April 20, 2011

MUSIC: American Idol 2011: 21st century songs

Another wide-open theme, about which there's not much to say but this: I shall have harsh words for anyone who picks a song from the year 2000, which (as all right-thinking people know) was the last year of the 20th century, and not the first year of the 21st. Shall we away?

The rundown:

The Rejects, "So What" -- We're padding the top seven to ninety minutes (remember when the top ten took only an hour?) and so we get this. It is not a good idea, and it is not a good performance We sent these people away for a reason, you know. Paul seems to be particularly lost in a style not his own.

Scotty, "Swingin'" -- Well, "harsh words for a song from 2000" looks rather quaint in the face of this theme cheat, a song that's ten years older than Scotty is. As for the performance? Scotty's got a natural flirty quality on stage; he doesn't need to try to flirt with us as he's doing here. The extra effort makes him seem less naturally charming and more "keep your daughter away from that creepy McCreery boy."

James, "Uprising" -- Love the arrangement; those pounding drums are very effective. But some of those big rock-boy high notes are a little shrill and out of tune tonight, and when James drops into his lower register for the verses, he's hard to hear and his enunciation is a bit weak. It's a spectacular bit of theater, though.

Haley, "Rolling in the Deep" -- Very good song choice that suits her raspy tone quite well; those yodel-y little breaks into head voice are nicely done. By far her best performance, and the first time I've felt like we were hearing Haley instead of some character she was putting on.

Jacob, "Dance With My Father" -- You can hear in the first few lines that the emotion is getting to him; his voice is a little thicker than usual, and he's running out of breath in a way that he doesn't normally do. But once he hits the chorus, he's gotten a grip on it, and it's a lovely performance, quite moving. There's not much to say about Jacob at this point; he's reliably and consistently very good.

Casey, "Harder to Breathe" -- This is crappy songwriting; the lyrics are crammed in with utter disregard for where the stress is going to fall (most egregiously on "...finALly clear..."). The performance is fine, though it's not anything that I'll remember for very long.

Stefano, "Closer" -- Stefano's strength is in the long, silky phrases, and the choppiness of this one ("I. Just. Can't. Stop...") doesn't suit him well. It's also a song that's not well-suited to Idol performance; there are a lot of overlapping layers, and on stage, we're left with Stefano wailing wordless "oh"s and "ah"s while the chorus carries the lyrics.

Lauren, "Born to Fly" -- Another smart song choice; the youthful energy and optimism of the song suit her very well. There's nothing glaringly wrong with the performance, and it should keep her around for another week, but it's not exciting in any way, and she really does have to kick it up a notch if she wants to win this thing.

We're down to that point in the competition where we don't expect many genuinely awful performances, and there weren't any tonight. But while it's true that the remaining field (and the season as a whole) has had a higher base level of competence than most previous years, we have yet to see any truly breathtaking moments. It's still a tightly bunched group, and things are wide open for someone to break free from the pack with a goosebump moment. Haley helped herself the most tonight, and Scotty continued his long slow decline into irrelevancy.

For the night: Jacob, Haley, James, Lauren, Casey, Scotty, Stefano.

For the season: Jacob, Lauren, James, Casey, Stefano, Scotty, Haley.

Let's send home: While it wasn't quite enough to move her off the bottom of my list, Haley deserves a reprieve for her best performance thus far, so it's gotta be either Stefano or Scotty.

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