The grand finale of American Idol is now almost within touching distance of the final four contestants – Haley Reinhart, James Durbin, Lauren Alaina and Scotty McCreery – leaving each of them walking a fine line between keeping their fans happy and taking a risk which could gain or lose them support in the all-important weekly vote.
There are two themes this week. Firstly the contestants must choose a song that inspires them. Then, mentored by no less than the current queen of pop, Lady Gaga, they will perform one of the songs of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, a theme previously used in season four. The duo have been behind a wide range of R&B, rock and pop hits, from Elvis Presley‘s Hound Dog and Jailhouse Rock to Ben E King‘s Stand By Me and Stealers Wheel‘s Stuck in the Middle With You. A very Scotty week, then.
Anyhow, let’s start with a recap of the songs that inspired our four potential Idols.
James Durbin: Don’t Stop Believin’ – Journey
Song choice: 3/5. R-Jack’s old band? Check. Glee fans? Check. A reborn classic? Check. The only problem about Don’t Stop Believin’ is that it’s actually quite a dull and horribly overexposed song, and one which is difficult to do well and distinctively due to its testing high range. A crowd-pleaser, for sure, but not a great selection.
Performance: 3/5. It’s a decent performance, no more. Although J-Lo praises his upper register, the high notes sound a bit strained in a nails-across-a-blackboard kind of way, and it’s not the greatest showcase for his vocal talents. The arrangement is also very busy and quite intrusive, which doesn’t help. It’s okay but no more than a pale imitation of Steve Perry‘s original vocal.
It’s so great to listen to you and then to hear you go into your upper register. Great song, great job, great performance.
Haley Reinhart: Earth Song – Michael Jackson
Song choice: 2/5. Putting aside the fact I absolutely despise this song with every fibre of my being (and any more that anyone can spare me), this is an odd choice of inspirational song by Haley. It’s certainly powerful and emotional, but it’s also difficult to sing live without overdoing it. You’re also damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t. Be faithful to the original and you have a high bar to match. Change it too much and you will alienate the entire Jackson fan community.
Performance: 2/5. It’s not good. That annoying yodelly warble is back in the early part of the song, and it becomes increasingly shouty towards the end. Yes, I know it’s a shouty sort of song. But this does nothing for Haley, whose growl is at its most effective when she is able to wrap her voice around notes rather than belting them out. The highest notes, which are clearly at the very top of her range, are pretty rough too. Oh dear.
It confused me with who you are as an artist because the song doesn’t really suit you. At the end it felt like, to me, you were screaming. This was Michael Jackson’s pinnacle.
Pinnacle? Pinnacle?!? It was his nadir, more like. I’m with Pulp‘s Jarvis Cocker, who stage-crashed Jackson’s performance of this song at the 1996 Brit Awards and mooned him.
Scotty McCreery: Where Were You (When The World Stop Talking) – Alan Jackson
Song choice: 3/5. Inspirational? Or a calculated and cynical move? You decide. Scotty picks this 9/11 tribute as his inspirational song, thereby guaranteeing votes by the bucket-load. Other than its historical context, this is pretty standard, by-the-numbers country fare.
Performance: 3/5. Scotty brings out his guitar and stool again and gives us a pretty standard Scotty country performance. His vocals are spot on as usual, but it’s a solid rather than spectacular showing of a clichéd, unchallenging and uninteresting song.
I think it’s the perfect song choice. You’re ready for super-stardom, dude, and I hope you make it.
Lauren Alaina: Anyway – Martina McBride
Song choice: 4/5. Safe territory for Lauren as she opts for this slow Martina McBride number, but it’s a great fit for her voice – plenty of big notes and lifts without having the huge gymnastic jumps to the top of her range which she has so often lacked the confidence to tackle in the past. We’ve seen this song performed on Idol twice before – by the original artist herself on a season six results show, and by the eminently forgettable Kristy Lee Cook the following year.
Performance: 4/5. The arrangement is simple and faithful to the original and that works just fine. Lauren delivers both the subtle and powerful notes with ease. Her vocal control has also improved massively over the course of the season – without losing the great tone in he voice, a lot of the rough edges have been knocked off. It’s not terribly exciting, but it is very good.
