March 30, 2011

MUSIC: American Idol 2011: Elton John

After the drama of the Judges' Save (and America, what the hell were y'all smoking last week? I mean, Casey? Really?), we're back for The Final Eleven 2: Electric Boogaloo, and two musical lives are on the line tonight. It's Elton John night, which provides a diverse enough songbook that everyone should be able to find something appropriate.

The rundown:

Scotty, "Country Comfort" -- The song feels like it's written by someone who's trying to throw in every country cliche he can think of. Grandma, farm, train, truck -- throw in a dog and some beer, and you've hit 'em all. And given a bad imitation of a country song, Scotty sounds like a bad imitation of a country singer. His pitch is off, especially in the verses, and the twang feels affected rather than natural. Even the low note at the end has the feeling of the punchline to a joke that wasn't very funny.

Naima, "I'm Still Standing" -- An unexpectedly mellow Naima, and it turns out that when she's not screaming at us, there's a lovely voice hiding in there after all. Not a perfect performance -- she bobbles the pitch badly on the entrance to the chorus, the old shouty Naima comes back a bit at the very end, and the accent was ill-advised -- but her best work to date.

Paul, "Rocket Man" -- As it did last week, the guitar helps him immensely. I'm always left, though, feeling not so much that Paul is naturally quirky as that he's decided to be quirky. The breathy voice, the strangely pronounced vowels, the weird fade to silence on the last three notes -- they feel like tics he's picked up from other singers, but they're not organic, and he's layered on so many of them that he -- whoever he is -- is buried beneath them.

Pia, "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me" -- If you came across that on the radio, you'd stop and listen. And you'd think, "she's got a really nice voice." And when it was over, you'd go on to something else, and it would never occur to you to wonder what her name was, or whether you could buy that on iTunes, or what else she'd recorded, because there's no personality behind that really nice voice. She's a Stepford singer.

Stefano, "Tiny Dancer" -- It's the standard Stefano performance. The louder and beltier he can get, the better he sounds, but when he's forced to be quiet and sensitive, the sound gets pinched. (Whatever technical flaws are producing that tone are also, I think, why he squints through every song; his facial muscles are tensed in ways they shouldn't be.) And even the big stuff wasn't all that impressive tonight.

Lauren, "Candle in the Wind" -- You can hear in the way her voice breaks that she's naturally a country singer, and her best moments here are when she gives in to that, when she lets those breaks and that little bit of twang happen instead of fighting them. She still doesn't project much personality, but there are hints here of a good singer struggling to break out.

James, "Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting" -- Excellent song choice for his style and his voice. The pitch on the big "yeah" at the end was a bit iffy, but otherwise very good; the first thing tonight that's gotten a smile out of me.

Thia, "Daniel" -- Pitch is all over the place, enunciation is sloppy, and that descending series of high notes at the end of the chorus ("Daniel, you're a star...") is inaudible. Not a good night for Thia, and with two people going home, you really don't want to have a noticably bad night.

Casey, "Your Song" -- That last note didn't need to be falsetto, but aside from that, this was lovely. There was a warmth that I haven't seen from Casey before, and he even managed to make one of Elton's clunkier lyrics ("If I were a sculptor/but then again, no") feel almost natural.

Jacob, "Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word" -- Impeccable.

Haley, "Bennie and the Jets" -- I like the fluidity of her voice, the ease with which she moves from high to low and back; the pop up to head voice on "magazine," for instance, is lovely. But this is a weird performance. It feels like a bad Vegas lounge act, one of those moments where an older performer trots out a recent hit to show how hip they are -- Steve and Eydie singing "Black Hole Sun," or Pat Boone's metal album.

A middling night, for the most part; Jacob and Casey help themselves the most, and Haley and Thia slip down the list.

For the night: Jacob, Casey, James, Naima, Pia, Lauren, Stefano, Paul, Scotty, Haley, Thia.

For the season: Jacob, James, Casey, Pia, Scotty, Stefano, Lauren, Thia, Haley, Paul, Naima.

Let's send home: Paul and Naima are clearly the bottom two of the pack; no one else is close.

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