The Top 8 Find Humility To Be Overrated

Well, tonight we saw what happens when the judges tell everyone that they’re amazing, unique superstars who can do no wrong every week. The contestants go from enjoyable, humble amateurs to obnoxious, arrogant… well, still amateurs. Half the contestants straight up told Jimmy Iovine that he could take his advice and shove it, Casey cried at his own awesomeness and Scotty claimed to be humbled by effusive praise. Because, well, I know when people tell me I’m the greatest thing since sliced bread I get humbled. I thought I was the greatest thing ever, sliced bread included. Thanks for bringing me down to earth, guys. To be fair, I don’t think any of these guys have actually turned into Kanye-level egomaniacs; they’re all new to the limelight and aren’t used to having their every word and facial expression analyzed. Still, some of these contestants need to start making the conscious effort to appear more gracious, otherwise America is going to turn on them quickly. (I can’t say I’d mind this in most cases.)

The judges certainly aren’t helping these contestants check their egos at the front door. Regardless of how any performance actually went tonight, the judges heaped superlatives on everyone. (Oh, except you Haley Reinhart. You know? We just don’t really like you very much, so we’re actually going to criticize you. I have more to say on this, but I’ll save it.) There is no semblance of cohesion between the reality of the performance and the fairytale the judges spin out of it. No one gets called out for vocal mishaps or arrangements that might fall flat. Distracting performance ticks go completely unmentioned. The fact that some contestants bring out the same song and dance every week gets swept under the rug. I don’t know if the judges are so inane that they do not recognize that these performances have flaws or if they’re just too incompetent at their job to adequately convey the truth, but either way they need to seriously step it up. It’s insulting to the viewers’ intelligence to pretend like all eight contestants are throwing out professional-level showstoppers week in and week out. Just because someone is performing in a style that suits them does not mean they are performing well. It would go a long way if the judges simply mentioned this fact. Because without any direction or incentive to improve, everyone is stagnating. Hell, axe the entire panel and put and Jimmy Iovine on it. They don’t seem opposed to dishing out the harsh realities.

So, since the judges refuse to critique any of the contestants, I’ll do my best to critique them and then some.

Paul McDonald – “Old Time Rock And Roll” (Bob Seger, Risky Business)
Paul’s entire mentality towards the competition is all wrong. He said that he takes every performance like the encore of a set. The problem here is that Paul hasn’t won us over. We didn’t pay to see a Paul McDonald concert. You can’t haphazardly flail about the stage and forget any inkling of poise or musicality in favor of tequila-soaked energy. Things that make a concert encore great are the same things that make a run on Idol end. Paul is clearly losing any bit of vocal ability he had, which makes his already weak, strained voice even worse. Basically, Paul’s biggest hurdle is that he’s found himself on a singing competition with no aptitude for singing. He can try his best to divert attention from his voice with his desultory staggering or his brilliantly offensive outfits or fifteen second sax solos, but ultimately he sounds terrible and it should be a problem. I don’t care how much he loves flailing a tambourine, it doesn’t make up for how little talent is required to put on a Paul McDonald encore.

Lauren Alaina – “The Climb” (Miley Cyrus, Hannah Montana: The Movie)
Jimmy Iovine hilariously eviscerating Miley’s vocal abilities in the performance clip and Lauren’s awkward attempts to respond affirmatively without insulting Ms. Montana was one of the most entertaining moments of the night. (It wasn’t particularly entertaining – this just highlights how few high points the show had.) Lauren choosing to sing Miley was predictable and a little safe, but not entirely stupid. She drew lots of criticism from viewers for picking a song that was too old for her last week, so picking a song from one of the most teen-friendly pop stars was an adequate solution. The one thing you can always say about Lauren is that she sings well. She hits notes and has a pleasing voice. However, she somehow managed to make “The Climb” sound even more anemic than it already is. (And let’s face it, the song already gets confused with the mountains and hurricanes song from Season 8, so it’s hardly held in high regard.) The second half was definitely better than the first half but that just means the song went from funeral dirge to standard Idol Movie Week Performance fodder.

