Thursday, April 28, 2011

AI Top 6 Recap: So Good It Made My Scalp Itch...

When it was announced that this week’s theme was the music of Carole King, I was tremendously skeptical. I mean, I remember the “music of Gloria Estefan” hellishness from Season 3, “music by No Doubt or other people Gwen Stefani likes” in Season 6, and the Shania Twain-wreck from last season, and I wasn’t sure that King’s music—despite her prolific songwriting career—would lend itself to the vocal styling of some of this season’s contestants. Ironically enough, those contestants who chose to sing King’s own most familiar hits fared far better than the two who chose to sing King-written songs better known as hits by other artists.

The show started über-dramtically, with Ryan talking about how the search was down to the top 6 from 125,000 people. As he told us “you’ve chosen the best,” he named the contestants in this order: Scotty, Lauren, James, Jacob, Haley and Casey. (Subtle directions on how the season will wind up? While I think Jacob’s performance all but changed his place in the lineup, it was a bit strange, no?)

We were treated to shots of a shaggy Brad Garrett and an incognito Katey Sagal as the crowd cheered the judges. Steven looked like he was wearing a Wrigley’s gum wrapper (all in silver), J.Lo looked befitting of her World’s Most Beautiful Woman title (super hot), and Randy wore his letterman’s sweater from Randy High School, so he could stare lovingly at his most favorite letter (“R”) all night long. Ryan seemed like he was on speed (we certainly weren’t pressed for time), jumping around the stage, saying “We love that energy” about five times.

We were treated to a montage of Carole King’s career and then Ryan announced that Babyface would help Jimmy mentor the contestants this week. (Finally, someone with cred. And someone who knows his role on the show. I’m looking at you, And where was Carole King anyway?

First up was Jacob, who chose to sing Oh No, Not My Baby, “by Carole King.” (This was an affectation that plagued me all night long. Every contestant mentioned that their song was by Carole King. Wasn’t this Carole King week? WTF?) This song, written by King and Gerry Goffin, was a hit in the 1960s for Maxine Brown, and was also recorded by Dusty Springfield, Merry Clayton, Rod Stewart, Cher, Linda Ronstadt and King herself. (Never heard of it? Me neither.) Jimmy mentioned how the judges wanted Jacob to “riff and soar,” and from the rehearsal footage, it didn’t appear as if he was doing either of those. Several times, Babyface simply said, “umm, no.” Jimmy’s prediction: “he’s in the most jeopardy.”

If you’ve ever wondered what a human Easter egg would look like, your wondering is over. Jacob wore a blue and purple plaid blazer, a turquoise cardigan sweater, a yellow shirt and a purple and blue bow tie, along with yellow sneakers. (Seriously. The man looked like a Peeps display.) He had a lot of fun with his performance, dancing with himself, making faces and gesturing madly, but for me, I thought it was his worst vocal to date. Shrill, shrieky, simultaneously sharp and flat (is that possible), it was just a mess, despite Randy’s stupid nodding during the performance. None of the musical stuff mattered to Steven, who told Jacob, “We all knew you could sing, but we just wanted to see you shake your tail feathers,” because “when you strut, it’s magic.” (Maybe the outfit mesmerized him.) J.Lo wasn’t sure what to say, so she said it was a tricky song and there were “little spaces where it wasn’t perfect” (it was called the chorus—and the verses) but otherwise, it was perfect and he “killed it.” (How is that possible?) Randy spent most of the evening contradicting himself—this is a singing competition after all, but although “it was sharp in places,” Jacob “brought [himself] back.” Oh and, “this boy can sing.” Ryan fixed Jacob’s bow tie. Such a good valet.

The continuing saga of Lauren, the little princess who can but doesn’t believe she can but the judges do, was up next. She chose Where You Lead, forever immortalized for me as the theme song from Gilmore Girls, which, IMHO, was one of the best written and acted shows on television. (Until the last season. I digress.) We revisited the whole “Lauren is afraid to hit big notes” manufactured drama thing, and Babyface asked her if she had ever failed when trying to hit a high note. She admitted she hadn’t. (Thank you.) And then Jimmy brought in “a special guest to help Lauren.” None other than Miley Cyrus, who counseled Lauren to ignore the mean things people say about her. Two questions come up. Are there really hundreds of “I Hate Lauren” groups out there? I mean, who is saying mean things about her? And why the blatant favoritism for Lauren with Miley Cyrus showing up? Will Alfred E. Neumann or Randy Travis show up for Scotty next week? Seriously, producers, can we just stop this already?

