The Top 13 Sing Whatever The Heck They Want

Let me start by saying that I really am going to miss theme weeks. And by theme weeks, I mean real theme weeks. I don’t want any of this “Top Downloads” or “Billboard Hits” or “Songs That Exist From Your Favorite Artist.” Give me a theme week that’ll force Carrie Underwood to sing “Alone” or let Kelly Clarkson perform “Stuff Like That There” or give Kris Allen the idea to pick “Falling Slowly.” This week’s performances were not entirely terrible, but they definitely showed that, when left to their own devices, contestants will pick some truly terrible, predictable songs.

So, the top 13 sang songs this week. It was a real thrill to get to see Lauren on an upbeat country song, Pia on a big soaring ballad and Paul on a commercial for AA. (Okay, okay, from here on I will try my best to keep gripes about the whole theme week situation to a minimum. Spoiler: My best is not very good.) I think the contestants will benefit hugely from working with real producers this season. Even if they give horribly misguided advice, which I don’t think any did, it’ll help contestant’s shape their sound. I hope it’ll also eliminate performances where “let’s add a harp!” is the zenith of musical ingenuity. Speaking of production (do y’all see my sneaky attempt at faking idea continuity?), Idol continues to have some of the shoddiest production known to man. You’d think that taping the show a day early would alleviate some of the glaring production gaffes, but apparently trifling issues such as sound-mixing don’t warrant being fixed. And why should they? It’s not like this is a singing competition or something. That would be ludicrous. (Ooh! Someone should cover Ludacris on Idol. Maybe Thia could do “Move Bitch” – with an a capella open of course – for Songs From Between The Year Your Great-Grandparents Were Born And Now week.)

Lauren Alaina – “Any Man Of Mine” (Shania Twain)
Lauren’s take on Shania was just a watered down version of her take on Reba. She has the voice down but apparently took her 5-hour Energy 301 minutes before taking the stage. The judges, who actually decided to dole out constructive criticism in Japanese-cell-phone-sized portions, noted the performance’s lack of energy and Lauren’s reaction was fabulous. Words cannot do her reaction justice. It was a decadent combination of a shocked-that-my-pet-judges-dare-criticize-me head recoil and a don’t-you-know-who-I-am (I’m-the-Juggernaut-bitch not included) eye roll. There are other things I could say about her performance, but I’ll just refer back to this graph.

Casey Abrams – “With A Little Help From My Friends” (The Beatles)
What would I do if Casey sang out of tune? I’m not sure because that would require Casey to sing and not angrily growl at me all day. I don’t know what about getting a little help from his friends inspires so much rage in Casey, but that won’t stop me from speculating. Perhaps he feels like a failure for never being able to overcome hardships on his own? Maybe his friends are the Plastics and they passive-aggressively needle him for that one time they lent him a calculator in Algebra because he left his on the coffee table at home after attempting to calculate how many hours it would take to perfect his grizzly bear impression. The most important thing about Casey’s performance was the gospel choir. He was missing the white spotlight and pimp spot that really manufacture that Idol moment though. Nice try, Casey, but next time don’t skimp on the confetti.

Ashthon Jones – “When You Tell Me That You Love Me” (Diana Ross)
Usually, it sucks when your favorite goes home. I distinctly remember being unhappy when Christina Christian was eliminated. Ditto for Katelyn Epperly last season. Sometimes, though, you get lucky and your favorite bombs so horribly that you completely forget why you liked them at all! This will be the case with Ashthon tomorrow when America says bye to her for a second week in a row and she gets to join Leah LaBelle and Jasmine Murray in the Voted-Out-Twice-Without-Ever-Being-Voted-In Club. I don’t know what went on, but Ashthon’s vocal was horrendous and then the judges damned her with faint praise. Bon voyage, Ashthon Jones. We’ll always have “Hit ‘Em Up Style.”

Paul McDonald – “Come Pick Me Up” (Ryan Adams)
Oh Paul, by the end of the season I will have run out of ways to describe your insobriety. Today was less “wasted at a party” and more “crack addict going through withdrawal.” Paul skipped across the stage in his loopy stupor, attempting to seduce the swaybot stand-ins with his atonal whispers. I am clearly the part of America that does not get Paul. Paul’s stage antics terrify me and his voice is reminiscent of a crazed homeless man muttering to himself about the people out to get him.

Pia Toscano – “All By Myself” (Celine Dion)
Pia has an absolutely fantastic voice. She has incredible range and power. She would have done amazingly on Season 2. Just as I couldn’t forgive Karen for picking “Hero” last week, I cannot forgive Pia for this song choice. While she sounded great, no amount of vocal competence could ever make me excited about this song. So, skipping over the snoozefest that was “All By Myself,” I did enjoy Steven’s reminder that the show was pre-taped. I’m still unsure how International Women’s Day was relevant to her performance but I guess it somehow fits in next to soaring volcanoes and a plethora of passion. Pia absolutely needs to sing something other than a big swelling ballad while standing in one place next week. Otherwise, Randy might run out of ways to say “you can sing Mariah/Celine/Whitney.” (Hah, as if running out of new words ever has bothered Randy before.)

James Durbin – “Maybe I’m Amazed” (Paul McCartney)
While giving James flack for his ridiculous back story and group round antics is entertaining, it’s hard to ignore his back-to-back strong performances. Idol promised me a mesmerizing out-of-control howler monkey, begging to be the butt of countless jaded jabs, but instead delivered this legitimate performer. What a ripoff. James reminds me of Adam Lambert when he’s controlling his voice far more than he does when he’s raucously wailing away. It was an excellent vocal showing and certainly more tuneful than when Crystal Bowersox attempted the same number last year. (Sorry, Slezak!) I can’t even make fun of him for a Na’avi tail or ridiculous spin kicks this go around. Maybe next week he’ll scream uncontrollably on a Norah Jones song and I’ll be able to use this space for some mildly entertaining analogies.

