The Top 12 Turn Themselves Into Caricatures

I’ve never been a huge fan of “Songs From The Year You Were Born” night because it typically equates to “Song From The Mid 80’s” night which, in my book, could just as easily be dubbed “Songs You Never Needed To Hear In The First Place, Let Alone 25 Years Later.” (I know, not quite as catchy a title, but SFTYYWB is hardly an eloquent theme name.) This year, though, we were in for something a little different because most of the songs were from the 90’s or late 80’s! So we were treated to gems like two faux midtempo Whitney Houston songs and the theme from Disney’s Pocahontas. It was truly a night of wonder.

The one thing I do enjoy from “Songs That The Contestants Never Actually Heard On The Radio” week is meeting the parents in the pre-performance packages. Stefano’s father was the clear winner of the night. I’m pretty sure no contestant has ever gone home after having their father cry the night before (entirely baseless statistic). No one has yet been able to convince me that “Lauren’s mom” was not actually just Lauren wearing a hat. For a brief, but glorious, second when Karen’s mom began speaking, I thought Idol had a watershed moment and had discontinued their practice of subtitling anyone who appeared to be remotely ethnic. (Well oh my gosh darn, what in tarnations do I say is might be done happening on this here, er, my teevee show gone done talking off in some alien speak. I can’t understand but one dagnabit word. Oh yay, subtitles!) Sadly, the subtitles came back and, unlike in Hollywood week, did not provide the nuts-of-wonder laughs. Now to move over to the land of parents-who-have-more-talent-than-their-children. Paul’s father’s voice did not immediately make me want to jam sharp objects into my ears! I’m going to assume that Haley’s mother did not, after the cameras stopped rolling, emulate the world’s most awkward striptease. Neither of Casey’s parents once attempted to growl/bark/roar/generally be a hideous swamp-thing. So take notes Paul, Haley and Casey, because your parents? They did it better.

Ryan Seacrest this year is actually amusing, entertaining and good at his job. This is a far cry from last year when he was doing his best to actively make himself the world’s worst Reality TV host which, as you can imagine, is a hotly contested title. The judges, however, are not all particularly good at their jobs. Randy has given a few good critiques this season and apparently thinks that’s given him the liberty to spew on for forty seconds about how he had the pleasure of recording that song with the one and only Alvin Seville and he just wasn’t feeling it because listen you know you were pitchy all over the place but that’s okay because the real Karen Rodriguez is back this week (and she’s right there in the sixth row, oh wait no, that’s Carly Smithson, my bad) but you just gotta do your thing like Muse and Florence and the Machine and see, I’m still current, I watched the Grammy’s last year and for you, for me, yo, yo, yo, we got a hot one here tonight, dawg! Randy’s critiques quickly devolve into word mush where he makes it his goal to say every word in the English language he knows. In light of this, I think Steven Tyler’s purpose on the panel is to make Randy seem intelligible. Yes, I find Steven immensely entertaining, but his comments are even less closely related to the performances than Paula’s were. And Paula once critiqued a performance that didn’t exist yet! That said, I do love myself some Jennifer Lopez this year. She’s starting to toughen up a bit and is actually giving these contestants constructive criticism. She cares about the contestants too, which is definitely the biggest plus of this year’s judging panel. (I mean, not since Paula have we really heard a judge mention popping in on the contestants’ dress rehearsal.) It helps that she looks insanely hot, too. Let’s just say if I ever go to an Idol taping, my puffy paint poster will read “J. LO, I LOVE YOU DESPITE ‘ON THE FLOOR.'”

Alas, there was other stuff last night. Not just judging and hosting and adorable-parent-pandering, but this singing and performing stuff too. As much as I’m sure we’d all like to forget about it, ‘ere goes:

Naima Adedapo – “What’s Love Got To Do With It?” (Tina Turner)
I swear Naima used to be able to sing. She did, right? I’m not making that up, am I? At one point on this show, I distinctly remember listening to Naima’s voice and finding it somewhat pleasant. Apparently, singing a Rihanna song completely strips you of your ability to stay on pitch forever. I’m now convinced that Rihanna used to be a world class vocalist. Even still, I like Naima’s stage presence; she keeps my attention. Or perhaps I’m mistaking her stage presence for her wardrobe. (And when I say wardrobe, I do mean every article of clothing she owns, because I’m fairly certain she was wearing all of it.) I also did like the arrangement, I think. Honestly, my six-year-old ooh-look!-shiny mind is far too easily distracted by the electric blue designs swirling the stage and the flashing lights to really pay close attention to anything. Naima just needs to find that happy place between being fun and not sounding like Katy Perry taking the stage after an aerobics class.

