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Taking on Reg

Last night's "American Idol" began with a recap of last week's dramatic moment, when Casey Abrams was told he was in danger and the judges announced they would save him, causing him to collapse to the stage. A caption announced ominously, "Hope has been renewed, but no more second chances."

James Durbin with flaming piano
James Durbin with flaming piano

Host Ryan Seacrest reminded everyone that we will lose two people during eliminations this week.

This week's theme was Elton John songs, and the video packages showed highlights from an "Entertainment Weekly" fashion photo shoot for the Top 11.

Scotty McCreery, in the taped opener, said he'll always be a North Carolina boy. Naturally, he selected at "Country Comfort," Elton John's only country song. He was playing an acoustic guitar, wearing a black leather Members Only jacket with a dark T-shirt and jeans. While his voice still has a certain appealing tone, it sounded very much like what he'd done before. He talked at several points in the song, giving a callout to his grandma that might be calculated to appeal to his voters. [Scotty's package; Scotty's performance]

Steven Tyler said, "There's nothing I could say to you that an old-fashioned pair of high-heeled country boots wouldn't fix." He liked the callout to the grandma. Jennifer Lopez said that he has amazing instincts about performing. Randy Jackson said, "You have seasoned so fast on this show," he felt like he was at Scotty's concert.

For her performance, Naima Adedapo opted for a reggae version of "I'm Still Standing," complete with a Jamaican accent, wearing a white pants suit with red, yellow and green Rasta stripes. It was a fun, bouncy version of the song, and it was probably a good choice for her because she was actually singing, rather than focusing on her dancing. I'm not sure about the accent, though, simply because it seems to invented for this song. [Naima's package; Naima's performance]

J. Lo loved her reggae swag but wasn't sure this song was suited for it. She thought it was a better idea than it was a payoff. Randy agreed. He loves reggae, but he thought it came off corny. Steven said, "Boom shaka laka laka." He praised her for picking a song that fit her.

Ryan introduced the song-writing contest, where viewers can go to the Web site and share their ideas. The final song will debut at the finale.

Next up, Paul McDonald went with "Rocketman," accompanying himself on guitar and wearing his famous white suit emblazoned with red roses, paired with a red button-down shirt. For once, his vocal stylings matched the song perfectly. He took a breathy, relaxed approach, and it was the best he's done to date. At the end, he closed with a whisper. [Paul's package; Paul's performance]

Randy called it "quiet comfort" and noted some pitchy moments. Still, "when you get into that tender zone with that quiet, soft voice, it's infectious." J. Lo thought he might be holding back and "you just haven't gone there." He told him, "We believe" and asked Steven to agree. Steven asked if he'd been watering the suit, because he thought it had more flowers on it than last time. Paul claimed he's retiring the suit after this. Steven likes that he's a little rough at times and said there are five great artists who sing that way right now.

No surprise, Pia Toscano selected a ballad, "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me." She wore a silver sparkly minidress and walked out onto the stage through the back doors. This time, she powered through it with little of the subtlety that marked previous performances. [Pia's package; Pia's performance]

Steven said, "This just goes to prove that some people might have been wrong up here when they told you not to sing ballads." He thought it was "just about as good as it gets." J. Lo agreed that "the notes took us to an otherworldly place." She said she felt Pia "trying to break the barrier." Randy defended his comments from last week, saying that she's sung a ballad every time and slayed them every time, but he was trying to get her to switch up gears.

Ryan prompted the judges to explain the criticism about ballads, and J. Lo said they want to help to bring her to the next level. Randy reiterated his advice to try something new.

For his performance, Stefano Langone chose "Tiny Dancer," wearing a gray vest and matching pants and a white button-down shirt. His performance of the song was very karaoke, not bringing much extra to it. The way the song was cut up felt sort of odd, too. [Stefano's package; Stefano's performance]

J. Lo thought that he was "back to the Stefano we know and love." Randy noted that his eyes were open and he was connecting with the audience and moving around the stage. Steven thought there's "a real sweet thing to your voice." He thought he'd nailed it.

Back from the break, Ryan talked to Howie Mandel and Ernie Langone (Stefano's dad), who look a lot like each other. Time for Howie to promote his new special, "Mobbed," debuting after the results show.

Lauren Alaina selected "Candle in the Wind" and gave a more nuanced performance than she's given so far this season, wearing a simple little black dress with sequins. For once, she didn't seem to be trying too hard, and the result was a heartfelt, believable performance. [Lauren's package; Lauren's performance]

Randy thinks it's one of the greatest songs ever written and "one of the greatest Lauren Alaina performances on this page." Steven said he's loved her since "the first moment you laid eyes on me." He said if she keeps singing like that, "You'll be able to afford the rest of that dress," prompting her to cover up her legs with the train. J. Lo said, "That was it, baby. That was it."

