What a weirdly decent week of Idol Motown performances! Am I crazy, or was there not a single train wreck in the bunch? My Idol-watching buddy and I had a strange moment of realization this week when we realized that we actually don't dislike anyone this season because of their inability to sing; instead, in true reality show viewing fashion, we dislike some contestants because of jarring personality traits (see below). I don't know how I feel about that.
Well, last week sure was entertaining, with the early exercise of the judges' save and all, but like with the previous week, I didn't feel compelled to download the studio versions of these songs. As the weeks get more and more competitive (seriously, who is THE frontrunner this season?), it will prove even more important for contestants to do something interesting with their songs in order to set them apart from the pack (see: Naima). My biggest problem with this season is the producer involvement, and the ways they're shaping the contestants into ready-made products. I do understand the irony of saying that in a post about American Idol, but what I mean is that part of what makes this show fun is seeing raw talent evolve over the course of the season. The best contestants have used the experience as an opportunity to try things out creatively for themselves, to varying degrees of success. The heavy music-producer involvement is, as I see it, stifling some of that creativity instead of actually creating the product they want. Even if that is the endgame of this competition, it seems like this new format might be the thing that prevents contestants from having late-in-the-game "wow" moments, like Bo Bice's "In a Dream", Jordin Sparks' "I (Who Have Nothing)", and Kris Allen's "Heartless", among others. The format certainly isn't helping the "growth" of Lauren Alaina or Scotty McCreery. Well, there's still a ways to go.
Without further ado, then, here's my list of favorites as they now stand:
1. Naima Adedapo: That's right, I said it! I didn't much care for her semi-finals round performance of "Summertime" or "What's Love Got To Do With It" two weeks ago, but every other performance from her has stopped me in my tracks. Of all the contestants, she's the one that seems to be trying to do something interesting with her performances, and even when all the pieces don't come together exactly right ("Umbrella" was a little pitchy, dawg), I still find myself excited about what she's attempting to do. I also respected her understanding of the history of "Dancing in the Street" (a song co-written by Marvin Gaye!) and its connection with the Civil Rights Movement. I'm possibly the only person who feels this way, but her restrained wild card performance of "For All We Know" is my favorite performance of the season.
2. Stefano Langone: His Motown week performance of "Hello" was missing a real connection to the song itself (as J-Lo aptly pointed out), but I simply love what he can do with his voice! And what's more, I think he's contemporary and radio ready (can't you hear him singing on hip hop singles?), which is more than we can say for some other contestants (*cough*JacobLusk*cough*). Oh, and btw, Gordan Ramsey clearly sucks! I'm sure Stefano's mother's cooking was divine.
3. Casey Abrams: All it would take to put Casey back at the top of my list again would be a non-growly, musically creative performance to show off his lovely pipes. That's all I want. He missed an opportunity to do this with "Smells Like Teen Spirit".
4. Paul McDonald: This week reminded me of why I liked him in the first place: a tendency toward gentle guitar strumming with a whispery lilt on the vocals. Now if we could only get bandzilla to let the guy alone onstage with his guitar, I think we'd see his true potential.
5. Pia Toscano: I want to like Pia. She's got a lovely voice, a seemingly humble demeanor, and she's proven unafraid to wear sweatpants and glasses on camera, but every week, she bores me into oblivion with her pageanty, adult contemporary ballads. I can't ignore her talent, but I don't really want to buy her records. You know?
6. Thia Megia: I wanted to like her so much, that I may have crossed over into actually liking her. This week's performance of "Heat Wave" was her strongest big stage performance yet, even though she didn't really do anything special with it. Maybe I like the potential of her jazzy voice? That must be it.
7. Lauren Alaina: I'm starting to lose patience with Lauren. My disappointment with her can be summed up with her clip package confession that her producer chose her song for her this week. She has a seriously amazing voice and what sounds like near-perfect pitch to me, but this week again left me with the sense that she has no idea what she's doing up there. She's playing the American Idol karaoke game, robotically hitting all her notes and smiling pretty for the cameras, yet lacking any real connection to what she's doing. It's not her fault: she's only 16, after all. Unless A LOT of personal and musical growth can happen between now and the end of May, though, I call foul on all those early Dame Kelly comparisons.
8. James Durbin: Him being a "huge professional wrestling fan" pretty much clarified to me why I find him irritating. It's the adolescent tendencies in this 22 year-old father that I find jarring -- the way he persists in wearing "tails", the way he screams in every song just because he can, the Judas Priest song in the semifinals: he's the Judd Apatow movie of this season's American Idol. There's definitely a market for his particular musical stylings, but it's not my demographic.
9. Haley Reinhart: My Idol-watching buddy astutely pointed out this week that the only way she seems to be able to find her notes is in growling her way to them. For the most part, I find her vocals relatively inoffensive. It's the weirdly sexualized performances (accented by the growling) that bum me out.
10. Scotty McCreery: Yep, still not a fan.
11. Jacob Lusk: Over-the-top has made a new friend in Jacob Lusk. This week's less insane vocal was probably his best to date, but I'm still not convinced he has any idea what he's trying to do with his voice.
That's my two cents. Next week's Idol theme: Elton John songs (a season 3 theme that gave us this piece of horror and this curious caterwaul).