Paul McDonald – “I Guess That’s Why The Call It The Blues” (Elton John)
I feel bad for whichever parent has to shoulder the blame for Paul’s talent. Really, I’ve taken a few genetics classes and I’m sure you’re not as responsible for Paul as you think you are. It’ll all be okay. Jimmy Iovine telling Paul that “there are certain singers who are not meant to be doing cover tunes” in my mind loosely translates to “Paul, for the love of god, please stop ruining other singer’s material… ah, you know what? Elton John owes me money, you can ruin this one.” Paul’s performance was like a less vocally gifted, more cartoony Michigan J. Frog bit. Paul has taught me that if your normal voice sounds like a chain-smoking stalker, being sick and botching notes doesn’t really hinder your sound. Similarly, if you hit the sauce before you perform every night, every performance is a reason to smile! (I don’t know if you could tell, but I do not enjoy Paul. At all.)

Thia Megia – “Colors Of The Wind” (Vanessa Williams, or so Google tells me)
In the most shocking revelation of the night, Thia has parents. This means that Thia is, in fact, a human being, not BalladBot3PO created for the purpose of competing on reality TV singing competitions. Thia wore the dullest brown dress she could find, in hopes that she would look colorful by comparison. (The final scoreboard would read: Dress: 1, Thia: 0.) In her second attempt of the night to appear colorful, she sang a song with the word “color” in the title. That ended with similar results. When you, quite literally, have less conviction than a Disney princess, something is woefully wrong. (Julie Zorilla? She would’ve nailed that song like the true Disney princess she is.) I mean, Pocahontas (yes, Pocahontas, not Vanessa Williams) starts that song by ripping into John Smith about being an ignorant, materialistic jerkwad and then lays down this sing-song smackdown. You know, you think the only people who are people are people who look and think like you, but if you walk the footsteps of a stranger, you’ll learn things you never knew you never knew, burned, man. Where was that, Thia? All we got was warbly high-pitched mumbles that, at one point, equated to “or ask the evil teller where he’s been.” Thia was really, really upset at the financial crisis and wants to know where those evil tellers and their sub-prime lending have been. I like Thia’s tone normally, but she did her absolute best job to hide it last night. Okay, I’ve managed to ramble on this long without even railing on her song choice once, so I won’t touch the fact that she sang the freaking Pocahontas song, else this will go on for another few thousand words.

James Durbin – “I’ll Be There For You” (Bon Jovi)
James Durbin, as a person, is awfully obnoxious. Now, I don’t think he’s quite as arrogant as his “I’ll be in the finale singing with Aerosmith” statement made him out to be. But he still said it. Despite this, I have ended my personal crusade to hate him. He says stupid stuff and throws in a few too many haha-suck-it-bottom-3-I’m-safe arm waves and high kicks, but he hasn’t aurally assaulted me on a weekly basis. I wasn’t jumping up and down during his performance (he did that enough for the both of us) and it was way less tuneful than last week’s showing, but his insistence on attempting to sing every week gives him a tail up (what up, terrible wordplay in the house tonight!) on some of the competition. Plus he ended his performance this week with the ever-reliable combo of windmill arm, hop, PYROTECHNICS. How can you really go wrong with that?

Haley Reinhart – “I’m Your Baby Tonight” (Whitney Houston)
Like every blogger ever, I am obligated to mention Jimmy Iovine’s “thanks for playing” speech to Haley. Was the not-so-subtle “11th place isn’t bad” monologue really necessary there? I don’t even like Haley but I wouldn’t have been opposed to her smacking Jimmy upside the head or, alternatively, assaulting him with some lipstick. Haley’s post-performance lipstick debacle endeared her to me. There’s something sweet about a girl admitting in front of twenty two million viewers that she sometimes enjoys the taste of microphone. I think that makeup malfunction might save her from elimination because otherwise, her performance was wholly forgettable. Really, singing Whitney Houston is never a good idea. And not because Whitney Houston has an amazing voice (she does) that the contestant’s won’t ever match (they won’t), but because Idol viewers have been trained after 9 years to associate Whitney Houston performances with boring lackadaisical messes. Haley got demolished by the rapid-fire delivery required by some of the lines and even whiffed a few of her raspy growls. (Hey, Idol contestants, sometimes I don’t want you to growl at me. It’s not sexy. You sound like you have phlegm lodged in your throat. And not in a good Phoebe Buffay way.) That all said, at least Haley looked like the prettiest trainwreck ever.

Stefano Langone – “If You Don’t Know Me By Now” (Simply Red)
A few things about the pre-performance package first: 1) Stefano’s sarcasm was seriously misplaced. “Funky Cold Medina” and “Girl You Know It’s True” are legitimate musical masterpieces and Stefano made a major misstep in not picking either gem. 2) Stefano appears to be terrified of Jimmy. 3) Shockingly, baby Stefano did not have a soul patch. I like Stefano. He sings notes. He even sings the correct notes. In fact, he sings the correct notes and sort of cares that he’s singing them. He does need to stop dropping the microphone to his side at the end of every line he sings, though. Dude, even if Haley and Jacob seem to think that the microphone is just there for a mid-performance snack, it actually functions to let us hear you. I know, crazy, right? And who didn’t smile when he excited yelled, “I can hug my mom? I can hug my mom? Maaaaaaaaaaaa!” (That’s not a rhetorical question. The correct answer was that I did not.)