As always, Lauren was perfectly pleasant. She has a beautiful, melodic lilt to her voice that shows itself in quieter moments, but she tends to overuse it at times, much like Haley’s growling. She shouted a bit, too, and her voice cracked a bit on one note. At some point a “random” guy sat on the foot of the stage, and Lauren sang to him. It felt, not at all genuine, big shock there. Apparently he’s a 19-year-old named Brett, and Ryan told him, “We have rules.” (Ha!) The judges told Lauren how proud they were of her because she tried (sheesh) to hit the big notes and even though they all didn’t work, she showed “extra swagger” because she was willing to “throw down the gauntlet every time,” but Randy thought the song was a little safe and boring. Stevefucius said that Lauren shined when her voice broke. She appeared on the verge of tears the whole time, and I’m starting to have trouble determining which part of Lauren is an act and which part is genuine. Backstage, Lauren said, “I screwed up and they still loved it!” (Yeah, Lauren, that’s the way these judges work.)

In order to fill 90 minutes with only six singers remaining, the contestants also sang a duet. Haley and Casey hoped to recapture the magic of their results show performance from a few weeks back, and planned to sing I Feel the Earth Move. It was good, not great. Casey needs to understand that growling and high-fiving the audience are not performance techniques. I felt that Haley easily outsang Casey but I didn’t feel as if their voices blended as well this time. (Maybe someone could tell Nigel that just because something works once doesn’t mean you need to keep forcing it down our throats.) Steven told them it was “nothing but good.” Ryan asked Casey, “So, how much do you love Haley?” Awkward avoidance ensued.

Headed into commercials, Ryan promised that “Scotty ‘The Body’” would be stepping “outside his comfort zone.” (“The Body?” No. A million times, no.)

Scotty told us how much he felt the judges’ comments last week (that he should push himself more, he keeps choosing safe songs) were on target. He decided to sing You’ve Got a Friend (I actually learned how to do the whole song in sign language for a class in my freshman year of college) and Jimmy and Babyface urged him to keep his country stylings out of it. We got the full “sensitive singer” treatment—soft guitar, strings section, single spotlight, Scotty sitting on the stairs—and I honestly thought he was really good. He pushed his voice to hit higher notes than he usually does, and although at times he slipped back into country territory, I can honestly say this might have been my favorite performance of his the whole season.

Randy praised him for “turning the other cheek” and taking the judges’ comments to heart, noting that what he loved best was the “tenor of his tone.” He did tell Scotty that he should be careful about falling off of his high notes, but overall, “Scotty’s in it to win it! Scotty wants to win it!” (Scotty is going to win it!) Steven, of course, had to quibble with the only tangible piece of Randy’s feedback, and told Scotty he liked the way he hit the high notes, because he “took the song somewhere else.” J.Lo patted herself on the back (or ordered Marc Anthony to do it behind her), saying “When we hear you sing a song like that, that’s why we didn’t let you get away with what you did last week.” She also praised his storytelling again. Ryan sat down on stage with Scotty and teased him about the look he gives when he sings into the camera.

James was next to perform, and had time for a chat with Ryan, which inexplicably started out with Ryan asking “How good was Scotty just now?” James explained that Scotty is so great, and it really pushes everyone else to the next level. I found this absolutely ridiculous. Scotty was very good, but to single him out when talking to a contestant yet to perform is really unfair. Just end the season and crown him already, Nigel. Jeez.

Anyway, James chose to sing Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow? and said that someone on suggested he sing that. James promised a song “without flaming pianos, without drummers,” because “I can put on just as big of a performance by being myself.” During rehearsal, James sang the song completely softly and Babyface said it blew them away. Jimmy said that “Carole King and James Durbin were meant to come together on this song.” I thought James was absolutely fantastic. He started out the song almost a capella, but when the band kicked in it didn’t actually take away from the song. While I would have loved him to end the song as he began it, I still thought he was on point emotionally and vocally. I can honestly say that James is the one contestant I look forward to every week, because he creates some terrific performances. I’ve seen lots of chatter on other web sites about how he is an Adam Lambert wannabe, and while it may have started that way, I think he is his own performer.