James Durbin, naturally, chose "Saturday Night's All Right for Fighting." He took a couple runs into the audience as he rocked out with his version. On the bridge, he got the audience clapping with him and then climbed up on the piano, which later was set on fire. Wow, really? I guess the producers want to be sure he doesn't go home! [James' package; James' performance]

Steven quipped, "You brought the heat, didn't you?" He said he's got a great rock voice, but don't "wear out your welcome," don't "stay up there too long." J. Lo said when he's up there, she forgets it's a competition and just listens to a "great song by a great artist." Randy loved that he enjoys himself. "Dude, that was a great, great, great performance."

Afterward, Ryan asked him what made him most nervous about his performance, and James said that, because he has a lot of hairspray in his air, he was worried about "a Pepsi moment," referring to Michael Jackson's legendary accident where his hair caught on fire shooting a Pepsi commercial. Of course, Ryan immediately stepped in to remind him, "This show is sponsored by Coke." No use explaining to Ryan, I suppose, that the Pepsi reference wasn't exactly positive.

For her selection, Thia Megia went with "Daniel," wearing a white, lacy minidress with a brown belt. At least this time, she seemed to get that it was a sad song, although she couldn't keep herself from smiling through much of it, even at the end where she sang, "I can see Daniel waving good-bye." If you closed your eyes while you listened, it was much better, although she swallowed her enunciation in some parts. [Thia's package; Thia's performance]

J. Lo thought it was beautiful and liked how she internalized the song. Randy liked that it was relaxed but noted some pitch issues. He also didn't like that it was still "very safe." Steven said that "when you find the right song, the voice appears." He thought she sang "a great Elton John song well."

In the taped package preceding his performance, Casey Abrams agreed to get a hair trim and a beard trim, as well. He wore a gray jacket with a gray and white striped shirt and a medal of some type on his lapel. He sang "Your Song," sitting on a stool, focusing on the vocals and the lyrics. This is the Casey that many viewers fell in love with in the early days of this season. He ended with a high note that came out of nowhere and was absolutely perfect. [Casey's package; Casey's performance]

Randy said that one of the greatest saves they've had on the show as saving Casey. He liked that he went for a tender moment. Steven said that the last two notes of the song were beautiful, as was the rest of the song. He likes that Casey sings differently every time. J. Lo said that "along the way, we've had to make some hard decisions... and I've lost sleep over that, but one decision I didn't lose any sleep over was saving you." She felt that he'd proved it tonight.

Ryan talked to him about the save last week. Casey said he just couldn't believe it.

Jacob Lusk sang "Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word," wearing a charcoal suit jacket, black pants, with a black shirt and an undone red bow tie. He started the song very high, which felt strained, but he found his comfort zone in the middle of the song and powered through the ending. [Jacob's package; Jacob's performance]

Steven loved it: "You slayed me." J. Lo wanted to give out a shout out to Tricky Stewart for his arrangement, for tailoring it to him. She liked the last note: "You don't see that every day." Randy liked the arrangement and thought the first half was brilliant. He advised him to pick one spot where he could go all the way.

Haley Reinhart started "Benny and the Jets" lounging on the piano, wearing a gray and purple minidress with high heels. She tried to put a jazzy spin on the song, but it came off seeming a little ridiculous, almost a parody. When she got off the piano, she tried to get the audience to wave along. That portion of it was more enjoyable. No idea why she drew out the "s" of "Jets," though. Maybe she's harboring the escaped Bronx Zoo cobra. [Haley's package; Haley's performance]

J. Lo screamed, "Yes! That was it, Haley. That's what we've been talking about." She thought it was a great way to end the show. Randy felt it was another amazing song. "For me, best performance of the night." Steven told her, "You sing sexy." Well, that's what she's been going for, anyway.

Kudos to Lauren, James and Casey, with a nod to Paul and Jacob. After last week's results, when nobody had Casey in the bottom three, predicting the results seems a bit riskier. If votes are based on performances alone, Naima should be headed home, along with Haley, both of whom turned in somewhat ridiculous performances. They may be joined in the bottom three (or four?) by Thia and possibly even Scotty. Of course, the votes may be even more surprising this week, as voters were presumably doubly motivated to vote their favorites through.

Elton John can inspire some outrageous performances.

