Last night on American Idol, the finalists could choose any popular download from iTunes, which gave them a wide range of choices. Would they make the right selection?
First to take the stage was Anoop "Noop Dawg" Desai, who sang "Caught Up" by Usher. The background singers were on-stage at the start. Anoop wore a white T-shirt with dog tag necklace and a military-style jacket with chains. His opening was pitchy, and he continually fell off the melody as he attempted to do riffs. The problem was compounded any time he walked around the stage, and I found his voice to be very pinched. This is what I thought while watching: "He thinks he's cooler than he is."
Judge Randy Jackson noted that he'd "picked up" his "swagger." He said the vocals were good, "considering that it's not the right song for you," which means that perhaps it wasn't all that great. Fourth wheel Kara DioGuardi chided Anoop for playing it safe. She said it felt "like a bunch of frat guys dared you to get up and sing Usher." Nice judge Paula Abdul loved that he went back to his playful side. She liked the vocals but advised him to work on his stage presence. Tough judge Simon Cowell, man of my heart, called it "a complete and utter mess." He said that Anoop came over as a wannabe, "like a college boy trying to be a pop star and failing." He said the performance "actually gave me a headache."
When host Ryan Seacrest egged him on, Anoop said he disagreed with Kara's assessment that he had failed to do anything original. Then he proceeded to lecture her, saying that he's trying to be an R&B artist and he had chosen a song by one of the biggest R&B artists ever. Yes, and it was a sad, sad comparison, Dawg.
Megan Joy "I Forgot My Last Name" chose a personal favorite: Bob Marley/Lauryn Hill's "Turn Your Lights Down Low." Wearing tons of necklaces with a green fitted bodice and stretch jeans, one stray braid hanging down her back, she stayed at the microphone and crooned. I felt this was a better song for her than last week, and even her performance seemed a little more relaxed. I'm not sure it was the best choice for her, though, because it was a pretty one-dimensional performance. Some viewers will probably hate it, since they hate everything she does. Even her fans are likely to find it tepid at best.
Kara said, "I really like you, but I think you're in trouble," adding that it was "not the song choice for you." She said she wanted to hear her do "Chasing Pavements" by Adele (video here). Paula said that Megan needs to take us by surprise and "dig deep." Simon called the song boring, indulgent, and monotonous. He predicted, "No one will like that song." Well, except perhaps for those that have been voted for her and keeping her in the competition. Randy said it was "like watching paint dry." He gave advice that every contestant needs to hear: "You can love a song, but doesn't mean you're going to sing it great." He suggested she should have done a song by Amy Winehouse, Duffy, or Adele.
In response, Megan was still confident: "I think the audience was feeling it and my fans were feeling it." And if she's right, I guess that's all that matters.
Danny Gokey chose "What Hurts the Most" by Rascal Flatts. He wore a black jacket, dark pants, and a button-down shirt. He demonstrated near perfect pitch, as always, but I felt like he was pushing too hard at some points in the song. There was something about the performance that left me a bit cold; I felt like he was phoning it in.
Paula said, "You leave me wanting more." She said that song would make her hit "repeat" in her car. Simon called it "Your best performance." Randy pointed to the need to play up emotion. He advised him to take the mike off the stand and "make it rock." Still, he called the vocals very nice. Kara said he moved everyone emotionally. She said she had goosebumps.
Allison Iraheta sang "Don't Speak" by No Doubt, accompanying herself on guitar. Her hair looked like a wig, festooned with chunky hair barrets. She paired that with a pink ruffled, punk-looking dress, leggings and white strappy shoes. Whatever else my girl is, she's not boring! For most of the song, her voice was amazing, although she was a little off in the chorus. She changed it up a little, but maybe she should have changed it even more to make it her own. At this point I have to say something about Allison: every week when I check out the iTunes singles, no matter what I thought of her performance, I find myself compelled to buy her song. So when you read the judges' comments below, remember that she still needs to work on her stagecraft and her image. Once she's got that going, though, I suspect she's going to be a serious force to reckon with.
Randy said she was a little ahead of the beat. He also remarked, "What are you wearing?" Kara said, "The rock in you comes out of you no matter what you're wearing. You don't need to dress the part." She found the outfit "a little distracting." She said the performance was "good but not your best." Paula said she was "glad you brought your axe out with you." She added she thought "your vocal prowess rivals singers twice your age," and she found the intonation and delivery "masterful and effortless." She predicted Allison would skate by "right to the finish line." Simon joined the pile-on about the outfit, saying it was "like something out of the Addam's Family." He said she reminded him "a little bit like a slightly precocious daughter trying to dress like a rock star and sound like one." He also felt she shouted the song.
Sticking with what he does best, Scott MacIntyre went with the Billy Joel song, "Just the Way You Are," accompanying himself on the piano. I found it his best performance to date, showing lots of emotion and more range in his singing. Moreover, his hair was more tamed, which paired with a leather jacket and jeans, made him seem more contemporary. I also thought it was a very nice ending to the song: controlled and emotional.
Kara said he'd made very smart choices. She also said she loved the new look. Paula remarked that, "Out of all the contestants, I'm most proud of you." Simon said it was "your best performance by a country mile." He added that it's lucky he didn't listen to Madam's (i.e. Paula's) advice about not playing the piano (and yes, she really did suggest that last week, despite her denials). Randy called the performance one of the best of the night.
