Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Final 11 (Redux) Performances

Holy balls, people.

My mother, after years of forced (aka secretly beloved) Idol watching, finally did the unthinkable: she was actually moved to vote for a contestant. This was a personal Idol moment 10 seasons in the making, because for the first time, my mom might come to understand the sweet victory/bitter defeat of an emotional attachment to an Idol contestant (and that's what really keeps us all coming back for more, isn't it?). So want to know who finally got momma to pick up the phone for the first time in 10 years? Keep reading, folks.

I really do think this almost magical mom-leap is due to two things: the songbook of one Elton John, and the phenomenally updated production value of American Idol. After a teetering dark period filled with lost judges, predictably mundane filler and Michael-Lynche-level talent (remember him? Don't bother), American Idol is back-- and with a bang, baby. We've got 11 wildly different (and equally interesting) contestants, renewed energy behind the judges panel and some serious mentoring (someone (aka Jimmy) has been reading the fan blogs this time around, huh?). Season 10 of Idol has not for one second let us forget that they are searching for a superstar, and for the first time in a while, I think they're really going to produce one (if not more).

So let's try to sort through the Elton glitter and pick out who that superstar may be...

The Hot
Pia Toscano: “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me.” So you may have guessed it-- Mommy dearest loves her some Pia (like mother like gay son, I suppose). I think that may have a little something to do with Pia's NYC/NJ Italian girl roots, but it probably has more to do with Pia's flawless vocals and shining humility (and that sparkly dress-- Pia's giving JLo a run for her glam money, no?).

And let me tell you something-- Pia can sing ballads to me every night for the rest of my life, and I wouldn't freakin' tire of them. And I know there are tons of Idol (slash 80s-90s diva pop) fans out there who crave the pure diva passion smoothie Pia is blending just as much as I do. It's not just the fact that Pia can hit those insane notes, it's that she brilliantly stashes them in unexpected places in every song, so that they hit us when we least expect them (and most crave them). I don't think Pia needs to veer out of the ballad lane (though I would likes me some River Deep, Mountain High), but rather she needs to switch up her performance stylings-- not every song needs a grand band, gospel choir and center-stage stance. Image Pia barefoot, sitting side-stage and belting beside an acoustic guitar? No one would be crying wolf-ballad then, now would they? It's still way too early to call, but I think it would be a travesty if Pia wasn't given the chance to sing a sappy Idol finale single, at this point.

(OK, sorry! Ending irrational emotional Idol rant in 3, 2, 1...)

Lauren Alaina: “Candle in the Wind.” I never thought I'd use this word to describe Lauren, but she has earned it: Exquisite. I mean, those breaks into falsetto were just stunning. For the first time all season, I think Lauren has stood up and proven that she actually has a shot to win this bad boy. And this was probably her last chance to serve a deeply rooted, emotional performance before voters began to give up on her-- and damn, did she deliver. This is what I've been wanting from Lauren all season, and I can only hope she doesn't continue to waste the pretty (shoutout, Allison Iraheta. You still rock).

Haley Reinhart: "Benny and the Jets." Haley motherf**kin' Reinhart, ladies and gentleman! If you'll remember, one humble Idol blogger has been preaching about something special hidden deep down in Ms. Reinhart for weeks (uh, that's me). And while I don't think this was Haley's "Circle of Life" moment quite yet, it certainly was an Idol moment nonetheless (thanks mostly to a turn in the much-coveted show-ending pimp slot). There's something intriguing about Haley's slinky charm and f**k you flippancy when paired with that out-of-control vocal range. Let's be real, people-- she's not going to win American Idol (and I think she knows that, by now). But lord knows if she keeps this deliciousness up for a few more weeks, she might not even have to.

Casey Abrams: “Your Song.” Welcome back, Mr. Abrams. And while I'm not quite ready to break out the bass for his triumphant return, I am certainly happy to see Casey meander back towards his melodic roots (exhibiting only a few well-placed growls). I'm not sure the "makeover" did him any favors, nor am I sure Casey is destined for much more than a mid-pack elimination at this point, but I am indeed happy he's still here. I think, moving forward, Casey will have to serve up some of the unexpected quirky coolness he demonstrated in earlier rounds to even have a prayer of reaching his once-upon-a-time frontrunner status, but we all know one thing for sure: a judges save surge of votes will keep him safe this week.

