April 06, 2011

MUSIC: American Idol 2011: Rock & Roll Hall of Fame

Another relatively wide-open theme that leaves no excuse for anyone not to find an appropriate song. But as we all know, that's no guarantee of good times ahead. Cross your fingers, everyone!

The rundown:

Jacob, "Man in the Mirror" -- When he's restrained, as he is in the opening verse, I adore Jacob. But then we get to the chorus and for about 20 seconds, there's just too much of everything happening all at once. Including some pelvic moves that seemed a bit odd coming from someone who couldn't bring himself to sing "Let's Get It On." (And I think his comment about how if he didn't survive, it was because we weren't ready to look in the mirror could really hurt him.)

Haley, "Piece of My Heart" -- Well, that was enthusiastic. And I suppose that of all the personalities she's tried on this season, that was probably the most convincing of the bunch. But this is the third week in a row that she's tried to be sexy, and it's so not working; she simply doesn't come off as the libidinous libertine she wants to be. She's a girl playing dressup in her skanky aunt's clothes, and it's kind of icky.

Casey, "Have You Ever Seen the Rain" -- What is with Casey's compulsion to put unnecessary little vocal fillips at the very end of the song? That's twice in a row he's done that. When it's working, leave well enough alone; you don't want the audience's last memory to be of wincing at your cheesy "artistic" touches. Aside from that goofy glissando, a really solid performance.

Lauren, "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman" -- Her best work yet. She's relaxed and confident, and her phrasing is beautifully comfortable and natural. This can be a very big song, and I like that she isn't pushing beyond her limits to make it that; she's molding the song to suit her abilities without distorting it beyond recognition. An unexpected pleasure.

James, 'While My Guitar Gently Weeps" -- The "oh, that's right, I'm a rocker" tag destroys the mood he's tried to establish in the rest of the song, but it's also the first moment that's sounded any good. His pitch is shaky throughout, and it gets worse the quieter he gets. There's also no connection to the words; I can understand them all, but they feel like just a chain of random words with no story or emotional throughline behind them.

Scotty, "That's All Right, Mama" -- To hear him talk about how "rock" he's going to be, you'd think he were tackling Black Sabbath instead of Elvis. This isn't rock (nor, despite that unfortunate little bit of deedle-dee-ing, is it scatted jazz), it's up-tempo country, and not a very interesting bit, I'm afraid. It's starting to look like Scotty really is the one trick pony some feared he might be, and when he doesn't get to relax, flirt, and hit those low notes, there's not much there.

Pia, "River Deep - Mountain High" -- She's got that in her, and she's been singing pretty little ballads all these weeks? That opening verse was spectacular. Maybe things flagged a bit when she hit the chorus, and there were one or two notes not quite in tune, but that had more life, more energy, more fun than anything we've seen all season. Damn.

Stefano, "When a Man Loves a Woman" -- An erratic little enigma, our Stefano. That full-on belt is gorgeous; it cuts through everything around it without being harsh or piercing. And he seems solidly connected to the song this week, too. But I continue to think that his technique isn't well developed, and that reveals itself when he gets quiet; there are a few closeups tonight where you can see the knot in his forehead right at the top of his nose. He's not going to be consistently good -- either from week to week, or from start to finish of a single song -- until he figures out what's wrong and fixes it, and that's a bigger project than Idol will give him time for.

Paul, "Folsom Prison Blues" -- That almost sort of worked, in a very weird way. Jimmy and Will.I.Am were right to tell him to go crazy with it, and channeling his manic energy into the voice instead of into his feet gave him a fuller tone than he usually has. There were only one or two moments when he slipped into the wispy breathiness that he's so often prone to. I still don't like his voice, but this was at least interesting.

And it was a night of surprises, with the best performances coming from unlikely quarters -- Pia and Lauren helped themselves tonight -- and some of the favorites falling short -- Scotty and James slipped badly.

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

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

Let's send home: Despite a better than usual effort tonight, Paul is still the most deserving. I would put my money on Haley or Jacob, though.

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