Thursday, April 28, 2011

IDOL 6: Interpretation is everything

Jacob Lusk brings joy, style, and a lot of vamp into “Oh No Not My Baby.”

Jacob has taken Randy Jackson’s exhortation in the right spirit. While he stays clear of pained-diva territory, he lets his considerable quirkiness shine in a song that also flows along his moral path. If Jacob seems strangely joyful for a song that warns about infidelity, it’s because there is some kind of redemption at the end of this song. (Well, she/he marries him/her. After that is another story :))

Jacob makes a clever choice departing from the usual fire-and-brimstone theatrics or earnest paeans to brotherhood and understanding. He also brings his birthrights (Motown and jazz and soul) into play. Even the outfit says Jacob is finally playing Jacob – shades of blue and a yellow so bright and cheerful I expected Big Bird to come out of the woodwork. (James has drums; Jacob can have the bird.)

He doesn’t do outlandish faces; I think he’s permanently rid of them. He grooves; while scatting he even attempts some moves from Naima, all perfectly in the spirit of this song. But I am not America and they may still dump him at the bottom tomorrow. If that happens, what Jacob can take away from this is the knowledge that he might as well have great fun shaking those “tail feathers.”

Never believe Lauren Alaina when she says, “Where You Lead” (I will Follow).

How do you solve a problem like Lauren? A powerful, nuanced voice; emotional depth that ranges from A to B (with apologies to the late Bette Davis). Lauren’s idea of bold is shaking her shoulders and hips and flouncing like Daddy Nabokov’s brat.

She ain’t Ruth (whither though goest…), that’s for sure. Lauren’s idea of flexing her budding womanhood is dragging some poor guy up the stairs and then gesturing for him to sit like a tame puppy – and then leaving him there as she sashays around and flirts with the audience. Even when she returns, it takes some time before she remembers there is man-she-has-promised-to-follow.

And since when has she started to pick up the late Pia’s pageant gestures? Aw, Lauren, honey, I’d rather have you blowsy and inappropriately lush than transform into a corpse that sings. The whole thing leaves me cold, but then I’m not Steven Tyler.

Not content with having them individually fight for America’s votes, Idol producers have gotten into the habit of, well, letting individuality shine with more songs. Usually with partners. Does it work? Depends if there’s someone you can gel with.

Haley Reinhart & Casey Abrams lose their cool with “I Feel The Earth Move” I love Casey and Haley when they’re cutting loose. Their earlier duets was impressive, drawing on their biggest strengths. Tonight, they look like corny parents in a time warp, the kind of parents you and I would be ashamed of. Wedding-singer parents. This is corn, not cool.

Until it gets to 1:40. Then everything that follows is worth a standing ovation. Talented. Artistic. But still adolescents where full musicality is concerned. A few great seconds but the performance on a whole is schizophrenic mainly because these two have yet to settle who they really want to be.

Millions will come texting for Scotty McCreery’s “You’ve Got a Friend”.

He escaped landing in the bottom three last week -- his country base apparently voting on the basis of faith and ideological fealty rather than actual performance -- but youngster Scotty apparently took the judges’ criticism to heart.

I never really feared for him this week; Carole King may be “pop” but actually fits the mold of folk singer-songwriters, and that’s but a step away from country. Both are story-telling genres and this is Scotty’s strongest suit, when he’s not ruining it by trying to be arch. But he did take a risk with the iconic “You’ve Got A Friend” because he’s been told to try something new, to surprise, and this is a karaoke and sing-along staple.

He didn’t make a new song. But he made an old song sound fresh, changing notes just enough for a rare showcase of his upper registers. He also tempered the brow-raising or, at least, alternated these with furrows of pain.

Randy’s wrong to demand that Scotty hold on longer to those higher notes. The kid’s a troubadour, not a diva. He clearly has some range but is clearly no power singer. Why settle for a poor imitation of Jacob or James when he can be an evolved Scotty?
Considering the regular Scotty has already a lot going for him, the evolved version – showing some subtlety and maturity, and a very fetching light rasp that will make girls young and old cry –scores big-time. Let me put it this way; Carole’s contemporaries, who may prefer James over Scotty, will give the younger man their grudging respect tonight.

“Will You Love Me Tomorrow?" James Durbin asks.

And the answer is we’ll love you for a long time if you stay the way you are. Which is, unpredictable without losing your core musical identity; as tender as you are brash; and with a basic innocence, and truly infectious passion for music, that brings authenticity to whatever spectacle you choose for the night.

When Ryan announced “Carole King” last Friday, it sounded like a curse. The question on everyone’s mind was how the hell is Durbin going to rock Carole?

Tonight, in one of his less flashy performances, he throws down the gauntlet. Forget “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”. This is where Durbin shows he has the musical chops to transform pop into “emo rock” (as Randy famously said of David Cook) and thrill even without props and Tyler’s wardrobe discards.

