. And not even the good kind.
Performance: 2/5. Bits of this are pretty decent. Stefano’s tone is good and he nails his big power note, and he even throws in a few dance moves. But his pitch is off in places, and I can’t see beyond the way his tendency towards slow, lazy phrasing makes it sound as if he is always chasing the song, particularly in the chorus. And the emotional impact of his delivery is zero. It is as if he was focussing so much on his choreography that he forgot to do anything more than merely singing the words robotically. His fans will love this. Everyone else will be silently praying that the national vote finally puts him out of his misery. A dead man walking.
I thought it was very, very good. You really had your swag going on.
It really wasn’t, and he really didn’t. Sorry, Jen, you’re fooling nobody with this schtick.
Lauren Alaina: Born To Fly – Sara Evans
Song choice: 3/5. Having regularly picked some huge songs thus far – You Keep Me Hangin’ On, Candle In the Wind, Natural Woman – Lauren can be forgiven for returning to a straight country number this week. It’s a slightly lightweight and not overly exciting option, but it’s dead centre for her target audience and she has banked enough goodwill to allow herself a safe choice this week.
Performance: 3/5. The pre-performance video focuses on the lack of self-belief which has held her back so far in the competition – notwithstanding that, I genuinely still believe she is a shoo-in for the final – but a return to straight country sees a confident performance here. Without being too ambitious, it’s a solid, punchy vocal that sounds like a genuine original song rather than a karaoke cover. Not a hair-raiser, but a fun foot-stomper to finish the show on.
You do have such a special voice. It’s not everybody who has so much colour in their voice when they sing.
I’m slightly underwhelmed by this week’s performances. Only James, Haley and to an extent Casey opted for anything even remotely adventurous, and hardly anyone elevated themselves above the level of merely competent. I doubt many viewers will remember any of these performances (other than James’s) by next week.
James and Casey were the best on the night for me, with the two remaining girls in the middle of the pack. Stefano and Jacob are in real danger, and Scotty deserves to be in the bottom three this week based on his performance, but won’t be. Conversely Haley doesn’t deserve to be in the bottom three but probably will be. I think it will ultimately come down to Stefano and Jacob, and although we may see a surprise in Jacob being voted off I’m going to stick to my guns and predict that this week will finally see The Barnacle™ being dislodged from the bottom of the Idol order.
Safe as houses: Scott, James, Lauren
Stuck in the middle: Casey
Bottom three: Haley, Jacob, Stefano
Going home: Stefano
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Link: American Idol website