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( 24 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 31st, 2011 01:10 pm (UTC)
I only get the show through your posts, but it seems from your thorough commentaries (which I enjoy immensely) that this crop of judges is being...nicer. They seem to be making fewer harsh or critical comments to the performers.

No one can replace Simon in that regard, I imagine, but it seems that without that harsh edge to the comments on the pitchy, out-of-step-with-the-song, oddly arranged, or otherwise unfortunate performances they don't give much guidance to the viewers as to who to vote for. So the viewers are left to vote only for their favorites and the whole thing becomes almost purely a popularity contest.

Which is kind of not the point. At least I don't *think* that's the point. Of course being "popular" is part of being a "pop" idol, so maybe I'm missing the point.
Mar. 31st, 2011 01:24 pm (UTC)
It's always been a popularity contest. Which explains Taylor Hicks.
Mar. 31st, 2011 01:46 pm (UTC)
I suppose it doesn't make sense to crown a pop idol who's not going to be popular...but perhaps in my innocence I assumed that the pop music industry also wanted pop idols who can, you know, sing and who have good musical instincts as far as understanding the emotional tone of a song and arranging songs (or at least selecting arrangements) and who can reliably hit the notes and so on.

Silly me.

I suppose flash and dazzle and burning pianos is more important than emotional connection. And who needs good pitch now that we've got AutoTune.
Mar. 31st, 2011 02:03 pm (UTC)
About that...


No ear monitors here. Or a band for that matter.
Mar. 31st, 2011 02:41 pm (UTC)
I wanted Bo to win that season, but he lost to Carrie Underwood, the most successful "Idol" winner to date. I guess if you're going to come in second, there's something to being second to a juggernaut.

As far as I can tell, Bo still gets a lot of respect in musical circles, but he's been through some rough times personally, which has led to his musical career being a bit less rewarding. I hope things turn around for him; he deserves it.
Mar. 31st, 2011 02:45 pm (UTC)
But you know what? That was the ONLY season where I didn't really mind either of them winning. Carrie rocks and Bo speaks to my rocker sensibilities. I hope he makes the comeback he very much deserves.

ETA: I didn't watch their season when it originally aired (I only started watching the show when I heard they would be doing Queen songs on S5 and I fell hard for Chris Daughtry), but got the chance to relive it on "American Idol Rewind." They were good!

Edited at 2011-03-31 02:48 pm (UTC)
Mar. 31st, 2011 02:52 pm (UTC)
Bo was my pick to win that season, but I could respect Carrie, too. What my husband and I both liked about Bo was that, even though he was that season's "rocker," he could pull back and just deliver a stunning vocal performance. The man's got chops.

I started watching in season 3, but I've rented some "Best Of" DVDs and watched some highlights from the first two seasons, as well. Chris Daughtry was amazing. Like Casey Abrams last week, NOBODY picked him to leave the night he was eliminated. Too bad they didn't have the save back then!
Mar. 31st, 2011 02:56 pm (UTC)
OH! His elimination pissed me off! Especially because Katherine McPhee had flubbed the words to "Hound Dog," I think or whatever song she was singing, and turned around to mask this fact.
Mar. 31st, 2011 03:02 pm (UTC)
I never quite understood why everyone loved Katharine McPhee so much. After Chris was gone, for me, it was partly about making sure she didn't win! I always liked Taylor, but I expected Chris to win that season.
Mar. 31st, 2011 02:45 pm (UTC)
That was amazing, thank you.
Mar. 31st, 2011 02:39 pm (UTC)
As girlfmkitty says, it's always been a popularity contest. That doesn't, however, necessarily translate into album sales. Her Taylor Hicks analogy is a good one. Now, some of that has to do with the album that gets produced. I loved Taylor Hicks at the time, but I thought he'd get a chance to put out a soul-influenced rock album. Not so. The pop tunes on his first album were not a good fit for him, and his sophomore album was just sort of... weird.
Mar. 31st, 2011 02:45 pm (UTC)
I suppose I get why it is a popularity contest. But if the girl who sang "Daniel" with a smile on her face wins I'm going to stomp my feet. I'm just sayin'.

But maybe this is part of why I don't listen to much pop music, or I'm highly selective about it.
Mar. 31st, 2011 02:55 pm (UTC)
I'm with you on Thia Megia. She's got a great voice but needs to remember that the lyrics matter. Don't forget: she also smiled brightly through Charlie Chaplin's "Smile," a song about trying to smile through your tears! I think that some vocal coach or choral teacher instilled in her that smiling is part of performance.

