It’s taken a very long time, but finally it seems like this season has really begun. We saw people actually going out of their comfort zones, taking risks, and looking like they actually want to win this season. It looks like weeks of unrelenting fire from the Idolsphere has whipped this season into shape.
First, the duets: I’m generally a fan of contestants using the duet to cut back, have some fun, play to the crowd, and ham it up. Jokes about Casey and Haley choosing, of all songs, I Feel The Earth Move – I could make so many bad jokes about it – but I won’t. It was the most fun performance to watch, they both sang pretty well (Haley was better than Casey), and clearly (and unsurprisingly) had tons of chemistry together. The two remaining acts were basically polar opposites – Lauren/Scotty had the better vocals, but the chemistry wasn’t there and everything felt awkward and boring. Jacob and James – perhaps the Oddest Couple in Idol history – sang about as well as two drunks in a karaoke bar, but it was fun.
Alright, the solos. Worst to best. Jacob was, the worst of the night. (And I’m not just talking about the outfit.) It’s not that it was a bad performance, but it wasn’t too dissimilar from what he’d done before. The vocals were good, but more or less in line with what we’ve seen from Jacob before. It was an okay performance, but forgettable. It was just there, with no real high or low points. Most nights, this would have been good enough – but not tonight. And no one will forget the suit Jacob wore – which has to be one of the ugliest outfits in the history of television. Mirrors must not exist in the Idol mansion.
I’m normally all in favor of risk-taking, but I’m honest to point out when it doesn’t work. Lauren’s choice of Where You Lead, I Will Follow was… not a particularly good one. Or it might have worked, but it needed a more aggressive, upbeat arrangement. I’m still not a fan of this suddenly timid and restrained Lauren, but I can see that she took some risk with the song choice. Again, like Jacob, it’s not that she sang it poorly, it’s just that there was no special appeal to it.
Casey was entertaining, but not particularly good with Hi-De-Ho. He went back to his roots, figured out what he was really about, and amped everything up to 11. Is it going to win him any new fans? No, but people like me who like The Growl (at least in limited doses) will like it. There was nothing subtle or particularly refined about it; Casey basically manhandled that song into submission. Was it a vocal masterpiece? No, but it had the merit of being entertaining as heck, even if Casey was being an unbelievably Large Ham on the Idol stage. You could do a heck of a lot worse.
From here on, though, I think things got much better. Last week’s barrage of criticism had a lot of effect on Scotty; you’d be hard-pressed to find a bigger one-week change from one week to the next. This was a good song choice: it was well within his capabilities, and for his fangirls it was gold. That said, Scotty did very well: it was a side of him we hadn’t really seen before, he sang very well, and proved that he’s not just a one-trick pony. I think it was, by far, his best performance to date. Most nights, it would have been the best. But it wasn’t.
Haley has to sing lights outs just to stay in, and he did that once again. Haley may be making the best song choices out of anyone this season (though I suspect Casey’s helping out quite a bit). She’s really figured out her strength and is good at finding these songs where she can use her unique vocals to the best advantage. Very polished, very professional, and frankly that live performance wouldn’t have been out of place on the radio. It’s rare to see someone get better so drastically over the span of a season.
Still, everyone had to take a backseat to James. Finally, we got that one special moment we’ve been looking for. It wasn’t just the best song of the night; it was the best performance of the entire season. Good song choice, great vocals, it felt emotionally connected… this was a top-notch Idol performance, period. The a capella was good (though I wish there was more of it), the rock part was good, James got to show off a bit… well done overall. Well done.
By a healthy margin, this was the best episode we’ve had since the beginning of the season.
The pick: The two people in the most danger are Casey and Jacob. Jacob didn’t improve much this week, and while Casey may have pleased his fanbase it may have alienated other voters. Don’t forget that the strength of Casey’s fanbase is still suspect – he had to be saved by the judges, after all. Haley doesn’t deserve to be in this discussion, but given her frequent bottom three stays she will be.
My pick to depart is Jacob. He was the worst of the night, has struggled of late, and has been in the bottom three a fair bit of late. It’s his time to go. Unfortunately, though, Haley will be right there beside him. She spent too much time early not singing particularly well, and that is usually fatal to long-term success. Even if she stays this week her survival next week – whatever the theme – will be hard.
The pick: Jacob Lusk to go home.