Pia Toscano – “Where Do Broken Hearts Go?” (Whitney Houston)
Pia is not just a boring balladeer. Pia is going to show just how edgy and different she is. Pia is going to show growth. That’s why Pia picked a Whitney Houston song. Really, I’m not sure what the logical progression was there: “Hmmm, they want me to sing something fun and different from the Celine Dion stuff I’ve been doing… oh I know! A big swelling, vocally bombastic Whitney Houston song!” If this was Pia’s idea of fun, I bet she throws real hit parties. “So, everyone is allowed three potato chips this time! But Operation made too much noise, so this time we’re going to play Tic-Tac-Toe!” I still love Pia’s voice and want her to go far in the competition, but all I have to say about the performance I already said when I was picking songs for the top 12 earlier this week.
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(Okay I lied, I have more to say: pantsuits! Kaleidoscope background!)

Scotty McCreery – “Can I Trust You With My Heart?” (Travis Tritt)
Scotty sang a deep-voiced country song with an odd asymmetrical grin and mentioned playing baseball at least once. Next.

Karen Rodriguez – “Love Will Lead You Back” (Taylor Dane)
I am glad she is once again MySpace’s Karen Rodriguez. Her (Idol) life felt so purposeless without the title. Karen looked like a cross between the fourth member of The Supremes and an advanced cyborg hellbent on making the pageant arm a required part of every musical performance. Without the ethnic what-it-isness, the song would’ve just dangled around in a sea of poorly sung, uninspired performances that Idol has collected over the years. However, Karen did kick it into ethnic gear (which is above disappearing-hemline gear but below God-Bless-The-USA gear in terms of garnering votes, I believe) and simultaneously decided that notes were below her. Or, I guess, more aptly, way too far above her. She’s definitely in danger of joining the prestigious group of contestants who were booted after singing “Love Will Lead You Back.” (Current members of the group include Fran Drescher impersonator Mikalah Gordon and billy goat impersonator Carmen Rasmussen.)

Casey Abrams – “Smells Like Teen Spirit” (Nirvana)
Casey’s beard has eaten more of his face than usual. He looks like he should be waiting in line at a soup kitchen, not performing on the most watched show in America. I would take back every bad thing I’ve ever said about Paul and Haley and Jacob and Karen and anyone else if it would help get Casey off the show faster. He hasn’t sung well once in three weeks. I think it’s arguable that he hasn’t even sung once in three weeks. He has crazy serial killer eyes and makes angry animal noises and for some reason everything about him says, “all the better to eat you with my dear.” His “stage presence” and “entertainment value” consisted of swaying slowly back and forth while plucking a bass and making constipated faces at the camera. No offense to bassists (I know I sure as hell couldn’t play one), but it’s hardly the most complex musical instrument out there. My favorite part definitely came at the end when he randomly started shaking his bass in circles, accidentally knocked the mic stand with his guitar strap, and then jumped up three inches into the air to land about two seconds before the big finish. I feel bad comparing him to Taylor Hicks because Taylor Hicks was so so so much more talented.

Lauren Alaina – “I’m The Only One” (Melissa Etheridge)
Lauren definitely has one of the strongest voices in the competition and I think she’s probably picked the best songs for herself out of everyone. None of that is going to matter to anyone if she continues to vie to be Ryan Seacrest’s next BFF. Coughing on Seacrest, giving him nicknames, and cutting out a ridiculous mask are not entirely endearing qualities. Asking the audience to scream? Still kind of annoying. I find myself sort of wanting Lauren to do well because I think she’s one of the two girls with a remote shot at actually winning this year. So Lauren, stop being annoying and throw a little more fire/spunk/whateveritis into the actual performances so America can rally behind you and unseat the most horrific one-two punch imaginable of gaspy-creeper and homeless-badger.

Jacob Lusk – “Alone” (Heart)
The judges need to start judging Jacob Lusk. It’d be one thing if he was just oversinging and putting unnecessary runs on everything, it’s another thing entirely when he says “girlfriend, talk to the hand” to pitch and key and melody. The arrangement had a awkwardly truncated beginning in order to maximize Jacob-infuses-himself-with-the-power-of-X-Men’s-Banshee-and-battles-his-nemesis-common-decency time. Putting up the gospel hand does not excuse one from brutally decapitating “Alone.” At no point did he “find his way back,” Randy. It was awful. I am going to need musical therapy to get over that.

Bottom 3: Karen, Haley, Naima
Adios: Karen (or Naima. One of the two.)


1 Response to “The Top 12 Turn Themselves Into Caricatures”

  1. 1 h2oconvo March 17, 2011 at 8:10 pm

    tl;dr for sure, but still awesome. I am disappointed, though, that you failed to throw in a Friends quote while describing Naima’s wardrobe.

    “Hi, I’m Naima – could I BE wearing any more clothes?!”

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