Thursday, March 31, 2011

ELTON'S CHILDREN


THREE DIVAS LEARN TO TELL THE STORY

Pia Toscano finally shows some soul. The dazzling beauty has always been hampered by an overly-controlled demeanor (reacting with nothing but some rearrangement of her hair do while the world whooped at the wrestling antics of Hulk Hogan, Durbin and Seacrest). Her voice is the best in that lot, full and powerful and soaring. The voice is hot – everything else cold, from the ‘couture’ clothes to the by-the-number hand gestures to her spiels in front of the judges and backstage. Perfection can grate. You can only appreciate heaven when you’ve had a taste of hell. And for all that she apes Mariah and Celine, Pia lacks the vulnerable core the two divas display in their power ballads.

Until tonight. Emerging from that wall of blazing sunset, she is stunning in a fitted, sequined gold dress – drop-dead sexy and classy, especially with that walk. (Which makes me suspect that she may be saving the dancing for the latter weeks; she’s got a dancer’s back.) “Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me” is a tough, tough song. Aside from Elton, Oleta Adams has a stunning version of this ballad. There’s no question of Pia nailing it. But for the first time, she allows a rawness to her voice. “… although I search myself, it’s always someone else I see. I'd just allow a fragment of your life to wander free. But losing everything is like the sun going down on me.” And you believe that bit of anguish is real, the price for the perfection this young princess strives for. This is where song and personality finally gels. For once, I believe she can really win.
**
Jacob sings it straight! And slays it. The other diva in the group sings another song of angst, “Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word” and it’s all you can do to stop from rushing the stage and taking the wounded one in your arms.

He’s a serious student, Jacob is, and that Jimmy is one heck of a teacher. Not only does Jacob marshal his gift like the treasure is it (instead of hurling it helter skelter into the winds); he has actually inserted nuance into his song.

Now, nuance and Jacob have never been the best of friends; this is a tremendous achievement. Plus, he has even learned to tame those distracting facial expressions and the kitschy gestures best suited for a cabaret act – and that is probably an even bigger victory. Because it leads to a discovery – this young man is actually handsome and now that he’s done with mugging, you are pulled into those eyes where tears remain unshed. (Oh and I love the touch of red and that blazer’s fit. Getting there, my friend; getting there.)
**
Casey shows his tender side. And is sexier than ever. Okay, so it’s probably not easy to see a bearded, chubby guy with a nervous ulcer as a diva. But Casey has really behaved as one so far, just as enamored of his talent as Pia and Jacob are and as eager to clobber our heads with this.

The thing Casey has learned since his near-death experience is that while the funnies are a way into a lot of girls’ hearts, every romantic out there wants to see his tender side. For the long run, you do not want some Nirvana-channeling maniac or some lecher who swivels and humps. Tonight, Casey became the man you want to bring home to Mama – and not just because Mama loves Elton.

He uses only a piano for “Your Song” and the slight slouch says he’ll be slowly drawing us in. Gently, gently like a master fisher. There is that single rasp that makes you gasp and then the smile, sweet and sad and proud at the same time, as he croons, “My gift is my song and this one’s for you.” He gives us a little taste of the snarl, now as skillfully trimmed as his hair, and slides into the last line with a serenity that you totally buy. He sings that last word and softly, smoothly glides up the scale and the smile that breaks out is all about joy and nothing about pride, and it tells us Casey’s back.

LOOSE AND SEXY


Hailey Reinhart sizzles with "Bennie and the Jets". Tonight the former bottom dweller was as Casey started out weeks back – loose and sexy, using humor and impish delight rather than pouts and smoldering looks. The latter would have made a disaster of that piano-posturing-ala-fabulous-baker-boys. There is nothing pretentious about Hailey, however, and now that she knows the art of the earpiece and the even greater art of having fun, she simply sizzles.

