The Top 5 Are Flawless, Except That Haley Chick

To say that this week’s performance show was maddening would be an understatement. It was a ridiculous show of the most uneven judging I’ve ever seen and continued proof that none of the three judges are remotely cognizant of anything going on around them during the performances. So, to anyone who managed to get through the entire thing without yelling expletives at their TV (or hurling something through the screen), congratulations! You perhaps have the makings of a Zen yoga master.

The theme this week was apparently painted with really broad strokes. I thought it was one song from the 60s and one current song, but it turned out to be more “one song that was written a while ago and one that was written not-so-long ago.” There were a few songs from the 70s. “Current” went back to like 2003 once or twice. And generally speaking there were more trainwrecks than I’ve come to expect from this year’s crop of contestants. (There was also a glorious moment that almost rivaled Tim Urban’s most memorable performance!) Ugh. Let’s just get on with these performances, shall we?

James Durbin – “Closer To The Edge” (30 Seconds To Mars) & “Without You” (Harry Nilsson)
Dude. Wear sleeves. Always wear sleeves. Sleeves are your friends! As distracting as sleeveless James was, it was still not enough to take away from his horrific vocal. Apparently James’s vocal power lies somewhere in the fabric between his shoulder and wrist. I’m not sure he hit a single note the entire time. Even his screamy-register was a wonky series of sharp note after sharp note. I have been a fan of most of James’s performances either because they were wholly interesting or, at least, well-sung. This was neither. Terrible. The judges, of course, thought it was flawless, perfect, beautiful, etc.

His take on uber power ballad “Without You” was just as disastrous. He turned into a sniveling four year old during rehearsals over the song. Then he sang like a sniveling four year old during the performance! It was marginally better sung than the first performance (which, okay, maybe the power isn’t in the sleeves) but once he started belting it all fell right back off the tracks. Of course, the judges and producers gave him a pass because it was so emotional! They could tell he was feeling it because he cried. Look! Tears! It must’ve been great! Who cares about that sounding good crap when you can have tears? Not the judges. Nope.

Jacob Lusk – “No Air” (Jordin Sparks ft. Chris Brown) & “Love Hurts” (Nazareth)
As bad as James was, I somehow was even more horrified by Jacob’s performance of “No Air.” Someone gave him terrible advice to start in a key only dogs are capable of hearing, and Jacob continued to sing both of his songs in this high-pitched whir. (Perhaps he felt he could pick up Casey Abrams’s dog voters? Someone should tell him those dudes have a sketchy voting history at best. They’re really not the most interested constituents.) Then Jacob added weird hip-swaying and fist-pumps on top of his shrill tuneless banshee hollers. It was terrible. For J. Lo and Randy to call him one of the best singers ever on Idol was a complete joke. How about that Jordin Sparks chick? You know, the one who sings the song? And doesn’t sound like a dying farm animal?

So Sheryl Crow sounded good on the two bars of the song she sang. Jacob? Well his “Love Hurts” was significantly better than his “No Air.” Of course, that just means it didn’t shatter windows in anyone’s home. It still started off way too high and then cruised right at the perfect level of over-sung and over-emoted for the rest of the way. Now that he added the harp, Jacob has played every card he has and I’m hoping there’s no way he makes it through another night. (Oh Jacob, you know who Jacob doesn’t appeal to? Everyone. You appeal to no one. I don’t even think your family is that keen on your singing, really.)

Lauren Alaina – “Flat On The Floor” (Carrie Underwood) & “Unchained Melody” (The Righteous Brothers)
I had never heard the Carrie Underwood song before in my life. She said she was singing “flat on the floor” and at first, I wasn’t even entirely sure if that was a song title or a new-wave performance style. That said, I really liked what she did with the song. It was more energetic and uninhibited than we’ve seen her in weeks. I don’t feel like she held anything back and just decided to have fun on stage. Plus, she performed after two total disasters, so her strong vocal was a completely welcomed change of pace. Really, both girls proved that they were in an entirely different league than the boys this week. (If they hadn’t already proved this by murdering the guys in every group sing.)

