Thursday, March 24, 2011

AI Top 11 Recap: Make Us Beg for Those Notes...

So, let's say there's this restaurant in your neighborhood. You've been going there for years. It's always crowded, people say they like it, and everything is really familiar to you. You pretty much know what you're going to get when you're there, even when they change up some of the chefs or wait staff. And there comes a time when you start to get frustrated with the restaurant, the food is just the same every time, and perhaps the wait staff is starting to grate on you, so you decide you might stop eating there.

But suddenly, the restaurant is under new ownership. Some people tell you it's now better than ever, so you go again and you're impressed. The food does seem better, so does the experience. The first few times. Then you start feeling underwhelmed again. But everyone keeps insisting this is the best food, the best experience ever. So is it you?

As you probably figured out early on in this lengthy analogy, this season of American Idol is like that restaurant for me. Everyone is saying the judges and the talent are better than ever, and for a while I believed it, but now I'm feeling generally less impressed, even though people still keep telling me how great the show, the judges and the contestants are. Oh well. (Now why am I hungry?)

And...welcome to Motown Week! J.Lo is wearing one of Pretty Princess Julie Zorrilla's sparkly ballerina tops and enough blush and eye shadow to give coulrophobics (those afraid of clowns) nightmares. Seriously, Mattel, here's your inspiration for "Sparkly Ballerina Clown Barbie." And Steven is wearing animal prints. (Why is he robbing my Grandma Anne's closet?)

While the audience signs included the obvious "Walk This Way, Steven," the one that baffled me (unless it's a reference to an audition show) is "Steven Tyler, You're My Mother's Hall Pass." Huh?

So what is Motown? Randy gave the same answer he gives every season during Motown Week, while Steven explained it was "music that inspired him to make out with girls." And more than make out, Ryan naughtily explained, as he pointed out Liv Tyler in the audience. Blushes and giggles all around.

First up, Casey, singing Heard it Through the Grapevine. (I know this is a classic song, but I cannot get the California Raisins out of my head when I hear this.) The producers encouraged Casey to hold back a little and not scream his lungs out. His performance was...good, not great. His mugging into the camera is starting to remind me of a Zach Galifianakis character (I may write this, but you know you're thinking it) and I'm starting to worry he's becoming the bearded version of Taylor Hicks. Where did the guy who sang Why Don't You Do Right and Georgia On My Mind go? Steven mentioned Casey's "crazy out of control ego" (ok, so I'm not the only one who noticed) and J.Lo wondered, "Is there anybody out there right now like you. You could be the guy!" And Randy gave the ultimate Mr. Rogers-in-a-fortune-cookie statement, "You can only do you, and that you is great!"

Our newly-turned 16-year-old Thia heeded the judges' call for a non-boring song this week, choosing to sing the perennial Motown Week fave, Heat Wave, which has been trotted out since Kimberley Locke sang it in season 2. (And I think nearly every person who has performed it has wound up in the bottom three.) Jimmy Iovine and the producers tried to rev us up into thinking Thia would have some amazing breakout moment. Not so much. Basically, this song consists mostly of randomly screaming "HEAT WAVE," which doesn't give a vocalist a great deal of opportunity. (Plus, she forgot some of her lyrics, which surprisingly the judges didn't call her out on, but she admitted in the post-performance confession cam.) The judges praised her for taking on something more upbeat, and J.Lo said "I didn't even know you had this in you." Randy, of course, snarkily admitted he thought Thia had it in her. But given an inch, the judges want a mile, saying that she scratched the surface and now they want more from her next time. (Not necessarily sure there will be a next time. I'm just sayin'.)

According to Jimmy Iovine, "Jacob is the most natural person to sing Motown." (Not touching that one with a 10-foot pole.) He chose to sing You're All I Need to Get By by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell, and was warned by the producers not to go hog-wild, but to have some control over the big notes. At first glance, his backup singers seemed frightened about what he was going to do with this song. Giggle. This certainly was a much more throttled-down Jacob than the last few weeks, but I just cannot get on the Jacob-Hot-Tamale Train. (Sorry, Mary Murphy.) His facial expressions and certain notes are still far, far more over the top than I think they should be, but then again, I'm just blogging about the show. In my house. For free. I do not believe this performance was worthy of:
  • a standing ovation from all three judges
  • Steven's coming on stage to hug Jacob and call him "Baby Luther"
  • Randy's declaration that this was Jacob's "other best performance ever in the history of the show," and
  • Ryan's allowing all of the people in the front row to come up and individually hug Jacob (which, of course, allowed the opportunity to make a big deal of stopping before (egads!) a guy hugged him).
Oh, and J.Lo told Jacob she "loved it that he made [her] beg for the notes."

