Tonight’s theme is “Now and Then” or something like that. It’s modern songs and then songs of the ’60s or ’70s, and all five contestants are butchering and/or killing one of each. This should be interesting.
The first round is the “Now” round, and this is how they did.
James Durbin opened the show with “Closer to the Edge” by 30 Seconds to Mars. I just can’t make up my mind about this one. For one, I think it was a good choice, and an original one (I don’t know how long the song lists are for the contestants this season, but I’d like to think they have carte blanche). I also think he’s got good communion with the audience and his vocal pyrotechnics thrill them, too. And, of course, he nails the song in the wailing part. But he still misses quite a few notes on the lower register, and while I commend the song choice, I’d rather hear it as a closing number, or an encore one. Do you get what I mean? I didn’t think the number had enough energy, soul, or emotion to carry an audience for a full show.
When I read Jacob Lusk’s song choice—“No Air” by Jordin Sparks & Chris Brown—I cringed. When I saw his performance, I cringed again. Let me list what was wrong. First: The song choice sucked. It’s one thing to turn a solo into a duet, but to turn a duet into a solo is just dumb. Second: He came in full skanky diva mode, and he’s supposedly a dude. Third: It sucked. Fourth: He, again, lost control of his vocals. Fifth: It sucked. Sixth: His awkward dancing reminds me of [Mexico’s] Juan Gabriel. Also: It sucked. Need I say more?
Lauren Alaina rocked. She sang “Flat on the Floor” and left the previous guys just like that. Her vocals were spot on, her delivery amazing. Just one complaint: I wish she would make more of the stage; she barely moved and the whole performance looked energetic and static at the same time. Other than that, it was just a few steps from a true Idol Moment™, in my opinion. Good stuff indeed. She’s a keeper, that one!
Holy cow! Scotty McCreery was good as well! He sang “Gone” by Montgomery Gentry and I did feel like I was at a concert, one where they drench you in Velveeta, but hey, who am I to complain? (If one of you heard me singing, you might). The vocals were fantastic, though it seemed he was half a beat too slow for the first third of the song. He had good chemistry with the backups; he gave them their spotlight AND upstaged them. I still think he’s too cheesy and his crazy [singing] faces gives me the creeps, but for the first time in a while, Scotty was fun!
Haley Reinhart took the “Now” [part of the show] one step further and turned it into “Tomorrow.” She established a new precedent by doing an unreleased Gaga song. Yup. She sang “You and I” from the upcoming Born this Way. I loved how the judges were absolutely clueless in what to critique. And I think that worked better! She’s been hurting for a bunch of weeks because of the lukewarm feedback from them and she pulled an “in your face.” I think it was good, sexy, and fitting. The song felt like it belonged to her and vice versa. The tone was fantastic, her growl fit wherever she put it, and she looked much more comfortable on stage than she’s ever been. The whole thing worked for me. If I were American, I would have voted like crazy for her. How could someone not love her when she’s the only really bold one left after they ditched Naima? #SaveHaley. ‘Nuff said.
Now, for the second round, the “Then” performances…
James went into the overly sentimental territory (like Jacob last week) and botched it. His voice was completely flat in Harry Nilsson’s “Without You.” Thank God it didn’t go into Ken Lee territory but it was pretty close. Bummer, because I thought this guy almost had the It factor, but sadly no. He just cannot connect to an audience through his voice. He depends entirely on the theatricality and his “deep emotional connection” felt completely fake, even with his strategically placed tear-down-cheek thing. And for the first time, Steven Tyler called him on his pitch. That’s something, ain’t it?
I’ll admit I enjoyed Jacob a little better this time. After hearing him sing “Love Hurts,” one would think older songs are more his thing. He still lost control of a few notes, but even when he went for the crazy ones, he held it all together much better than he has since the semifinals. But still, I don’t like him. And while he sang so-so, his moves were like that of a child having a temper tantrum. It sort of suits the song, though, so who knows?
I have bittersweet feelings about Lauren tackling “Unchained Melody.” She does sing beautifully, has good sense of pitch and nice (not great) stage presence. And she’s growing as a performer. She managed the song well, but she missed the nice things that make it a classic. For one, she gave it a few more runs than she should, even missing the beat a few times because of it. And then, she didn’t even TRY to go high. The prettiest part of the song for me is the falsetto part (you know, the “I neeeee-hee-heed your lo-oove”), and she went the other way. Like her trying to tackle “Natural Woman” a few weeks back, she seems to lack the life experience to sing a song THAT intimate to someone, and so it felt pageantry, even artificial.
Almost the same thing happened to Scotty on his next choice. He sang “Always on My Mind” mostly on key but didn’t get the feeling and soul of it. Also, his country vibe didn’t quite fit the arrangement. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t bad by any means, but it wasn’t memorable.
OK, scratch all I’ve written so far. Haley stole the night. Again. Her “House of the Rising Sun” was AMAZING. Flawless. Even if her song choice could be nitpicked, she just had the first Idol Moment™ this season. Period. Everything about Haley’s performance was perfect. The lighting, the a capella start, the way the band entered. OMG. I’ll use my first Randy-ism and say “Haley is in it to win it!” She’s hands down the one who’s most improved, and who’s taken this contest as a platform and learning experience. And it shows. This was fantastic.