Well, kids, this season of Idol sure has been a crazy ride. Just a few months ago, we were like hopeful amnesiacs, awaiting a new dawn in our favourite singing competition. There were so many things to be excited about: Steven Tyler had opinions! J-Lo gracefully stepped down from her pedestal of super-stardom (in 8-inch heels, nonetheless) to offer caring, but pointed criticisms to our green little Idolestants! We witnessed amazing auditions and Hollywood week performances from the likes of Casey Abrams, Paul McDonald and Kendra Chantelle, John Wayne Shultz (yes, I'm still bitter about that one), Molly DeWolf Swenson (remember the White House intern who Randy punched in the face?), and even the undeniably naturally talented Lauren Alaina (even if she was pimped from the get-go)! We had a really promising and talented top 24! They told us original songs might happen! Even the wild card round was a thing of beauty for once!
Not to say that the show went downhill from there, but the show kind of went downhill from there. The judging situation has been addressed ad nauseum; we lost a lot of great talent in Hollywood week with nary a word of goodbye, or in the abrupt, one-week semifinal round (I'm thinking of you, Tim Halperin, and I love your single "The Last Song" [which is available as a free and legal download on Noisetrade.com]); we ended up with waaay too many teenagers in the finals; we never saw those promised original songs post-airplane hanger; and, in spite of this performance, we lost Kendra Chantelle in that Wild Card round. Additionally, the stankness and schticky performances of certain contestants (named James and Scotty) during Hollywood week never came back to bite them, which was a strange and unwelcome turnaround from previous seasons. To be fair, though, we got awesomesauce folks like Naima, Paul, Casey, early Stefano (he fizzled a bit), and future breakout star Haley in the mix, but it was an uneven group, certainly more talented than last year's group, but uneven nonetheless.
So, to end my American Idol, season 10 moaning on a positive note, I give you my top 5 favourite performances of the season (from the semi-finals onward -- great auditions and Hollywood weeks performances are categories for another day when I'm bored):
1. (WITH A BULLET!) Haley Reinhart, "The House of Rising Sun", Top 5 Week: For the record, an early draft of this list was four Haley solo songs (this one and "I (Who Have Nothing)", "Bennie and the Jets", "You and I", with "What is and What Should Never Be" and "Beautiful" as honourable mentions) and the Naima song below, but I decided to spread the love a little bit, since this show is (or, rather, should be) all about musical journeys. When she performed this song, there was no doubt that Haley was the best on the show and perhaps of the season, even though she didn't start out that way. "The House of Rising Sun" represented the height of her evolution as an artist on this show, and probably now stands as one of the ten best Idol performances ever. Oh my gosh, how great was that strung out, angry a capella intro, and that vocal restraint in the build?! The anger that she was feeling post-judges comments for her earlier (AMAZING) performance of "You and I" worked to fuel her performance. All in all, it was sheer Idol brilliance. Ugh, get it, girl!
2. Naima Adedapo, "For All We Know", Wild Card Performance: It's true that Kendra Chantelle's "Georgia on My Mind" and Stefano Langone's "I Need You Now" were the more obvious standouts of that particular round, but I've got to make a case for Naima's lovely, restrained vocal on "For All We Know", a song recorded by one of Elliott Yamin's favorite influences Donnie Hathaway. Singing with all the emotion James felt during his "Without You" performance, but couldn't restrain in his vocals, Naima managed to make every note an expression of what she was feeling in that moment, and she didn't embellish it in the same way a lot of people tend to do for "sing for your life" performances.
3. Haley Reinhart and Casey Abrams, "Moanin'", Top 8 Results Night: This number made me sit up and listen to Haley. I reluctantly loved her "Bennie and the Jets" performance two weeks before, and while her "Piece of My Heart" cover was pretty good, "Call Me" was a disaster. I wasn't on the Haley train until this duet, wherein she and Casey showed their ridiculous amounts of musical chemistry. Like everyone else, I don't think I realized that Haley could sound so lovely and jazzy. The harmonies, the scatting, the performance itself -- it all just worked. It was a turning point for the season.
4. Casey Abrams, "Nature Boy", Top 8: I loved that Casey went against Jimmy's advice that week to pull off a restrained and thoroughly enjoyable jazz combo number. I don't think Casey was ever one of the best vocalists on the show this season, but when he chose to be, he was a good musician. Everything from the song choice, to the instrumental bit in the middle, to the jazzy vocal itself worked. It was so nice to see something this off the beaten path on the Idol stage.
5. Paul McDonald, "Maggie Mae", Semi-finals: This is where a lot of us fell for Paul. His lilting, whispery vocals combined with his kind of silly, kind of drunken performance antics to create a truly enjoyable breakout performance. This fantastic/wacky performance proves that confidence is the most attractive quality in a person. Love Paul's vocals; love Paul's charisma.