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Sunday, April 03, 2011

What the Idols Should Sing in Rock Hall of Fame Week

This week, Idol revisits a theme that it has only touched once before -- the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which was the inspiration for Season 7's Final Four. In that season, each Idol sang two songs supposedly from the catalogs of artists in the Hall (though eventual winner sang "Hungry Like the Wolf," a song from Duran Duran, which is not in the RHOF.) What we now know is that the songs are from the Hall's "Songs that Influenced Rock and Roll" exhibit. (Yes, "Hungry" is in that list.) The "Influence" list expands things a bit, and it changes some of our original selections. Today, we offer you an updated set of suggestions for the Top 9 of American Idol 10 from a theme broad enough to drive a truck minivan through.

First things first. With more than 170 inductees, the RHOF has so many choices that it's virtually impossible to predict exactly what each singer will do (aside from Pia Toscano, who seemed to spoil her song choice in last week's performance show). My choices take into account a few things:
  1. What artists have influenced the Idols?
  2. What artists reflect the styles closest to the Idols?
  3. What songs give the Idols the best chance to shine?

The RHOF is itself a curiosity. It includes the likes of 2011 inductee Darlene Love, whose greatest contribution to music seems to be "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)." Yet it doesn't include rock legends like Journey, KISS, Rush, Toto, Deep Purple or REO Speedwagon. It would be easy to turn this entry into a diatribe about the failings of the so-called Rock-and-Roll Hall of Fame, but I'll stay focused with the task at hand.

At this point, the Idols really need to "stay in their lanes." Regardless of encouragement they may get to change things up to do something really different, they need to stay within the style that reflects the artist they hope to become down the road. So while Casey could do a version of Little Willie John's "Fever," or Lauren could be cute with the Ronettes' "Be My Baby," I've chosen numbers by artists that would place the remaining nine in the most positive light possible.

Keeping the above in mind, here's what I would select for the Top 9 Idols (with links to associated videos highlighted):

Casey Abrams: James Taylor's "Fire and Rain." Casey lists James Taylor as one of his influences, and this number, never before performed on Idol, would give Casey the chance to build on his momentum. When performed in concert, this song is always a very cool moment for Taylor, complete with a cello accompanying his acoustic guitar. Casey's tender side floored the crowd last week. Before returning to a more upbeat tone, he should probably hit that tone once more to remind old and new fans that his angry side is a thing of the past.

Haley Reinhart: Janis Joplin's "Piece of My Heart."  The last time an Idol did this song in the finals was Nikki McKibben in Season 1, so there's little comparison to be made here. Haley has the type of voice that would sound perfect on this number, particularly if she did a cross between the Joplin original and this pre-Idol performance of "Piece of My Heart" by last season's runner-up, Crystal Bowersox. With an understated feel and some strong vocals, this could move Haley further away from the Bottom Three and further toward the lead pack.

Jacob Lusk: Al Green's "Let's Stay Together." The last time anyone attempted this number was in the Top 20 of Season 4. You remember Joseph Murena don't you? Neither does anyone else. This night club act on the Idol stage is why. Jacob needs to get away from the over-emotional ballads and bring the tempo up, but he needs to keep the passion in the center of his performance. This Al Green number, if done right (like Al did it in his prime), would give Jacob the chance to stretch out his vocals which bringing a bluesy tone to the stage that hasn't been seen much this season.

James Durbin: Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody." I keep thinking that this song has worn out its welcome on Idol, but it's only been done twice. The first was by Constantine Maroulis' strong version. The second and last was Kellie Pickler. Don't click this link to watch it unless you want to revisit the definition of "suck." James is considerably more talented than either one, and one of his listed influences is Freddy Mercury. What better way to prove that you belong among the elite than to take on the number of all numbers.

Lauren Alaina: Aretha Franklin's "Until You Come Back to Me." Dionne Warwick's "Walk on By." There aren't a wealth of female inductees to chose from in the RHOF, and I really liked Aretha's "Until You Come Back to Me" as a song that could have elevated Lauren back into favorite contention. That was a song that even made Season 3's Camile Velasco sound her best. Some have suggested Patsy Cline's "I Fall to Pieces" as an option, and it's a good one. But I prefer "Walk on By" because of the potential as a vocal powerhouse number. Kelly Clarkson sang it in Season 1 with solid results. There's no doubt that Lauren could handle it equally well.

Paul McDonald: Tom Petty's "I Won't Back Down." Tom Petty's "American Girl." Paul finds himself entering RHOF week with his back to the elimination wall. His best bet is to pick up the tempo a bit, keep the guitar in his hands and play to his voice's strengths and weaknesses. No one has ever done a Tom Petty song on Idol before, and Paul's voice wouldn't suffer in comparison to the Petty original. In fact, Paul's raspy quality would remind fans that there have been a lot of artists like Petty and Bob Dylan who haven't been in love with perfect pitch and have yet had very successful careers.

Pia Toscano: Tina Turner's "River Deep, Mountain High." Given that judges and commentators have virtually demanded something other than a ballad from Pia, this selection would make perfect sense. So would the fact that Pia mentioned it during last week's performance show (at the very end of this clip). She could stick to something like the Tina Turner original, this cover by the cast of "Glee," or the version popularized by Celine Dion. (Which one do we really think Pia will pay tribute to?) The only wrinkle that we could get here is a song switch by producers who may not be thrilled with Pia's heads-up. But if she does indeed tackle "River Deep," there's no doubt Pia will swing for the fences and belt another home run.

Scotty McCreery: Elvis Presley's "Don't Be Cruel." Hank Williams' "Lovesick Blues." Elvis might have been too easy and obvious of a choice, due in large part to Scotty's early influence by the King and his childhood impersonations of him. But "Don't Be Cruel" was a song that he might have done without cartoonish effect, and it would have been a crowd pleaser. None of the Hall's list of Elvis songs are wise for Scott, and I can't see Scotty singing Johnny Cash's "I Walk the Line," so Hank Williams is the next best choice. "Lovesick Blues" has been done in a number of ways by folks like Alan Jackson, LeAnn Rimes, Frank Ifield and Linda Ronstadt (who did it as a groovy 70s cover, complete with cool, swingin' dancers). The yodel might be tricky, but Ronstadt proved it's not necessary. No doubt Scotty could use this song's canvas to paint his own original vocal portrait.

Stefano Langone: Stevie Wonder's "All I Do." Stevie Wonder's "Uptight (Everything's Alright)." Of all of the songs suggestions I had to change, this one was the most frustrating. Had Stefano been able to sing "All I Do," it really had the potential of being one of his best moments on Idol. Still, Stefano's only listed musical influence is Stevie Wonder, and he already performed "Lately" in the Top 13 as an upbeat disco number. That was a mistake. Now facing odds that he'll land in the Bottom Three again soon, Stefano probably needs to stay upbeat with a song by an artist that inspires him. If Stefano can capture the energy of a performance by Stevie, he might stave off the elimination woes for another week. (Fortunately for him, this song is solid enough that even a group of extremely white Australian guys pulled off a cover of it.)

What do you think? Let me know if you agree with this choices, or if you'd chose something different. Please remember to follow me on Twitter and on Facebook.

Also, please check back on Tuesday when we will have updated pre-show odds. Also be with us again  Wednesday night at 8 p.m. when we will have another live blog of the performance show!

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