In reading the outline of the new show The Voice, there's a key phrase that stands out. "The television audience will help to decide who moves on." The operative word there is "help." It's a word that American Idol has never embraced, and it's one that's likely to knock out one great vocalist after another until only the weakest one remains as the champion. OK, so that's a bit pessimistic, but what else are we left with when the Idol who continually plays it safe and fails to impress critics is constantly seen by experts and bookies as the one most likely to win. Last year that Idol was Lee DeWyze, and his victory in Season 9 came as close as anything to putting a nail in Idol's coffin. This year, the nail driver is equally likable, but he's just as handy with a hammer. (Note: Stick with me on this one. The review of the Top 6 is just ahead...)
Yes, I'm talking about Scotty McCreery, the ever-smiling, lovable country crooner who, unlike DeWyze, hits the notes he's aiming at. Of course, that's usually because the notes are so easily within his range, and within the range of about 1 million other American singers. Just on a whim, I tried to duplicate his performance in the Top 6; my family is a bit biased, but they said that I at least did it as well as he did.
(For the record, I do sing, and I do it in more than the shower. I was a first tenor in my college chorale, and I have range of between three and four octaves. One of the reason that I love to blog Idol is that I get to vicariously live my own dreams by watching others do it in real life. Now in my early 40s, I missed out on the American Idol era by a few years. Guys like Jacob, Stefano, Casey and James, who are insanely talented and who can do things vocally that I only dream about, have my everlasting respect. Guys like Scotty who I can stick with in my sleep frustrate the hell out of me because I know that their popularity is much more about eyes, dimples and smiles than about "the voice." I'm an above-average singer, but I can't see myself as a recording artist. The same follows for other people who are similarly above-average, but not truly "elite." See my post about Rebecca Black for more confirmation about this...)
OK, so I'm not a big fan of Scotty's. It wasn't always this way. I started out liking the kid, mostly because of his character. I think that's why he got a lot of fans early on. But for me, early impressions only last when they're followed by gobs of vocal talent. I also liked James. And Lauren. And Casey. I still do. They've sung their butts off in the past eight weeks, and I have hopes for them to advance each week. Scotty is Mr. Safe when it comes to his song choices, but the judges largely are unwilling to call him on it. Even so, I'd say right now that he's the one most likely to win Season 10 of American Idol. Given the unexpected popularity of NBC's new reality talent show The Voice, another perceived weak winner on Idol will drive more than one nail in the coffin. It may drive most of them in, especially after FOX unleashes the X-Factor in the fall.
Enough of my soapbox. You probably came here mostly for a recap of the Top 6 singing the songs of Carole King. First, a few thoughts:
1) Carole King is a prolific songwriter with a bevy of well-known hits that are recognizable in the first few lines. For example:
- "Go Away Little Girl"
- "Hey Girl"
- "I Feel the Earth Move"
- "It's Too Late"
- "The Loco-motion"
- "One Fine Day"
- "Pleasant Valley Sunday"
- "So Far Away"
- "Sweet Seasons"
- "Up on the Roof"
- "Will You Love Me Tomorrow"
- "(You Make Me Feel Like a) Natural Woman"
- "You've Got a Friend"
If you're going to choose a song for the Idol audience, which if they're like many Americans don't even know who Carole King is, you might want to choose one they've had a chance of hearing before. That didn't happen with a few of tonight's Idols.
2) Enough of Randy insisting on offering criticism of Haley, even when it's clear that she's raised the bar with her performance. Tonight, after she nailed her number, Randy just had to inject the only negative steered in her direction: "I wasn't wild about the first part of the song." Great Randy. Now I see exactly who wants to get rid of all the women and have a guys' only party on the show. Careful, big guy. People might start to talk...
3) What was up with Jacob's outfit? I'm afraid to go to sleep tonight for fear of nightmares... OK, on with the reviews...
