This week's theme was "Songs of the Silver Screen." And much like the movies, tonight's show was a lot of smoke and mirrors. It was a world where just because a song appeared on a movie soundtrack it was considered "from" that movie, where every male contestant was once again beyond criticism, where the judges did their best to scuttle the chances of one of the two remaining women on the show, and where we all got to witness the triumvirate of “the good, the bad and the cuddly,” aka Hank Azaria, Rob Reiner and Elvira. (Sounds like a bad joke, doesn't it? "Rob Reiner, Hank Azaria and Elvira walk into a bar...")
The show opened with the self-promoting, faux-dramatic montage of last week's results show to try and encourage
Peppy Paul opened the show, and we got our first glimpse that Will.i.am had returned for another week, because the inanity of the show clearly hasn't reached its fullest potential. Paul chose to sing Old Time Rock and Roll (from Risky Business), so of course, we were tantalized by the idea that Paul might pull a Tom Cruise and come onstage in his tighty whities. (Frenzied tween girls all over the country shrieked at the prospect.) But he kept his clothes on; in fact, he was dressed as a matador, or otherwise they had extra paso doble costumes on the DWTS set next door. Jimmy Iovine floated the idea of having some type of "beatbox" rhythm in the middle of the song, which Will ridiculed, saying, "The song is about old time rock and roll, and you want to put a beatbox in it?"
Paul's performance was utter karaoke. Not one note was memorable, IMHO. He had fun, sure, but I had just as much fun watching Wisconsin-born Naima speak Jamaican. The most exciting piece of his performance was his jam with a sexy sax player, which of course, lecherous Steven made a point of commenting on. But as always, the judges were in a different auditorium, listening to other singers. Steven told Paul he loved his "crazy, wild abandon," and that what he gets from the audience "says it all." J.Lo told him he goes further every time and gets wilder, that he's "like a diamond in the rough, and then suddenly you see it and say, 'it's a diamond.'" (Confucius is lucky J.Lo wasn't around in his time.) Randy said he felt like he watched the first number in a Paul McDonald concert, praised his "Porter Waggoner" look and said that he loves the fact that Paul isn't "a typical singer." I wished Simon would have walked in and just said, "Stop the madness already!" Even Peaches got in the act, encouraging people to vote if they enjoyed "sax with Paul."
Then it was time for "16-year-old Lauren to take on 18-year-old Miley Cyrus." That's right, she chose to trot out The Climb from the Hannah Montana movie. (I tell you, sometimes this s--t writes itself.) Jimmy told Lauren she was a better singer than Miley Cyrus, and she tried acting humble. Then Will and Jimmy went into a whole disgusting lesson about how Lauren could "steal" all of Pia's votes, which just got me angry again. She began the song singing directly into the camera, wearing a short black prom dress and cowboy boots. While she didn't fare as poorly as Haeley Vaughn did last season with this song, I was surprised she wasn't better. Most of the big notes she hit were drowned out by the background vocals (so it might have sounded better in the studio) and I felt like in other places she held back.
Again, it didn't matter where the judges were concerned. J.Lo liked hearing "the tear" in Lauren's voice (a comment she gave Paul a few weeks ago) and told her she didn’t “need to steal anyone’s votes because she’d get more than enough votes of her own.” Randy
Our pint-sized package of perseverance, Stefano, needed a confidence boost after nearly being sent home (again) last week. In order to take his performance “to the next level,” he chose to sing Boyz II Men’s End of the Road from the hysterically funny 90s movie, Boomerang. To quote Annie Barrett, who writes an AI recap for Entertainment Weekly, “It was the perfect song choice for someone who already looks and sounds like he's in a '90s boy band.” He kicked it up vocally, although his enunciation slipped a bit (one line he sang was “Eash time I cry”), but he definitely beat that song into submission or, as Steven put it, “he knows how to milk a song.” It was funny to watch Stefano's dad sing along, although he didn't know any of the words.
Randy mentioned that any minute now he’d be receiving a text from [Boyz II Men singer] Wanya Morris, “one of the greatest known singers in the known world,” telling him that “his man Stefano slayed the song!” He called this performance Stefano’s best to date (I believe that honor still belongs to his wild card performance.) Oh, and by the way, “Stefano is in it to win it! Stefano wants to win it!” (Apparently he didn’t until tonight.) Steven went for the obvious “this is so not the end of the road for you, because the Stefano they’re looking for is there.” J.Lo was ecstatic that Stefano took her advice to “stop singing to stay, start singing to win.”
