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 Castañeda 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

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