Thursday, March 17, 2011

AI Top 12 Recap: "We Got Ourselves a Hot Competition!"

Welcome to American Idol, "the show where you call the shots the producers manipulate you toward!" The theme was "Birth Year Songs" (perhaps Simon Cowell owned the copyright for "Songs from the Year You Were Born") and in addition to getting insights on why the contestants chose their songs, we got to see what they were like as babies and small children. And they had one-on-one counseling sessions with Jimmy Iovine.

J.Lo sported her biggest hair yet of the competition and an outfit from the "Endangered Species" collection, while Steven wore a glittery, frilly, colorful shirt he must have gotten from the Mrs. Doubtfire set as payment for Aerosmith's granting the rights to use "Dude Looks Like a Lady" in the movie.

Our "exotic flower," Naima kicked things off. She was born in 1984, and music was a part of her life from an early age, and she's teaching her daughters to love music as well. Naima cried during her meeting with Jimmy, as the hardest thing about competing is missing her daughters. (Sadly, she may not have to miss them much longer.) She chose to sing Tina Turner's What's Love Got to Do with It, and her producer said the challenge was making a song from 1984 relevant in 2011. For Naima, the challenge was keeping on pitch. The performance was entertaining, and at times, she showed off her voice, but it wasn't exceptional in any way. But Steven, who has appointed himself president of Naima's fan club, didn't get the memo, as he told her she has a "sorcerer's grasp of melody." (Anyone see the original Disney version of Fantasia? The sorcerer didn't always succeed.) J.Lo said last week she gave Naima a "pass on pitchiness," but this week she noticed she was consistently pitchy. But she loves her anyway because her "flavor is crazy." Randy mentioned the vocals were a mess and the pitch was all over the place. Naima took the criticism in stride but said it's all about "the feeling" for her, and she felt good. So there.

George Orwell's favorite year (1984, you English class slackers) also saw the birth of Paul, the contestant who most makes me need Dramamine. Paul, who was suffering from a cold, took on Elton John's I Guess That's Why They Call it the Blues. It was a typical Paul performance—trippy, mellow, not particularly exciting, despite his “what’s up, y’all” greeting to the audience. I can’t quite figure out if Paul is one of those singers who might be more comfortable in front of a band than singing solo. J.Lo was caught on camera singing along, one of a number of J.Lo closeups this episode, although many of them were more dramatic. The judges refused to give Paul a pass because he had a cold (they’re reserving that for a certain flu-stricken contestant later in the show). Randy began his campaign for musical relevancy by comparing Paul to Ray Lamontagne (whom he referred to as a “musical ingĂ©nue”) in that both have very distinctive sounds, although he did tell Paul that his vocals were pitchy. Steven said he “defined a cool dude in a loose mood.” Yeah, ok.

Thia was born in 1995(!). She apparently wrote her first song at age 6, called I Will Always Love You. She chose to sing Colors of the Wind from Disney’s Pocahontas (free will can be a dangerous thing). To use a Paula Abdulism, she looked beautiful, although the beige gown pretty much summed up her performance—blah. Thia has a beautiful voice with a rich tone, but at times she slurred her words, and the song was just so boring. (What on earth is a blue corn moon, anyway?) Randy called the performance boring and pageanty. (He clearly hasn’t been to a pageant recently. No one sings that song. Orange-Colored Sky, maybe, but not this one.) J.Lo compared Thia’s voice to Adele’s (really?) but also questioned whether her vibrato was caused by nerves or if it was something that needed fixing. Steven asked if this song was one that defined Thia. She explained, “I chose this song because the lyrics really meant something with all that is going on in the world, all the, you know. It was from 1995, and it was the best of the songs I had to choose from.” (If that’s true, I shudder to think what else was on that list.) Thia was encouraged to take a song, “push it out of the box and kill it.”

Awkward moment: Ryan asked James , “Are you a Kate Hudson fan?” James: “Huh?” (Kate Hudson tried to hide her face behind two Cheetos bags.) James was an adorable baby who, according to his mother, could sing the alphabet in perfect pitch. Much was made of the fact that he played with dolls (oh, sorry, one doll). Born in 1989, he selected Bon Jovi’s I’ll Be There For You. While it wasn’t as strong as last week’s performance, I thought he did a really good job, and really is proving he has more depth and talent than I initially thought when he just kept screaming all the time. Steven warned him “don’t get too poppy on me,” and James suggested saving Aerosmith for the finale. Steven agreed to that (at least I think so, because about a minute and a half of Steven’s comments were censored). J.Lo said that a great performance makes you want to sing along, and she found herself “acting the fool” while James was singing. Randy name-dropped “Jon Bon and the Bon Jovi Boys”(?) and said that he did a great job. When pressed about his promise to James, Steven said “this kid has a rich vein of inner crazy.” That makes two, no? James also mentioned that he, Casey, Paul and Stefano were in a band. That might be pretty cool.

