What did everyone think about Carole King week on Idol? I thought it was kind of amazing, actually, and it has the distinct privilege of being the only week so far in this competition where I wasn't horrified by the annoyance levels of James and Scotty. In fact, and I'm saying this cautiously for fear of my own backlash against myself, I even enjoyed both of their performances. What was the difference this week, you say? Babyface and a songbook theme week that allowed some creativity in the Idolestants. As per usual, though, I have my quibbles, and the basic order of how I would rank the contestants hasn't really changed, but I'm just saying that I thought Scotty and James both doffed some of their most grating habits this week to deliver somewhat heartfelt renditions of songs from one of the greatest songbooks in pop music. It wasn't quite a season 7 Dolly Parton or Mariah Carey night, but it was pretty good, nonetheless.
In this post, let me first start with the negative:
5. Jacob Lusk: Wow. How is this guy still in the competition? I mean, I'm not saying Casey wasn't floundering for a few weeks (the growl was being used without regard for how often and how poorly it was being used, and, let's be honest here, the J-Lo kiss was uncomfortable for everyone. But I digress), but Casey always had the potential to bust out an awesome "Nature Boy" or "Moanin'" or "Georgia on My Mind". Jacob's seeming lack of ability to restrain his own vocals has been my major bone to pick with him this season (Randy's RIDICULOUS advice for Jacob to let loose is a perfect example of the judging problem this season, btw). I remain committed to my early season assessment that he's got some raw, unharnessed talent that he just has no idea what to do with. Unsurprisingly, he's got the coveted Vote for the Worst spot this week, and it would be incredibly disappointing if he were to somehow stick around another week.
4. James Durbin: My biggest problem with James is the type of music he seems interested in thrusting upon us. Heavy metal hasn't been mainstream since 1992, living almost exclusively in the bedrooms of adolescent boys and guitar geeks, and I'd be quite happy for it to stay that way. James' "Heavy Metal" performance several weeks ago was actually my nightmare. That said, though, his softer, subtler performance of "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?" was pretty great. How I wished he would've "In a Dream"-ed that junk all the way through (that is, continued with the a capella) because that part was lovely! (Sidenote: do you realize that no Idolestant since Bo Bice in season 4 has taken the full-on a capella risk with a song?) This was the first week I think James made himself accessible to me as a viewer. My only issue with his choice this week is that he chose a song that is lyrically meant to be sung by a woman, and although I'm generally a fan of Idols crossing gender bounds with their song choices (see, for instance, Lady Bowersox and Master Johns), adding testosterone to this song wasn't entirely believable to me. I'm not complaining, though. I actually liked this one from James!
3. Scotty McCreery: The other shocker of the night was that Scotty wiped away about seven layers of cheese, and churned out a really nice performance of "You've Got a Friend" (no disrespect, but Brooke White still owns this one on the Idol stage, though). Scotty's worst traits are performance style traits (side mic, full body tilt, mischievous eyebrows) and dipping into low notes as a replacement for completing phrases. This week, he didn't do side mic and he seemed to be fighting the urge to slip back into those other performance habits (which he did a few times, but a few slips is SO much better than the full-fledged Velveeta treatment he gave Elvis Presley a few weeks ago and LeAnn Rhimes last week). I love love love that Babyface advised him to start the song smoother, as opposed to the full twang treatment. It was lovely! It gave us a chance to see that perhaps Scotty has actually grown as a vocalist this season, which we would never know based on the last several weeks. My advice for Scotty moving forward from here would be to: 1) Avoid "hip-hop hand" when he hits the build; 2) Resist the urge to gaze deeply into the camera lens with Constantine Maroules eyes (hurl); and 3) Smooth out the twang a little bit because doing so forces him to sing complete phrases, and his voice isn't bad.
2. Lauren Alaina: I've started to really like Lauren based on the quality of her downloads. I still think she's on the immature side of performances, and she has yet to make me believe that she really understands what she's singing, but based on pure vocal aesthetics, she's the real deal. The performance stuff is forgivable because she's so young, and it seems pretty clear that she's desperately trying to please the judges/producers because she's young and (probably) used to having adults in her life guiding her choices. I wish they hadn't lowered the audition age this year because Lauren (and Thia, for that matter) could have used another year or two or three to mature before coming on this show. However, I can't hear any of that on my iPod. In my headphones, she sounds like a commanding vocalist with a good sense of confidence and emotion. All three duets she's done with Scotty this season have been ridiculous showcases of the quality her voice over his. Her performance of "Where You Lead" (which will never not be associated with Gilmore Girls for me) was good, and would have been great without random prop boy. Even though her Idol run has been a little all over the place, I think she's got a bright future ahead of her. Shoot, I'd buy her record.
1. Haley Reinhart: Little Miss Haley has garnered quite a following. Adam Lambert recently said in an interview that she's his favorite because of the kinds of things she's doing vocally. He also agreed with the blogosphere that Haley's not getting the praise from the judges she deserves. She's managed to emerge as this season's lovable underdog, and America loves an underdog. Part of her appeal is that the producers seem to be trying really hard to get her eliminated, which only makes a certain voting set want her to stay even more. The packages she's getting are often skewed toward the "Haley doesn't know what she's doing" side of things, when I'm about 90% sure the same could be said of 3 or 4 of the others, as well. Jimmy Iovine's comments about her during her results show package last week, for instance, were unnecessarily vicious ("As an artist, Haley’s problem is she doesn’t really know who she is yet. My prediction is, the audience is getting wind of that. And if she goes home tonight, it’ll be because of that." Whoa). I liked her performance of "Beautiful" (one of my favorite Carole King songs!) this week, and I think she weathered the technical difficulties like a pro. In short, she's good, and she's choosing the right songs. I hope she's able to ride this thing a little bit longer! Go Haley!
That's my two cents. Thoughts?