March 23, 2011

MUSIC: American Idol: Motown

The singers face their most restrictive theme thus far, but it shouldn't present too many difficulties for anyone but Scotty, should it? Let's find out...

The rundown:

Casey, "I Heard It Through the Grapevine" -- He did a good job of following the producers' advice; that was a very restrained performance, and the better for it. Even so, I'm finding myself beginning to tire of a style that's starting to play as shtick, and wondering if he's slowly becoming this season's Taylor Hicks.

Thia, "Heat Wave" -- Words are vanishing in the low notes, and I don't think the words "heat wave" were ever in tune. And you can feel how much she'd rather be singing another goopy balad; she's singing with nervous, overly polite restraint, like someone trying not to step in a puddle after it's been raining.

Jacob, "You're All I Need To Get By" -- I've never seen anyone make quite so many strange faces while singing. Aside from that, the song is right in his wheelhouse and he does extremely well with it indeed. I'm still distracted by his vibrato, which is overdone for my taste, but that's more a question of style than of talent.

(On a side note, that bit with hugging the audience was very good for Jacob. There's a certain type of cool elegance and refinement that doesn't go over well with Idol voters, especially from African-American singers, and that moment of goofiness does a lot to humanize him.)

Lauren, "You Keep Me Hangin' On" -- Perfectly respectable performance. Not terribly memorable or interesting, but nothing glaringlly wrong with it. Probably enough to keep her around for another week, but not anything that's going to move her up in the ranks.

Stefano, "Hello" -- As always, he sounds lovely when he can belt, but when he can't, those quiet moments -- the first verse, for instance -- sound harsh and strangled, and that's entirely a matter of technique. Hard to build an entire career on nothing but big moments, though. (And he's still not always managing to keep his eyes open.)

Haley, "You've Really Got a Hold on Me" -- It's like one of those YouTube videos with the six-year-old girls doing stripper routines, and I feel vaguely dirty for having watched it. She isn't a sex kitten, and it's painful to see her trying to be. On a musical level, she doesn't find the right key until she reaches the bottom of the stairs, and she really needs to learn that growling is not a substitute for singing.

Scotty, "For Once In My Life" -- Quite nice, for the most part. The arrangement works pretty well, and there's some nice intensity in the second half of the song. That last little flourish comes off as precisely the sort of cheap lounge act that Jimmy warned him not to be, though.

Pia, "All In Love Is Fair" -- She may have the best voice in the competition. The high notes are never shrill; the low notes are relatively strong; the transitions from high to low and back are very smooth. But there's not always much personality behind it, and she can come off as very distant and chilly. If she can get the emotional force to match the vocal force, she'll be unstoppable.

Paul, "The Tracks of My Tears" -- The guitar helps. It anchors him to the stage, and when he's not hurling all that energy into the goofball dance moves, he can put it into the singing, and that makes this his strongest performance yet. I still can't stand his voice, but this is the first time that I've found him even remotely appealing.

Naima, "Dancing In the Street" -- That's Naima having fun? Damn, I'd hate to see her pissed off. She's bringing a scary intensity to the song, glaring at us as if we're not dancing hard enough. She wields the song as a weapon, and it's not a pleasant experience.

James, "Living for the City" -- The wordless wailing passages aren't quite in tune, but aside from that, this is terrific. The opening verse is especially good, with some serious emotional intensity behind it.

A pretty good night overall. No real goosebump moments, but a step up from the blandness of last week. Still a very closely bunched group (with the exception of the bottom two). James moves up a bit; Haley moves down a lot.

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

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

Let's send home: Paul was good enough tonight to earn himself a reprieve. Naima's been the most consistently awful, and deserves the boot this week, though a goodbye for Haley would not be unreasonable.

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