Pitchy at times? After one strum for pitch, James does the entire first verse acapella and nails everything, his voice robust yet sweet.

He then breaks into rock and everything is icing, except James refuses to coast and takes us into a musical journey that is a celebration of a mix of music and talent and sheer delight in the joy of living.

Lauren and Scotty have the unfortunate lack of singing a boring duet right after James. Do not ask me what it was. The only thing I recall is an exchange during the interview with Ryan. “He’s kinda cute,” says the simpering Lauren. “Duh. We’re like brother and sister,” huffs Scotty. Okay, maybe the duh was absent but his face said it all. Not very gentlemanly, Scotty! But that probably earned you the eternal loyalty of the hopeful tweens.

"Hi-De-Ho” showcases Casey Abrams at his best, except for those grunts that are best left to perverts.

Hi de ho, hi de hi/ Gonna get me a piece of the sky/ Gotta find me some o’ that old sweet roll/ A singin’/ Hi de hi de hi de hi de ho…Once I met the devil – he was mighty slick/ Tempted me with worldly goods/ And said you could have your pick/ But when he laid the paper on me/ And he showed me where to sign/ I said, “Thank you very kindly/ but I’m in too great a need of mind.”

It’s Casey-turned-Frank and then flying into blues heaven. He can't strut to save his life but who cares? When Casey jams with the girls, you can see them wanting to throw their talented selves into his not-too-svelte arms. It is a bravura performance that could easily tip into godawful theatrics but is transformed into what real blues ought to be -- fearsome because its shows wickedness at its most delicious.

Jimmy Iovine said Casey loves living on the edge, which probably explains that nervous stomach. A less artistic (read, crazy) singer would have turned this into vaudeville. Casey, with his brilliant reading, turns in a performance that reminds me of Robbie Williams at his cheeky best. And it is the kind of song that suits Casey best because he has character for four guys that we actually forget that his voice is not exceptional. Now, that’s artistry.

Haley Reinhart is “Beautiful” but if she wants to stay on, she has to draw blood from the first note. Randy is right; the first part was good but not crazy good. Tyler is wrong and not just because God hasn’t yet decided to come back as a slim blonde with drop-dead gams.

It’s a performance in two parts. The first part is “matronic”, a chirpy matron’s breakfast ditty. There is nothing wrong with a chirpy matron; millions of men beg to have one. And Haley does get it right; this is a song written for a woman of a certain age. It’s just that chirpy matrons do not win competitions like Idol. And I doubt that Carole King was thinking of chirpy when she penned this.

JLo is right; Haley’s voice IS special. The last part was spectacular . At least, the voice was. But the facial expression and that gesture; what was this, a Disney camp for feminists? There’s time for joyful insouciance but this is a song that, unfortunately, cannot be rid of angst. That she lacks the capacity to show angst in song is Haley’s tragedy, because her quips have shown an intelligence that can meet Casey barb for sardonic barb.

The definition of odd is a duet by James and Jacob. The definition of good sport is the same guys laughing at themselves and their joint nightmare. The definition of chutzpah is taking a ridiculous task like singing duet on "I'm Into Something Good" and storming out thumbing their noses at bad luck and stupid producers. It was great farce and the long applause showed the audience got it. It will earn them more votes, especially since they have the panting horde a direct view of JLo’s gorgeous assets.

From the top: James, Scotty, Casey, Jacob, Haley and Lauren

Who should be in the bottom three: Haley, Lauren and Jacob.
Who could be in the bottom three: Haley, Lauren and Jacob. Maybe Casey, if enough prudes and musical illiterates choose to text for the country kids.
Who should go: Lauren
Who could go: Jacob or Haley. Probably Jacob.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Idol: Top 7 sing current (And James takes it fast, fast forward)

Whatever made Idol’s producers think we want another peek into has-beens? Steven, I love you, cuss words and all, but no, no, I’m sure 101% of your audience is not sorry for having voted this gang of six off.

The song is a disaster, almost mocking the would-be divas and turning Mr. Ladies’ man into a caricature of himself. Rock stars, my foot. No harmonies, voices all forgettable – including the divine Pia who has the misfortune of being made to jerk beside the flying Naima.

I’m not too sure the feature (Idols talking about fellow Idols) worked for everyone. It worked for James, who not only shows he’s a good sport but also displays a good-natured, almost deadpan humor that could smooth over the unease from some of his post-performance posturing . Stephano’s fan base only have more reasons to vote for him – the image of him slooowly baring his bod by the pool is indeed delicious. Lauren is presented as a genuinely nice, if slightly madcap girl, with the gift of laughing (nervously) at herself.

