Top 10 Performance Night: These Songs Seem Strangely Familiar

When I sat down to watch today’s show, there was a strange feeling of familiarity that came over me. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but something was definitely off with the show. Then, as I tend to do, I checked my friends over at What Not to Sing and an interesting fact came up: nine out of the ten songs of the night had been sung on Idol before.

That explains a great deal, because as it turns out in a very real way Motown Night turned out to be Rerun Night. No good. The not-so genre savvy would blame the contestants: surely there must have been nine other good Motown songs to pick, right? As for us… maybe, maybe not. Some of the blame must go there, sure, but given all the reports of pre-cleared song lists and all the other backstage rumors, well, I can’t lay all the blame on them. There’s a lot of blame to go around, and everyone deserves a decent share.

It was one of those episodes that, on paper, looks good – but wasn’t nearly as impressive to watch or listen.  There were no surprises, no songs we haven’t heard before (except for Adam)… it was the closest thing Idol has done to a rerun, to be honest.

Normally, I’d rate and review them from best to worst. However, it’s hard to do that this week because by far, the most common grade was just “okay”, with very little to separate them.

Matt Giraud opened the night with an okay version of Let’s Get It On. He didn’t push the limits of his vocals, which is good – but the originality and the emotion that were there last week were just not there. It was competent and technically okay, but not much else.

Kris Allen was one of the better ones of the night. It was a very pleasant, well-sung How Sweet It Is. He did very well in adapting the material to suit his style – something always essential to Idol success – but it was a good performance without a signature moment. His lack of impact had little to do with “conceitedness”; more an arrangement without high points to speak of.

The next two performances left us with ample time to wonder what Scott Macintyre and Megan Joy were thinking. It’s hard to imagine worse song choices for Scott; and Megan’s version of For Once in My Life had me thankful I’ll only have to listen to her in full once in our lives. The sad part is, of course, for both of them something like this is nothing more than business as usual. Ouch.

Anoop Desai is possibly the most technically sound singer left in the competition – certainly, his control is second to none – but he had a similar problem to Matt Giraud. Vocally, great – as good as anyone else last night. In “selling” the song, connecting with the audience… it wasn’t all that. Whatever the technical difficulty of the song – and even to our untrained ears, it was – this isn’t figure skating where the scores have a degree of difficulty adjustment.

Michael Sarver’s Ain’t Too Proud to Beg proved one thing – I, too was begging him to stop. Another crowd-pleaser of a song sung somewhat poorly. This is becoming too familiar of a story for Michael.

Someone who definitely practiced the “rerun” theme was Lil Rounds. Last week’s song choice was bad, and Heatwave was just as bad. Lil has a great voice – but it didn’t sound like it last night. It was less of a singing performance than a shouting one. This should have been a good night for her, but it wasn’t. Mediocrity seems to be the word with her – she should be doing better, but just isn’t.

And then we got to Adam Lambert. First off: I give Adam some credit for being the only one to do a song that hadn’t been done on Idol before. The end result wasn’t bad. I’ll go further: it was actually pretty good. It was a good falsetto, but it’s not something I’d listen to for long – though I’d say that for most falsettos, not just Adam’s.

That said… the trouble with this performance as its believability. The very best Idol performances are not just good, they are authentic. Adam isn’t that at all. The vocals – good as they are – are telling us one thing, but the imagery – he’s acting too hard. In the theater, that’s a good thing, but it does not translate well to the TV screen. You know it’s acting, you can’t suspend your disbelief and let the singer tell the story of the song. In a perverse way, in fact, while it was decidedly not

The real trouble with singing “over the top” is that it distracts from the singing, from the music. Even if Adam wasn’t the same manic, flamboyant, Adam we’ve seen before, the fundamental problem is still the same. The visuals, the acting, distracted from the singing – when it didn’t need to. This is a performance that is much better listened to blind than watched and heard at the same time.

In some ways, this performance was a reaction to last week’s fiasco. He subdued himself, yes, but in a real way he didn’t fix the fundamental issue of the performances overshadowing the music, not complementing it.

One more thing: the tongue bath he gets from the judges is bordering on the ridiculous. It was good, yes, but not that good. Word of warning: the judges were pretty easy on David Archuleta last year, too. Anyone remember one of the judges – Simon, I think – said Archie won the finale? That went real well – for the other David.

After a performance that was not a rerun, we got… Danny Gokey. This was also, in effect, a rerun. Competent, but not outstanding singing, mixed with some of the worst dance moves since, well, maybe Taylor Hicks. At least it worked for Taylor – here, not so much. Danny’s a solid singer, but he really needs to take it up to the next level.

