The Top 4 Love Jesus Or Gaga (But Not Both)

I. Hate. This. Show.

But, alas, I’m still here watching it every week. Week after week I keep thinking that someone higher up will realize that every fan is a little disgruntled at the complete lack of judging that everyone not named Haley gets and change it up. And week after week I manage to be surprised that they don’t. I don’t know why I expect them to change, but I do. The judging is the worst it’s been, ever. I found myself longing for the days of Kara DioGuardi. Not Simon Cowell, though. Simon was good in the early seasons but the one thing all these judges still have over Season-9-Simon is that they (mostly) care about the contestants and the show. Nothing was worse than watching Simon roll his eyes while making stupid amounts of money. That tangent aside, these hacks might be more invested, but they’re also infinitely less connected to reality. It’s beyond frustrating when week-after-week the comments from the judges are entirely disconnected from the content of the performances. The amount of scripting and rewriting history that has been going on is infuriating. The producers are being equally heavy-handed (and perhaps it’s the production’s heavy-handedness that’s contributing to the uneven judging). All in all, it has been every bit as bad as the debacle of a show that they threw together in Season 8. (Luckily, that season had contestants who were talented enough to keep the show bearable.)

These contestants? Well. I like the remaining ones as a group, even if that seems to be an increasingly unpopular sentiment. I think overall they’ve put together a solid collection of performances and each has definitely given a few reasons for why they should be standing under the confetti shower at the Nokia. Heck, even tonight I thought they generally succeeded within the context of the themes. (Although, I gotta say that their version of “succeeding” under the “Inspirational” theme was not quite what I had hoped for.) They are, however, nowhere near the collective talent that the top 4 of Season 8 brought us and thus cannot overcome the general black hole of talent that sits at the judge’s table.

Inspirational songs are not, as a rule, terrible. There are inspirational songs that exist which are not simply trite, pandering messes. The contestants on American Idol, however, are never aware of this fact. As such, the first round of songs ended up being various degrees of bad; some hilariously so (Scotty) and some infuriatingly so (Haley, or rather, the judging after Haley’s). The Leiber and Stoller theme proved much more successful, though on paper all four song choices looked to be tragic missteps. As a persona, I find Lady Gaga to be a pretentious mess of indulgent absurdity and completely unwatchable. As a mentor? She fared much better. She still looked like a disaster (and not even a beautiful one), but managed to give some pointed performing advice and interacted with each contestant on a human level. She was much more effective than most current pop stars have been at the mentoring gig. Ugh, anyway. On to the performances.

James Durbin – “Don’t Stop Believin'” (Journey) & “Love Potion No. 9” (The Clovers)
First off, screw you, producers. James opened and closed the show tonight. He’s now been in the pimp spot four separate times. That’s a little egregious if you ask me. Sure, he’s an entertaining performer, but he can be entertaining if he goes second or third, too. I did love that he started off “Don’t Stop Believin'” by saying “c’mon, Randy I know you know the words.” I thought that was fun. And, um, I think that ends the positives for that performance! It was exactly like this. The arrangement was super-karaoke. The vocal was super-karaoke. The performance was super-karaoke. Even the pyro was a little disappointing. Once you’ve gone flaming piano, you can’t really go back, y’know? That said, even if this song choice was overdone, he gets points for picking the only inspirational song that didn’t make me roll my eyes into the back of my head.

So when James announced he was doing “Love Potion No. 9”, I laughed and laughed and laughed some more. Because, really? But then he actually started and… um… I liked it? I thought the arrangement fit well for him. He was entertaining, as always. He sounded really good. He’s always a little over the top in his delivery, but that’s just his style. It makes for good TV. Was the ending perhaps a little indulgent? Yeah, yeah it was. But it was fun. I don’t think James takes himself nearly as seriously as the Idolsphere takes him. He’s like a little kid who just wants to have fun every week and plays with his performance to maximize that. I can deal with that. I could have lived, however, without the sight of Lady Gaga copping a feel of James’s lower-half.

Haley Reinhart – “Earth Song” (Michael Jackson) & “I (Who Have Nothing)” (Ben E. King)
Haley was the first to test out the new weird semicircle half-steps they had. I don’t know the purpose of them. I feel like a stool would have been more effective and less garish. I also think she chose one of the worst songs ever. For a brief, glorious second, I thought she might be singing “Man In The Mirror” (king of pop! inspirational!) and it would have been a hilarious slap in the face to our dearly departed Jacob Lusk. But no, she picked this dreary song and it dragged her down. We get it. Fight cancer! And disasters! And poverty! Inspirational! Look! Gospel choir on the stairs here to sing about inspiration! Haley largely sounded good, although she got a little too growly at the climax of the song. That said, Randy Jackson needs to get bitch-slapped for his critique. It’s not that the judges are giving critique to Haley that doesn’t apply, so much as it is that they’re not giving critique to anyone else and then the comments they do give to Haley are unnecessarily mean-spirited and slightly off-base. It’s clear that Randy doesn’t give a rat’s ass about Haley. Because, hello? She wasn’t great, but I don’t know what bars J. Lo thought James was setting in his performance. Like, did Haley need to pick a song that had been covered by Glee? Is that the standard James set? Ugh.

