American Idol, Season 10: Top 12 Performances – “A cool dude in a loose mood.”

American Idol, Season 10: Top 12 Performances – “A cool dude in a loose mood.”

First and foremost, I have to give American Idol props for opening the show last night with an acknowledgment of the tragedy unfolding in Japan.  The American people are the most generous and giving people in the world.  I urge you to find a way to donate to the disaster relief efforts in Japan – whether you purchase one of the Idol songs from iTunes, or make a direct donation (you can click here to donate to the Salvation Army’s Japan relief efforts).

Now, on to the show.  The theme last night was “Songs from the year you were born”.  The good news was – it meant we got a good dose of songs from the ‘80s.  The bad news was – we also got songs from the ‘90s.  Man, I’m getting old…

Ripley’s guy introduced the judges and Jennifer came out sporting what might best be described as the “Ashthon Jones Memorial Hairdo” – that was some big hair.  As they took the table, my wife remarked that Jennifer and Steven appear to have the same hair; hers was just bigger (you’ll be hearing a lot from my wife today…)

Before I dive into the performances, I have a few observations.  First, it appears that the contestants were all wearing ear monitors last night.  I wonder if that is because of the issues last week with people not being able to hear?  Usually the ear monitors don’t show up until much later in the season.  Second, while Ryan chatted with Tamara Grey and Mary Murphy in the audience – he completely ignored season seven’s Carly Smithson, who was seated next to Mary.  Fail.

Now that’s out of the way, let’s see how the contestants did:

Naima Adedapo – “What’s Love Got To Do With It?” by Tina Turner (1984)

Naima got to lead off the show. As I said last week, I like Naima a little more each week.  I’ll give her an “A” for effort this week.  The song was a good one to get the crowd up and engaged in the show right off the bat.  Unfortunately, the singing was average at best.  At times, Naima’s voice is smooth and distinctive.  At other times it’s bland and more of a shout.  Tonight it was the latter.  The best thing Naima can do next week, if she sticks around, is concentrate on the song, not the dancing.  At this point she’s becoming all attitude and no aptitude.

Paul McDonald – “I Guess That’s Why They Call it The Blues” by Elton John (1984)

Again, I really love the fact that Paul had a shout out for the audience before he started singing.  You could tell that he was still pretty sick, but he sang the song very well.  He put his own stamp on it, fusing a bit of Rod Stewart with Elton John – making it all Paul McDonald.  It was nice to see Jennifer singing along and having a good time.  Randy made a great comparison, likening Paul to Ray LaMontagne.  Steven told him he defined, “a cool dude in a loose mood.”  My five-year-old daughter informed me, “Paul is an old coot.”  I really don’t know how to follow that up, other than to say – vote for Paul.

Thia Megia – “Colors Of The Wind” by Vanessa Williams (1995)

Before she even started to sing, I had to wonder, was her dress made out of Berber carpet?  Anyway.  It was the right kind of song for Thia – unfortunately it was a very boring, forgettable, and ordinary song from “Pocahontas”.  Next time (if, God forbid, there is a next time) she needs to be less concerned about making a statement about the world we live in, and more concerned about singing a song people will actually enjoy.   Randy was on point with his critique – it was boring and pageanty.  After stumbling around trying to answer Steven’s question about her song choice, it was clear Thia had no idea who she wants to be as an artist.  That’s the risk you run when you put a 15 year-old on the show.

James Durbin – “I’ll Be There For You” by Bon Jovi (1989)

The tail was back this week, but it still looked like James was a bit nervous.  He gets huge bonus points for his observation that 1989 had some of the best music of all time.  The song started in a very awkward place – a victim of the 1 minute and 40 second time limit.  It was interesting take on the song – giving it a bit of a more urgent, driving vibe.  I want to listen to the studio version before I make my final judgment – I’m not sure it’s what the song needed.  My wife astutely commented – “it’s just not the same without Ritchie’s background vocals”.  She was right.  The good news for James – my daughter made us rewind and watch the performance again.  She’s a fan (and obviously has good taste in music).  One piece of advice for James – I love the confidence about singing an Aerosmith song at the finale – but don’t get ahead of yourself.  It’s a long road to the finale.  And for Randy – that high note James hit?  It’s in the original version by Bon Jovi as well.  Lastly, we had our first live profanity meltdown by Steven, saying – “Oh shit, what have I gotten myself into?”  The funny part was, the censors missed the “shit” and just silenced out “what have I gotten myself in to?”

Hailey Reinhart – “I’m Your Baby Tonight” by Whitney Houston (1990)

Jimmy Iovine made the none too subtle point that Interscope is watching everyone – and contestants other than the winner will get recording contracts.  If there is any justice in the universe, Hailey won’t be one of them.  I just didn’t care for the performance at all.  Too much growling, too little melody.  I just don’t get it.  Jennifer led off with, “you look beautiful tonight” – never a good sign (and was part of that beauty the lipstick smeared down Hailey’s chin from singing too close to the mic?)  Randy was confused about who Hailey is.  I was confused about why Hailey made it in to the top 13 in the first place.