Casey, as he usual, walks a fine line – showing comic flair that should light up some intelligent big screen or boob tube comedy soon. But that wit could prove too sharp for Middle America, and soccer moms probably gasped at that slap he gave James. Haley doesn’t come out too well, a bit too arch and cutting. The feature on Scotty doesn’t offer any surprise. His remarks about the others, however, show the slightest hint of mean; that could tarnish his awshucks image a bit. As for Jacob, I am just praying that “diva” doesn’t do him in.

You have to love Jimmy Iovine, gruffness and bleeped out words included. After last week’s rebellion, he comes back with the wry but proud look of a kung fu master who’s just been bested by his wards.

Tonight he combines hard-nosed industry smarts with genuine caring. It’s funny that he reserves the warmest hugs for the stubborn James and Casey. His exasperation over Stephano actually results in puppy-eyes suddenly becoming a shark. And the frustrated, almost despairing look in his eyes as he talks of young Lauren pulling back actually wants me to be proven wrong about the younger blonde’s pedestrian act.

So, for the real important stuff:

Scotty McCreery sings “Swinging” like a dirty old man. And that’s being kind.

I’ve loved Scotty since those first deep notes rolled out of the young, saner sibling of the Alfred E. Neuman. He’s done a good job giving some spin into those old country hymns. But tonight, the only things I dig are the camel jacket and boots.

Scotty morphs from quirky into slightly scary. I’m itching to do some musical research to understand why James Durbin’s tics go away when he sings while Scotty, who’s perfectly normal if somewhat dopey in real time, becomes a spastic clown. The lyrics of the LeAnn Rimes song and Scotty’s expressions collide in a chilling mix. In more innocent times we’d dismiss the notion of a 17-year old pedophile, but in a world that has turned murky, one song changes poor Scotty into your friendly local pervert.

“There’s a little boy in our neighborhood/ her name is Charlie Johnson, and she’s really looking good/ I had to go to see him, so I called her on the phone/ I walked over to her house…and we were swingin’, yeah now we were swingin/ Yeah lil Charlie she’s as pretty as the angels sing…”

Tomorrow, Charlie will be six feet under and the whodunit ain’t your village priest. That basso in the song’s second half only makes it worse. Instead of the school’s secret psychopath, we get the evil twin of Family Guy Herbert.

James Durbin can send the hordes into “Uprising”. And he rams home the truth – that shamans, not generals, are the force that makes the world go round.

I don’t know what James sniffs; whatever, I want some of it. Anything that can transform a neurologically-challenged kid into a post-apocalypse high priest should be bottled and sold for top dollar.

That outfit deserves a museum. It’s almost what Hitler would have worn had he decided to avenge Germany’s humiliation by straight-on hurling its armies against those of the world powers, instead of making a detour to round-up folk who wouldn’t fight. Garb and performance – it’s a spectacle worthy of Carlos CastaƱeda if he’d chucked the drugs and abandoned the desert for the wild Celtic glens, and then lived long to survive Big Brother and Armageddon.

“Rise up and take the power back, it's time that/ The fat cats had a heart attack, you know that/ Their time is coming to an end, we have to/ Unify and watch our flag ascend, so come on/”

It’s a wise choice because it allows James to alternate between low chants and the High Mass tenor of a renegade seer.

“They will not force us/ They will stop degrading us/ They will not control us/ We will be victorious, so come on”

The Celtic Muse group recognized a brother. They also know how to acknowledge talent. Their dare to transpose upwards paid off. When James hits the chorus, his vocals shimmer with a tempered rage that spirals into piercing yells for blood. And from all corners of the vales and badlands of America, an army of youth (and boomers who yearn for their past) is gearing up for this new pied piper.

The ovation is tremendous, sustained. And James deserves every second of it.

Haley Reinhart sinks while “Rolling in the Deep”

I am still mad at the judges’ disrespect for Haley, which is clear pandering to lowest common denominator -- Lauren’s simpering Lolita. But I frown at hearing Haley announce her choice, an Adele song, remembering how Randy once urged this on Thia, who’s to the far right of Haley in terms of voice and temperament.

Truth is, I love the happy Haley best (Bennie and the Jets). She’s more sardonic than angst-sy, which Adele very much is. (Randy’s right; Thia should have sung Adele.)

My heart sinks as Haley starts out. It’s almost… Disney, mixed with JLo’s schoolmarm mom. (The dress is a downer, too, and not even Haley’s sexy bod can salvage this Ms-Secretary-trying-to-impress outfit, complete with conservative pumps.)

“Finally, I can see you crystal clear, Go ahead and sell me out and a I'll lay your ship bare, See how I'll leave with every piece of you…”

Sorry, I am not buying this. There is no point spinning this into some witty anthem of defiance. Nor can I feel heat when she sings of fire. Also, sitting seems to deprive Haley of air more than prancing around the stage does.