Lauren sang “Unchained Melody” *cue groans*. Yeah, it wasn’t my favorite song choice of the night, but again I thought she sang extremely well. I like it when she sings a song that’s not typically country because her twang ends up countrifying everything anyway. She’s really, really good at that. Of course, the two real talking points in her performance were sitting on either hand. They were two of the most distractingly large rings I have ever seen. The one on her left hand was particularly distracting. It looked to be a flower that had eaten four of her fingers. The other thing of note was the amazing moon backdrop. It was just so ridiculous. I love it when the Idol team decides to bring out the nature & wildlife screensavers. They’re always so inappropriate. (Oh hey, what do you know? The judges couldn’t judge this performance! There was nothing to judge. Clearly, Lauren got up on stage and stood still and said nothing for ninety seconds, right?)

Scotty McCreery – “Gone” (Montgomery Gentry) & “Always On My Mind” (Elvis Presley)
So “Gone” was a ridiculous mess of cheestastic performing and hammy stage moves. But those cheestastic performance skills results in him jumping over the stairs to the judges’ table, so it was kind of alright in my book. Really, I have nothing to say. He cheesed his way through a modern country song and the judges loved it. Woo hoo! At least he didn’t sound horrible? Not that he sounded great, either.

Then he sang the world’s most lethargic cover of “Always On My Mind.” Listen, I know the song requires a bit of tenderness and subtlety, but that doesn’t mean you have to sleep through it. He could’ve used one or two glory notes in there to break up his rigorously plodding monotone delivery. (Except, of course, if you were looking at his face. In which case the song was richly punctuated by eyebrow raises and schmaltzy smirks.) It was just so unspectacular after the two great renditions the show has seen from Fantasia and Anoop. He was out-sung, out-emoted and out-classed. This. Is. Your. American. Idol!

Haley Reinhart – “You And I” (Lady Gaga) & “The House Of The Rising Sun” (The Animals)
I’m not gonna lie, I was not feeling “You And I” all that much. I thought Haley did a great job singing the song and a good job performing it, but the song was really mediocre. It started off slow and ended up having no melody in the chorus (or whatever that ending portion was). It was just not a very well written song. Which means I agree, in theory, with the general feel of the judges’ critique of her performance. Except, in principle, I don’t agree at all. If I were critiquing with the same kid gloves that the judges have been using on all the guys this year, that performance would’ve been ELECTRIFYING, OUT OF THIS WORLD, BEST THING EVER (INCLUDING SLICED BREAD), MOVED ME TO TEARS, IN. IT. TO. WIN. IT!!!! It was still way better than anything the guys coughed up in their six at-bats. So it was infuriating to see Haley get eviscerated (without even a recognition of the pitch-perfection she displayed!) for picking a song that, perhaps, wasn’t the most compelling tune ever. Any critique that ends with the contestant saying, “maybe I shouldn’t take risks” needs to be reevaluated immediately.

Luckily, Haley got her revenge. I won’t go into the gory details of it all, but it involved a hatchet, some duct-tape and a loop of Jacob’s “No Air” performance. But seriously, Haley’s “The House Of The Rising Sun” was perfect. It was, no questions asked, the best performance of the season and is competitive with all the best performances of seasons past. The a cappella open? Brilliant. The way she navigated the melody, keeping it recognizable but distinctly Reinhart? Flawless. The unmistakable fire in her voice through the final lines? Electric. The “bitch, you know it” face she had on while the judges were giving her a standing ovation? Perfect. YES, I just used perfect, brilliant, flawless and electric to describe the performance? Why? Because I can. And because goshdarnit, she deserves something after that bus that ran over her bloodied body.

Bottom 2: Lauren and Jacob
Going home: Jacob

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