I got very excited when I heard Scotty would be singing Everybody’s Talkin’ from Midnight Cowboy (somehow I doubt it’s the type of movie he thinks it is), and the snippet we heard of him in rehearsals sounded great. But then he told Jimmy (whom he called “dude”) that he needed to “be true to his country roots” and sing I Cross My Heart, a song from the George Strait movie (you read that right) Pure Country. (I can’t help but feel like Scotty’s song selection process each week revolves around finding the song with “country” or “cowboy” in the title if he can’t choose an out-and-out country song, but it’s all good.) I thought it was good, but not great, and like Lauren, his voice seemed drowned out a bit by the backup singers. He also hit one really wonky note toward the end. But that was the performance I saw, not the one the judges saw, because Steven told Scotty, “All of America will fall in love with you tonight, like you’ll see from the votes.” J.Lo said “All of you are just so great every week,” and explained that she didn’t like being expected to criticize any of the contestants and tell them they were doing anything wrong. (Umm, isn’t that what you’re getting paid mega-millions for?) Randy said that “a star is born on this stage tonight,” and explained the over-arching philosophy that he has acted on every week for 10 years running: “I believe if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
Casey was another contestant whose song choice was questioned by Jimmy. He wanted to sing Nat King Cole’s Nature Boy, but Jimmy hated it, and encouraged him to sing In the Air Tonight by Phil Collins, because in Jimmy’s opinion, he needed to “sing a song to win the competition.” (And that, to me, is one of the biggest problems with this show in recent years. Instead of letting moments—Kelly Clarkson’s Stuff Like That There, Fantasia’s Summertime, Bo Bice’s Away in a Dream, David Cook’s Billie Jean, to name but just a few—happen, they try to manufacture them.)
Casey, looking like a dapper professor, broke out the upright bass and sang Nature Boy anyway. Pieces of it were jazzy-cool, pieces were somewhat off-key, Casey’s growly face showed up a few times, but overall, I got the sense that Casey was performing for the sake of performing, and didn’t care that he was on this show, didn’t care what the judges thought, he just wanted to play his music, you know? And that is what I liked more than one specific component of the performance. The judges went wild, giving him a standing ovation (although J.Lo was slow to stand). She confessed that she was a little worried at the beginning of the song, but realized she was watching something special, comparing him to Norah Jones (in her ability to transform jazz/blues and make it commercial). Randy said it felt like he was watching “a Grammy performance,” name-dropping Herbie Hancock and Charles Mingus, and said that performances on the show should be “half embracing who you are and half educational, showing the world about the music.” He then called the performance brilliant and declared, “The world cannot exist on pop stars alone. We need artists to maintain the Zen balance.” (He forgets, of course, that the show originated as Pop Idol.) Steven called Casey “an artist in every sense of the word” because he does “what’s in his heart,” and compared him to Sting. Casey was emotionally overwhelmed, both by (I’m guessing) the satisfaction with his performance and the judges’ feedback. He told Ryan he felt like he could cry, and later told the confession cam he “wanted to show Esperanza [Spalding, the jazz artist who won the Best New Artist Grammy this year] that this music was cool.” I will say I like that the contestants are being encouraged, subtly, to be different this year.
Next came Haley. Jimmy said he was pleased with where she was in the competition, although she was a “slow starter.” She picked Blondie’s Call Me from American Gigolo. The song choice seemed to please Jimmy and Will, although they wondered whether it would work. As with many of Haley’s performances, when she lets the bluesy side of her vocals come out and tries unique phrasing, she was great, but other parts of the song were pretty manic. (And it didn’t help that she either leaned to one side or was jumping around onstage.) Randy wasn’t thrilled, calling the performance “karaoke,” and said he didn’t think it was a showcase for her voice. Ever the lecher, Steven eyeing Haley’s multi-colored sequin mini-dress, said something about “looking up your old address.” (Gross.) He also proved fairly incapable of criticizing Haley. J.Lo agreed with Randy, saying “it wasn’t the best,” although she admitted she didn’t want to criticize Haley because she didn’t want another girl to go home. And then she urged the viewers to “vote for the girls.” Haley seemed almost resigned to embrace her almost-certain trip to the bottom three tonight and possible elimination, babbling a bit about song choice and promising to “bring it” next week.