You did it again. You broke my heart. That was the most beautiful thing. Your voice is so pure and perfect and right and pitch, and you so deliver a song like a blue-plate special.
Haley Reinhart: I (Who Have Nothing) – Ben E King
Song choice: 5/5. Dramatic and theatrical, this will either be a genuine ‘moment’ or a completely overblown disaster. It has been sung on Idol once before, arguably the best individual performance by season six winner Jordin Sparks (see below).
Performance: 4/5. This is a complete reversal from her first song. A simple string arrangement showcases the best aspects of Haley’s voice. It’s alternately slinky and growly, impactful and subtle, and she sells the story and emotion of the song beautifully. I’m not sure it necessarily deserves the standing ovation status it gets – it’s at least one full step down from House of the Rising Sun – but it is certainly the best individual performance of the week.
This was a classic moment with classic Haley. You just Reinharted yourself into the middle of next week. That was beautiful.
The big question, though, is where will Haley actually be in the middle of next week? I think she has taken the big risks and done enough to earn a place in the top three, but given how down the judges were on her after Earth Song I will be surprised if floating voters are strong enough to avoid being swayed away from voting for her. In real danger of going home.
Scotty McCreery: Young Blood – The Coasters
Song choice: 3/5. Scotty eschews the obvious choice of an Elvis number and plumps for a proper old fashioned rhythm and blues number from 1957. It’s an interesting, light-hearted choice which counts as positively left-field for him. The only thing is that, as songs go, it’s a bit dull.
Performance: 2/5. I’m undecided. Scotty’s fans will love this. I don’t. Yes, it’s deliberately fun and light, and it’s good to see his comic side coming out. Aand the little moment where he drops right down into his baritone is lovely. It’s also good to see him working the stage. But I just don’t buy the humour in his performance. For me, it feels like he’s just dialling it in with the minimum of effort. It certainly isn’t going to win him any new fans.
Dude, you made Gaga’s ya-ya go la-la. I love the humour.
Lauren Alaina: Trouble – Elvis Presley
Song choice: 3/5. From the film King Creole, this has previously been sung by Carrie Underwood and, memorably, Elliott Yamin (see below). Having been in last week’s bottom two and having already banked a good performance tonight, this is an important and welcome stretch outside of Lauren’s comfort zone. I’m just not entirely sure it was the best song choice in terms of fitting her happy, bubbly personality.
Performance: 3/5. Vocally this is a good, strong performance, but Lauren doesn’t really sell the ‘evil’ character of the song’s protagonist. It’s a bit like watching a young girl trying on her big sister’s clothes – it doesn’t quite fit. Haley could have carried this song off. Lauren can’t quite.
You’re singing all these bluesy kind of runs. It’s definitely kind of out of your typical pop/country kind of thing. And I actually really enjoyed it.
James Durbin: Love Potion No. 9 – The Clovers
Song choice: 4/5. Another R&B classic (this time from 1959), but one which feels tailor-made to be given the Durbin rock treatment. Elvis would have been the obvious – too obvious – choice. This is a really clever selection.
Performance: 4/5. And there you go. This rocked-up version is wrapped up in a trademark James performance. More than any of the other contestants, he has the ability to make you feel like you’re watching a live gig, and this is both an extremely strong vocal and a great way to finish the show.
That showed me that you can sing anything. You take any song and you put that James thing on it.
This is a genuinely tough week to call, with no one contestant dominating. Haley had both the weakest and the strongest performance of the night, but the latter may be enough to see her through. Lauren slid into the bottom two last week. but I think that will probably mobilise her fans even more. Scotty has lots of support, but is unlikely to have won many new fans with either of his performances. And although James has been the most consistent overall he has had, despite what the fawning judges have said, a couple of less impressive weeks at just the wrong time.
I don’t think Haley deserves to go home this week – she continues to improve and is always willing to choose risky songs – but somehow I suspect she will.
Top two: Scotty, Lauren
Bottom two: James, Haley
Going home: Haley
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
Top 9: Performances, Results
Top 8: Performances, Results
Top 7: Performances, Results
Top 6: Performances, Results
Top 5: Performances, Results
Link: American Idol website