Stefano Langone – “End Of The Road” (Boyz II Men, Boomerang)
In Idol’s continuing saga of perpetuating as much Ryan Seacrest and Stefano Langone fan fiction as possible, Stefano got a sit down chat with Ryan in which they discussed taking it to the next level. You may take that as you wish. Let’s face it, at this point Stefano is treading on thin ice. Jimmy Iovine still hates his guts, but now the producers are trying to place the blame on him for Pia’s ouster, too. I’d be more outraged if Stefano was anything more than a pretty face and a decent voice, but he’s not. He sings decently, though far from perfectly. That one held note was pretty. He picked a good song but sucked all of the yearning out of it. He’s not surprising anyone at this point. It was a passable holding performance, but Stefano doesn’t need a holding performance, he needs to break out and impress. I’m not sure he’s capable of it and after the results show, I’m not sure he’ll have a chance to anyway.

Scotty McCreery – “I Cross My Heart” (George Strait, Pure Country)
I can’t even craft stereotypes as rigid as Scotty casts himself in. Yes, he sang a country song from, of all movies, Pure Country, because he was going back to his country roots. Scotty is a country boy at heart and he never wants you to forget it. So got it? Because he just wants to do this country great justice. Scotty has been absurdly one note. As always, he sang well. Of course, as always, he sang a slower tune with as much twang as humanly possible and made the cheesiest faces imaginable while holding his microphone like a flute. What use is Scotty to this show any more? If he were booted now, he’d get the same contract and have the same fan base as if he won. I’m just over Scotty and his impossible-to-watch George W. Bush faces while he sings. He’ll have a career, so why don’t we just let him get to it already for the good of the show.

Casey Abrams – “Nature Boy” (Nat King Cole, The Boy With Green Hair)
I disagree with Jimmy Iovine that Casey was too small or quiet on “Nature Boy” for the Idol stage. Plenty of the best Idol moments have been quiet precisely because they succeeded in drawing the audience inwards instead of attempting to project a bombastic delivery outwards. No, the problem with Casey’s take on “Nature Boy” was that it was thoroughly unsettling for all the wrong reasons. It was a vocal disaster over an arrangement littered with dead space and amateurish filler. Where Nat King Cole’s original conveys a cool aura of mystery, Casey brought back his creepy angry faces and disgruntled growls. Seriously, what do you think Casey was singing while he was making that face? I’d guess, “I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti.” Unless the mood of a song is “the emotional range of Freddy Krueger,” Casey fails spectacularly at any sort of legitimate delivery. Still, I’d be able to forgive some of these things if he sounded half decent while doing them. He didn’t. He sounded terrible. His voice is unreliable outside of a three note range. The arrangement was terrible. It was, ultimately, a poor song choice which did nothing but succeed in showing off Casey’s limited vocal dexterity and inability to navigate a melody with even the most remote trace of sophistication. For my money, the fantastic combination of the grossly off-kilter vocals, the empty arrangement, and the menacing incongruous facial expressions made it the single worst performance in the finals, ever. At least other finals performances are laughably bad; Casey simply managed bad. So I was floored when the judges gave it a standing ovation and then invoked the names of platinum selling Grammy winners in their critiques. I don’t know what Norah Jones or Esperanza Spalding did to deserve having their likenesses attached to the abomination that Casey coughed up on stage. I don’t care about Casey being jazz instead of pop. I care that Casey is tuneless instead of interesting and off-putting instead of entertaining. So when Casey talked about wanting to educate and broke down in tears over just how amazing his performance was, I sort of lost it. If you want to break down in tears over something, just listen to the clip:

Haley Reinhart – “Call Me” (Blondie, American Gigolo)
Haley deserves credit for two things: keeping it upbeat and remaining likable in the face of the only critiques of the night. I think the criticisms the judges had of Haley’s performance were entirely applicable. The performance definitely could’ve used a stronger vocal and the song choice was a risky one from the start. I’d say it was Haley’s weakest vocal showing of the finals. However, it was in no way appreciably worse than any of the five performances which preceded hers. In fact, while her voice struggled, I thought she had vastly improved in the staging aspect of it all. She really managed to tone down the clunky, forced motions and it definitely looked more natural to me. She still has a long way to go before I’ll be able to watch her without laughing from start to finish, but she’s getting there. Haley had an off night and I’m glad the judges noticed it. I am outraged that they failed to notice any of the other contestant’s blaring deficiencies. It was just another stupid, baffling moment in an episode littered with them.