Was Haley’s performance weak? It wasn’t great. Was it the worst performance of the night? Absolutely not. Does she deserve to be in the bottom three? Yes. Does she deserve to go home? Absolutely not. I find it interesting that the judges called her performance “karaoke” but didn’t make the same criticism of Paul’s totally unoriginal spin on Old Time Rock and Roll.
Jimmy called Jacob out on his lecturing the voters last week when he said, “If I make bottom three, it won’t be because I sang the song bad, or sang the song wrong. It’s because America isn’t ready to look themselves in the mirror.” As Jimmy put it, “don’t preach to 24 million people when you don’t have a record out.” Jacob didn’t look the slightest bit contrite. He then mentioned he had two song options--The Impossible Dream (from Man of La Mancha) and You’ll Never Walk Alone (from Carousel). (Far be it from me to point out these are Broadway songs that are eligible for this theme only because they happened to appear in the movie adaptations of their musicals.) I kind of envisioned Jacob’s song selection like a scene from Dirty Dancing, when Baby’s sister tells her father she’s not sure what to sing in the talent show, What Do the Simple Folk Do or I Feel Pretty. (I miss Kellerman's.) Jimmy didn’t like either of those song choices, and suggested Jacob sing Bridge Over Troubled Water, which the show claimed was “from” The Pursuit of Happyness. (Yeah, it’s not like the song was released 36 years before the movie came out or anything.)
The performance was vintage Jacob. The expressions, the phrasing, the overly dramatic gestures…and then the caterwauling began. The last few notes were a miasma of melisma (fancy, eh?) and tragically off key. Boy, did I long for Clay Aiken’s rendition. However, the judges were once again blown away by Jacob. Steven said he loved how much of Jacob he puts into every song, and praised his “crescendos and innuendos(!)” He closed his praise with “God bless you and your voice.” (Really?) J.Lo called him a gifted vocalist, and playfully scolded him for giving her the chills when she didn’t want to let him. Randy said it was “perfect, perfect, perfect” and said he “blew it up at the end.” (I’ll say.) Ryan then engaged Jacob in a conversation about why he chose the song (which, of course, he didn’t), and he talked about how he’s had a hard life and “we all need somebody to cover us, a greater power.” So does every song he sings need a message now?
James got the pimp spot again, and decided to shake things up by singing Sammy Hagar’s Heavy Metal from the movie of the same name. Jimmy was unhappy with this choice and told him to pick something else. James said, “With all due respect, I want to make the decisions, good or bad, and I want to sing this song.” (So refreshing when someone is willing to take responsibility for their own choices and not blame America’s inability to look themselves in the mirror.) James joked about wanting America to “give metal a chance.” I thought he did a fantastic job. Accompanied by former Ozzy guitarist Zakk Wylde, his performance may not have been perfect vocally, but James has such stage presence that he is really fun to watch. J.Lo said that “it felt really real,” and that all the contestants “killed it dead” tonight. Randy went with the tried-and-true “This was like watching the James Durbin concert,” and proclaimed, “Durbin rocks!” He then told James he could tour with Ozzy and Avenged Sevenfold at the next Ozzfest. Ryan asked Zakk Wylde what he thought of James’ performance, and he said, “He sung his ass off.” (Or that’s what I thought he said.)
I thought it was a good night, but I am becoming increasingly frustrated by the judges’ lack of, well, judging. For the second week in a row only one person—a female—has gotten any negative feedback. Other than that, the judges essentially told each contestant they were perfect. No tips for improvement. So why have this show? If they’re all perfect, why not sign them all right now and let them make their CDs, and I can have my Wednesday and Thursday nights back?
While it seems nearly inevitable that Haley is going home, I just can’t believe that the show will allow six female contestants in a row to get voted off. But maybe they don’t care.
Who should be in the bottom three—Paul, Haley, Jacob
Who will be in the bottom three—Paul, Haley, Jacob (although Stefano could get “punished” for Pia’s ouster, or if voters didn’t get Casey, he could be there, too)
I’ve lost any emotional investment in the show, so whatever happens, happens. Although don’t expect me not to rant about it tomorrow…