Jacob Lusk, "Oh No, Not My Baby." Let's see how many things one guy can have going against him on Idol: 1) Sing in the night's opening spot; 2) Pick a song most people have never heard; 3) Have a few pitch issues in said song; 4) Dress like a clown while singing said song; 5) Do all of those things after narrowly avoid elimination the week before. To Jacob's credit, he did uncork some fun that had been missing in the previous weeks, and he did rein in much of his craziness. Sadly, he channeled all of that into his outfit: plaid jacket, blue vest, yellow shirt and purple tie. I can only guess that he's been getting fashion tips from Paul McDonald. And regardless of how much fun he was having, the audience was spending the first minute trying to identify the song. (It was a 1964 hit for Maxine Brown that peaked at #24. You've never heard of her? Neither have most people...) Again, he sang it very well, avoided crazy emotions and had a lot of fun. But for the outfit alone, he deserves elimination. With all of the other factors involved, he guarantees it. (7/10)
Lauren Alaina, "Where You Lead." If you're keeping score, this is two straight minor hits chosen by the Idols. Carole King recorded this on her Tapestry album, but it was Barbra Streisand who actually hit the Top 40 with "Where You Lead" ... actually, she hit #40. If you've heard this song, it was probably in the opening credits of Gilmore Girls. Otherwise, you were probably trying to figure out what Lauren was singing. To her credit, he did have her best performance of the season last night, and she reached for some notes that she admitted had previously made her nervous. During the number, she even brought an audience member on stage and sang to him while sitting together on the steps. It was cute ... and distracting ... but still cute. By the end of the night, it wasn't the best but easily wasn't the worst, and it should get her through to the Top 5. (8/10)
Scotty McCreery, "You've Got a Friend." No one will accuse Scotty of picking a song no one knows. (James Taylor hit #1 with it in 1971.) In fact, no one can truly accuse him of singing a note most of America couldn't hit. Don't tell the judges, though. They were uncovering new ways of crediting Scotty of singing 1) as a tenor; 2) on the edge of his singing range; 3) perfectly. Meanwhile, I was shaking my head again at Scotty picking a song so safe that it should have come with its own life raft. If Scotty gets credit for anything, it's for not doing his crazy eyes or using the microphone as a singing flute. But his performance style is still ultra-cheesy in other ways, such as when he made the huge switch to the empassioned plea of "don't chu let'em!" in the bridge. Yes, Scotty seemed tender. And he hit every note. But that's because the range of this song is so easy that even Lee DeWyze couldn't miss the notes. Well, maybe Lee could. But it was a cop-out choice of a song, and that's what I'm expecting Scotty to do for the rest of the season -- play it safe and let his fans credit him with musical genius. Gag. (6.5/10)
James Durbin, "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow." Idol viewers in Atlanta were deprived of this performance because our FOX 5 affiliate had to interrupt James' performance with a tornado warning. That was a shame, because it was without a doubt one of the best moments of the night. (I had to catch it afterward on YouTube.) While James often struggles with pitch and has cheese issues of his own, last night, he did exactly what you hope the Idols will do with a theme night. He picked a well-known song (which was a #1 hit for the Shirelles) and turned it into a rock-pop number that allowed him to stretch out the top end of his range while still keeping some of the original flavor of the original. It was fun, it was enjoyable and it showed that James really is one of the most creative members of this year's cast. After two little-known songs and a dose of ultra-safe, this was finally a performance that I could really cheer for. (I just wish I'd seen it live!) (8.5/10)
Casey Abrams, "Hi-De-Ho." Say it ain't so, Casey. After weeks of avoiding the "Angry Idol," Casey solidly embraced his growling, angry inner-self with his performance of this Top 20 hit for Blood, Sweat and Tears. Maybe he thought the band's name required him to perform the song with each of those elements, because he kept a perpetual grimace on his face throughout the number. For performance value, it was interesting because of all of the different instruments being played on stage. But Casey's angry style prevented me from really liking the performance, even though this is a song I've always liked. (I actually had this album as a kid.) Casey's brush with elimination, as well as his subsequent re-emergence as a contender, appears to have taught him little, if anything. The tender side of him warmed fans to his style. The Angry Idol turns us off. Tonight, he'll look elimination in the eye yet again, but Jacob will be standing in his way. This time. (6.5/10)
Haley Reinhart, "Beautiful." Haley's song choice almost sounds familiar, but it isn't. "Beautiful" was included on Carole King's Tapestry album but was never released as a single. That makes Haley's choice rather foolish, because there was no instant connection. However, Haley's performance (with some wise coaching from Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds and Jimmy Iovine) made the connection quickly anyway because of the energy she infused into it. With Pia Toscano out of the way, Haley has emerged as the strongest female voice remaining, and maybe even the strongest voice. Her winning personality and infectious smile are shining in their own right. And then she sings the lights out of a song with a cool, jazzy style. Seriously, you should go buy both the live and studio versions of this on iTunes right now. Now for the bad news. America doesn't care. Haley's fan base isn't big enough to keep her out of the Bottom Three, and she is at risk for elimination again, in spite of the best performance of the night. Haley rocked the house but will be seated in the Bedpans of Doom again, while Scotty will yet again get easy safety. There's simply no justice in Idol-land. (9/10)
1) Haley Reinhart (9)
2) James Durbin (8.5)
3) Lauren Alaina (8)
4) Jacob Lusk (7)
5) Casey Abrams (6.5)
6) Scotty McCreery (6.5)
Top 6 (Odds to Win)
1. (tie) James Durbin (5/2)
1. (tie) Scotty McCreery (5/2)
3. Lauren Alaina (9/2)
4. Casey Abrams (8/1)
5. Haley Reinhart (11/1)
6. Jacob Lusk (25/2)
Top 6 (Odds to Go)
1. Jacob Lusk (5/2)
2. Haley Reinhart (7/2)
3. Casey Abrams (15/4)
4. Lauren Alaina (11/2)
5. Scotty McCreery (19/2)
7. James Durbin (15/1)
Jacob Lusk threw caution to the wind tonight with her performance and his outfit. He's the easiest inclusion in this group. Haley Reinhart gave the performance of the night, but she'll wind up here anyway. Casey Abrams and his Angry Idol act will round out the trio.
There's no Stefano or Paul to keep him safe any longer. After months of over-emoting on the Idol stage, Jacob Lusk will make his curtain call tonight.
Let me know what you think about last night's performances? Do you agree? Who was the best? Who was the worst? And who should hit the bricks in tonight's elimination show? Remember to follow this blog on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/capnpen. Also be sure to follow our Facebook group, American Idol Update.