I've had a few days to ponder Season 10's Top 13--and I must say, daddy is pleased. The talent this year is really stellar (despite some bitter cuts-- Kendra, Robbie & Lauren T, our time together was too short!!), and I'm not really mad at any of the finalists for making it through. Dare I say this season is shaping up to potentially live up to my personal Idol favorites (season 3's diva-fest, season 7's tender artist affair and season 8's crazy original palooza).
Anyway, since I am creepily attached to American Idol contestants like most parents are to their children, I'd like to devote this session to both dispensing advice and cruelly ranking this year's Idol finalists (like any good parent should). So here goes... rankings based on my own personal tastes and advice via song suggestions!
13.) Scotty McCreery: Scotty should admittedly rank higher in terms of his talent level (he's the most clearly defined "artist" in the Top 13-- we know exactly what his album would sound like), but I'm just not that into hardcore-country music. Usually I hate the male-teen-hearthrob throwaway contestants (see John Stevens, Tim Urban, etc), but I have to admit, Scotty is so in the pocket of his particlar genre, I can't help but respect him.
Song Suggestion: Billy Joel's "And So It Goes." I know David Archuleta tackled this song a few years back, but I think Scotty could have a real moment with this heart-wrenchingly simple ballad. It could add a maturity and dimension to his delivery and butter him up for more pop-friendly waters (not to mention the generally lower, simple melody would suit his voice).
12.) Karen Rodriguez: I think Karen was very smart to play up her Latino roots-- it not only felt genuine, but also appealed to a highly underutilized (and underestimated) audience--I'd venture the Latino voting block is as sizable as the contry-loving or tween block. I think she needs to seriously update her songbook if she has any chance at the Idol crown, but to her credit, she's got a solid set of pipes and a very humble, upbeat charm.
Song Suggestion: Wyclef Jean & City High's "Baby's Gonna Stay." This obscure jam would be perfect for Karen: the vaguely Spanish guitar, laid-back cool sound and ample room for vocal acrobatics would display all of Karen's strengths as a singer.
11.) James Durbin: Though I'm not convinced James is the real deal quite yet, I was rather impressed by his first live showing. And as wrong as this may be, seeing James's nerves get the better of him on results night (via some eyebrow twitches) made the previously-not-endearing combo of Asperger's/Tourette's seem not only real, but very human. It was very nice to see a non-posturing side of James, and I hope he channels that more than his "look at me! look at me!" vocal antics in the future.
Song Suggestion: The Darkness's "I Believe In A Thing Called Love." This song would not only support James's wild upper register, but would also give him a platform to do something more playful (a combo Adam Lambert mastered on his season).
10.) Naima Adedapo: While Naima remains the most endearing and deserving contestant in the competition, I'm not sure she has the artistic focus to demonstrate how she'd fit into today's musical landscape. It takes a whole lot more than some crazy gowns and cabaret lounge moves (throwback! whatup Simon!) to master the tenuous balance of originality and relevance.
Song Suggestion: India Arie's "The Heart of the Matter." I can see Naima sliding right into this genre, and this song has a wisdom about it that would translate very well via Naima's earnest emotionality.
9.) Ashton Jones: I think we all agree, the best thing about Ashton is her genuinely awesome take on diva-dom: she's the perfect combo of fun and sass (without a trace of the usual bitchiness attached to this stereotype). What Ashton lacks in vocal strength, she makes up for in confidence-- but this can only take her so far. To avoid a Lil Rounds fate, Ashton needs to tackle less vocally ambitious songs so that her voice can shine, rather than pale in comparison to other more powerful divas.
Song Suggestions: Angie Stone's "I Wish I Didn't Miss You." / Corrine Bailey Rae's "I'd Like To." Both songs are chock full o' attitude, but are a bit more vocally laid back, which would suit Ashon's range more smoothly.
8.) Thia Megia: I totally respected her stripped-down performance style this week, which channeled her voice into a more broadway balladeer style (which seems better suited to Thia than the jazzy style). That being said, if she can find the right songs that balance her vocal maturity against her actual age, I think she's a shoe in for the Idol Tour (but not much more).
Song Suggestions: Paolo Nutini's "White Lies" / Adele's "Hometown Glory." Both are simple-yet-gorgeous ballads that feature a unique pop voice and could replicate the success Thia had with "Out Here On My Own."