Stefano Langone – “If You Don’t Know Me By Now” by Simply Red (1989)

Huge bonus points to Stefano for taking a shot at Milli Vanilla, Tone Loc, and New Kids On The Block in his interview piece.  I would have voted for him just for that.  “If You Don’t Know Me By Now” was the song Stefano.  It fit his voice perfectly – I just wish they had slowed it down ever so slightly.  He over sang it in a few places, but still turned in the best performance of the night.  Jennifer gave him some good advice again – open your eyes more.  I love that he went out and hugged his mom after the performance.  This was my wife’s favorite performance by Stefano so far.  I have to agree with her.  Chandler would be proud.

Pia Toscano – “Where Do Broken Hearts Go?” by Whitney Houston (1988)

I LOVE the angry little Pia singing “I Will Always Love You” in her opening video.  It was better than some versions I’ve heard on the show.  Pia tackled Whitney Houston this week, following Celine Dion last week.  I’ll give her this – she’s going big – and she has the voice to pull it off.  The spacesuit/pantsuit they had her wearing did not help her any, and it was clear she is NOT comfortable moving around on stage at all.  Still, I really liked the way she reworked the song – and when she hits those high notes, it’s money.  Pia is quickly becoming one to watch this year.  Keep your eye on her.

Scotty McCreery – “Can I Trust You With My Heart” by Travis Tritt (1993)

Scotty’s mom revealed that he was “a bit of a chunky-monkey” as a child.  (I’m sure his friends will never bring that up again…)  I was glad to see Scotty holding his ground with Jimmy in the recording session.  He needs to stay true to his country roots.  It was good to hear Scotty using his upper register a little more in this song. It was not his best performance (and it’s not my favorite Travis Tritt song), but he did a good job.  Randy dropped in that he had made a record with Travis Tritt – shocking.  My wife thinks Scotty reminds her of George W. with the way he cocks his head to one side and gives that goofy grin when he sings.  I have to agree with her.

Karen Rodriquez – “Love Will Lead You Back” by Taylor Dane (1989)

Before she even started to sing, the first thing I thought was – “Did Ashthton leave Karen her huge earrings?”  The next thing I thought was – “Why does she have a platypus’ tail for a hairdo?”  With that hair and that outfit, she looked like Riff Raff at the end of “Rocky Horror Picture Show”.   When she talked to Jimmy, she suddenly didn’t want to be known only as the Spanish singer on the show.  Great idea – and she really drove the point home by adding a verse in Spanish to the song.  Overall, I just didn’t care for the performance.  Karen is just too much for me.  Too much of what?  Too much boring.

Casey Abrams – “Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana (1991)

Casey became the first person to play an instrument on the live shows this year, and the first person ever to perform a Nirvana song on the show.  (Was is just me, or did Casey’s dad look disturbingly like Mick Fleetwood?)  Casey said he likes to take musical risks, and he did in a big way with this song – and it paid off.  Wow.  He had vulnerability at the beginning of the song, he had intensity at the end, and he had the creepiest lighting we’ve seen so far this season on Idol.  The muted trumpet at the end was an odd, yet oddly effective addition to the song.  I liked the angry Casey with the jaunty ascot that performed that song.  As Randy said – he was fearless.  Jennifer told him he was too screechy – that Kurt Cobain didn’t scream his way through the song.  Huh??  Has she heard Nirvana before?  I really hope America continues to reward Casey’s musical risk taking.

Lauren Alaina – “I’m The Only One” by Melissa Etheridge (1994)

Lauren had the flu – and yet Ryan still took a mask from her and put it on.  Not the wisest choice Ryan.  During their discussion it hit me again – I still wonder what’s going on with Alaina.  She seriously seems like she is high half the time when she’s talking instead of singing.  Is it just me?  I also have to ask, am I the only one who thought Lauren’s mom was trying to look far too young (more like she was Lauren’s sister, not her mom)?  Regardless – it was a good song choice for Alaina.  I still miss some of the rasp she had in her voice earlier in the season.  For now, I’ll chalk that up to her being sick.  The bottom line was – she picked a good song, she sang it well, she should be safe this week.

Jacob Lusk – “Alone” by Heart (1987)

Jacob got the pimp spot for his rendition of “Alone”.  It was a gutsy choice; especially give the fact that Carrie Underwood’s interpretation of “Alone” is still one of the best performances ever on the show – and one that propelled her to the front of the pack, and eventually to the winner’s circle.  I had high expectations – I was not disappointed.  Was it as good as Carrie?  No.  Was it still amazing?  Yes.  Jacob poured himself, as he does every week, into the song with complete abandon.  I’m still not convinced his vocal tone meshed well with the song, but by the time the song was over, I didn’t really care. I doubt I’ll buy the track from iTunes, but I enjoyed seeing Jacob perform it.  Plus – he got the dramatic, backlit silhouette at the end of the song.  That means it was really cool.  Right?

On balance, it was a good show last night.  I’m still glad the contestants are working with producers each week to put together their arrangements.  Here’s the thing though – not every slow song needs to be updated with a dance beat and up-tempo rhythm.  It can be an effective technique – but let’s try not to wear it out by the end of the season, okay?

So who is going home tomorrow night?  If I, and I alone, were voting – the bottom three would be Karen Rodriquez, Thia Megia, and Naima Adedapo.  Unfortunately, my application for “Supreme Ruler of All Things Reality TV” has not yet been approved, so the power is still in America’s hands.  We’ll have to tune in together tomorrow and find out.  Until then – Word Zombie out.

© 2011, The Word Zombie. All rights reserved.

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