American Idol Review: A Stolen Kiss Steals The Show
This week’s American Idol attempted to bring a modern spin to the Top 7 performances Wednesday night by giving the contestants a chance to pick songs from any genre, as long as they debuted in the 21st century. Although a few of the Idols took advantage of the opportunity to choose contemporary hits currently heard on the radio, a couple of our warblers strangely stumbled in this seemingly gimme category, and even the night’s best efforts failed to create any true “moments” the judges and viewers have been waiting for all season. In fact, some of the most entertaining sequences occurred in between performances, courtesy of a refreshingly self-deprecating Seacrest and loopier-than-ever Steven Tyler, the latter of whom arrived branded in a, ahem, cheeky lipstick mark and a gleefully foul mouth.
“Remember when they were just faces in the crowd?” we’re asked as the finalists’ earliest audition footage is unearthed, apparently to illustrate how far they’ve come on their Idol journeys. We’re then expected to go along with the assertion that these seven singers are now “stars in the making” when its widely understood that most, if not all, of them will go right back to face-in-the-crowd status in mere weeks. Enjoy it while it lasts, kids.
Speaking of, a Tyler-worthy expletive or two escapes my lips when the six castoffs from this season’s finals make an inexplicable return to the Idol stage to sing Pink’s “So What,” which sounds more like a G-rated “F— off” to their legions of non-fans. The entire production is nothing short of excruciating, from Ashthon Jones’ precocious squeal to a completely out of his element Paul McDonald slowly committing career suicide in front of millions. Given this dog-and-pony show he was surely forced to participate in, can’t say I blame him. As the horrorshow continues, I feel nary a pang of nostalgia for any of these contestants, Pia included, which I suspect is the opposite reaction the producers were hoping for. “You just made America think twice about their decision,” Tyler declares to the beaming rejects, although they’re all probably now thinking twice about their decision to attempt a career in showbiz. Yes, it was really that bad.
I never thought I’d be so happy to see side-parted Scotty in all his low-twanging glory, but he arrives just as the Idol ship begins to sink into the irretrievable bowels of karaoke hell, and not a moment too soon. This kid is at least listenable, people. A montage of the other Idols making fun of Scotty’s curious microphone-handling technique is cute, and it’s always refreshing to know when someone is willing to make fun of themselves – especially when the quirk in question is completely undeniable. Unfortunately, Scotty’s refreshing diversion from the preceding atrocity is short-lived, as he offers perhaps his weakest performance to date. Iovine warns Scotty about his fans getting complacent, since “Scotty’s gonna do what he does, because that’s what he does.” Thanks for the insight, mister music industry tycoon. However, Iovine has a point as Scotty’s rendition of LeAnn Rimes’ “Swingin’” sounds strangely outdated and what I’m sure Simon Cowell would have called “self-indulgent.” Scotty, yet again, found a way to circumvent the requirements of the genre, this time managing to sing a recent cover of a relatively forgotten-about, thirty-year-old country track when the category is meant to showcase songs at least composed in the last decade. Tyler tells Scotty he wants to see him “boot scoot” a little more, and run around the stage “like you did from your last girlfriend.” Heh. J. Lo compliments Scotty’s “storytelling qualities” but warns him to “bring the big guns” at this stage of the competition. Randy is amazingly unimpressed as well, telling Scotty he found the performance “boring” and “so safe.” So much for Scotty’s complacent fans. In light of this unprecedented – can it be? – criticism (!), they’ll surely be voting in droves.
I’m thrilled to hear James will be singing the first Muse song ever heard on Idol, and also that his intent is to use this week’s category as a chance to prove his mettle as a contemporary artist. No more Bon Jovi allowed, Durbin! His fellow Idols, especially Stefano, are shown making fun of James’ scarf collection and I’m again tickled to know these kids are probably smarter than I give them credit for. James even tells Iovine he likes the “post-apocalyptic protest” aspect of “Uprising,” and Iovine agrees it has a bit more “substance” than the hair metal tunes James often gravitates toward. As for the performance, it begins on an impressively high note with a marching drumline accompanying James onstage. He has a definite swagger that illustrates his growing confidence onstage, but the vocals are initially a pure replica of the original melody. I’m marginally disappointed with James’ identical rendition, until he hits the chorus and takes it up an octave, reaching notes that make the drummers a distant memory. Naysayers will (and subsequently have) call it screeching, but it’s impossible for me not to applaud the bold direction James took, in spite of a pitch issue or two. As a whole, it’s an exciting performance that illustrates James’ desire to win this competition – Scotty’s ho-hum, although perfectly pitched, crooning sounds worthy of winning a community talent show in comparison. The judges are ecstatic, as J. Lo says it will probably be the “best performance of the night,” at least “theatrically.” That’s quite a statement, considering there are five more contestants to go. Randy agrees and hopes James follows in this direction, while Tyler commends James’ “Mad Max meets Stormtroopers on Melrose” wardrobe. “Stay outta my closet,” he teases, before offering the hackneyed, yet accurate observation, “You wouldn’t believe how expensive it costs to look this cheap.”