7.) Haley Reinhart: I'm probably more of a Haley fan that I should be at this point, but I'm holding to the affirmation that there's something special hidden deep in Haley's voice, underneath that mountain of gratuitous runs. If she finds a way to harness her vocal power (re: Jimmy Iovine's astute Bono comment) and focus that slinky sex appeal, she could become a legitimate dark horse.
Song Suggestions: Duffy's "Save It For Your Prayers"/ Joss Stone's "Dirty Man." Both are jazzy songs that would allow Haley to tease up the playfulness, but both only call for a few well-placed diva moments. If delivered simply, these songs could elevate Haley into something more than a Christina Aguilera ripoff.
6.) Jacob Lusk: Jacob proved to me that he can pull back enough on a song to deliver a dynamic and well-balanced performance, but I'm still concerned about the Taylor Hicks effect: perfect for the Idol stage, terrible for the pop music scene. If Jacob sharpens his artistry a bit, he's a real contender for the crown.
Song Suggestion: Christina Aguilera's "Mercy On Me." If anyone can handle the ridiculous bigness of this gospel-inspired diva ballad, it's Jacob-- the idea of him tackling this song actually makes me giddy. Plus, female-to-male song conversions always go over well on the Idol stage.
5.) Pia Toscano: Never before has an Idol contestant switched up my take so fast: in two minutes of perfectly pitched Ido perfection, Pia literally went from zero to hero in my (and probably the producer's) book. I'm very curious to see what kind of songs Pia will continue to choose, because "Ill Stand By You" is a timeless ballad not necessarily indicative of her artistic style.
Song Suggestion: Celine Dion's "Then You Look At Me." OK, file this one in the "guilty pleasure" drawer. I don't think this song would do Pia any favors in terms of seeming relevant, but I've always known this song possessed all the trappings of a perfect Idol moment, and Pia seems like just the right girl to bring it to life.
4.) Stefano Langone: I was so, so, so happy Stefano made it through, because he seemed doomed to become an Idol semifinalist-done-wrong. Dare I say he may be the current Idol dark horse--if those other fools don't watch out, Stefano is going to snag that title, Kris Allen style.
Song Suggestion: Joan Osborne's "What Becomes of the Broken Hearted." This is another song perfectly suited for a shining Idol moment, and Stefano displayed enough emotional depth on his Wildcard performance to be able to do this song justice (not to mention Joan's smoky take would help Stefano's voice take on some more dimension).
3.) Paul McDonald: Paul is certainly the most real-world ready of all this year's contestants, and I have a feeling we're due for a lot more of his "quirky" stylings, provided he's able to tackle Idol's theme weeks as well as the Daughtry's, Cook's and Castro's of Idol past.
Song Suggestion: Damien Rice's "The Blower's Daughter." Sung with nothing but a spotlight and a guitar, this haunting ballad would pack all the emotional punch necessary for a spectacular Idol moment.
2.) Lauren Alaina: I know I'm buying into the hype on this one, but the kind of ease Lauren displays on stage has all the trappings of a superstar. Polish this girl up a bit and slap the right songs on her, and she'll really earn all those Clarkson/Underwood comparisons (though I hope she doesn't burn out under the weight of early expectations, Andrew Garcia style).
Song Suggestions: Bonnie Raitt's "Dimming Of The Day" / Pink & Steven Tyler's "Misery." Both of these little-known songs would be absolutely stunning paired with Lauren's vocal chops: the Bonnie song is equal parts haunting and powerful, while the hidden-gem Pink song features more opportunities for country-centric diva grandstanding than just about any other song (plus it can continue Lauren's trend of awkwardly including Mr. Tyler in her performances).
1.) Casey Abrams: As talented as he is original as he is likable, Casey has all the makings of a true Idol, provided he can clean up some of those wonky passion-blind notes (no one wants a Lee Dewyze repeat). I can see Casey developing into an Adele-like powerhouse, with the right touches...
Song Suggestions: N'Sync's "Gone." Crazy, I know, but refer to David Cook's awesome take on "Hello." Casey needs to prove he can tackle a pure-pop song, and this underestimated Timberlake-driven ballad would give Casey the perfect opportunity to display all of his skills, especially if he broke out the stand-up bass (imagine that)!
Whew! All right, I'm spent... but terribly terribly excited to see how this season plays out. Something tells me it's going to be a close race...