Last week’s near ly-ousted Haley was up next. She was born in 1990, and chose to sing Whitney Houston’s I’m Your Baby Tonight. (I really cannot believe with all the songs that came out in 1990, this is the one she chose to sing. Are their choices really that limited?) In her meeting with Jimmy Iovine, he told her there were a lot of talented people in the competition and it didn’t really matter if she won or lost, but that “work ethic” was most important. (I couldn’t figure out if that was a reprimand or a lecture, but I quickly forgot about it.) Haley clearly doesn’t feel comfortable moving onstage, although I thought she did some really interesting things vocally with the song, especially some cool jazz riffing near the end that had the judges bobbing their heads. To top it off, her red lipstick smeared all over her face while she was singing (I guess from putting the microphone too close to her lips) so that was so distracting that Ryan came over to try and help clean her face up during the judges’ feedback. (Props to Haley for her confession that this was her “first red lipstick massacre.”) J.Lo damned her with the “you look beautiful” card but said her movement was really forced. Randy once again beat the “I don’t know who you are as an artist” drum, even though he appeared to be enjoying her performance, and criticized her for singing Alicia Keys, LeAnn Rimes and Whitney Houston in succession. Steven called her “sweet and tough,” but hoped she’d sing more blues music, which adds just another confusing genre to the list of things they’ve told Haley to sing. (Last week Randy said she should sing Stevie Nicks.) I just wish the judges could try and be consistent with these kids.

(As an aside, at what point in an actor’s career do they decide that appearing in a movie alongside an animated or computer-generated character isn’t selling out? Yes, James Marsden and Kaley Cuoco, I’m talking to you. Hop looks like another Alvin and the Chimpmunks, but with the Easter Bunny.)

Stefano’s pre-performance segment showed what an adorable family he comes from, and also illustrated that he and his father have very similar mini-soul patches. (I kid you not. Check it out.) He was born in 1989, and after poking fun at some of the hits from that year (Girl You Know It’s True, Hanging Tough and Funky Cold Medina), he mentioned he’d be singing Simply Red’s version of If You Don’t Know Me By Now. I thought he was fantastic. I love his phrasing and the emotion he puts into every song he sings. We were treated to a dramatic closeup of J.Lo during the song, which reminded me of the way the camera used to focus on Paula when Adam Lambert used to sing. Randy said that Stefano gave the best performance of the night so far and praised his “hot vocals,” saying he “slayed it.” (He also couldn’t pass up the opportunity to mention that Stefano’s song was originally sung by Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes.) J.Lo told him “you can take this competition,” calling him perfect, but encouraged him to “sing to [her] a little more and look into [her] eyes,” which she quickly amended to say he needed to look in the audience’s eyes. She then encouraged him to go hug his mother. Cuteness to the nth degree.

In Pia’s pre-performance segment, there was video of her getting her little diva self on, singing I Will Always Love You. (Whitney’s version, not Thia’s.) She also talked about how her grandfather loved to hear her sing, and how, sadly, he died shortly before his 86th birthday. Born in 1988, Pia clearly has been listening to those calling for her to sing a non-ballad, so she chose Whitney Houston’s Where Do Broken Hearts Go. I hated the synth-heavy arrangement of the song, but loved Pia’s vocals. (Hated the Kim Kardashian by way of I Dream of Jeannie jumpsuit, however.) I also like that she’s starting to show some personality, because I worried she’d eventually get crowded out over the more personable, less talented contestants. Steven told her “You are why the show is called American Idol,” J.Lo said she’s perfect every time and said her grandfather was an angel on her shoulder, and Randy said “Pia is in it to win it! Yeah!”

Elvis-loving Scotty was the chubbiest little baby. His parents are adorable, too. He was born in 1993, and chose to sing Travis Tritt’s Can I Trust You with My Heart. He told Jimmy Iovine that while he knew people expected him to change the song up a bit, “his fan base” wanted him to respect the song’s integrity. I thought his voice sounded really good, as he pushed himself a bit vocally, even hitting a higher note than he usually does. (J.Lo mentioned he held it longer during rehearsal.) That being said, I thought the song was kind of boring and it didn’t allow him to pull in the audience as much as his last performance did. The judges didn’t say much about his vocals although they liked that he knows who he is, and encouraged him to keep growing and pushing himself. Randy, of course, couldn’t resist mentioning that he worked with Travis Tritt.

Karen sat down to chat with Ryan looking like a flight attendant from outer space with hair snatched straight off of one of the B-52s. Her mother, who featured prominently in Karen’s pre-performance footage, was clearly a proud mama, although the producers found it necessary to subtitle her remarks, simply because English doesn’t appear to be her first language. Karen is another 1989 baby, and were you expecting her to sing Gloria Estefan? I was. But she chose to sang Taylor Dayne’s Love Will Lead You Back, which was Mikalah Gordon’s swan song in season 4. And after telling Jimmy that she didn’t want to be known as the Spanish singer all the time, she sang a verse in Spanish anyway. I thought she was good, not great. Randy said it was better than last week’s performance, although he wasn’t “jumping out of his chair.” (What does it take to do that, anyway?) Steven said he loved Karen’s “ethnic what-it-isness” (?), and J.Lo encouraged Karen to attack her nerves and not expose her weaknesses. “If a note gives you trouble, just don’t hit it,” she counseled.