Haley seems to have finally found her niche, wisely gravitating toward the glorious Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep” for her modern song choice. Comfortably nestled between the raspy classic rock of Janis Joplin and the glam New Wave gloss of Blondie, I expect Haley and her throaty growl to align with this genre well, and she does – for the most part. Like James, a few bum notes keeps this performance from becoming a true “moment,” but it’s my favorite effort from her so far and she even keeps the physical buffoonery to a refreshing minimum. Haley still lacks some precision in her phrasing, but her gritty tone works wonders and hits a moment of greatness or two overall. I completely agree with Randy when he tells Haley this is the exact direction she needs to follow in her post-Idol endeavors. J. Lo can’t help but remark how difficult it is to sing a song so well known at this exact moment, especially one by a vocalist as brilliant as Adele, but tells Haley there were snippets of the song she made her own. “You know what I’m going to say,” Tyler begins. Gee, something needlessly nice, perhaps? Will the word “beautiful” be involved? Yes on both counts, of course.
Jacob Lusk reminds everyone listening that Luther Vandross actually released a song in the 21st century, the Grammy-winning (yes, I looked that up) “Dance With My Father.” Prior to his performance, Jacob reveals his connection to the song is due to his own father’s death when he was 12. Rehearsal footage with Iovine is sincerely heartbreaking, as Jacob has initial difficulty getting through the song and Iovine expresses support as someone who also lost his dad at a young age. Sniff. The performance as a whole is lovely and emotional, and given the surrounding circumstances, I find it genuinely impossible to make fun of it. Jacob’s voice is clear and polished throughout, despite a technical snag at the beginning that rendered his ear monitor unusable. I spy a brief look of panic for a second or two, but Jacob recovers smoothly and I suspect most people wouldn’t have been the wiser had the incident not been brought up with the judges. Tyler says Jacob reminds him “all the time” why he loves music, while J. Lo explains the difficulty of channeling one’s own emotions while keeping tabs of various performance logistics. Jacob, I must say, handled the job with aplomb. Randy appreciates the sentiment of the song choice, but found the vocals simply “good,” and not outstanding. This late in the game, he explains, Jacob needs to go back to his earlier technique of blowing the doors off the place like he did with “God Bless the Child.” If James can hit frequencies previously unheard on Idol, after all, it’s time for Jacob to show off, too – especially since the other Idols have officially named him the season 10 diva, much to Jacob’s chagrin.
Casey’s next, and his fellow Idols have a jolly good time poking fun at the resident bearded weirdo of the group, even donning a fake piece of face fur to up the humor quotient. Like all good sports, Casey himself is in on the joke. This week, he’s playing electric guitar during his rendition of Maroon 5’s “Harder to Breathe,” and luckily this branch of radio-friendly pop-rock surprisingly suits him better than the alternative grunge of Nirvana. The song’s melody and structure fits Casey’s choppy vocal phrasing, and his comfort with an instrument is an added bonus. As usual, Casey is a better performer than he is a singer in the technical sense, but his efforts to present himself as the entire package continuously work, whether it be as a jazz artist or a contemporary Top 40 frontman. At the end of the song, he slows down the lyrics and eliminates the accompaniments while inching closer and closer to the judges’ table, eventually planting a quick kiss on J. Lo’s cheek before completing the last line. The moment is a huge hit, and miraculously works in Casey’s favor when it may have signaled a ticket home for other male contestants. J. Lo is a bit flustered and tongue-tied, but giddy nonetheless, applauding Casey for his “Caseyisms.” She must have been distracted, because Randy is forced to articulate her thoughts and explains that Casey’s success is based upon his ability to take chances and utilize the art of surprise. Tyler, jokingly indignant for not getting to kiss J. Lo first, says Casey “pisses people off” because he’s “so f—in’ good.” The hilarity only ensues when Seacrest emerges wearing a prop Casey beard and exclaims, “Is this what it feels to be a man?!” Seacrest may just have to retire now, because I’m not sure how he’ll ever be able to top that.
The Idols unveil the most anti-climactic revelation this week in admitting that Stefano is an uncontrollable flirt. Jacob says Stefano would flirt with a piece of paper if he detected a trace of estrogen in it, but judging from Stefano’s come-hither glances and curiously mutated dance moves during his performance of Ne-Yo’s “Closer,” I’m thinking Stefano has bigger fish to fry. From the cheesy spin kicking things off to the undone suspenders and clenched fists bringing it home, little Stefano just keeps trying harder and harder to extend his already overstayed welcome. The pelvic thrusts and corny posing are a bit much to say the least, and I find it hard to make eye contact with Stefano even though he lives inside my TV and can’t actually see my perpetual grimace. As for the singing, it’s as strained and earnest as usual, with one marginally redeeming glory note. Tyler exclaims, “Nobody can say you weren’t all up in it!” and he’s right – Stefano was, without a doubt, all up in that. Randy is “proud” of Stefano for “taking his time” with the lyrics, saying he’d initially thought he’d churn out “bad karaoke.” Apparently, decent karaoke is far more acceptable. J. Lo tells Stefano he’s lucky he’s cute, but without actually saying those words. She’s stealth.
