The Top 9 Ignore Rock ‘N Roll

The thing about Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame week is that, unlike soul or country or disco week, contestants are in no way required to pick songs that are remotely in the rock genre. Although, thinking about it, I guess you could argue the same for every week. (Once Bo Bice picked “Vehicle” for “70s Dance Songs Night” all pretense of stringency went out the window.) And while I’m no fan of rock music, I’d at least like it if the contestants tried to keep up some energy for “rock” week. Instead, we got a few low key ballads, songs that sound like they’d fit in better during Songs for The Ohio Senior Citizens Hall of Fame week and Paul McDonald (help us, Haley-Wan Kenobi, you’re our only hope).

Evil uncle Nigel realized that Jimmy Iovine, E, Johnny Drama and Turtle made for pretty terrible television and decided that Idol viewers were desperate for a third dose of will.i.am this season. (Seriously, will.i.am has lasted more weeks than MySpace’s Karen Rodriguez.) Surprisingly, he was an incredibly entertaining, helpful mentor. While his own live performing abilities are questionable, he definitely knew how to stage a performance to maximize effect (and minimize legitimate talent deficiencies). He also choreographed hairography for Paul and managed to take over for Iovine in the weekly segment of “mentors tell Stefano he’s completely incompetent and needs to be walked through every aspect of his performance like he’s two years old.” Really, will.i.am delivered in ways that he never has before. And at one point Ryan Tedder was there. (I figured I’d devote about as much time and logical consistency to Ryan Tedder’s inclusion as the show did.)

This week, people I’ve consistently liked were wholly underwhelming, people I’ve consistently disliked weren’t absolutely terrible, and I still do not understand Casey Abrams’s existence on this show.

Jacob Lusk – “Man In The Mirror” (Michael Jackson)
Jacob started off his introduction package by singing “Let’s Get It On” and I was so ridiculously excited at the prospect of Jacob absolutely hamming it up on stage while screaming, “let your love come out.” So when he decided that “Let’s Get It On” wasn’t him and instead he was going to sing the obvious-message-song “Man In The Mirror” (and then continue to hammer the obvious message down our throats both before and after his performance. Hey guys. I think we’re supposed to check out the man in the mirror or something. I don’t know, maybe he’s here to set fire to all past and future misguided white pant suit-looking things?) I was sorely disappointed. As a song, I adore “Man In The Mirror,” but the amount of inspirational message mumbo jumbo that Jacob decided to serve with it was way too much for me. (Yo, dude, if you go home tomorrow? It’s not because people weren’t looking in the mirror. It’s because people were watching TV and have, like, ears.) Then, while Jacob might’ve switched songs, he apparently forgot to tell that to his hips, as he started hip-thrusting at Siedah Garrett (“Man In The Mirror” co-writer). Ryan Seacrest proved to be the most useful judge when he called Jacob out. However, the clear standout moment of the performance for me was when Jacob attempted to kick-start the swaybots with some arm movements and his backup singers responded by waving him goodbye (featured in the uber high quality animated gif). Ah well, having minorities on the show was overrated anyway….

Haley Reinhart – “Piece Of My Heart” (Janis Joplin)
In the world of American Idol, Janis Joplin wrote one song. That song is “Piece Of My Heart.” Additionally, American Idol producers apparently added in another rule this year – if the judges at any point during your critique mention the name of another artist, you must cover that artist in the future. (See: Pia, Celine Dion; Thia, Michael Jackson; Ashton, Diana Ross.) With these two facts in mind, Haley was practically forced into her song choice this week. I mean, she had to sing Janis Joplin, which already narrowed the field down to “Piece.” When I first saw Haley on stage, I never would have imagined that she would end up being Gwen Stefani’s least butchered victim, but the cut-up garbage bag dress was really much less offensive than what was to come. (This just in: Gwen Stefani hates the Idol women. Thank god we have Christian Slater’s daughter to counteract her wrongdoings. It’s like an epic tale of good vs. evil. Will Gwen be able to conquer the women with her cow print and forty inch heels or will the pure innocence of a child throw a wrench into her plans? Tune in to the results show to find out!) For the very first time, I liked Haley’s voice throughout the entire song. She gave it the appropriate amount of grit and growl, but kept in some of her more trademark bluesy riffs. Her performing skills, on the other hand, are still right there on par with Jim Halpert’s in Threat Level Midnight. She desperately needs to win the battle against the alien that lives in her brain for control over her left arm. I’m rooting for you, Haley.