Steven especially loved the beginning of the song, and then upped the nausea factor by letting us know that this song was the first one he made out with a girl to. (“It was at a bowling alley. And I didn’t strike out.”) J.Lo wrested control back and called James’ performance “magical from the beginning,” calling him again “the star of the night.” She also commented that James has had a strong performance every week, and that “consistency is gonna win it.” Randy went back to his “turning the other cheek” metaphor, but clearly was confused, because he told James he did so by proving “you’re not just a great rock singer, you’re a great singer.” (Can someone pull out The Bible for Randy and teach him about turning the other cheek?) He called James’ performance one of the strongest of the last few seasons and said “you might win the whole thing!” Even Ryan got into the act, telling James he’s becoming a superstar. Backstage, James was emotionally overwhelmed, and dedicated his performance to Heidi (his fiancée) , and said how much the judges’ feedback meant to him. To me, this kid is the real deal.

The next duet was (surprise!) Lauren and Scotty, singing Up on the Roof. (Yes, Nigel, we get it. You want them in the finals. Thanks.) Prior to the performance, Ryan tried to create some sexual tension between the two of them, asking, “What’s going on with you two?” Scotty kept saying they had a brother and sister relationship, and Lauren said anything that looked different was “just for the stage.” Lauren’s lilt was used to perfection here, but again, their voices didn’t blend at all, and Scotty even hit some wonky notes. J.Lo noticed, telling Lauren she “sang her brains off,” and basically saying to Scotty, “oh, you were good, too.”

Casey chose to sing a song called Hi-De-Ho (That Old Sweet Roll), which apparently was a hit for Blood Sweat and Tears, and, thanks to Google, Dusty Springfield as well. Jimmy called Casey a performer “who pushes the edge of creativity every time.” Casey came out wearing a suit and a fedora, and seemed very comfortable interacting with the band and performing. The first verse was cool in a jazzy, bluesy way, but as usual, Casey slipped back into his usual “antics” or “Casey-isms,” running around the stage, growling, snarling, etc. It also seemed like he spoke for more of the song that actually sang. Randy loves that Casey keeps the show different every week, and this week’s performance reminded him of his background in New Orleans. He felt like he “could be watching the Casey Show and Revue.” Steven told Casey he found his niche “nestled in this American Idol stuff,” and that he made Steven’s “scalp itch, it was so good.” (No, Steven, that means you’re coming down from whatever you take during the show.) J.Lo told Casey he was in his element but wished he’d loosen up a bit more in his body, particularly his legs. And then as the feedback was ending, Randy quietly said, “Less growl. Less growl.” But that was lost and gone forever.

Ryan spoke briefly to a sunglasses-wearing Penny Marshall (where has she been?) but guessed everyone knew who she was, and didn’t acknowledge Lorraine Bracco sitting next to her.

In the pimp spot this week was Haley. She picked Beautiful, which is a terrific song. Just before her performance she apparently was having trouble with her earpiece, and gave Ryan a tentative, “Yeah?” when he asked if she could hear herself. That odd start aside, I thought she did a really good job, and thought the ending was fantastic. But it’s a strange song, which goes from a strong, pumping chorus to soft, melodic verses. Steven, of course, called it “beautiful” and told Haley he could hear God in her voice. J.Lo finally came to the realization that Haley has “one of the best voices in the competition,” and also called it beautiful. Randy Randy Quite Contrary said he didn’t love the beginning, but thought the ending was fantastic.

The final duet (if you were following along) featured the unlikely pairing of James and Jacob. (In their pre-performance footage, they joked about how strange they found the pairing “when the producers told them” about it. And once again I call BS, because they paired Lauren and Scotty again as well as Casey and Haley, leaving James with his musical opposite in every way.) They chose I’m Into Something Good, and as bad as you might think it was, it was worse. I don’t know if they agreed they’d both try to outsing each other or it just happened that way, and at one point they turned J.Lo around in her chair and flirted with her musically. Oh, and they were wearing weird blazers that made them look like prep school students at sea. Steven said it best: “I wouldn’t call that the most award-winning performance. Where were you going with that?”

Ryan summed the night up by saying, “If you want to vote for Jennifer’s legs, here are the numbers.”

Who should be in the bottom three: Jacob, Lauren, Casey
Who will be in the bottom three: Jacob, Casey, Haley

I expect Jacob will go home, although it wouldn’t surprise me if Haley or Casey goes. Haley absolutely shouldn’t go this week. Jacob should.

Tonight…results with Bruno Mars and Crystal “I Was the Judges’ Favorite Until They Turned on Me in Favor of a Cute Boy” Bowersox!

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