I'll admit that I'm still more than a little hacked about the way-too-early elimination of Pia Toscano last week. But Pia's exit aside, I was still hoping for a strong night of "Songs from the Movies" from the Top 8 on American Idol 10. It didn't happen. From the very opening number it was clear that a season that started with great promise is starting to unravel, in part because of the foolishness of the Idols in choosing their songs, and in part because of the complete unwillingness of the judges to offer any real criticism. So tonight, I'm going to start doing what they won't do. I'm going to pick apart these performances so that you'll have at least one opinion that is something more than sunshine, lollipops and roses.
I did a quick comparison earlier this week, pitting the judges' opinions against the consensus put forward over at WhatNottoSing.com. Basically, out of 24 male performances in the Top 12, the judges overpraised the guys 12 times, or 50 percent. Meanwhile, they overpraised the women just five out of 19 times, and underpraised one lady one time. So this expert crew of judges is overpraising these Idols 40 percent of the time. That's like a baseball umpire getting two out of every five pitches wrong. Oops, Mr. Pitcher, sorry, but I'm seeing every pitch as a ball today.
How are the "uneducated" at home ever going to know who's really doing well if the supposed experts won't do their jobs? (Actually, I think the viewers have a better feel for how the Idols are singing than the judges do.) Since they won't do theirs, I'll pick up the slack starting tonight. I've really tried to be honest in the past, but I probably tend to be a little easier because I don't want to go overboard. No more. If someone sucks, they suck. And tonight, there was plenty of sucking to go around.
Paul McDonald: "Old Time Rock and Roll" from Risky Business. I've been saying that for Paul to have any chances of winning that he needs to dial back the crazy, show us a more sensitive side and especially focus on solid vocals. To heck with that. Paul's throwing caution to the wind with cranked up crazy, including a new black suit with rose embroidering. Focus on solid vocals? Why, when you can just dance around the stage like a parrot on crack. It's doubtful that Paul hit every note in even one phrase. Even his enunciation was creative. While Bob Seger actually managed to say "floor" and "door," Paul turned them into true rhymes with "disco" by saying "flo" and "do" (with the long "o"). Additional "nice touches" were the manic tambourine banging and the 10-second span when he stopped singing to allow a sax player to have a solo. Yes, Paul's original on Idol because he really doesn't seem to care about how much he sucks. As long as the judges say he's wonderful (and they did again tonight), he'll keep playing this same act and hoping it buys him another week. (5/10)
Lauren Alaina: "The Climb" from Hannah Montana: The Movie. I'm really sick of this song. No, it's never been done on Idol, but it's been done in practically every middle school talent show on the planet. I played the first few bars of this performance for my 12-year-old daughter and she said, "Please don't tell me that she's singing 'The Climb.'" Lauren may think that she's playing right to her voting base, but most people over the age of 10 have learned to hate all things Hannah Montana. Now, as for her vocals, yes, she's a stronger singer than Miley Cyrus is. Most people are. Miley is mostly marketing, so let's not think that comparison makes this a special performance. Frankly, this was very good karaoke, especially because all Lauren did was stand centerstage and sing the number with a few hand gestures and a point skyward at the end, complete with a very flat note. The vocals weren't awful, the stage performance was lackluster and the song choice was the pits. (6.5/10)
Stefano Langone: "End of the Road" from Boomerang. Before we even get to the vocals or performance, Stefano deserves to get the boot for choosing a song called "End of the Road." Seriously, how stupid can one person be. Songs with titles that give suggestions like "Goodbye," "Farewell" or "End of the Freakin' Road" are taboo. That said, the kid has serious vocal chops, though he was dressed more like he was going out to the Quik Stop for a six pack than for a performance on the Idol stage. If vocals have anything to do with this show (and Pia's boot prove that's not the case), then Stefano should be a contender. He worked this very emotional, romantic number to the extreme, so much so that J-Lo concluded her remarks with, "That was the sh*t." It was indeed, but his choice of an ill-named song (at least for Idol) keeps him from the highest marks. (8/10)
Scotty McCreery: "I Cross My Heart" from Pure Country. Scotty was originally going to sing Harry Nilsson's "Everybody's Talking" but changed to this George Strait classic. It was a good move in theory, but instead of "Pure Country," it was really "Pure Karaoke." Scotty is very good, but has anyone compared his performances to the originals? The boy seems like a good kid, but he's far from original. He's a very good cover artist, and I have real questions that he'll be able to be successful with original material. I'd much rather have heard him do a country version of the Nilsson song, or to take a country song like this and put a unique twist on it. This was just standard country karaoke fare, and whenever Scotty tried to put something of himself into it, the notes went dreadfully awry. Was it bad? No. But it also wasn't more than passable. Will Scotty be safe? Absolutely. Will he do it by being unique? Absolutely not. (7/10)
