This week's American Idol could've been a train wreck. Not only has Elton John recently publicly said that he dislikes singing shows like American Idol and X-Factor, but the first time Idol did an Elton John-themed week (way back in season 3!), two of the top 10 worst Idol performances of all time were spawned by poor, unsuspecting teenagers: John Stevens' "Crocodile Rock" went down as one of the worst song choices ever for a crooner, and Camille Velasco (God bless her) just loved "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" too much to realize what she was doing to it.
Fortunately this week, our group of shockingly talented and stage-ready Idolestants avoided those potential disasters, delivering another pretty darn solid performance show. Good for them! Despite what it may seem from previous posts of mine, I really do want them all to do well, but I want them to do well because they're legitimately talented, not because they're "cute" or whatever. This week, I have to say, the only performances I really didn't like were James' over the top "Saturday Night's All Right for Fighting" ridiculata and (unfortunately) Naima's reggae-fied "I'm Still Standing". I also didn't care for Scotty's "Country Comfort", but I'll get to that in a minute. Everyone on that stage is dripping with talent, and it's really exciting this season to see what happens when there's so much jostling for position as "the favorite".
I am, of course, really sad to see Naima go, especially after proclaiming her as my favorite last week. I think she brought a level of creativity and experimentation to her songs that most of the other contestants are afraid to touch. I looked forward to seeing what she would do each week, for better or worse. I also thought this week was Thia's strongest week, but it wasn't the kind of performance that would win her any fans. I'm not ashamed to admit that I downloaded her lovely rendition of "Daniel". Two more ladies gone. Cue sad trombone.
One more thing, what did you think of the extra performances from our Idolestants during the results show, because I was loving that junk?! Lauren and Scotty's duet of "I Told You So" worked really well, and made me remember Carrie Underwood and Randy Travis' excellent debut of that fantastic duet from a results show in season 8 (remember the episode when Adam Lambert made us all feel weird -- especially Randy Travis -- with his strangely sexual performance of "Ring of Fire"? That was that week!). I also loved seeing Pia sing something upbeat and current (seriously, she should go the Katy Perry route again this season. "Thinking of You" would be right up her alley, I think), and of course I loved that fun man band, which I hope we haven't seen the last of.
Here are my favs as they currently stand:
1. Casey Abrams: YES! I loved seeing a humbled (and trimmed) Casey sitting on a stool, thinking about his lyrics, and singing, not growling. It wasn't the most technically proficient vocal of the night, but it felt authentic, which is what I loved about him in the first place.
2. Paul McDonald: I loved his performance of "Rocket Man"! I enjoyed seeing him perform with his guitar and a less overpowering arrangement from the band, but the thing that strikes me most about a good Paul McDonald performance is that he makes me hear the lyrics differently. I've never paid attention to the verses of that song before, but they're fantastic, right?! Great choice for Paul this week.
3. Stefano Langone: I'm choosing to ignore the last two weeks of performances for Stefano because his Wild Card performance was so remarkable. In other words, we know what he's capable of, in terms of connecting to a song. Randy's advice for his to "open his eyes more" and "connect to the audience" is exactly what I hope he doesn't do. It may be more fun for them in the room when contestants make eye contact with the audience, but as a TV viewer, I'm much more impressed with a performer that is clearly so connected to his song that he can't see anyone in the room, and that seemed to be the case with his "I Need You Now" during the semi-finals. More of that, Stefano!
4. Lauren Alaina: Lauren and Pia keep jostling for position on my list, but neither of them has given a performance that makes me really excited -- except for, strangely enough, their performances on results night. This week, Lauren chose a song that shouldn't be sung on Idol (I cringed at the choice) and almost made it work. She's still not totally connected to her material, but I think she's getting better at it. Again, I can't fault her for delivering a near-perfect vocal, but it's that maturity element that seems lacking in her performances. That said, her overall performance during her duet with Scotty was seriously fantastic!
5. Pia Toscano: Man, I want to like her, but she doesn't strike me as particularly creative with her songs. Each week, she's sung straight cover after straight, boring, balladic cover, even though she's obviously a RIDICULOUSLY good singer. Come on, Pia: give me something I would actually want to download (like your performance of "Teenage Dream")!
6. Hailey Reinhart: Okay, even a Haley naysayer has got to admit that she blew it out of the water this week! Her cover of "Benny and the Jets" just worked for her, and, as my favorite Idol vlog "Idoloonies" has pointed out, she's kind of got a sense of humor about herself. This was a really fun performance, and I [gulp] liked it a lot.
7. Scotty McCreery: Just as I was complaining about his cheesy performance antics (e.g., turn head to the side and smirk) on his uninspired cover of "Country Comfort" and his lack of growth on Idol in general, he whips out that amazing duet with Lauren. I don't know if I was just surprised to be seeing a bonus performance of one of my favorite country duets on the results show or if I saw legitimate musical chemistry between Scotty and Lauren, but this was the most genuine, cheese-less, and well-sung performance of his Idol journey. One of my problems with Scotty this season is his apparent lack of growth. They praise him to the high Heavens every week, so he doesn't push himself. The results-show duet with Lauren pushed him to a new place with his performance, and that is something to get excited about.
8. Jacob Lusk: I think this was his best performance of the season. Last week's Motown performance was good, too. I just don't see him as a contemporary artist, whose album could be viable in today's pop market. He gave a good, thankfully restrained, performance this week, and actually seems to be growing as a vocalist. I love seeing that!
9. James Durbin: As I stated last week, I get why people like him, but I just don't care for his whole adolescent boy performance. I've begrudgingly had to admit in the past that some of his performances have been kind of decent ("I'll Be There for You" and "Maybe I'm Amazed", in particular), but "Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting" was all kinds of shrill and over the top. I really could not wait for that performance to end.