Casey Abrams – “Have You Ever Seen The Rain” (Creedence Clearwater Revival)
Casey Abrams played an upright bass. Casey Abrams made vaguely aggressive faces towards the camera during a song about precipitation. Casey Abrams has one of the most spectacularly pedestrian voices to grace the Idol stage. Casey Abrams cannot convey energy or soul without flashing lights and throaty growls. (And in what world was that performance proving that the upright bass has a place in popular music? Perhaps in the same world the alien that lives in Haley’s brain is from. Maybe Casey Abrams is an alien who had one of his alien friends possess Haley’s brain. I mean, you’ve heard those rumors about Casey and Haley, right? I bet that’s just some cover-up where Casey needed to get close to Haley to cut open her skull. And Casey missing results shows due to being bedridden? Obviously because he’s getting used to Earth’s atmosphere. Oh, oh, oh and those possessed angry faces he makes at the camera? Alien signs giving directions for how to invade Earth’s popular culture scene with upright basses. It all makes sense! Randy is just trying to warn us of the impending invasion! Someone un-flashy thingy Tommy Lee Jones!)

Lauren Alaina – “Natural Woman” (Aretha Franklin)
In keeping with my position of being totally out of sync with the Idolsphere, I loved Lauren’s performance. For close to the first time this season, I watched an entire performance without once thinking to myself “oh, this would be better if…” That’s not to say it was perfect – it clearly wasn’t – but that I was actually taken out of Idol critic mode and put into concert viewer mode. No, it wasn’t up to Kelly Clarkson’s golden standard of “Natural Woman” covers (I’d throw in a youtube link here, but I’m sure every other blogger and their mother has already mentioned said cover). But it certainly beat out Anne Marie Boskovich and Leslie Hunt’s attempts. (That’s who Haley reminds me of, Leslie Hunt. Except less gawky-awkward and more drunk-awkward. And now if Haley gets booted at any point I expect her to adlib, “America just don’t like jazzsoulbluescountrypoprockfolkrnb.” Apparently it’s “mention Haley in everyone else’s recap” day.) Back on track, Lauren’s voice has an effortless quality to it, which in the past has left me wanting more from her, but this time resulted in a sort of cool confidence that worked with the feel of the song. Also, she either has excellent instincts for melodic tweaks or has someone really smart advising her. I think I’m officially rooting for Lauren for reasons other than her being one of the only girls with a chance to win.

James Durbin – “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” (The Beatles)
American Idol Lesson #32 – Making A Moment: In order to succeed on American Idol, one must have at least one “moment” during their stay. This moment may be brought about in one of two ways: (1) The performer is a talented artist who has picked a song and arrangement suitable to their style and performs it in such a way that it is at once instantly captivating and memorable. (2) The performer includes three or more of the following: a gospel choir, tears, dramatic stage lighting, a fog machine, a white spotlight, a single stool, a visible and isolated string section, pull-out stairs, or any further specialized props (ex. a bagpipe player or teenage rocker chick).
James Durbin clearly read this book and decided that option one was too much work so skipped straight ahead to option two. He got a fog machine and dramatic stage lighting and a stool and the string section. He pulled out the “unexpected restrained performance” that was “emotional” because it meant so much to him “personally.” It showed the “struggles” he’s been through in life and his “accomplishments.” So of course Steven Tyler had to throw out the “m” word. I thought it was adequately sung. His voice dropped out on some of the lower notes and was hit-or-miss in a lot of the softest parts. The arrangement was awkward – it was just as dissonant as Michael Lynche’s oddball reworking of “Eleanor Rigby” last season. (Although, I don’t think James will suffer the same fate; for one, the save has already been used.) If that’s the result of five years of your life, James, then, well, maybe in a couple decades you’ll have written a masterpiece like “Friday.” Finally the gratuitous scream at the end was completely misplaced and served no purpose other than to remind the audience that he can scream. Good for you, James. You can scream. You’re on the same level as unhappy toddlers and howler monkeys. Evolution at its finest, really.