Jacob Lusk – “Bridge Over Troubled Water” (Simon & Garfunkel, The Pursuit Of Happyness)
Jacob has yet to introduce a new song to the Idol stage. He’s picked from the Idol songbooks of Kris Allen, Carrie Underwood, Tamyra Gray and Kelly Clarkson. This week he chose a standout from Season Two’s Clay Aiken. Jacob has very little creativity and it’s reflected clearly in his song selections. It was just another boring, slightly overwrought ballad from him. He showed more control than he has in the past, but that just means he managed to rein in his hip-thrusts and sermons. There was nothing new or interesting to learn about Jacob from this performance and it wasn’t captivating enough on its own merits to move me. Again, like Stefano and Scotty, it seems clear that we’ve seen everything that Jacob has to offer and it’s quickly turning this season of Idol into a repetitive snoozefest.

James Durbin – “Heavy Metal” (Sammy Hagar, Heavy Metal)
I know nothing about metal except that I detest it greatly. As such, I was fully ready to run screaming from James’s performance. Lucky for me, it turns out that “Heavy Metal” (or at least James’s take on it) was incredibly poppy and palatable. I’d hardly say that James brought metal to Idol with that performance, but he did bring some much needed entertainment. His voice was back in good form after a couple weeks off and he performed with his usual lack of inhibition (which is to say, a little too showy at times, but mostly light-hearted enough to stay enjoyable). Of course, I can’t be too biased, so I do need to point out that he allowed about a third of the time to be dedicated to a guitar solo which he was not playing. I ragged on Casey James all last season for spending half his time on stage playing the guitar and not singing, but at least he was the one playing the guitar. This season the contestants have decided they’ll just let other far more talented musicians carry their performances because in the end they’ll still be greeted with cries of “greatest performance ever!” from our amazing panel of Irrelevant Beyond Even The Most Insipid Ellen DeGeneres Levels, I Name Drop Because It’s The Only Way People Believe I Have Any Musical Credibility, and Idol Has Done More For My Career Than It Will Do For Any Of The Contestants (What Up, Most Beautiful Woman).

Typically, I enjoy this show regardless of the performances. Either I get enjoyment from how terrible people are or from how awesome they are. This week I just sort of hated it all. Give me constructive criticism or give them death!

Bottom 3: Stefano, Paul, Casey
Going home: Paul


2 Responses to “The Top 8 Find Humility To Be Overrated”

  1. 1 stomedy April 14, 2011 at 8:48 am

    I don’t like any of AI10 contestants ever since they started performing live. I can’t watch them, I find them theatrical. They’re very conscious of “performing” in front of the camera so much so that I think they are performing for the camera more than singing. Add that to their current practice of having the music player and back up singers with them on the stage make the performances confusing and distracting to watch. So what I do is watch MLB while listening to the livestream so I can concentrate on the music alone. Did I hear Casey Abrams clear his throat twice during his performance? I like listening to their singing voices during their sessions with Jimmy Lovine because they are pure and sometimes just accompanied by a piano. But I am always disappointed at the actual performance because it becomes a production with loud accompaniments and back up singers. It is disheartening that the show is no longer about raw talented kids who are given a chance to show their talent and become better singers because the show teaches them how. The show has become a market place where music producers, judges and what not, advanced their own products and agenda.

    • 2 jaytak April 14, 2011 at 4:55 pm

      I totally agree that many of these contestants sound leagues better in their pre-performance package sessions than in the real deal. They’ve all been thoroughly disappointing the last few weeks and coupled with the mind-numbing judges, the show is starting to display the cracks in its armor like fine china.

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