Last night was Motown night on American Idol, a welcome reprieve after last week's Grand Ole Opry theme, which saw most of the contestants struggling.
Smokey Robinson served as a mentor and singing coach for the finalists.
First to take the stage was Matt Giraud, who put his spin on the Marvin Gaye song, "Let's Get It On." Smokey loves it, saying that Marvin would be proud to hear it. To change it up a little bit, Matt started at the piano and then got up and moved around the stage, interacting more directly with the audience. His slowed-down opening really worked, but as he stood, the song sounded more like the original soul arrangement.. Once more, Matt looked like an office worker on casual day: in a blue button-down shirt, tie, sweater and faded jeans. He was trying to be a little sexy, doing the Marvin Gaye growly thing. For once, his higher notes sounded sweet. Even if it's not the best rendition of this song, it was my favorite performance of his so far.
Judge Randy Jackson praised him for the progress he's made, saying that now he's challenging the other contestants for the top spot. Fourth wheel Kara DioGuardi said that "A lot of girls out there going 'Yeah'." She liked that he got up, saying that he's been "shy and reserved." Still, she thought he could have pushed it more. Nice judge Paula Abdul called him tasteful, classy, and spot on. Then, for some reason, she said his performance was "like wearing a great old pair of worn-in jeans." Tough judge Simon Cowell called it a brilliant choice of song "except the corny bit in the middle." He called it a "cool performance" and labeled Matt one of the front runners.
Next, resident heartthrob Kris Allen took on another Marvin Gaye tune, "How Sweet it Is." "Kris blew me away." Smokey said that Kris's version blew him away. Kris picked up the guitar again, which was good because it helped hide a very odd shirt with numbers on the shoulders and patches on the sleeves. It kind of looked like a Boy Scout prison shirt. His version of the song borrowed heavily from folk rock, which is not how I typically think of Kris. The performance reminded me a lot of James Taylor. While it didn't add anything new, it was kind of catchy.
Kara praised his artistry, saying he did everything right. Paula pointed to his comfort level on-stage and said his personality is infectious. She called his last note brilliant and said she's really proud. Simon liked it but advised him to start believing in himself: "The way you're standing, you could be at a bus stop." To be a star, Simon said, you've got to be conceited. Randy called him consistent and said "it's all good right now, baby."
Scott MacIntyre chose a more upbeat song this week, "You Can't Hurry Love" by the Supremes. Smokey said of his rehearsal: "It's like slide piano." He had no negative comments. Scott's arrangement started out really slow, which sounded like much of what he's done so far. Then the tempo picked up, and perhaps for some added excitement, the background dancers danced around the piano. I think that Scott (who probably can't be blamed for the matching pastel rose pants and paisley shirt, since he is vision impaired) has a pleasant voice, but there's not much dimension to it. He's the sort of person I could see starring in a community musical, but I'm beginning to think his days on this show are numbered.
Paula rode the wave of the good feeling, saying, "When you feel it, the audience feels it, too." Simon said he found irony in the line of the song, "How much more can you take?" He called the performance "a bit cheap," adding, "I think you're better than that, as an artist. You are choosing the wrong songs." Randy said it was a "very hotel kind of performance." He urged Scott to take some risks. Kara said that with this sort of song, you have to nail it. She liked the tempo, though acknowledged his execution wasn't perfect.
At this point, in reaction to a comment that Simon made, Paula picked up some crayons and a coloring book for Simon, saying, "Here you go, 6 year old." I bet she always has those crayons under there. Before Ryan announced the numbers, Scott joked that viewers should vote for the pink pants, confessing that he wasn't told they were pink until l0 minutes before airtime!
No longer having the excuse that she's sick Megan Joy Corkrey warbled through "For Once in My Life" by Stevie Wonder. Smokey called her a "half jazz, half cabaret type singer." While he found that refreshing, that style doesn't tend to do well on this show. Sure enough, her version was very loungey, and instead of staying still and shimmying, she strutted around the stage in a very weird little flowered dress with a pouffy skirt and sandals. Usually, I like Megan more than the judges, but this time she was clearly straining for the higher notes, and she even growled a couple times.
Randy liked the outfit, but said, "Dude, that song was a train wreck for me." He called it bizarre. Kara observed, "The song took you over; you weren't dominating the song." She said it's "not the Megan I'm used to." Maybe that Megan is under the table with Paula's crayons. Paula called her stunning (translation: fashion disaster). She said, "The camera loves you, but this was not the right song for you." Simon said the good news is that she looked good, but the bad news was, "It was horrible." He advised her to fire "whoever is advising you," which is odd, because at this point it's just the vocal coaches and the show's stylists. He called it a horrible arrangement and predicted she could be in serious trouble.
By the way, a note to the judges: please, please stop singing.
Anoop Desai went with a Smokey Robinson Song "Ooh, Baby, Baby." Smokey was understandably excited about this choice. Wearing a striped polo and sports jacket, he began by sitting on stage. His tone was really nice until he stood up and immediately ran into break control problems: breathing loudly into the mike and having trouble sustaining notes. If Anoop stays around, he really needs to start hitting the gym and work on endurance.
Kara said that he can sing but she wants him to push it, to be more creative in changing up the melodies. Paula called his delivery and falsetto spot on. She found the performance "tender." Simon called it a great vocal but added, "You looked like you were half asleep." Randy advised him that next week, he needs to "turn up that energy," although he said it's "nice to hear you croon and swoon."