In this week's installment of "Why You Should Feel Sorry for Lauren," we learned that people say mean things about her on the internet. (Oh. Oops.) So to send a message to those people, she'll be singing You Keep Me Hanging On, also known as the song that sent Vanessa Olivarez and Leah Labelle home first in seasons 2 and 3, respectively. Jimmy confessed that "two weeks ago" he was "worried" about Lauren, because she's young and stubborn, but he feels like she's in it for the long haul. I thought she looked better than ever, and again, pieces of the song were quite good. (What was not good, however, was her practically feeling Randy up as she danced around the judges.) She just hasn't found her groove yet, and I worry that if the judges keep praising her for tepid performances she'll never be motivated to do better. The judges kept telling her that the girl they fell in love with is back.

Random celebrities called out by Ryan: Jennifer Beals, original Temptation Otis Williams and Gordon Ramsey (more on that a-hole later)

Random, unnamed celebrities in the audience: Kirsten Dunst, Julianne Hough and Adam Shankman. (How would you feel if you were a celebrity and Ryan didn't point you out to the audience?)

Stefano and Ryan had a cute chat on the stools, where it was revealed that Stefano's mother cooked dinner for the contestants. And Ryan had some leftovers, which he proceeded to eat while talking to Stefano, despite his warnings he'd get garlic breath. (Not gonna touch that one.) Stefano said that he heard Motown music all the time while growing up, yet for some inexplicable reason he chose to sing Lionel Richie's Hello, which he claims to have never heard before. I was surprised by two things—first, that the song wasn't recorded on a different label other than Motown (I just associate them with songs of the 60s and 70s, mostly), and second, that Stefano never even heard David Cook's amazing version of the song during season 7. That being said, the producers tried to warn Stefano of oversinging and encouraged him to try and keep his eyes open a little more. All in all, it didn't go that well. While I thought he was spot-on vocally through most of the song, he pushed way, way too hard, so it almost seemed like he was performing in "Dancing on the Ceiling: The Lionel Richie Musical." J.Lo told Stefano that his vocals were perfect but that there was no emotional connection. She said, "I don't want the intensity to come from you wanting to do well. I want it to come from because your heart is breaking." She also encouraged him to connect with the lyrics as if he were telling a story or writing a letter. (Do people even write letters anymore? I miss real letters.) Randy agreed with J.Lo, but couldn't stop himself from slipping into Stupid Dawg-ville, when he said to Stefano, "You've been in relationships. Ryan and you, you know." (Julianne Hough leaned forward in her chair.)

Perennial bottom three dweller Haley has as her objective staying out of the cellar this week. She chose to sing The Miracles' You Really Got a Hold on Me, and her version really showed off her husky, growly vocal styling to its best advantage. She's still not comfortable performing onstage, however, as she still tends to lean forward to one side and leer at the audience awkwardly. The judges were pleased with her performance, welcoming back the "Janis Joplin bluesy girl we fell in love with." J.Lo told Haley she had the most soulful voice in the competition, correcting herself to add, "...of the girls, and Jacob for the boys." Truthfully, I think Haley has been portrayed as fairly unlikeable, and I can't quite figure out why, but I don't anticipate she's going to last much longer.

So Ryan comes back from commercial to chat up Gordon Ramsay, who is now holding the container of Stefano's mother's leftovers. When Ryan asks Gordon what he thinks of the food, he replied, "Well, at least he can sing" and then he made some crack about there being too much garlic. J.Lo warned, "the mother is getting unhappy," so it was time to see what Scotty would do with Motown. (Does every British man need to be, or pretend to be, a giant asshat?)

Before his pre-performance footage, Scotty demonstrated his basketball prowess, shooting a 9-footer from the balcony of the mansion. He chose to sing a countrified version of For Once in My Life by Stevie Wonder, explaining that it was important to be respectful of the song but to give it a "Scotty vibe." (You gotta love when people refer to themselves in the third person, especially when they're 17.) The song was interesting, and Scotty is definitely pushing himself vocally a bit more, but he borrowed his staging from Haley, as he leaned in the other direction. And pointed. And smiled. And leaned. And pointed. The judges praised him as usual for doing his thing, and in fact, J.Lo said, "I didn't know what to expect from you." Really? No offense, but he's not done anything but sing country music except for the Beatles song, so what was J.Lo expecting? She also said that Scotty "got" her when he hit his low notes, which Randy dubbed "the ladykiller notes." Steven said Scotty "tweaked" him. Ok...

