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Thursday, April 07, 2011

American Idol: Solid Rock and Roll Hall night sets up first male elimination

In the first four eliminations of American Idol 10, we've seen more than half of the ladies exit stage left. Each of them had their quirks that seemed to rub the viewing public's collective nerves. First came Ashthon Jones and her wild hair. Then Karen Rodriguez and her bilingual lyrics. Then the double dip of Naima Adedapo (too reggae) and Thia Megia (too young and naive). That has left us with all six men and just three ladies. Now in week five, something is ready to give.

After a night that celebrated the Rock and Rock Hall of Fame, the five favorites are clearly still entrenched and aren't going anywhere. That just leaves the four Idols sitting on the bubble who will be hoping and praying for another week on the big stage. Instead of giving you two articles (one review and one odds) this week, I'll combine the two to save time and space. (And because my family is waiting on me to get home for some fun plans later today! Later this weekend, we'll be watching the Florida Gators at their annual Orange and Blue Debut. I'm sure I'll see you all there!)

Here is this week's show recap, followed by updated odds for winning and elimination:

Jacob Lusk, Michael Jackson's "Man in the Mirror." Before he even sang a note, Jacob ensured his place in the Bottom Three by declaring that if he ended up there it wouldn't be because of his performance but because people watching weren't willing to look at themselves in the mirror. Nice, Jacob. Jab potential voters in the eye before you sing. Maybe you could give us paper cuts later and pour salt in the wounds. Jacob's initial selection of "Let's Get It On" was a better direction, though I understood his objection to singing about "doing the nasty." I would have preferred hearing him on Al Green's "Let's Stay Together" because of it's sultry romantic tones. Jacob went with the message song, and it was OK, but I really don't get how it was designed to motivate us to make a change in ourselves, other than changing the channel until the next performer. Again, it was OK, but not amazing. And certainly not enough to overcome singing in the dreaded opening slot. Right out of the box, Jacob is guaranteed a slot in the Bottom Three and is my pick for tonight's elimination. 


Haley Reinhart, Janis Joplin's "Piece of My Heart." This year's resident comeback kid has been making a lot of good choices lately. Following up late week's powerhouse turn on "Bennie and the Jets," Haley made the perfect selection of "Piece of My Heart" this week (and I and a lot of other writers had suggested). It was really the only good choice she could make. Unlike a couple of the others who had great choices in front of them that they passed on, Haley embraced her inner Janis and put together a great rendition of a song that is very familiar. Each week she seems to look more like a star, and now she's singing like she doesn't just want to hang on, but actually wants to win. (Unfortunately, the second performance spot has as bad of a track record as the opening spot, so Haley could still wind up in the Bottom Three). This might not have been the best performance of the week, but it was close. (8.5/10)

Casey Abrams, CCR's "Have You Ever Seen the Rain." No longer playing the part of the Angry Idol, Casey now seems to be content to reveal a softer side. I had preferred a little James Taylor for Casey, but he went with a semi-upbeat Creedence Clearwater Revival number that he broke down to a jazzier feel, complete with his performance on the upright bass. Vocally, it wasn't perfect, but like Haley, Casey has such passion in his singing that a few slightly wandering notes are easy to forgive. It's hard to imagine that this guy would ever sell a platinum album or sell out an arena, but he could easily become a solid name in the jazz world, and he'd be a lot of fun to watch in person. It's extremely doubtful that he'll be going anywhere after this week. (8/10)

Lauren Alaina, Aretha Franklin's"Natural Woman." Here was the first big mistake of the night. Lauren didn't have a ton of great options, but she could have picked a song that didn't require a vocal powerhouse, and one that didn't draw strong comparisons to the likes of Kelly Clarkson, who destroyed this number in Season 1. Instead of coming out like the next Kelly or Carrie, Lauren came out like too many before who just do "OK." If this had been talent night at Lauren's school or open mike night at a nearby pub, this would have been top-shelf. But for American Idol, it was average fare. It would be like going to Kevin Rathbun Steak here in Atlanta for a filet mignon and instead getting top sirloin. It might be a decent meal, but not in this venue. This is the point in the competition where Lauren needs to step up and show us her inner diva. Right now, I'm still just seeing an overwhelmed teenager. (7/10)

James Durbin, The Beatles' "While My Guitar Gently Weeps." Once again, one of the Idols takes a big backswing ... and whiffs. Tonight was a chance for James to show us how he can do with an all-time classic rock tune like "Bohemian Rhapsody." The list the Idols got was packed with tons of huge numbers that would have showcased James. Instead, he opted for a favorite number that was "nice" but ultimately forgettable. It's understandable that James really wanted to sing this song because it's one of his favorites, but this is now the appropriate time to bring out one of Simon Cowell's favorite words: indulgent. Just because James likes the song doesn't mean it's something that was best for this moment. Beyond the choice, the performance was also lacking in comparison with some of James' previous performances. The notes weren't there even more than normal, and his signature high note in the final seconds was as out of place as putting parsley on a bowl of ice cream. Was it passable? Yes. Was it what we have come to expect from James? Not even close. (7/10)

