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.

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