Pia chose to sing All in Love is Fair by Stevie Wonder. Is it me, or were the songs men recorded on Motown much stronger than those recorded by women? Pia talked about how this song "gets her," meaning she really felt connected to the lyrics and the emotion of the song. I thought she sounded terrific, as always. I just love her voice. Some of my friends have said she brings nothing "special" to the competition, because she only sings ballads, but I have no quarrel with that. Why is it not okay for Pia to sing ballads each time but it's okay for Lauren to sing upbeat country-ish songs every time? The judges praised her vocals, with J.Lo calling them "perfect," and she told Pia she could have a career like Celine Dion right now. But J.Lo pushed Pia to go outside her comfort zone, and show some more emotional connection to what she's singing, as well as to the audience. Randy asked for at least a mid-tempo number (anyone want to bet he'll then wonder why she isn't singing a ballad) next time, while Steven disagreed with the other judges. "You are the brightest star in the American Idol galaxy," he told her, "but if you need to put on a pair of sneakers and kick some ass just to please these guys, you can do it."

Time for our "cool dude of the loose mood," Paul. Finally, he brought out his guitar, to sing The Tracks of My Tears, with which Adam Lambert had an amazing moment in season 8. With his guitar in hand, Paul gave a much less trippy and disjointed performance; in fact, there were times during the song, particularly when he sang quietly, that he was fantastic. I think if he sang the entire song acoustically, he could have hit it out of the park. J.Lo told him he "had a tear in his voice" (that's a line I wish I could have written) and that he's already the complete package, all he needs is a good producer and he's ready to go. (I could see Paul thinking, "Really? So why am I here then?") Randy said, "Dude, when you sing tender at the very end, oh my God, dude. Definitely got the husky thing going on." (I like quoting word for word.)

Naima talked about what a privilege it was to sing Motown and how grateful she was for those who paved the way. She chose to sing Martha and The Vandellas' Dancing in the Street, and among her accompanists were two beautifully dressed African drummers. While I don't believe the song offered her any real opportunity to showcase her voice (although she definitely was on key more than the last few weeks), she threw in some African dancing toward the end of the song. All I could think of is how Simon would have reacted, as he called Tim Urban's slide across the stage last season during Crazy Little Thing Called Love indulgent. The judges praised her originality and her ability to stay on pitch, although Randy acknowledged the song wasn't a vocal challenge. And Steven said "It was E to the Z, ooh, tweedle-dee-dee." (WTF? I realize he's perceptive sometimes, but what kind of feedback is that?) IMHO, Naima is tremendously entertaining, and I know she has a better voice than she's shown thus far. However, herein lies one of my fundamental challenges with this show—should a less talented but more entertaining performer outlast more talented but less colorful performers? Is that why Taylor Hicks stuck around? (Ok, I'll admit, I liked Taylor, but more for what I kept hoping he'd do than what he did.)

James got the beloved pimp spot, singing (speaking of Taylor) Living for the City by Stevie Wonder. (I'd imagine that Stevie, Mariah, Whitney and Celine love when this show is on the air.) While I've heard from other recappers that he started out pitchy, the sound on our television cut out briefly, so when it cut back in about 5-7 seconds later, he had hit his groove. James is a very confident performer and singer (which is amazing, considering his Asperger's and Tourette's) and I think he did a really good job. I feel like he harnesses the shrieking much more than he did at first, and really knows how to work the crowd without being a total ham. The crowd cheered for a long while, and J.Lo (nicely) allowed James to soak up the moment. She told him, "you are serious business up there." Randy said that the start was "pitchy, dawg" (this after Ryan had commented how Randy hadn't used the p-word the entire show) but said that he "did his thing." And Steven said, "Sometimes it takes a little bit of crazy to make a difference in this world." (Who knows better than Uncle Stevie?)

I really was underwhelmed by this week's episode. While there were no out-and-out disasters, only a few people's performances really grabbed me. It should be interesting to see who winds up in the bottom three tonight.

Who Should Be in the Bottom Three: Casey, Thia, Naima
Who Will Be in the Bottom Three: Thia, Haley, Naima (although Casey and/or Stefano could surprise)

I'd expect Haley or possibly Thia to go home tonight. But if three women are again in the bottom three, the show is really going to need to reevaluate things, because not one guy has been at risk.

Until tonight's filler-laden results show...

1 comment:

  1. count me as one who is not impressed with Pia. I mean, her voice is impressive, but not enough. She sings like natural yogurt bland (because even vanilla is a flavor)