Scotty McCreery – “That’s All Right” (Elvis Presley)
Yo, what up. It’s my main man Lil S. Money in the hizouse! What what! What it do! He’s bout to drop it like it’s hot if you know what I mean, you know what I’m saying. Dawg, he be comin’ all up in here getting down to some Elvis. He ain’t takin no BS from nobody so you betta recognize the new king, Alfred E. Neuman with his mad crooked facial expressions and dope stage crouching. Watch yourself, homes. West syyyyyyyeeeede!

Pia Toscano – “River Deep – Mountain High” (Ike & Tina Turner)
I was looking forward to hearing Pia sing this since she announced her choice last week. I love her voice and felt like she was losing some of her early momentum by constantly singing ballads so I wanted her to get back squarely in the driver’s seat. Well, she managed to be far less entertaining and captivating on this uptempo number than she had on any of her previous four ballads (and one half-ballad). Her voice is still amazing, of course, but her performing abilities seem to be limited to walking a few steps then standing to belt, walking a few more steps then belting, bending her knees, and finally holding a really long note with her head leaning all the way back. The pyro at the end even seemed a little half-hearted. Like, it just was there to be there. And not in a fun “ooh! let’s add FIRE” sort of way, but in a “I think pyro will make my performance exciting.” (AKA it scores a 2 on the BOOM FIYAH scale.) Where some of the others need to clean and tighten up their performances a bit, Pia needs to loosen hers up. (She keeps getting compared to Katharine McPhee, so let me be the first to say that I would not mind if Pia decides to mimic this performing style.)

Stefano Langone – “When A Man Loves A Woman” (Percy Sledge)
I will never pass up an opportunity to mention my season 1 crush, Christina Christian, so here’s the obligatory: Christina Christian did it better! (But I can’t find it on Youtube, which is sort of a soul-crushing defeat. Although, it’s probably way worse than I remember it being so maybe it’s just a blessing in disguise.) Stefano has sort of turned into a nothing in my head. When I try to remember Stefano performances I draw a huge blank which is slowly replaced by the horrible image of the thing on his chin. (It’s truly terrifying, if I’m being honest.) Nothing Stefano does is particularly offensive, but none of it is really all that memorable either. I can’t even pinpoint what I’m missing from him because I forget everything about his performances the second he steps off stage. I know he has an adorable mother. I know he is not a fan of songs from 1989. And um, that’s about it.

Paul McDonald – “Folsom Prison Blues” (Johnny Cash)
Last time we heard Paul, he was whispering the note from hell and throwing America into a state of terror and alarm. Then, Paul meets up with the dude behind Black Eyed Peas’ live performances for Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame night where he gets instructed to be even more psychotic on stage than he normally is. Then Paul gets on stage and has the instrumentals set to ultra-twang. And so basically it was the culmination of all my least favorite things on the face of this planet. (Not off this planet though. That’s reserved for the alien formerly known as Casey Abrams and his quest to ruin Haley Reinhart’s Idol run.) Thus, it makes complete sense that I… enjoyed Paul’s performance? The guitar kept him away from reliving his drunken Wedding Crashers dreams and the pace and energy of the song kept his voice away from breathy serial killer come hither moments. I don’t know that I’ll ever say Paul’s tone “works” for something, but it didn’t offend me as it normally does. It was fun and energetic and truly entertaining. Granted, 20% of the performance was a guitar solo performed by someone who wasn’t Paul, which is one of the most egregious arrangement fails I can recall. (Yeah! I have two minutes a week to show twenty million people how talented I am… let’s have this random guitarist do a solo! Although, come to think of it, maybe it was Paul’s lack of singing that had me enjoying the performance so much. In my book, less Paul is always better.) So yeah, as much as it kills me a little on the inside to say it, I thought Paul was one of the better performers of the night.

Hmm… I still have a little time left in this recap… DANCE PARTY!!!! (I have no idea what that was about, but it was definitely amazing.)

Bottom 3: Jacob, Stefano, Haley
Getting the boot: Stefano

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