Scotty McCreery, Elvis Presley's "That's All Right Mama." It was pretty easy to predict that Scotty would perform an Elvis tune (though I thought he should steer clear and do Hank Williams' "Lovesick Blues"). Of all the Elvis songs on the list, however, this was the one that had the least potential for Scotty's Elvis impersonation to come forth. Instead of Elvis, we definitely got Scotty, who unfortunately seemed to learn some of his moves from Paul McDonald. Vocally, Scotty sounds great and undoubtedly will sell scores of CDs to admiring fans. But in concert, Scotty would get old very quickly. Someone desperately needs to get this boy a performance coach or else we'll be stuck with endless two-fisted moves with the microphone and George Bush-like sideways smirks. I like Scotty, but the cheese factor is building. It's time for him to become less cartoon and more performer. (7.5/10)

Pia Toscano, Tina Turner's "River Deep, Mountain High." Pia dropped the hint on this number last week in her post-performance interview, and fortunately still got to perform it. Finally, we get Pia in an upbeat mode (though this was not really Tina Turner's version, but the one made famous by Celine Dion). Even when channeling Celine, Pia makes performing on the Idol stage seem effortless. Watching her sing is like watching other people shop. But instead of pulling items off of a shelf, Pia is just reaching up and plucking whatever note she wants to sing. One improvement for Pia was another week without the mike stand. The judges critique of her performance skills is fair, but it's also fair to note that most of these Idols aren't performing like they own the stage. Perhaps it's just because her voice is so professional that we expect every other aspect of her craft to be up to the same standard. If that's the case, then perhaps we should flog whoever sent her out with what looked like a Dalmatian tie-dye jumper. The look was off, but the vocals were 100 percent on. (9/10)

Stefano Langone, Percy Sledge's "When a Man Loves a Woman." In this one case, I'll give an Idol a pass on a bad song choice because it kind of worked. Stefano had the chance to do something by his only listed influence, Stevie Wonder. Instead, he chose the impassioned Percy Sledge classic that requires immense vocal power. Fortunately for Stefano, he has that in great supply. What he usually doesn't have is a lot of emotion, but last night he summoned what has never been there and delivered what was probably his best moment of the season. He also did it singing in the eighth slot, which has been given the boot only once in Week 5 in the show's history. Stefano might end up back in the Bottom Three, but it won't be because he didn't do an admirable job with everything on the line. (8/10)

Paul McDonald, Johnny Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues." In all honesty, this might have been a very appropriate song choice for Paul. because at this point I'd like to have him arrested for impersonating a performer on the Idol stage. Then he could sing the blues. Until then, scores of viewers will be singing their own blues each time Paul appears. OK, so that sounds mean. But do you really love listening to the guy? The "train a comin'" was headed for a wreck, because even though this might have been fun, it resembled nothing even close to a strong vocal performance. The range for most of the song consists of about five notes, none of them in a challenging range. And for about 20 seconds Paul didn't even sing anything as he ceded the stage to a guitarist doing a cool solo. Paul's only verbalizations during that time amounted to "come on ya'll." (And that's in addition to his weekly "what's up" shout out that has become like an annoying rash.) Going last will undoubtedly unless Idol fans finally decide to do what they've never done and boot the final performer (in weeks 4 to 6). This sucked, but what sucks more is that he'll be back next week. (6/10)

Tonight's Rankings
1) Pia Toscano (9)
2) Haley Reinhart (8.5)

3) Casey Abrams (8)
4) Stefano Langone (8)
5) Scotty McCreery (7.5)

6) Lauren Alaina (7)
7) James Durbin (7)
8) Jacob Lusk (7)

9) Paul McDonald (6)

Top 9 (Odds to Win)
1. Pia Toscano (7/2)
2. James Durbin (5/1)
3. Scotty McCreery (11/2)
4. Lauren Alaina (27/4)
5. Casey Abrams (9/1)
6. Jacob Lusk (12/1)
7. Haley Reinhart (17/1)
8. Stefano Langone (20/1)
9. Paul McDonald (21/1)

Top 9 (Odds to Go)
1. Paul McDonald (17/4)
2. Stefano Langone (19/4)
3. Haley Reinhart (6/1)
4. Jacob Lusk (25/4)
5. Casey Abrams (33/4)
6. Lauren Alaina (12/1)
7. James Durbin (27/2)
8. Scotty McCreery (14/1)
9. Pia Toscano (41/2)

Bottom Three:
In spite of his favored performance slot and the judges' shameless pimping of him, Paul McDonald's  sorry performance will land him squarely in the Bottom Three again. Haley Reinhart's performance was strong, but singing second will relegate her to the Bottom Three as well. Opening performer (and guilt-tripper) Jacob Lusk will round out the Bottom Three.

Justice would dictate that Paul take his rose-patch suit and head back for Nashville. But history won't be made tonight. Instead, the opening slot will claim yet another victim and Jacob Lusk will head home to look himself in the mirror and wonder if he might think twice before something stupid on camera again.

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 Also be sure to follow our Facebook group, American Idol Update.

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