It’s the last chance for the three remaining American Idol contestants to impress the voting audience before next week’s grand finale, and this week they have three opportunities to shine, as they each perform a song of their own choosing – guest mentored by Beyoncé Knowles – one selected by Interscope top man Jimmy Iovine and finally a judge’s choice. Oh, and they get to make the now traditional homecoming trip.
Here’s my quick review of each contestant’s trio of songs.
Despite the odd ripple of adventure – akin to choosing strawberry ice cream when you normally have vanilla – Scotty has stayed true to his roots and his undoubted strengths pretty much all the way through the competition. While this has been no bad thing for the long-time fans’ favourite, staying in his ‘lane’ and underlining his identity as an artist, it has also made for fairly dull – consistent, but still dull – fare, which I suspect has done little to win him new fans along the way.
You know exactly what you are going to get from a Scotty performance, and he usually delivers something extremely solid if rarely spectacular. Every previous Idol winner has had at least one indisputable ‘moment’. Scotty could well become the first to win with merely on the basis of good-enough consistency and an enormous fan club.
Scotty’s three performances here serve only to underline the point, as he rolls out three safe country songs – two middle-of-the-road ballads by Lonestar and (eurgh) Kenny Rogers sandwiching Thompson Square‘s more light-hearted and upbeat Are You Gonna Kiss Me Or Not.
In each case, even before he starts singing you know exactly what are you going to get, and that’s exactly what he delivers – no more, no less. There’s nothing we haven’t seen him do a dozen times before. Some of the passages in Amazed which force him into his upper register are a bit rough. (A note for fact fans: this song holds the dubious record of having spent the most consecutive weeks (22) in the UK top 40 without ever reaching the top 20.) The cheekier moments in Are You Gonna Kiss Me Or Not work nicely. And he nails She Believes In Me (chosen for him by Steven Tyler) with impressive ease. But, even allowing for the fact I hate country music, there’s nothing to make me sit up and really take notice.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s all good vocally, but nothing really scales the heights. If you like your food McDonald’s-style, then Scotty is the perfect artist. If, however, you want a versatile singer who can surprise and delight you, look elsewhere.
You’re picking smart songs, you’re knowing who you are and what your lane is.
Amazed – Song choice: 3/5, Performance: 3/5, Score: 6/10
Are You Gonna Kiss Me Or Not – Song choice: 3/5, Performance: 3/5, Score: 6/10
She Believes In Me – Song choice: 3/5, Performance: 3/5, Score: 6/10
Ever since we started the live stages, I have been predicting a Scotty/Lauren finale
hoe-down showdown. Despite the odd wobble and a transparent lack of confidence when it comes to the big notes, the 16-year old has performed consistently throughout. She has come close to having a ‘moment’ on a few occasions – most notably Candle In The Wind and Flat On the Floor – but too often she has looked and sounded exactly what she is, a teenager who is perhaps a year or two away from being truly ready to conquer the hard-nosed music business.
Lauren opens up with Faith Hill‘s Wild One (originally recorded by Zaca Creek). This should have been a perfect choice for her – a fun pop/country number which allows her to express her bubbly personality, but her performance feels restrained and flat, as if she is reluctant to really let rip for fear of losing control over her voice. It’s the same with Iovine’s selection of The Band Perry‘s If I Die Young. There are hints of the distinctive rough edges and catches in her voice which made her such an interesting prospect to begin with, but not enough to really sell the song’s poignant lyrics. Her last song is J-Lo‘s choice of the Lee Ann Womack ballad I Hope You Dance. Without too much emotional range to concern her, here she tackles an interesting arrangement well and sounds at her most convincing as a bona fide country artist. It’s easily her best performance of the night, but it’s still merely good rather than outstanding.
You have the most beautiful tone of our finalists. It is a magical, magical thing you possess that comes so naturally to you.
Wild One – Song choice: 4/5, Performance: 2/5, Score: 6/10
If I Die Young – Song choice: 3/5, Performance: 3/5, Score: 6/10
I Hope You Dance – Song choice: 3/5, Performance: 4/5, Score: 7/10
Haley has certainly had the most rollercoaster journey of our final three, having featured in the bottom three in each of the first two weeks and frequently had the roughest ride from both the judges and Jimmy Iovine. Sometimes the criticism has been merited, but at others times she has been used as a convenient punching bag by the judges who have been all too reluctant to criticise their pet favourites (Scotty, Jacob Lusk and Stefano Langone, for starters). Nonetheless, Haley is in the top three on merit, having improved steadily throughout the competition and producing two genuine ‘moments’ in the last two weeks with House of the Rising Sun and I (Who Have Nothing).
In those two previous weeks, Haley started poorly and came on strong at the end. This week the reverse is true. Her own choice of taking on Led Zeppelin‘s What Is And What Should Never Be is risky, but she grabs the song by the scruff of the neck and gives it a smoky, sultry twist that works well. She even has her father on stage playing guitar and survives a big stumble mid-song as she trips on a step. Jimmy Iovine chooses Fleetwood Mac‘s Rhiannon, a nice little soft rock classic that starts and finishes well, but drifts aimlessly in the middle. Solid but not great.
To close out the show, however, Randy Jackson throws her an absolute hospital pass with the Alanis Morissette classic You Oughta Know. This pretty much ticks every box on the list of bad reasons to pick a song. Iconic track? Check. Iconic vocal performance? Check. Not a ‘proper’ singer’s song? Check. Impossible to sing live in the nothing-like-a-real-gig environment of the Idol stage? Check. Sure enough, this is terrible. Haley has to contend with a chopped-up arrangement and altered family-friendly lyrics which jar horribly to the ears of anyone who knows the song. And although she actually does a pretty fine job with the chorus, bringing her trademark growl into play, the rest of it is a God-forsaken mess. She loses the timing in the fast section of the first verse, and some of the notes are clearly at the ragged edge of her range.
You’re fearless. You chose a song that’s not for the weak of heart.
A shame he couldn’t select a decent song for her in return. Either Randy really did make a duff choice with You Oughta Know, or this was a deliberate attempt to scupper her already slim chances.
What Is And What Should Never Be – Song choice: 4/5, Performance: 4/5, Score: 8/10
Rhiannon – Song choice: 4/5, Performance: 3/5, Score: 7/10
You Oughta Know – Song choice: 1/5, Performance: 2/5, Score: 3/10
This was a hugely disappointing week overall, with far too many safe song choices and merely so-so performances. Only Haley strayed outside of the mediocre, in both a good (Led Zeppelin) and bad (Alanis Morissette) way. A big part of the reason for her continued progress in the competition has been her willingness to take on and (mostly) succeed with risky song choices, and in reality she needed to hit another home run this week to make it through to the final. Unfortunately, after a couple of solid base hits to open up with, when faced with a horrible challenge in the bottom of the ninth, she struck out. I will be amazed if she doesn’t go home tonight, which would mean the tedium of an all-country showdown next week. Please let me be wrong.
In the final: Scotty, Lauren
Going home: Haley
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Link: American Idol website