Casey Abrams: "Nature Boy" from The Boy With Green Hair. I still maintain that Casey should have chosen "As Time Goes By." Instead he opted for the little-known "Nature Boy" from the even more little-known The Boy With Green Hair. The jazzy style is exactly what suits Casey, and it put him on his upright bass, which is where he seems most at home. The coolest addition, and the most unique, was his scat during the interlude. Vocally, Casey hit virtually every note, and he did it in very difficult jazz progressions. It wasn't a vocal master class, but it was absolutely the best of the night. I doubt that Casey will ever be a platinum-selling artist, but he is certainly interesting, and more than deserves consideration as a front-runner. The biggest drawback was the choice of an unknown song. (8.5/10)
Haley Reinhart: "Call Me" from American Gigolo. Leave it to the judges to hammer the most unique remaining female in the cast. Paul gives a crap concert and gets praise. Scotty does good karaoke, but karaoke nonetheless, but gets praise. Haley does a strong version of a very tough Blondie number, and all she gets is slammed by the judges for being too karaoke. Two remaining females, and the judges can't find it within themselves to give credit where credit is due. (Hey J-Lo, if you don't want to say something bad about one of the girls, then why did you say that you agreed with Randy and his criticism?! You might be the "Most Beautiful Woman in the World," but you really aren't the brightest, are you?) What about this was worse than what Paul, Scotty or Lauren did? Haley looked great in her miniskirt and boots, she slammed every note and soared on the top end of her range. At points it was a little manic, but it was solid fun. While it wasn't Haley's best performance, it was still in the top half of the night, and it's certainly good enough to earn her a spot in the Top 7. How about we start voting off the judges? (7.5/10)
Jacob Lusk: "Bridge Over Troubled Water" from The Pursuit of Happyness. Jacob proved to me this week that he needs to go by simply revealing his two initial song choices: "The Impossible Dream" and "You'll Never Walk Alone." We're really never going to get the fun side of Jacob, so why even bother hoping for it. I'm guessing that if he ever releases a CD, it's going to come with a pack of razor blades and a warm bath. Jacob has a soaring voice and a penchant for being over-emotional. Jimmy Iovine was absolutely correct in steering Jacob away from those choices, but why not to a cool or fun song? I had suggested "Ain't Too Proud to Beg." Jimmy figured another emotion-fest was better, so Jacob did "Bridge Over Troubled Water," which guaranteed a host of anguished, pained expressions. One interesting thought: In seven weeks, Jacob has now sung five slow-paced songs. No mention from the judges about him being stuck in a rut, though. Why not? I guess criticisms from them are reserved for the fairer sex. Yes, Jacob nailed the vocals. But I'm tired of the dreary and ready for him to show that he's not going to depress me with his CD. Good, but far from great. (7/10)
James Durbin: "Heavy Metal" from Heavy Metal. Like Casey, James chose a song that fits with his style, but it's something that most people simply don't know. Why not "Bohemian Rhapsody," which is known by everyone, and something that will make an instant connection? Frankly, James is starting to show some signs that he'll be difficult to work with, because he's willing to tell a producer like Jimmy Iovine that he's wrong. James certainly has range, but for several weeks now he's showing that he won't be hitting too many of the notes, including his finishing note tonight. I also found it interesting that a large chuck of the song was taken up by a guitar solo that proves nothing to me about the kind of performer James is. Yes, this was entertaining, but it was so much less than what it could have been. James indulged himself by singing something that he wanted, but that America will mostly not be receptive to. After tonight, James will definitely take a step back while Scotty will take the commanding lead as the odds-on favorite. (7/10)
1) Casey Abrams (8.5)
2) Stefano Langone (8)
3) Haley Reinhart (7.5)
4) Scotty McCreery (7)
5) Jacob Lusk (7)
6) James Durbin (7)
7) Lauren Alaina (6.5)
9) Paul McDonald (5)
Because he led off the night, and because he gave the worst performance, Paul McDonald will almost certainly fill one of the three bottom slots. The judges' slams on Haley Reinhart should ensure that she revisits the Bedpans of Doom. And the third spot will likely be filled by Stefano Langone, in spite of his strong vocals, but perhaps because he dared America to forget about him with "End of the Road."
While I want to believe that Paul will be getting the boot, I tend to think that America keeps its misogynist streak intact and votes Haley Reinhart off the island. She doesn't deserve to go yet, but neither did Pia Toscano. Maybe these two can console each other by outselling the people who outlasting them on the show.
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.