James Durbin: “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting.” In theory, I should have hated this performance. I mean, I could barely pick out a melody in the rather intense wall-of-sound generated by both James and Bandzilla. But it goes to show you that one man-diva scream, one flaming piano and one overblown audience-crawl can overwrite what might otherwise have been a terrible performance. James is serving up a particular flavor of showmanship that no one else has been dishing this season-- and since we currently lack a frontrunner, the question we'll have to answer eventually is: what genre will have the largest voting base? Rock? Country? Reggae? Diva? Gospel? Blues? Beard? Pearly Whites? Disney Princess? Only time will tell...

The Warm
Jacob Lusk: “Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word.” Let's start with some real talk: I find Jacob's voice mostly unpleasant to the ear. I also think his caterwauling ways and his emotional grandstanding are solely destined for broadway (and not for a viable pop career). That being said, watching Jacob perform is somewhat akin to watching a natural disaster: meriting interest, respect, heartbreak, shock and awe. And honestly, every time I write something negative about Jacob, I can't help but imagine him running up behind me and shouting: "ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED?!" Yes, Jacob, you win. For I am.

Thia Megia: “Daniel.” Teetering on tears may be just enough to save Thia for another week-- and to my complete surprise, I'd actually like to see at least one more showing from her. Even though the second half of Thia's performance veered back into pageant land and her falsetto never seems to make it into the microphone (that's twice now, sweetie), there was something haunting and very pretty embedded in this performance. Thia is certainly growing-- perhaps not quickly enough, but at least it's happening. And what more can we ask of our "youngest contestant" (thanks, Ryan. Nice haircut, btw).

Paul McDonald: “Rocket Man.” "Once we get back to the real world I'll go back to writing songs and dressing like a musician." Uh, hipster say whaaaat? Does anyone else get the impression that Paul thinks he's better than Idol? Because I certainly do. Whether or not this is actually true, it's wildly apparent that Paul needs to start taking this competition a bit more seriously. Because if there's one thing worse than obscurity, it's Idol-induced obscurity. Paul's only saving grace (besides the Tim Urban Good-Looks Effect) was that tonight, he showed some flashes of emotionality in his performance. Other than that, I'm getting real tired of his mediocre, passionless bar-stool showings (said so meanly because a.) I think he's capable of much better and B.) I really can't stand pretentious artiste disrespect for anything mainstream).

The Cold

Stefano Langone: “Tiny Dancer.” Blue jean baby, what has become of you? Stefano's precipitous drop from frontrunner to bottom-feeder has been rather stunning to watch. It's amazing how fickle we fans can be, because while two weeks ago I was predicting Stefano potentially stealing the Idol crown, this week I'm predicting his early demise. Something in Stefano's phrasing keeps going wonky and short-cut, and he seems to lack the arranging skills necessary to lead a song to its rightful climax. It makes me wonder whether his early performances were merely a stroke of luck. Perhaps there's a reason Jimmy is coming down so hard on Stefano-- he seems to have all the right moving parts (voice, look, personality), but doesn't seem to possess the musical direction to pull it all together. Hopefully he'll get by on his sheer desire to stay and prove me wrong...

Scotty McCreery: “Country Comfort.” Love you grandma! Shout outs aside, we all know I'm inclined to dislike Idol's resident country crooner-- but please note, Scotty has been ranking high on my critique lists for weeks, so I can report this low-showing with some objective confidence. This was a very standard, forgettable performance. We're getting to that point in the competition where the contestants really need to amp up their starpower-- and I see Scotty flatlining. Granted, his flatline is at a consistently higher level than some of the others remaining, but if Scotty doesn't start taking some seriously ambitious risks (none of which have to betray his country roots, mind you), he's not going to rise as a contender in this closely-packed season.

Naima Adedapo: “I’m Still Standing.” Spontaneous Jamaican accents aside (I mean, really?), this performance was very smart (on paper): a noticeably less-talented contestant capitalizes on all her strengths, adapting a potentially disastrous song to suit all her vocal needs. And while I think Naima pulled many disparate parts together for what was probably her best showing (spontaneous wild-card moments aside), I don't think it's going to be quite enough this season. I genuinely adore Naima and am so happy she has made the tour, but I'm not yet convinced she's destined for much more (triple-rhyme, baby. Booyakasha!)

Predictions: Methinks Naima will finally get the Idol axe this week (with B3 target #1 Haley finally upping her game). And while I personally think Paul deserves the second boot, I think there's a strong chance it will go to Stefano (with Casey and Thia bouncing back via some respective tears for fears).

Hope you enjoyed this Idol night as much as I did, lovelies!

Till Tomorrow,

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