Wednesday, March 2, 2011

AI Recap: Top 12 Guys

So, after my vehement pronouncements that last season of American Idol would be the final one I watched, somehow Nigel Lythgoe and his powers of trickery sucked me into another season. And while I'm still expecting the tween- and teen-heavy viewing audience—along with the judges—will again steer the show to the producer-approved winner over true, unique talent, I am impressed by the caliber of some of this season's talent, so I'll settle in for a bit.

Last night the top 12 guys performed live. All in all it was less of a train wreck than the first few weeks usually are, although there certainly were a few less-than-stellar performances. I'm going to divide them into three categories: The Downloadable, The Tolerable and The Pack-Your-Bags.

The Downloadable

Casey Abrams: One of my two early favorites, Casey Abrams did not disappoint last night with a soulful, screamy rendition of Screaming Jay Hawkins' I Put a Spell On You. The film camp counselor proved he deserved the coveted "pimp spot," showing off his range, his stage presence and, yes, his sex appeal. And while not every note was perfect, and sometimes the screaming was just screaming, I look forward to watching him week in and week out. The judges loved him, and this was the second time (see below) that Randy broke out the "unique and different" card.

Paul McDonald: The young Kenny Loggins doppelganger with the mellow, Ray Lamontagne-esque voice revisited his audition choice, Maggie May, which didn't annoy me because we only saw five seconds of it previously. I love Paul's voice and his trippy stage presence (Steven Tyler referred to his movement on stage as the "McDonald two-step"), but I hope his uniqueness doesn't doom him. And I don't know if Randy's "you're unique and different" helps him or dooms him to a Lily Scott- or Megan Joy-like finish. (P.S.-Check out Paul's band, The High Magnolias, on iTunes. Awesome.)

Jacob Lusk: During Hollywood week, the judges went absolutely wild for Jacob's rendition of God Bless the Child, with Randy even labeling it the best performance ever on AI. I thought it was one of the most over-the-top, unnecessarily ornamental performances, and his heartfelt-yet-overblown reaction following the performance was even worse. And with the show making hay of his gale-force reactions, I awaited Jacob's performance with great trepidation. Good news: his A House is Not a Home was restrained (despite the crazy eyes) and actually quite melodic. However, J.Lo's comparison of Jacob to Luther Vandross ("he's gone, but now we have you") lacked that restraint.

James Durban: Much has been made of James' backstory and his penchant for howling, but I thought he did a terrific job last night with his rendition of You've Got Another Thing Comin' (the first-ever Judas Priest song on the show). Others have said that he is tremendously contrived, but I feel like this is the first time someone who dreamed of being a rock star actually could act like one, so his performance really worked for me. (I do hope someone counsels him that howling isn't necessary in every song. Even Adam Lambert had beautiful, quiet moments.)

Clint Jun Gamboa: Karaoke host Clint performed in the dreaded first slot. Luckily the show was very tightly produced or I'm sure we would have gotten more footage of his kicking a baby (umm, Jacee) during group week. While he sang Stevie Wonder's oft-performed Superstition, his vocals were quite good and he had great stage presence. Not quite sure where J.Lo got her claim that she sensed his nerves.

The Tolerable

Scott McCreery: I love Scott's deep, low voice (although I differ from the judges, in that when he sang higher during the Beatles' performance, I liked that tone as well) but I don't know how he'll fare once theme weeks (shudder) kick in. His performance of John Michael Montgomery's Letters from Home was spot on, but his cheesy staring into the camera bugged me. The judges told him he was born to sing country. Agreed.

Stefano Langone: Maybe it's the fact that I love Bruno Mars' Just the Way You Are (which Stefano sang) or maybe it was his personality, but despite the wonky high note he attempted to hit toward the end of the song, I enjoyed Stefano's performance. I like that he attempted a current song as opposed to a retread.

Robbie Rosen: Robbie has become the go-to guy for soft rock performances, but he tried far too hard with Angels and didn't succeed. Just because you can do runs on every note doesn't mean you should, and falsetto should be used sparingly. And on key. Clearly he's a pre-ordained favorite, however, because Steven Tyler said the performance was "beautiful" (an adjective he overused again last night) and J.Lo said that "some of his choices" made her enjoy his rendition more than Sarah McLachlan's original(!). Randy was the voice of reason(!), and wasn't too impressed, although he didn't break out the "it was pitchy, dawg" comment we know and love.

It Might Be Good to Have Your Bags Packed on Thursday...

Jovany Barretto: Yes, Jovany has taken his shirt off. But the clip of his killer abs didn't distract from his lackluster performance of I'll Be (can this song be banned, please?). It wasn't bad, it was boring. And despite Steven and J.Lo's praise that it was "beautiful," Randy spoke the truth(!), telling Jovany it was nothing more than a karaoke performance because he did nothing new or special. Nice vest/suit combo, though.

Tim Halperin: After Tim's duet on Something with Julie Zorrilla in Vegas, I had really high hopes for him. Those hopes were quickly dashed on the rocks of his singing Streetcorner Symphony by Rob Thomas. Cheesy, boring and not too melodic, sadly. If last year's Tim (Urban) could last through multiple bad performances, hopefully this year's will too.

Jordan Dorsey: A few seasons ago, Anoop Desai sang an Usher song, and he was raked over the coals. Last night, Jordan tried to sing OMG and failed—miserably. It's been reported by various media sources that during the taping of the show, Jordan said the song was "offered" to him, and he accepted, but no matter what, it was just not good.

Brett Loewenstein: I give Brett a lot of praise for being exactly who he is, and not letting anyone bully him. That being said, I loathed his performance of Light My Fire, despite his bravado. The best part of the whole thing was when J.Lo said Brett shook his hair more times (14, according to Randy) than she and Beyonce did combined over the last 10 years!

In an interesting twist, only the top five vote-getters will make it; the judges will choose an as-yet-undisclosed number of "wild card" performers to sing again next week. (As-yet-undisclosed until the producers ensure their faves are safe.) I'd imagine the top five will be Casey, Jacob, Paul, Scott and James, but we'll see...

Tonight it's the ladies. Hope that on the whole, it's a much better show than the first ladies' performance last season...


  1. I think Clint will make it through. Getting over the "he kicked Jacee off his team" gig, he was pretty amazing. I voted for him, Jacob, and Casey. I like Scotty, but he is a bit creepy with how he looks at the camera, and I am a little tired of his Josh Turner song. I can't get it out of my head, and I blame him! :)

  2. Nice Larry--btw I think I read that after this round Jimmy Iovine is getting involved and they will sing in whatever genre he deems they belong in during the season rather than going the 'theme' route. We can only hope...