Matt Giraud also stuck to the keyboards, playing and singing The Fray song, "You Found Me." For his performance, he played a keyboard on a small stage in the middle of the audience, clad in a black leather jacket. He had a rough opening where he missed some notes, and while I liked it at the time, listening to it again, it seems like he couldn't quite find the melody. I also thought the high note near the end was a little screechy.
Paula said that he "aborted what we like about you," which she claimed were his falsetto (NO!!!! Dear God, no!), and his musical riffs. She said it was "not a great performance for you." Simon said he should be happy, "because we don't like you this week." This was a reference to Matt's comments in his video, where he bemoaned that last week he chose a song he thought the judges would like and ended up in the bottom three. Simon said the performance was very uptight, that it was not a good commercial song, and the whole thing was "just uncomfortable." Randy said it was "the wrong song for you," adding, "You're not a rock singer." He told him he's "got to let that flavor out." Kara chided him for switching between the rock side of pop and the R&B side of pop. She said he has to commit. Still, he called him a talented guy and said, "You don't deserve to go home."
Lil Rounds said she spent a lot of time thinking about what to sing, so why she went with Celine Dion's "I Surrender," I have no idea. When I heard her selection, I typed "Kill me now." Personally, I think Celine Dion songs should be stricken from the American Idol song list, because few people can bring anything new to them, and because I find her songs to be showy, sappy snoozefests. With straightened, lifeless hair (or just a bad wig?) and a floor-length one-sleeved dress, Lil looked about 10 years older. Once again, she shouted on the big notes, and ultimately big surprise the song was much too big for her.
Randy said it was not his song choice, that he wants her to "have more swagger" (his word for the evening). He acknowledged, "You sing it really, really well." But he advised her to "young it up a bit." Kara said she would have rather heard her sing something from Mary J. Blige or Mariah Carey. Still, she called it effortless when Lil hits the higher range. "Tonight, we got a glimpse of what we saw in the beginning: a singer who can wow us." Paula was unconvinced, saying she doesn't want to see "an adult contemporary Lil Rounds." She told her she wants to see the joy, adding, "You can sing to the heavens above." Simon said this was a safe song. He found it "similar to a wedding performance," those dreadful, awful, tacky, joyless weddings Simon always mentions. (Is it just me, or does Simon have no interest in ever getting married?) He said "One" by U2 would have been a better choice, adding this performance was old-fashioned.
Ryan then stooped to a new low, trying to get Lil's young daughters to talk back to the judges and get her in trouble, but they wriggled uncomfortably in their seats, saying nothing. I wonder if she coached them ahead of time.
The never boring Adam Lambert performed his take on the Wild Cherry song, "Play That Funky Music." He was rocking a pompadour again with a black leather jacket and blue shirt, against a trippy background. By playing around with the tempo, such as slowing down the chorus, he managed to make the song funky while imbuing it with a rocker edge. It was undeniably fun. It was also the first performance of the night that made me sit up and take notice.
Paula waxed philosophical, saying, "True genius does not fulfill expectations. True genius shatters it." She said there are a few people in the music business who do that: "Mick Jagger, Steven Tyler, Adam Lambert." Simon called his performance "very brave," praising him for not falling into the "karaoke nonsense" of some of the other performers. He said, "I don't think it will make you as popular as last week, but you had a great time." Randy said he'd had reservations when he heard about the song, thinking it could be corny. He said, "You were in the star zone." Adam took the opportunity to say that it wouldn't have been what it was without Ricky Minor and the band: "They hooked me up with a great arrangement." Just in case anyone forgot that the band exists, now that they're tucked in the back of the stage. Kara said that every week she "cannot wait to see what you will do next." Then, nonsensically, she added, "It was like Studio 57 up here." Umm... did you mean Studio 54, Kara? She's definitely no good with numbers.
For the first time, Kris Allen got the pimp spot, where he performed a blazing hot rendition of the Bill Withers song, "Ain't No Sunshine." Playing at a keyboard, with some people listening on stage, he just wore a simple gray T-shirt and performed a very stripped-down version of the song. I thought it was his best by a mile, so good I didn't even mind the audible breaths at the end before he hit the last note. For the first time, I could see in him what many fans have been raving about for weeks.
Randy said that right he's been slaying them in recent weeks and that tonight "you are so in the zone." He said, "That was one of the best tonight," adding it was very creative and very cool. Kara said, "I have three words: that is artistry." She seemed quite proud to be able to count to three. Paula said that he's "pacing this competition to play to your strengths." She gushed that this "could be the first cut from your album" and called it "your best performance to date." Simon said that "confidence is exactly what you brought tonight." He said it was a very good arrangement and that he liked seeing Kris behind the keyboards. He said it was "Your best so far."
Kudos to Adam and Kris for bringing excitement to an otherwise so-so night.
Most likely to wind up in the bottom three this week: Anoop, Megan and Lil. While I firmly believe that Anoop deserves to go home this week, I think that Lil might be the next "surprise" cut and that surprise if she is, the judges won't save her. If Anoop or Megan go home instead, Lil has to get out of her head and find her heart or she's not going to be around for long.
All video clips come from mjsbigblog.
Just because you like a song doesn't make it the right choice.