May 18, 2011

MUSIC: American Idol 2011: night of a thousand choices

It's the traditional choice night for the final three. The contestants pick one, Jimmy Iovine picks one, and the judges pick one. I tend to put the most emphasis on the contestants' choices; it's their first completely free pick since the semi-finals, and one would hope that they have learned something about song selection and their own strengths and weaknesses. A bad performance in this round is a very bad sign.

The rundown for round one:

Scotty, "Amazed" -- It's a pretty enough performance, but there's no passion to it; he's not amazed so much as he is very mildly startled. Part of that is that he's a bit young for the song, which is not about the blush of first love; it's about a relationship that amazes by continuing to get better, even after that first thrill has worn off.

Lauren, "Wild One" -- The song is unusually dull, and Lauren is struggling with the tempo; lyrics are disappearing in a mush in the verses, and she's frantically grabbing gulps of breath during the chorus. A serious disappointment.

Haley, "What Is and What Should Never Be" -- It's the right style for her voice, and she generally sounds pretty good, if occasionally a bit hard to understand. She seems to get lost for a moment as she comes back up onto the stage (from the judge's comments, she apparently fell), but recovers reasonably well. Not great, but good enough to win the round.

For round one: Haley, Scotty, Lauren.

On to round two:

Scotty, "Are You Gonna Kiss Me Or Not" -- He's just so damned earnest; it's not until the very last line of the song that he shows any sign of understanding the playfulness of the lyrics. It's an improvement over his first round, but his consistency has turned into blandness. He desperately needs a jaw-dropping moment, and I don't think he has one in him.

Lauren, "If I Die Young" -- What a creepy little song! I don't know how you sing that to make it entertaining instead of morbid, but it's certainly not by grinning throughout. A bit of a mess, but I mostly blame Jimmy's song selection.

Haley, "Rhiannon" -- The song is in precisely the right key to show off the break in Haley's voice, though I think she goes a bit overboard with it on the repeated "Rhiannon"s. And there's a bit of a regression here to the creepy sex-kitten Haley from five or six weeks back. It's another performance that's just a bit better than the mediocrity of the other singers.

For round two: Haley, Scotty, Lauren.

And round three:

Scotty, "She Believes in Me" -- Here's the thing: Scotty has the big grown-up voice, so Jimmy and the judges want to hear him sing big grown-up love songs. But he's 17, and from all indications, a rather shy and geeky 17 at that, so a song like this (which is, like his first song, about love after the first thrill has passed) is beyond him emotionally. It's a very pretty series of notes, but it's nothing more than that.

Lauren, "I Hope You Dance" -- The judges have served Lauren well; her youthful optimism and innocence are well suited to the song. And it's a very nice performance, even if it never quite rises to the level of being exciting or distinctive. (The less said about the glittery blue prom dress, the better.)

Haley, "You Oughta Know" -- The verses are pitched far too low for her, and the bottom notes are completely disappearing. She sounds terrific on the chorus, though, and the song is right in her comfort zone.

For round three: Lauren, Haley, Scotty.

For the night: Haley, Lauren, Scotty.

For the season: It's a very tough call. Scotty's been extraordinarily consistent, but has been content to be very good instead of striving for greatness. He's the kid who shows up to class every day and gets B's on all the tests; you're happy that he isn't failing, but you kind of wish that he'd at least try for an A once in a while. Lauren has shown the most steady growth over the season, and I think her lack of confidence is her biggest weakness. Haley has been wildly inconsistent; mostly awful for much of the season, then suddenly good -- occasionally spectacularly good -- over the last three weeks. The three are so tightly bunched that any ranking would be entirely about personal taste.

Let's send home: It should (again) be Scotty. I think it will be Lauren.

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