American Idol, Season 10: Top 11 Performances: REDUX – “It’s a little different than runnin’ around shuckin’ it.”

American Idol, Season 10: Top 11 Performances: REDUX – “It’s a little different than runnin’ around shuckin’ it.”

Tonight was our second chance to have the top 11 American Idol Contestants perform in the appropriately titled “Top 11: Redux” (I supposed “Top 11: Part Deux” was too much Charlie Sheen for the show…) A quick recap of the “Best. Results. Show. Ever” led off the show.  As the judges and Ryan took the stage, a quick pan of the audience revealed a sign saying – “Thank you for saving Casey”.  I agreed wholeheartedly, and by the end of the night, the judges’ decision to save Casey had borne fruit.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.

This week’s theme was the music of Elton John.  It was a great catalog of songs, having provided some memorable Idol moments in the past.  I wish they had given Bernie Taupin a little more love on the show – but that’s the breaks.  As they worked through the montage of Elton’s career I was struck by a thought – evidently Elton John had the funky glasses thing going on far before Clint Jun Gamboa.  Who knew?

With a photo-shoot for EW and a rehearsal with Jimmy Iovine serving as the intro to each of the songs, it was time to get started.  Who would shine and who would sink?  Let’s see…

Scotty McCreery – “Country Comfort” by Elton John

Shockingly, Scotty picked an Elton John song with the word “country” in the title.  Jimmy hit on something in the intro with his point that many people see Scotty as a one-trick pony – but it’s one of the best tricks he’s ever seen a 17 year-old pull off.  I have to agree – like him or hate him, Scotty is all country.  It was nice that Scotty gave his grandma a call out from the stage during the song.  I don’t think I’ve ever heard that song before – but Scotty did a great job with it.  That last note definitely won him some friends in low places.  Randy and Jennifer were both right in their critique – Scotty is maturing quickly as a performer on the show.

Naima Adedapo – “I’m Still Standing” by Elton John

Naima made the decision to transform this song into a reggae tune (complete with a fake Jamaican accent at the beginning).  It was one of the weakest performances of the night.  It came off like a bad high school talent show performance.  I’m not even sure at this point if Naima has the capacity to sing an entire song in tune.  Jennifer struggled mightily to find something positive to say after the performance, as did Randy.  Steven complimented her for picking a song that fit her – but he was strangely silent on her ability to perform the song.  I’ll help fill in the blanks; it was a train wreck of epic proportions.  Naima may still be standing for now – I’m not sure she will still be standing next week.

Paul McDonald – “Rocket Man” by Elton John

What was Paul doing a year ago?  Touring with his band (The Grand Magnolias – go check them out on iTunes).  Evidently they covered “Rocket Man” at one time and it was a disaster.  Not so tonight.  It was a great song choice for Paul.  It suited his voice perfectly, and I loved the whispered ending (and of course the crowd shout out at the beginning).  My wife wants to hear him do a Cat Stevens song – she has good musical tastes.  Randy gave him spectacularly inconsistent advice – “I love your tender zone – so do less of it, push harder.  Great advice Randy – crystal clear.  Steven gave him a backhanded compliment, telling him he loved him because he didn’t hit every note.  The judges didn’t help him out much, so I will.  VOTE FOR PAUL – AND VOTE OFTEN.

Pia Toscano – “Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me” by Elton John

I love what Jimmy had to say – “a great up tempo or fast song is a hit that you just murdered”.  That might be the most insightful thing Jimmy has said so far this season.  This was the song that Clay Aiken sang to make it on the show as a Wild Card and Bo Bice sang as a judge’s pick.  Could Pia live up to those performances?  Yes – and then some.  This was Pia doing what she does best, and the there was nary a key change in site.  I will even admit – I got chills at one point in the song (proof positive I have at least half a heart.)  Randy backpedaled faster than Indiana Jones in a snake pit – heaping praise on Pia for singing a ballad again, and singing it well. (Then he proceeded to tell her to sing a mid-tempo song next week.  Pick a lane…) Steven summed it up with, “That was a complete and full sentence.”  I’m telling you – Pia could be in this until the end of the competition.  She’s a throwback to Kelly Clarkson and Tamyra Gray.  Pia = classic American Idol.  (By the way, did it sound after the performance backstage like Pia already knew next week’s theme, and had already picked out her song?  “River Deep, Mountain High”.  Interesting…)

Stefano Langone – “Tiny Dancer” by Elton John

What the hell hat was Stefano wearing during his rehearsal?  Just wondering.  I still like Stefano’s voice and it was well suited for this song.  What I don’t like as much is his phrasing and vocal styling.  It doesn’t always translate well to some songs.  There is no question that Stefano can sing, but this performance still left me a bit flat.  I’ll say this – he mostly kept his eyes open and really scored big with the audience by walking out and singing directly to Jennifer at the end.  Well played Stefano.  Will it be enough to save him this week?  We’ll find out tomorrow night.  Somewhere, Chandler is wondering why Stefano was singing about Tony Danza.