For once, too, the costume fits the performance. A slim, lace fitted shift with lavender hues that shoot through the light framing her Boticelli hair. Its seeming demureness makes the whole thing wonderfully subversive. This is one very successful mix of contrasts. The lovely alto growls then sails blithely into rock-star levels, before dropping gently back to gal-next-door dulcet tones. It’s bad girl alright, but a mellow bad girl, gently laughing at the antics of peers -- or, in her case, most probably parents – not some rebel hell-bent on nihilism.

From the start of the rockin’ on the piano – “Say, Candy and Ronnie, have you seen them yet/ But they're so spaced out, B-B-B-Bennie and the Jets…”
Hailey is all sinuous grace and laid-back jive. I'm amazed that JLo and company once called her ‘awkward’.

I can imagine Steven slobbering in his seat as many guys were around America. "You sing sexy!" It's just that GP rating that stops Tyler from rushing Hailey on stage. The best thing about Hailey’s appeal is its accessibility – that’s not to be taken as easy. Plus, Hailey’s the kind of sexy that women can like. When so many of us are hyperventilating over the guys, every sister’s vote counts.
**
James Durbin rips through Saturday Night and it’s more than alright. Now, lessee, what did James have to learn? Little pitch wobbles gone, check. He’s shown he can jive, now he gives a little grease lightning, of the 70s era. Ripped jeans, t-shirt, boots, and what seems to be a modified Mohawk minus the shaving.

Starts from the audience, swaggers down the stairs, leaps, prowls the floor, goes back up, hurls the mike stand, leaps on the piano, jumps down and then flips on his back and gyrates. Whatever disabilities he has, physical mobility and grace aren’t among these. All that, and he's as musical as ever, nary a rough patch as he pierces the stratosphere.

He somehow tamps down the after-performance hamming, so that’s probably a lesson learned. Don’t alienate people by acting too confident; though really, with James, it’s just like a kid let loose in a candy store. And bless him for his faux pax.
**
Scotty sticks with Country Comforts. It’s a big part of Scotty’s charm that he can make fun of his less-than-astronaut-level brains, though I seriously doubt that's even true, given the canny way he’s transformed challenges into so many brownie points. So, the athletic lad from the Texan mansion read “country” and cantered off with the song, coming out with the guitar, giving another masterfully-phrased performance – he instinctively knows when to speak-sing.

Shoutout to Granny can’t hurt him – and sticking with those verses despite the advice will make everyone from the suburbs onwards loving him. Plus, he’s holding those higher (yeah, it’s relative) notes better, weaving them into the song instead of treating them as levels to reach. And there is a sly, quiet humor there that says Scotty knows the act can be hokey but he’ll give it as much dignity as he can muster. Which is amazing for 17 years old. Which is why everyone from 7 to 70 loves the guy.

GOOD LUCK

Naima Adedapo is Still Standing. I loved that she had the guts to turn Elton’s song into reggae and can’t for my life understand the judges’ objections. But I’m afraid America may agree with them.
**
Lauren Alaina is no Candle in the Wind. Well, she did bring softness and left some of the brass behind. Nothing wrong with her voice. It’s just that the facial expressions didn’t quite match the song. And the simpering with Ryan… aaah, but she’s 16, for god’s sake. And they screamed for her. She’s not going.
**
Thia Megia mislays Daniel. What are we to do with Thia? Great voice; she can even get the nuance and emotions right -- much, much better in this department than Lauren. But that face and her movements are just so bland she doesn’t even get off the ground. There is no presence. It’s a pity. If she’s around next week, she should ditch that hair and get a pixie cut.
**
Stephano Langone and his not-so Tiny Dancer. He’s still beautiful. He opened his eyes tonight. He has a really cute butt. He has good high notes. He has a really cute butt. He needs to enunciate better. He has a really cute butt. He doesn’t quail under the whip. He really has a cute butt.
**
Paul McDonald wasn’t the Rocket Man. I love Paul and still want him around. But this one fell flat. These kids should listen to Jimmy. They really should.

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