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Thursday, May 05, 2011

American Idol Top 5: Haley rules; Jacob, judges fall flat

This review is a little late, and it's going to be a bit abbreviated. But frankly, a lot of my interest in American Idol is waning, and I'm hearing that from a lot of my friends and family, too. After a promising start of the post-Simon Cowell era, Idol has managed to kill a lot of the good will that fans have had toward the show. I've promised myself and my readers that I'll stick with it until the end of Season 10, but after that I'm not so sure. By next year, there will be other options and perhaps different loyalties for many fans. But for now, we have the Top 5 on Idol that will tonight be reduced to a Final Four. Last night's show had some high and low moments, but if you listened only to the judges, you'd get a different perspective than the one I'm about to present

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...)

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...

James Durbin
Now: "Closer to the Edge," by 30 Seconds to Mars.
Then: "Without You," by Badfinger.
First things first: James is without a doubt the season's best performer. Note the emphasis on "performer" with no mention of "singer." James can reach notes most people only dream about, and he does a great job of energizing a crowd. But too often, the actual notes he's aiming for aren't the ones he actually hits. Such was the case in both songs tonight (and much moreso in "Without You"). Unfortunately, the judges got caught up so much in the performance that they decided that the vocals weren't all that important. Most of James' so-called critiques focused on things other than singing, including "risk-taking" and "emotion." (Somehow that "risk" element was lost on a later contestant. More on that...) "Closer to the Edge" is a little-known song that found James spending most of his time high-fiving the crowd. It was fun, but not really great. In "Without You," James was completely overwhelmed by his emotions and his resulting vocals were a train wreck. The judges told us that fans would be captivated by his vulnerability. Uh, really? Horribly off-pitch singing is never captivating, no matter how sweet the moment is. Yes, James is at the top of this year's heap, and it really is his show to lose. Mark it down, he'll be in the finale. But he's not even close to this year's best singer. (7.5/10; 6.5/10)

Jacob Lusk
Now: "No Air" by Jordin Sparks and Chris Brown
Then: "Love Hurts" by the Everly Brothers
More Kool Aid from the judges. If Jacob is telling us what kind of artist he'd like to be, I suppose he's telling us that he aspires to be an off-pitch version of Jordin Sparks. Even the backup vocals in this number were cringe-worthy. Yet instead of calling it the mess that it truly was, Randy responded with tempered comparisons to Chris Brown and Usher. Wow, who saw that one coming? For his follow-up, Jacob gave us the Everly Brothers' "Love Hurts." (The Everly Brothers? Really? Yes, the duo recorded this in 1960, 15 years before Nazareth got their hands on it.) This one started out much more enjoyably until Jacob felt the need to take it away from sensitive and into raw emotion and pain. Jacob summed it up for us with a stream of "It hurts, it hurts, it hurts." Yes, Jacob, it does. Tonight, I think we'll find out that the audience largely agrees, even if the judges don't. (6.5/10; 7/10)

Lauren Alaina
Now: "Flat on the Floor" by Carrie Underwood
Then: "Unchained Melody" by the Righteous Brothers
Lauren wins the award for "most adorable," but she's really lacking in what it takes to truly be an American Idol. This girl really just doesn't take risks, which might be why she and Scotty do so well on duets. (More about him next...) Lauren's vibe is definitely country, so "Flat on the Floor" was a solid choice, even if it was an album-only cut from Carrie's Carnival Ride CD. Lauren did an admirable job with it, and it was entertaining, but not to the level that you'd phone your friends to tell them what an amazing singer she was. On "Unchained Melody" she had a real chance to impress, and for much of the song I found myself thinking that she never looked prettier. But toward the end, I was extremely disappointed when she took the literal low road and copped out on the glory note in the phrase "I need your love." I needed that note to let me know that Lauren was really "in it to win it." (Seriously, if I hear Randy say that again, I may have to stab something in the eye with a fork.) Lauren's too afraid to win it, and the sad thing is, she doesn't have to be. (7.5/10; 8/10)