The best of the night was Allison Iraheta. Great vocals, very believable, just a top-notch performance all around. Not quit “excellent”, but still better than anyone else. The judges spent too much time acting like children instead of commenting on her, but that didn’t take anything from her performance. I’m not into the whole gimmick of Idol judges and pundits constantly handing out “best ever” awards, but I will give Allison one: she may well be the best female rocker this show has ever had. If gambling on reality TV were legal, I’d take the over on the over/under betting of how far Allison will go.

The pecking order returns: With no great surprises in the performances, this week’s boot will be largely determined by long-term performance – in short, this week will serve largely to weed out the obviously bad.

Realistically, then, those in danger are the three people who haven’t really had a single unquestionably good performance since the start: that would be Michael Sarver, Scott Macintyre, and Megan Joy.

None of them will exactly be missed, to be honest. They all seem to be decent people, but Idol is fundamentally still a singing competition. None of them have really distinguished themselves in that category.

It basically comes down to a fanbase battle – and with weak fanbases, those are some of the hardest calls to make. They all have relatively few fans, but beyond that, to be honest, it’ll largely be Wild-Ass Guesses.

Our pick to go would have to be Michael. He’s a likable fellow, but that’s it. Scott is actually decent in spots, and Megan is… unique. Which will attract some voters. When you’re scraping the bottom of the barrel for fans – as all three are – everything counts.

I realize this is not our most decisive moment, but this is a situation where any of the three could go legimitmately – and there’s an element of won’t-miss-any-of-them to boot. Barring any major shocks, it’ll be a dull and predictable boot. Which is sort of appropriate for how the week was, really.

The Idol Guy pick: Michael Sarver to go home.

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6 Responses to “Top 10 Performance Night: These Songs Seem Strangely Familiar”

  1. Daniel says:

    You are really good at hating on Adam IG, this is going to be a weekly theme for the next 9 weeks I suppose?
    Well, I guess you just don’t get Adam, but when I read your columns it makes me feel like you are trying really hard to hate him for whatever reason (maybee because he is a plant?).

    He did a great tribute to the sound of Motown and Smokey Robinson (that gave him a standing ovation and was pratically in tears at the end but I guess he is part of the big conspiracy plot yes?) and was dressed for the occasion. He doesn’t only think about the acoustic part of the performance but also the visual dimension (for a tv show it isn’t a bad thing, no?) but you dismiss it as being theatrical.
    Most importantly, if you didn’t believe in him when he sang the lyrics, then it’s not going to be me who will change your mind, but it baffles me that you can’t see the sincerity of his approach when talking with Smokey.

    So now you’re comparing him to Archie because he lost in the finale?
    Guess it’s better than last week where you predicted an early exit before the top 5…

  2. Eldrama says:

    Heh, Adam’s vocal performance was great no matter how you try oh so hard to scrutinize it. So when you can’t find anything to criticize on his vocals, you just had to go with the pathetically subjective “believability”. It’s an easy shot. Sorry man, that’s just nitpicking at utmost desperation over someone you don’t like that you end up with an equally desperate change in prediction. It would have been understandable if this wasn’t the first time you’ve done it but reading through your previous articles, it’s like reading through an over-achieving 12 year old kid who likes to use big words but who’s unfortunately out of touch with reality.

  3. nick says:

    Wow. I haven’t been a fan of Adam but even I admit he was amazing last night- it’s obvious you are much too biased to objectively write about the show and perhaps should find another show where you can at least be fair and not resort to hostile reviews just because you don’t like someone personally.

  4. D. Criad says:

    Boy…I’ll tell you…they are SOOOOOOOO right when they say you are not being fair in your critique of Adam….Love him or hate him…his performance was perfection and mesmerizing; the vocals, the dress, the hair, everything about that was pure heaven to watch. Adam takes the stage and commands it with ease. He takes a song and not only masters the vocals of it…but also envisions the visual aspects….Everything was spot on with his performance. Too bad your critique is befuddled with prejudice against him.

  5. Wendy says:

    Anoop is the most technically sound singer left in the competition? You’re really going to go with that? Okay, then.

    I’m with the others. Your inability to be unbiased towards Adam is showing, so you might want to check that. If you don’t think this show is all about giving a good, all-around entertaining performance, you’ve not been watching carefully. If I didn’t want to watch the singers “perform” the songs, I’d wait for the iTunes downloads or just listen to the radio. I like Adam because of both his singing ability and his way of acting out his interpretation of the song. Likewise, I don’t like Danny because although his voice is good enough, his performances boarder on the ridiculous. Kris gave both a fabulous vocal effort as well as an enthusiastic performance – he ranked second on my list of favorites. I suppose in the end I express my opinion with votes and maybe the call to skip stopping by this spot because it only induces a headache.

  6. Beth says:

    I completely agree with you about Adam. It was like watching a song out of Jersey boys or something. Good vocal, but still part of the play. And a whole song in falsetto is way too much for me.

    Definitely the best, most thoughtful Idol commentary on the web, IMO. (Even on the areas I don’t agree with you on)