She gets better when the song turns, um, aspirational. "Throw your soul through every open door,/ Count your blessings to find what you look for,/ Turn my sorrow into treasured gold,/You'll pay me back in kind and reap just what you've sown,

There’s a little hint of a sweet yodel and a very short jazzy run and plenty of her trademark growls. But the vamping seems a bit out of place because there’s nothing in the song that calls for (re)wooing some SOB back into your bed.

I liked the vocals; the interpretation is very Haley but not quite in synch with the song. I’m praying Lauren ends up sooo boring that America has no choice but to send her back to the classroom.

Jacob Lusk gets real with “Dance with My Father”. Randy Jackson is dead wrong. But then the guy who egged Pia Toscano to make a fool of herself with “uptempo” probably mistakes bombast for passion. He also underestimates the Idol audience.

After the very early wobble, there is nothing wrong, not a single note wrong, in Jacob’s take on Luther Vandross’ ode. There are a lot of things good and gorgeous with this performance: the hot suit; the choice to sit down and, thus, restrain the tendency to over emote; the sorrow that never trips over into pathos. Jacob’s talent for storytelling coming into full bloom.

"Back when I was a child/ Before life removed all the innocence/ My father would lift me high/ And dance with my mother and me and then/ Spin me around til' I fell asleep/ Then up the stairs he would carry me/ And I knew for sure I was loved/ If I could get another chance/ Another walk, another dance with him/ I'd play a song that would never ever end/ How I'd love, love, love to dance with my father again, ooh
Sometimes I'd listen outside her door/ And I'd hear how my mother cried for him/ I pray for her even more than me/ I pray for her even more than me/ I know I'm praying for much too much/ But could you send back the only man she loved?/ I know you don't do it usually/ But dear Lord she's dying to dance with my father again/ this is all I ever dream"

Jacob does justice to some of Vandross’ best lyrics. He keeps it simple while singing of father and son and wisely reserves the pain – all the more lacerating for his restraint – for the woman in their lives. So, we didn’t get more than a slice of Jacob’s mind-blowing high range. So what? “Lettin go” would have cheapened the song. We got the most important thing: proof that, yes, he IS marketable.

I’ll tell you what will land Jacob in the bottom three. “Diva” (no matter that the kids didn’t seem insulting). And diva-ish whining. You do NOT make excuses, Jacob. Bad, bad form. Once more, it’s the spoken words that do him in. (Please, America, forgive him.)

Casey Abrams and his talent “Makes it Harder Breathe”.

THAT is Maroon 5? Casey ripping into the song during rehearsal turns it into something very different (and more likable). Okay, nobody upends a song like David Cook does, but Casey shows his range very well here. Plus, he brings another instrument to the stage – and rocks the guitar.

There’s not too much hamming (and I doubt Casey will ever give it up). I love the little scat he does; it strangely works with the rock vibe. He marches like a jerky puppet around the stage. I’m not too sure I get the joke but the cult of Casey (as Steven calls it) will probably find it funny.

He has cheek, Casey does. And I like that it’s not offensive, more like high jinks. And there isn’t a man out there who won’t give him props for daring to kiss the goddess herself.

Every gal wants to get “Closer” to Stefano Langone.

Once more, Jimmy drives the wild-card survivor hard. But you see the point. More important, Stefano’s flashing eyes shows he gets it, too.

I don’t think he’ll be in the bottom three tomorrow. This was a confident, foxy, absolutely dangerous Stefano. I hardly remember the vocals. It was good, very good. But seriously, who cares. Tonight was all about the moves. The PACKAGE. That slow dance sent the entire expanded sisterhood in the Espina living room whooping. The cougars have someone to ease the sting of missing Paul. Stephano’s shortness won’t matter at all, not with those abs, shoulders and those biceps. And that unbelievable smile.

Nah, he’s not my type. I like them wild and crazy. That doesn’t mean one can’t appreciate the doggedness and charm of the Italian bantam.

Lauren Alaina must be pushed into believing she’s “Born to Fly.

Terrible dress. So-so song. Beautiful voice. The song doesn’t even take off, though it doesn’t crash either. It’s competent, but with the magic missing. And at this point, even with her front-runner status, Lauren will need an extra dose of pixie dust to scatter across America.

Best to worse: James Durbin, Jacob Lusk, Stephano Langone, Casey Abrams, Haley Reinhart, Lauren Alana, Scotty McCreery.
Who should be in the bottom three: Haley, Lauren, Scotty.
Who could be in the bottom three: Jacob, Haley, Lauren. (Scotty, if enough tweens and cougars move over to Stephano’s camp.)
Who should go home: Scotty
Who could go home: Haley or Jacob