There was something of a theme to this week’s Idol performances, and it wasn’t just Elton John. The theme was bouncing back: some contestants recovered nicely from disappointing performances in earlier weeks, while others had to come off their highs. All in all, it was an enjoyable week that exceeded my (admittedly low) expectations.
Scotty McCreery was a mixed bag. It was perhaps the most predictable song choice and arrangement so far this year (although Pia’s critics would dispute that point.) From everything we’ve seen so far, the amount of material that Scotty can do is shockingly limited – country songs with a moderate tempo that suit his unique vocal tone. Now, I’m not asking Scotty to rock out, but there have been plenty of good genre-specific artists on Idol who weren’t this style-locked. Would it kill Scotty to at least try something else? Everything he’s doing right now confirms my guess of how his career will end up: he’ll finish weakly on Idol, unable to keep up with the frontrunners (whoever they turn out to be), but due to sheer marketability he’ll get signed and see at least limited success.
Naima Adedapo was, by far, the worst of the night. This version of I’m Still Standing left me scratching my head. For a while it sounded like this was a performance from Jamaican Idol. Unfortunately, the show is American Idol. This did not help Naima’s struggling cause one bit.
I honestly don’t know what to make of Paul McDonald anymore. He started off reasonably well, but by the end the vocals were flat. Paul almost sounds like he keeps running out of breath; he has very limited range and power. On the flip side, however, he’s a character. He’s comfortably put on the Sanjaya role of bad-singer-who-goes-way-too-far. Take it for what is is – a light-hearted moment of entertainment and not a vocal masterpiece – and he’s reasonably enjoyable. He could surprise people given the right song choice, though.
Congratulations, Pia Toscano. You turned Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me into the most worn page of the Idol songbook, a fact noted by my friends at What Not to Sing. (It’s a dubious honor shared with Against All Odds.) This was Pia’s worst performance, although that still means a pretty good performance. Still, the point remains: you cannot power ballad your way to the Idol victory, not in 2011. She needs to do more and prove that she’s not a uni-dimensional artist. Comparisons to Celine Dion as a pure balladeer are flawed – Celine’s found success with songs that are definitely not ballads – not just once, but twice. This isn’t the radical change some people make it out to be.
I’ll give Stefano Langone credit for self-awareness. He knew he had to do well. Unfortunately, he didn’t. It’s hard to point to any one thing he failed at, because there was nothing to point at. It was completely unremarkable. To make matters worse, Stefano doesn’t have the charisma that Paul has to make up for a middling performance. This was the sort of performance you forgot about right after it ended – which is not what you want with two people going out this week.
Scotty, please take notes from Lauren Alaina this week. This is how a country artist can show they’re not one dimensional. Good song choice helped – Candle in the Wind depends less on pure vocal power and so much more on emotions and story-telling. (This holds true even if Lauren used the 1973 original, and not the later tribute to Princess Diana that’s probably more familiar to modern ears.) There was no mistaking the country influence, but it was a different side of country compared to what Lauren has used previously. Well done; this was the first performance that really showed Lauren could be the front-runner the early pimping made her out to be.
James Durbin violated one well-known principle: KISS, or Keep It Simple, Stupid. There were too many stage tricks here – starting out in the crowd, all the moving about, the piano on fire – this was the singing equivalent of the guy who buys a fancy sports car, adds every known doohickey known to man to make it “look hot”, and turns a good-looking car into a horrid mess. As it was, the vocals were surprisingly middling – there was as much shouting in this performance as singing.
Take everything I said about singing with nothing noteworthy earlier about Stefano and apply it to Thia Megia. Again, as before, the notes were all there but it wasn’t interesting at all. Thia’s problem isn’t actually a unique one for very young singers; they’re often technically good but have a hard time doing emotions well. Thia just has a much worse case than most Idol teens.
Your Song was the first time Casey had gone the slow, sensitive road. He did well enough to make me wonder just why he hadn’t done so before. Vocally, it was rather unchallenging; but the emotions were all there. Well done Casey. Surely he could have done something like this instead of last week’s performance that put him in the bottom three?
Good (and bad) things come in threes, and so it is with Jacob Lusk. He’s in the same boat as Pia and Scotty – we know he can do this over-the-top power ballad very well. That’s fine. Is that all there is to Jacob? If so, he’ll go earlier than people think. Just as Pia cannot win by power ballads, Jacob cannot win if his trademark is overly long glory notes. This was an okay performance, but nothing more than that.
And we come to what has to be THE comeback performance of the season so far. Haley Reinhart has been middling all season long, so where did that version of Bennie And The Jets come from? Wherever it is, I hope there’s more. Haley’s vocals have never really been the problem; it was putting a performance together that was sung well and entertained. On that mark, she passed – with flying colors. Good song choice let her use her growly vocals to their full potential, and she used all her performance skills (and some of her sex appeal) to appeal to the audience. Well done. This was not a performance she just mailed in.
Who goes home: As a result of last week’s save, two people are going home this week. One of them will almost certainly be Naima – the off-putting reggae version of I’m Still Standing did her no favors, and she has precious little to fall back on.
With so many good performances, you have to look to those who didn’t do well either last week or this week: that basically leaves Stefano and Thia. Paul theoretically fits, but with so many contestants left he could still probably skate by on his personality. As for the Boring Twosome, it comes down to whose fanbase I think will turn out more. Do you really want to bet against the Filipino fanbase on this one? Against someone who needed the wildcard to get in? With that in mind, it becomes…
The pick: Naima Adedapo and Stefano Langone to go home.