Lauren Alaina – “Candle In The Wind” by Elton John

Lauren wanted to show America her softer side this week.  That’s just what she did.  The song started out with an intimate, soft feel that drew me in immediately.  Jimmy was dead on – Lauren’s country vibe really added another layer to the song.  As much as I have loved Lauren’s raspy, rock tinged vocals in the past, this was Lauren showing the type of artist she could be in the future.  Jaw droppingly professional and emotionally connected – it was one of the best performances of the night.  Steven opined – “You keep singing like that and you’ll be able to afford the rest of that dress”.  Lauren then capped off the segment with a perfect summation of her choice to go with a softer touch – “It’s a little different than runnin’ around shuckin’ it”.  Indeed.

James Durbin – “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting”- by Elton John

James has become a legitimate rock performer right in front of us on the show.  It was a great song choice for him.  He worked every square inch of the stage; he threw the mic stand, he danced on the piano – hell, he even set the piano on fire.  What else can you say?   I don’t know how you can help but to like James.  My daughter loves him, and danced with complete abandon during the entire song – all three times we watched it.  I’ve already put said it once tonight, I’ll say it again.  VOTE FOR JAMES!  If you don’t, Hulk Hogan will hunt you down and hurt you.  (I do have one question.  Who was the goofy “Jeb Bush” guy standing behind James at the start of the song, showing his complete lack of rhythm and coolness?  My daughter proclaimed, “he’s a nerd”.)

Thia Megia – “Daniel” by Elton John

As soon as Thia announced she was doing “Daniel”, my wife groaned.  She was on to something.  I still didn’t feel any emotion from her.  I see her trying to emote – but it just didn’t connect.  Her voice sounded thin and didn’t rise to the caliber of the song.  The judges liked it far more than I did.  Randy was lukewarm, but overall, they were positive.  I honestly don’t care anymore.  I’m not a Thia fan, and at this point, I’m just marking time until America comes to its senses and sends Thia home.  Moving on…

Casey Abrams – “Your Song” by Elton John

Holy sh*t – Casey really has a sensitive side.  I was blown away by his performance of “Your Song”.  He connected directly with every single member of the audience, showing a pure vocal tone – but still maintaining that Casey quality I love.  The arrangement featuring just Casey and the piano was genius, and he even pulled out a tremendous falsetto at the end.  When the song was over, my wife turned to me and said,  “He makes me smile.”    I cannot say enough about how tremendous that performance was.  It was exactly the performance he needed to have.  I agreed with Randy – saving Casey was one of the best decisions the judges have made this year.   When all was said and done, it was great to see his mom overcome with emotion out in the audience.  I hope America sees the error of their ways from last week and keeps Casey around.  Well done Casey, well done.  Oh, and by the way – VOTE FOR CASEY.  Best. Performance. Of. The. Night.

Jacob Lusk – “Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word” by Elton John

So, let me get this right – Mary J. Blige just “happened” to be in the back of the room, during Jacob’s rehearsal?  Right.  Anyway, Jacob was the first contestant to get a stage full of dry ice smoke this year.  The producers are really working hard to put more production value into the live performance shows.  I like it.  Jacob came out and did what he does best – he poured his soul into the song and left everything on the stage.  I really thought he was going to burst into tears at one point.  (I could have done without the key change – I guess he won the coin toss with Pia this week.)  Still, you have to sit back and just enjoy Jacob’s passion and talent.  Randy counseled him to pick a “Jacob spot” in each song.  It was surprisingly good advice.

Hailey Reinhart – “Benny And The Jets” by Elton John

Hailey got the “pimp spot” this week.  Really? (Here’s a note for Hailey from her intro video – “bang-age” is not a word.  I’m just saying…).  She started out with a very “Fabulous Baker Boys” moment on top of the piano, then went downhill from there.  Let me just say this about the performance – I hated it.  She growled her way through song, waving her arms awkwardly, and stomping around like a grandma recovering from double hip replacement.  I just didn’t get it – at all.  Jennifer started screaming right away – “that was it Hailey”.  It was? If so, then what is it – an audio lobotomy?  Randy called it the best performance of the night.  Nope – not even close.  For some reason, it looks like the producers REALLY want Hailey to stick around.  Why?  I just don’t get it. Color me confused.

As the show ended, a brilliant thought hit me, like a bolt out of the blue.  What Idol really needs is the ability not only to vote FOR someone, but also the ability to vote AGAINST someone.  How much more fun would I have tonight if there were a set of numbers set up where I could vote against Hailey and Thia?  We need a much more active way of crushing someone’s dreams.  Call it a “kinetic auditory operation” if you like.

Anyway – the night, on balance, was another strong one.  There is no doubt the talent this year is superb.  There just needs to be a little more pruning and we will be down to the cream of the crop.  Who do I think will go home?  America has thrown us a few curve balls – but I would put Stefano, Naima, and Thia in the bottom three, with Naima and Thia heading for the doors.  Is that how it will go down?  Time will tell.  Join me tomorrow to find out.  Until then – Word Zombie out.

© 2011, The Word Zombie. All rights reserved.

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