May 17, 2011

MUSIC: American Idol 2011: "songs that inspired me" / Leiber & Stoller

We open with a weird "vote for them so they can go home next week" pitch, as if the loser this week will be locked in Guantanamo and never allowed to see their family again. Which sets the perfect tone for a round of "songs that inspired me."

The rundown:

James, "Don't Stop Believing" -- You gotta figure Fox loves the subliminal cross-promotion for Glee. It's an OK performance, but he's over-singing a bit, holding on to notes ("smalltown booooooy") for too long, robbing the song of the punchiness it needs. It's rock, not Verdi.

Haley, "The Earth Song" -- Ecocatastrophe, dying children, war -- this is inspiring? It's pretty enough, but pretty isn't Haley's strong suit, and when she breaks out the raspy stuff at the end, it doesn't suit the song.

Scotty, "Where Were You When the World Stopped Turning" -- Do these kids know what "inspire" means? "Hey, remember 9/11?" is not an inspiring message. It's true that Alan Jackson's song was less jingoistic than many of the country world's responses to 9/11, but this is still the most shameless bit of patriotic pandering we've seen since Kristy Lee Cook trotted out "God Bless the USA." Oh, the performance? Meh.

Lauren, "Anyway" -- Finally, someone understands "inspiring." Lovely song choice; simple, understated delivery. She's not laying on the twang too thick, but when it's there, it's just right.

For Round 1: Lauren, James, Scotty, Haley.

Next up, the songs of frequent Idol honorees Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, with mentoring from Lady Gaga, which doesn't intuitively seem like a great fit, but who knows?

The rundown:

Haley, "I (Who Have Nothing)" -- Holy shit. Anyone see that coming? That was the most spectacularly intense thing we've seen on Idol in a long time, and that wail coming back into the verse (after "windowpane") was scary-ass thrilling. Remarkable.

Scotty, "Young Blood" -- More energy than we've gotten from Scotty in a while, and far more playful; he's teasing the audience with the interplay between his high/low registers (love the "looky there" sequence). And yet Steven isn't wrong when he says (meaning to be complimentary, I think) that there's something Pat Boone about it; even at his best these days, Scotty seems like the watered-down, safe for mass consumption version of something that should be more exciting.

Lauren, "Trouble" -- It's not as bad as I'd feared, given her qualms about the word "evil," but why do the nice girls always want to sing this song? Lauren is about as evil as marshmallow.

James, "Love Potion #9" -- Badly out of tune on "selling little bottles," and he's missing the tone of the song entirely. This shouldn't be shouted; it needs to be sly, insinuating, winking. He's doing what he does reasonably well; it just doesn't suit the song at all.

For Round 2: Haley, Scotty, James, Lauren. And special kudos to Gaga for understanding that singing is acting, and for being a damn good drama coach.

For the night: Haley, James, Lauren, Scotty.

For the season: James, Lauren, Haley (though she's given two of the season's best performances in two weeks, and the gap with Lauren is very small), Scotty.

Let's send home: Scotty, though I fear it will be Lauren.

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