Scotty McCreery

Now: "Gone" by Montgomery Gentry

Then: "Always on My Mind" by Brenda Lee

For the first time in a long time, Scotty gave usa glimpse of someone who might really have more than a one-album career in his post-Idol life. His performance of "Gone" was a very enjoyable and fun jaunt with an upbeat tune that had more than a one-octave range. The only thing that could have made it more viewable is if this kid could get the "creepy" out of his eye expressions. Sadly, he followed that with the Elvis Presley version of "Always on My Mind," taking his act back to his comfort-zone of six or seven notes, which the judges almost killed themselves to applaud. It wasn't bad, but it was virtually lifeless and devoid of the actual emotion that the lyrics demand, and that might escape a 16-year-old like Scotty: "And maybe I didn't hold you/ All those lonely, lonely times/ And I guess I never told you/ I'm so happy that you're mine." I'm guessing that Scotty's fans are too ravenous in their desire to promote him that such nuances won't matter much. (8.5/10; 7.5/10)

Haley Reinhart
Now: "You and I" by Lady Gaga
Then: "House of the Rising Sun" by the Animals
If ever there's been evidence of conspiracy theory on American Idol, it was last night when J-Lo and Randy tore into Haley for her performance of Lady Gaga's "You and I." After giving rave reviews for fun and off-pitch from James and painful and off-pitch from Jacob, these two cracked on Haley for taking too much of a risk with an unknown song. Wait, didn't they applaud James for taking a risk with his 30 Seconds to Mars number? Did they slam Lauren for doing a Carrie Underwood album-only cut? Oh, I guess those sorts of critiques are only reserved for the "girl we meant to get rid of weeks ago." For those of you who tend to believe the judges, this time only Steven got it right. Haley gave a lights-out performance of a song that she could have originated. Like James, she nailed the performance angle, starting in a sultry, lounging position and finishing by working the crowd at center stage. But better than James or any other, she nailed the vocals by hitting every note and putting her own touches on it. But it was only the second-best moment of the night ... upstaged only by her performance of "House of the Rising Sun." Truthfully, I thought this was a bad choice. I'd have paid money to hear her sing something like "One Less Bell to Answer." I was wrong. This number was the best of this season, and would rank among the best in almost any season. Starting acapella with smoke rising around her, Haley worked every note with highs, lows and perfect expression. It was an Idol moment to rank among all Idol moments. And it was something that not even J-Lo or Randy could ignore for its raw greatness. Sadly, they've cast too much doubt on Haley for most of the season for her to be a contender at this point. (9/10; 9.5/10)

Tonight's Rankings
1) Haley Reinhart #2 (9.5)
2) Haley Reinhart #1 (9)

3) Scotty McCreery #1 (8.5)
4) Lauren Alaina #2 (8)

5) Lauren Alaina #1 (7.5)
6) James Durbin #1 (7.5)
7) Scotty McCreery #2 (7.5)
8) Jacob Lusk #2 (7)

9) Jacob Lusk #1 (6.5)
10) James Durbin #2 (6.5)

Top 5 (Odds to Win)
1. James Durbin (7/4)
2. Scotty McCreery (5/2)
3. Lauren Alaina (4/1)
4. Haley Reinhart (8/1)
5. Jacob Lusk (27/2)

Top 5 (Odds to Go)
1. Jacob Lusk (7/4)
2. Haley Reinhart (15/4)
3. Scotty McCreery (21/4)
4. Lauren Alaina (23/4)
5. James Durbin (33/4)

Bottom Two:
There's little doubt that Jacob Lusk will be on the bubble tonight, but who will be standing next to him? I think the producers throw us a curve and announce Haley Reinhart's safety early, and instead place a favorite in the Bottom Two. My pick for that dubious honor is Lauren Alaina, though it's extremely doubtful that she is anywhere near elimination.

For the past two weeks I've made this pick, and all of my information demands I do it for a third time in a row. Unless the moon turns to blood, Jacob Lusk will be heading for the Idol exit sign 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 Also be sure to follow our Facebook group, American Idol Update.


jamie said...

I have been impressed with Haley throughout this competition. And it is extremely obvious that the judges have it in for her. It is very discouraging.

Dahyana said...

Haley was amazing last night, no doubt about that. Do I think she should win, no? I am a James fan because he truly is amazing and has the best voice when his emotions don't get the best of him, like when he did Carole King week. I think you're a little biased.

Capnpen said...

Jamie and Dahyana - I wasn't a Haley fan initially. She's grown on me, and that's why it's frustrating to see the judges continually harp on her. Jacob can completely screw a song and they'll say how amazing he is. Then Haley gives a good performance and Randy will say, "It was only so-so for me." Like I said, it really looks like the fix is in. Check out and look at the critics' ratings for last night's performances. I'm on the high side for my review of her first number, but J-Lo and Randy are on the extreme low side.

joseph said...

really good analysis from the capn pretty much agree with all of it