Haley Reinhart – “Blue” (LeAnn Rimes)
Haley heard that the country vote could help her get through the next round so she strapped on some cowboy boots and saddled up. If not literally, then figuratively. I still would not be surprised to see her in a cowgirl/stripper outfit, desperately begging for you to wuv her. Everything about her performing style reeks of desperation and her voice sounds like cracked drywall. (Some of these similes clearly make more sense in my head than they do on paper, or web page, whatever.) The song highlighted everything about Haley’s voice that I do not like: her tendency to quadruple the syllable count of every word, her nonsensical vocal quirks and her own special melodic twists. I got Haley Scarnato. There is nowhere Haley Reinhart’s hemline can go that will make me “get” her.

Jacob Lusk – “I Believe I Can Fly” (R. Kelly)
R. Kelly is a perfectly viable musical idol. He is a truly stand-up citizen and excellent contributing member to society. He has penned songs such as “Trapped In The Closet,” “I’m A Flirt,” “Feelin’ On Yo Booty,” and “Feelin’ On Yo Booty (Remix).” Thus, it makes perfect sense that Jacob chose an R. Kelly song. Of course he had to choose the most insipid Kells song ever which cannot even be redeemed by the fact that it appears in a movie with the Monstars. He sounded terrible the entire time, navigating from off-pitch to overwrought to downright offensive. He also brought out the gospel choir because one just cannot sing “I Believe I Can Fly” without a good gospel choir in the wings. Now, if two contestants are bringing out the gospel choir in the first week, what exactly are they going to bring out in the final? Pyrotechnics? Parade floats? Will Smith riding in on The Back To The Future DeLorean?

Thia Megia – “Smile” (Charlie Chapmanlin)
Thia Megia is the most low key sixteen year old ever. She acts as if she is in a constant state of Methadone-induced haze. Her biggest display of emotion came in her post-performance backstage interview. Despite receiving moderately favorable critiques, she was on the verge of tears, begging America for one more chance. Girl, did you not see or hear the dreck that Ashthon and Paul coughed up earlier? Even though your performance of “Smile” was one part dull and one part distractingly cacophonous, at least you sang mostly in tune. Thia’s tone is beautifully rich, but her listless delivery and the wackjob smooth jazz arrangement they tacked into the song drained the performance of any musical worth. I, for one, do not want to see Thia get sent home. Then there would be no teen ballad robot to draw the ire of every blogger in America and recaps everywhere would be worse off for it.

Stefano Langone – “Lately” (Stevie Wonder)
Stefano’s voice took a backseat to the arrangement of the song. I can’t even tell you how Stefano sang, but I can tell you what I thought of the disco-dance-pop backing track he sang over. I’m pretty sure someone accidentally played a homemade GarageBand track created in their college dorm room for that band that never quite got going instead of Stefano’s immaculately produced “Lately” accompaniment. None of the track even came within spitting distance of logical. The beat was closer to the pounding sensation that builds in your head when you’ve retreated to the bathroom of a tacky club after a few tequila shots than it was to anything remotely musical. Not all arrangement tweaks were created equal, Stefano.

Karen Rodriguez – “I Could Fall In Love” (Selena)
Not only did Karen perform a Selena song, she also personally designed a dress to look as close to Selena as possible. If she wanted to pander to J. Lo, she could’ve just rocked out some “Jenny From The Block” and been much more effective. (She probably would’ve been much more interesting, too.) The whole performance was just really flat. She meandered through the lines, carelessly dropping a low note here and whiffing on a high note there. Even J. Lo criticized it because while Karen might have done a Selena song, she didn’t actually sing in Spanish. Really, Karen, if you’re going to phone it in, at least have the decency to llamelo en (oh Sr. Martinez would not be happy with my inability to recall how to conjugate verbs in Spanish).

Scotty McCreery – “The River” (Garth Brooks)
Scotty likes country music. Scotty plays baseball. When Scotty sings, scenes from all across the American heartland magically appear behind him. America is the wind beneath his wings. I will never understand country music, especially country music that is actually country music and not pop music with an extra-twangy guitar. Scotty sang just fine and probably grinned his way into a few million votes but my care-o-meter was dropping to dangerously low levels. (And who can afford to refuel at $4.00/giveadamn?) Yay Scotty, for knowing who he is as an artist and staying true to that. I just wish it was something more palatable.

Naima Adedapo – “Umbrella” (Rihanna)
BOOM! FIYAH! There is no other way to describe the magnificent number Naima gave us. She danced, reggaed, and overstood her way to the most entertaining performance of the night by a long shot. Her vocals suffered from her dancing and, honestly, she barely sounded better than Rihanna, but I don’t even care. She started off with the “Umbrella” music video rain falling down on her backdrop and threw a few solid dance moves in. She managed to yell “boom, fiyah” in the middle of her song and to intersperse an entire reggae-rap fusion verse in all of the madness. There were crashes of lightning and knee-high sneakers. There was a short dance break. It. Had. Everything. Naima kept me thoroughly entertained and then some.

Twelve performances stretched to two hours is a little bit much, but it was mostly bearable. The judges didn’t drone on and performances, mostly, weren’t painful to sit through. I call it a win for the night, if only because I had the pleasure of viewing Naima’s “Umbrella.”

Bottom 3: Ashthon, Karen, Jacob
Cya-We-Wont-Tell-You-That-We-Love-You: Ashthon


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