Don’t even get me started on Randy saying that Scotty, James and Lauren were tied for the best first performance. Why not just take a shovel and bash Haley’s face with it, Randy? That would be more to-the-point. Again, I’m glad Haley picked a song she could properly fuel with Randy-inspired rage to throw down for her second performance. (Okay, how ridiculous is it that Haley performed 2nd and then 1st? Could the production be any more stacked against her? /Chandler) But Haley came out with the song that has become synonymous with Jordin Sparks’s time on Idol and made me forget Jordin Sparks completely. While Jordin acted out the emotions of that song perfectly, Haley had the added advantage of already being full of those emotions. She harnessed that desperation and anger to marvelous results. She’s developed a commanding stage presence and her voice is perfectly textured for an angsty, emo number. (Haley herself said she got a little emo.) Anyway, I loved it again. Haley has been nothing short of great four weeks running now. She has definitely had the biggest upswing of any contestant on this show. Perfect, brilliant, etc. Screw you, Idol. Screw. You.

Scotty McCreery – “I Love America” (Jesus Christ) & “I’ll Pray For You” (Crosses Not Gaga)
Reviewing Scotty on the basis of his musicality would be an exercise in futility at this point. Did you hear that Scotty McCreery loves Jesus? If you didn’t, here, let him sing a song to you written after 9/11 with the lyrics, “I know Jesus and I talk to God / And I remember this from when I was young / Faith, hope, and love are some good things He gave us / And the greatest is love.” This means a lot to this country, AMERICA, as Scotty told us. He’s all about America. And Jesus Christ. And touching America through Jesus. Because this country, America, is great. He would’ve worn his American flag patterned vest, but he got some stains on it while eating mama’s apple pie after working up a mighty fine appetite playin’ some ball with the neighbors. I mean, I don’t know if y’all heard this or not, but Scotty is going to bring our troops home! You go, Scotty. Show those terrorists who’s boss.

Scotty also wants you to know that he really does love Jesus. He’s not a sinner. He’ll kiss his cross after that devil woman Lady Gaga who sang that (flop!) song about loving Judas touched him. He swears he’s not doing unholy things to that there microphone. He’s saving that for after he gets married to sweet Betty Anne Baker from down the street. You know her, she’s the dainty little peach who volunteers at Elmwood’s old folks home in her spare time. Don’t they make such a cute couple? The prom is coming up in a few weeks – I bet Scotty is real sad he’s missing out on it. But he promised her, oh this is such a cute story, he promised her when this whole crazy American Idol thing was over that he’d take her out dancing. And you know how shy he gets about his dancing. He’d do anything for that Betty Anne. … oh right, where was I again? Yeah. Scotty. He performed. But it doesn’t matter because he’s a young guitar-playing white guy who thinks God is great and will do anything for good ol’ America.

Lauren Alaina – “Anyway” (Martina McBride) & “Trouble” (Elvis)
“Anyway” was exactly what you would expect it to be. It was well-sung, ridiculously sappy and Lauren was wearing one of the most outrageous outfits known to man. (Okay, maybe you wouldn’t expect that last thing.) She mentioned a current disaster going on in America and earned herself millions of votes. It was really a non-starter affair. That said, I think if anyone “won” the first round, it was Lauren. (But really, the world as a whole lost the first round. The first round was like a gigantic pit of inspiration-fueled despair.)

Lauren didn’t want to be outdone by Scotty and made sure that America knew she wasn’t evil. How did she pull this off? Well, by stating approximately ninety billion times that she was not evil. Gaga gave her great advice and told her just to get into a character. Then, in the surprise of the night, it actually worked. Lauren finally committed 100% to her performance and played a character. She left all the awkward giggles behind and worked all the sass and attitude she had to give an entirely entertaining rendition of a song we’ve all heard a couple times before on the stage. Her breathlessness at the end caused her to fall short on a pair of notes, but that mattered far less in the face of her dedication to playing the part. It was refreshing to see from Lauren. She might not be Carrie Underwood, but I think she’s made a good case for herself this season.

In a perfect world, I would like to see both girls stick around. Lauren has been one of the most consistently good contestants this season (if rarely great) whereas Haley has had the highest highs. Sadly, with James’s pimp spot and Scotty’s masterclass in pandering and gigantic fanbase, it’s almost certain we’re losing a girl this week.

Bottom 2 (which they won’t tell us): Haley and Lauren
Going home (and not in the good way): Lauren

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