Lauren is closing the show with Sara Evans’ “Born to Fly,” and there’s immediate discussion of her tendency to “hold back” in her performances. Iovine presses her to let loose and stop restricting herself, but Lauren admits she’s afraid of not being able to belt out “huge notes like everyone else” and “falling behind.” Instead of reminding her she’s one of three people in the competition who’s never been in the bottom, however, Lauren is instead seemingly encouraged to live up to the insane expectations placed on her when the producers deemed her the golden child back in the Nashville auditions. As a result, Lauren sounds more held back and timid than ever, and I admittedly pay far more attention to the violin player accompanying her performance. Whether or not a Pia-like demonstration of lung capacity would heighten Lauren’s performance success is kind of moot, since she clearly isn’t hurting for votes, but psyching her out isn’t the way to go, either. Tyler gives perhaps his best, if not only, helpful suggestion of the season and tells Lauren a song by Alison Krauss, Faith Hill, or Shania Twain (which she’s already done, but two out of three ain’t bad) would serve her well, but blows his progress by saying “anybody who doesn’t know that they can fail is bound to win.” I’m still scratching my head over that one. J. Lo doesn’t understand why Lauren thinks she lacks the vocal talent to belt the big notes her peers do, and recommends she try it when she’s home alone. Randy also encourages her to challenge herself and insists her hesitation is due to the fact she “still doesn’t know how good [she] is.” Well, her zillions of voters seem to be plenty informed of her talent, now don’t they?
Thursday’s results show delivers the usual exercise in tedium, as Seacrest is saddled with the increasingly challenging task of filling time for the entire sixty minutes that precede before the actual announcing of said results. Once again, the Ford music video proves feebly engaging, save for Casey and Lauren’s magic cloud lassos, and the judges’ vaguely lucid insight into the current state of the show tells us nothing we didn’t know. Example? Randy doesn’t know who’s going home. In other news, J. Lo felt the need to assure us Mr. J. Lo isn’t jealous over the Casey kiss (boy, was I worried), while a potty-mouthed Tyler warns the editor he’ll give him “something to worry about.”
The group performances are underwhelming, with Lauren, Jacob, Stefano and Haley doing Train’s “Hey Soul Sister,” a song I was perfectly happy to have completely forgotten about, thanks. Casey, Scotty and James, however, sing Coldplay’s beautiful, if overplayed, “Viva La Vida,” and I find its desecration far more offensive. Afterwards, Seacrest thanks Robin Antin for choreographing both performances. Somebody had to choreograph that? was certainly my immediate thought, and I suspect many others’.
Casey and Jacob are the first two up for elimination, and Casey kills time by telling us he’d originally planned on just breathing in J. Lo’s face before deciding to kiss her. Smooth. Jacob then explains, again, the drum track glitch during the beginning of his performance, all but refusing to believe about 90 percent of viewers have no idea what he’s talking about. Casey’s free to try and pinch J. Lo’s butt next week, as he’s deemed safe and Jacob heads to the stools.
David Cook offers a surprisingly mediocre performance of his new single, “Last Goodbye,” which I believe is more the fault of the song’s than the singer’s, since any Idol devotee knows Cookie can maneuver his way around that stage in his sleep. We all have our off days, I suppose.
Lauren and James are safe, and Stefano joins Jacob in the bottom three, leaving Haley and Scotty to duke it out. Even a song as lame as “Swingin’” couldn’t keep Scotty’s fans off the phones, while even a song as awesome as “Rollin’ in the Deep” could get Haley’s fans to pick one up.
As much as I try to hate Katy Perry, I just can’t fully invest myself. Is it the fact she’s actually pretty cute and talented, or the fact since someone as brilliant as Russell Brand loves her she must not be a total douchebag? In any case, I also don’t hate her performance of her trippy new single, “E.T.,” even when self-proclaimed douchebag Kanye West joins her onstage.
The results are laid upon us, and I’m happy to announce it’s finally time for Stefano to take a hike. James is visibly bummed about the forced end of their Idol bromance, and Stefano looks somewhat relieved to finally have been given the axe. He sings the Iovined-disco-remix of “Lately” as J. Lo wipes away tears, and we’re officially left with a solid six Idols to go. Don’t miss next week, when the remaining contestants tackle the songs of the great Carole King! Hang in there folks, the end is nigh.
Are you happy Stefano was finally put out of his misery? Is Marc Anthony secretly making a Casey voodoo doll? Were the singing castoffs being punished for something? Are Paul and Pia going to become more famous for dating famous people than being actually famous themselves? Do you also not hate Katy Perry despite your best intentions? Discuss all things Idol in the comments section below!
For another take on this episode, read “A Kiss for Jennifer and an ‘Uprising’ moment” by Kelley Lynn.
Season 10, Episodes 28 – 29: 7 Finalist Compete and 1 of 7 Voted Off (originally aired April 20 – 21, 2011)
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