Like you, I'm very selective about pop music. As far as newer stuff is concerned, I tend to like the sort of alt rock/folk rock blend they play on WXPN. Our little Kung Fu Panda likes it, too!
Mar. 31st, 2011 01:14 pm (UTC)
I thought you meant Reggie Jackson,
and I was all, "He sings?"

Mar. 31st, 2011 02:42 pm (UTC)
Randy Jackson doesn't sing, either. His big claim to fame is that he played bass in Journey for a while and has also worked with a number of other musicians.
Mar. 31st, 2011 02:02 pm (UTC)
thank you for also thinking haley's performance was definitely NOT the best of the night. both my hubby and i reacted like wtf to teh judges' comments on it and i still hope she goes home tonight!
Mar. 31st, 2011 02:36 pm (UTC)
I've been mystified by their love for Haley, to be honest. It's kind of sad that she's allowed herself to be turned into this year's "sex kitten." It doesn't seem a natural fit for her, but it's how she seems to be pigeonholed.
Mar. 31st, 2011 05:40 pm (UTC)
but whats sad is while she is dancing around trying to be sexy and cute, all i see is her looking like she is half drunk. it is not appealing!
Mar. 31st, 2011 02:51 pm (UTC)
I agree with you and was surprised by the judges. I thought Thia and Lauren both did much better than previously, and I wasn't thrown off by Thia smiling because it's more a bittersweet thing than a completely sad unhappy miserable thing.

I was not impressed with Pia, Haley or Stefano, and I was really surprised that they were given the praise they got. Scotty is getting kind of boring. He's good at what he does, but I want to see him take a risk.

For me, I give Naima a lot of credit just for doing something completely out of the box that we've never seen on Idol before. There's also a lot more nuance to what she was doing than just putting on an accent-- there are certain intonations used in reggae that are part of the style of singing, not necessarily part of a Jamaican accent, and there's also the fact that a lot of people from immigrant families are raised to code-switch-- I speak completely differently, including with a different accent, when I'm with certain portions of my family.

Jacob also for me gets points for really mixing up the song he chose. I felt like James was good but not quite up to his usual awesome. I thought Casey and Lauren were both excellent.

The judges are annoying me with their inability to give constructive criticism this year. I don't know what these singers would be doing without Jimmy Iovine, who seems to be the only one willing to tell them when they're shitty.

Ideally? I'd like to see Haley, Stefano, and Scotty in the bottom three, but Scotty has a voting horde like the legions of Hell backing him up.
Mar. 31st, 2011 02:59 pm (UTC)
Scotty is coasting right now, and a trip to the bottom three would give him enough of a scare to make him pay attention. I couldn't believe he found a country Elton John song! It would have been a lot of fun to hear him sing something different.

You do have a point about Naima switching the accent on as a cultural thing. I'm worried that the viewers won't get that, though, and will think it's just something she put on for the performance.

I haven't been on the Lauren bandwagon until now, because she annoyed me with her kissing up, but last night's performance is beginning to win me over.

I agree with you about the judges: they're totally asleep at the switch. I think that Simon would have chided Pia and told her she was being "safe," "boring," and "old-fashioned," and I'm almost sure he would have called Stefano's performance "karaoke."
Mar. 31st, 2011 04:09 pm (UTC)
You've summed up pretty much everything I thought about last night's performance. There's one thing that's been nagging at me, though, and it's this growing sense I have that women can only be performers in a handful of conventional ways (Haley is praised for THAT performance and dissed for others?) while men are praised for their difference. Or something--I'm mainly annoyed that the female performers feel like they drop earlier than the males, and I can't help but wonder if, this season, at least, it's because the men each have a 'thing' while the women selected for the top 12 felt, on the whole, less 'seasoned'.
(Deleted comment)
Mar. 31st, 2011 10:42 pm (UTC)
It seems that's always the way: the live performances week after week tend to wear contestants out. Don't know what they could do about that, though. It's the nature of the beast. At least this year they have Jimmy Iovine working with them every week, giving them real criticism and assistance.
Mar. 31st, 2011 09:16 pm (UTC)
I just have to leave a comment about this: No idea why she drew out the "s" of "Jets," though. Maybe she's harboring the escaped Bronx Zoo cobra. Have you ever heard the original song? It's there in that too. Not trying to be rude or anything, just an honest point.
Mar. 31st, 2011 10:33 pm (UTC)
I just listened to Elton John's version again, and you're right; it is there. Haley's version seems to have emphasized it a bit more, but it is in the original.
( 24 comments — Leave a comment )

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