Blue-collar favorite Michael Sarver did the Temptations song, "Ain't Too Proud to Beg." Apparently, he has also been sick, although the judges didn't make as much of a point of mentioning that during his critique as they did last week for Megan. Smokey advised him to show more emotion. Within a few phrases of his performance, I was already bored. He wore an equally bland outfit of a pale purple button-down shirt, jacket. Jeans. The performance just felt very awkward, like somebody's older brother dancing in the living room. He also had a very rough last note.
Paula called it "a tough performance." She said it felt "a little old Las Vegas loungey" and took him to task for not reaching some of the notes. Still, she attempted to cushion the blow, saying, "I love you very much." Simon claimed not to understand what Paula just said, to which she replied, "Well, if you understood music..." He had no troubles critiquing Michael, saying he couldn't wait for it to end and that Michael has no chance of winning. Randy called it an unbelievable song but said it's "just a little too big for you." Kara also wasn't feeling it, asking him to consider "who are you as an artist that makes us go 'that was hot'."
Just like Michael Sarver was expected to excel during country week, Lil Rounds faced high expectations on Motown night, since she has a very R&B style. She did Heatwave by Martha and the Vandellas, saying in her rehearsal video that she was really moved by the trip to Motown. Perhaps in an effort to channel Motown stars like Diana Ross, she wore a retro-looking wig with a little flip on the bottom that I found distracting, along with her fringe-laden flapper dress. If her singing had been more impressive, I might not have been so distracted by her look, but she was seemed to be shouting most of it, just pounding out the lyrics like she was trying to stay ahead of a fire. It wasn't joyous, like the original, just a little desperate-feeling. Now, she's got pipes, though, so even her worst sounds good.
Randy said that, with this song, "you've got mad, crazy vocals." He critiqued her phrasing, saying that she needed more space in the bars. He said is was not your best. Oh, and Randy, stop singing. Kara said she looked great. (Wait for it... here comes the slam) This was supposed to be her week, and "if you don't nail this week, mm, I don't know." She put it down to song choice. Paula said she was "classic Motown mixed with couture chic." She called her vocals fresh. Simon said that "what you did tonight was an authentic tribute to the sound of Motown." Nevertheless, he wouldn't have chosen that song, because it "doesn't give you a moment." He suggested that "I Heard It Through the Grapevine" would have been better.
Adam Lambert performed a Smokey Robinson tune, "Tracks of My Tears." Smokey found the arrangement to be tender and sweet, saying he was proud of his interpretation. Adam got extra brownie points for asking Smokey to tell him why he wrote it, and Smokey described the mental image he'd have of someone who's been crying a long time and has rivulets down his face. Adam chose to do an unplugged version, opting to highlight the emotion of the song. He also changed up his look, going for a retro-50s black button-down shirt, with gray jacket, his hair slicked back. I thought he looked like a cross between k.d. lang and a young Kurt Russell (both of whom are lookers, in my book). He showed how to use falsetto properly, reminding me of '50s singers like Frankie Avalon. It was a very toned down, definitely designed to show another side. Despite a few wavering notes and a few audible breaths, I loved it.
Kara called it one of the best performances of the night. Paula loved his clean look, calling him "handsome and classy." She summed him up: "You are exciting." Simon said he wanted to disagree with Kara, saying it was the best performance of the night. He praised Adam for being "relevant" and for "showing what a brilliant songwriter Smokey is." He said Adam has emerged as a star. Randy called it "unbelievably hot" and said it was "the bomb," his highest praise.
One of the few contestants who can follow Adam successfully, Danny did the Temptations tune "Get Ready." Smokey wasn't sure about the arrangement and advised him to put the background singers back. Wearing a black button-down shirt and black pants, his a little shaggy, Danny launched into a high-energy version of the song. I was a little irked by his over enunciation of some phrases, such as saying "get retty." Still, his tone can't be matched. The man is almost always pitch perfect. The performance was also fun, especially the part where he danced with the background singers.
Paula called him reliable at giving a "first-class performance every week." Simon, though, even though he's a good singer, it was "clumsy and amateurish." Randy disagreed, saying that it remind him of the recently deceased great, Levi Stubbs. While it's "not your best," Randy loved your energy. Kara loved his personality but said it was "good, not great." She proclaimed herself "still a huge Danny fan."
And in the pimp spot, 16-year-old Allison Iraheta, who did The Temptations song "Papa Was a Rolling Stone." Smokey pointed out that she needed to study the lyrics but predicted she'd do well. I found it funny that this was a very funky performance ("pimp music in the pimp spot," I wrote in an online conversation about the show). Wearing a white jacket with an '80s looking blue tube dress, Allison lost points for extremely poor enunciation. She's got a voice, but at times I wasn't sure if she was even speaking English. Maybe she was just scatting? Who knows?
Randy called her "one of the dopest singers" and said "that was blazing hot." Kara said America has to vote for her, because she sounds like she's "been singing for 400 years." She also thought that her talent is "from God." Paula suddenly had a crayon mustache, claiming that Simon had done it. She praised her for keeping her rocker edge and called her amazing and beautiful. Simon couldn't stop laughing at Paula but called Allison a survivor and called it one of her best.
Kudos to Adam for raising the bar once again, and props to Matt, Kris and Danny.
I think the bottom three are most likely to be Michael Sarver, Anoop Desai and Megan Corkrey, with Megan going home.
All video clips come from mjsbigblog.
It takes endurance to sing and perform.