Returning from commercials before Casey’s segment, Ryan was sitting in the audience with the beloved Tamyra Gray and So You Think You Can Dance’s Mary Murphy . (She’s back! Yea!) Inexplicably, however, Ryan ignored Carly Smithson, who was sitting next to Mary. Weird.

Casey has the coolest parents. No wonder he is the way he is. That’s probably why they let him be a film camp counselor instead of pressuring him to get a “real” job. Casey was born in 1991, and chose to sing Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit. Much was made about what a big risk this was, and that no one had ever dared sing Nirvana on the show before. (Casey may be starting to believe his own hype, because he petulantly said, “Is this a big risk? I don’t care.”) He got the cool green lights and shadowy lighting effects, and his performance was part-karaoke, part-screamfest. Although J.Lo told Casey she loved him, she called him out on his “screamy, screechy” performance, noting that Kurt Cobain pulled back from all-out screaming when he recorded the song. Steven called Casey “the goop the great stuff is made up of,” and Randy explained that his “being a musician, performing with Journey, and being a producer,” he appreciated Casey’s “putting art first, before commerce.” (Meaning, you weren’t good, but it’s ok because you’re different.) I really was disappointed in Casey’s performance. When I heard he might be singing this song, I envisioned a hybrid between Nirvana’s version and Tori Amos’. He needs to stop screaming, stat, and do something different.

Leading into the commercials before Lauren’s performance, Ryan teased “Last week was tough for this contestant. Will she come back?” (FOR THE ELEVENTEENTH TIME, NO IT WASN’T!!)

This week, Lauren has the flu. She put on a mask and shared one with Ryan, and spent most of their pre-perfomance chat giggling at his mask. (You’re 17, not 7, Lauren.) Watching Lauren’s segment, I realized that although I could be the father of almost every single one of these contestants(!), Lauren’s parents look really young. Lauren was born in 1994, and some photos showed her already getting into mini-diva mode. She chose to sing Melissa Etheridge’s I’m The Only One. She was better than last week and, despite her flu, I thought her vocals were really good in certain places. But it didn’t really excite me that much. The judges told her the same things they tell her every week told Lauren what a great singer and performer she is, and praised her making the song her own. (I guess she made it her own if you consider calling to the audience “Let me hear someone scream,” and smiling while singing the lyric “I’m the only one who’ll drown in my desire for you” making it your own.) Randy told her “you’re back!” When Lauren got off stage, she told the confession cam “I’m back! Randy said so!” (I almost expected her to stick out her tongue.)

Jacob closed the show, and I’ll admit, a shudder ran up my spine when I figured that out. Most of the pre-performance video was his mother claiming he inherited his vocal talent from her, which Jacob denied. He was born in 1987, and decided to sing Alone by Heart, which has been sung to death on the show. Carrie Underwood, Allison Iraheta, Gina Glocksen, and even Ramiele Malubay (remember her?) have performed the song, so I don’t quite understand why he would choose this song. He promised to put a “Lusky stank” on the song. He got the dramatic lighting, and then, much like every other Jacob song, went so horrendously over the top it was flat and sharp and screechy and screamy all at the same time. The camera even caught J.Lo wincing at one particular note. However, the judges thought he was fantastic. J.Lo said the “end product was so great, so tender.” Steven said “gospel had a baby and its name was Jason, err, Jacob” (giggle) and Randy, while admitting he was sharp for “just a few notes” before pulling it back together, said “Jacob is in it to win it!” (Even Jacob looked slightly surprised through the judges’ praise.)

Randy reminded everyone, “We’ve got a hot competition, baby!” Steven said that this show was the best one since the top 40 sang Beatles songs in Las Vegas. (That made me sad because I thought of Kendra Shontelle, Tim Halperin, Robbie Rosen and even pretty princess Julie Zorrilla.) I know the judges can’t say that the show sucked, but I found it fairly lackluster. I definitely don’t agree that this season has the best talent ever.

If I had to pick who I think the bottom three should be, I’d say Naima, Haley and Jacob. However, I think it will be Naima, Haley and Karen, although Thia or Paul could wind up there, too.

Tonight’s results show features last year’s fairly unsuccessful winner, Lee DeWyze, plus the Black-Eyed Peas, who will sing another song I’ll never be able to get out of my head. Oh, and there will be filler. I promise you that…

1 comment:

  1. German Idol ViewerMarch 26, 2011 at 1:24 PM

    heya, I stumbled on this blog by accident; I like your analysis and admire your prediction quality; right on :)