By our guest blogger, Catherine Fuentes
Hey, "American Idol," does the sing your idol theme night have to really mean sing a boring slow song?
The Top 13 for the most part all sounded good, but it was an incredibly boring night because mostly everyone chose a slow ballad. Showing off your vocal chops does not always mean that you need to sing something slow and powerful. I shouldn’t have loved Naima Adedapo’s version of “Umbrella” so much, but by the thirteenth performance of the night, I was desperate for something upbeat. Truth be told, I also really loved her insane reggae interlude and how hyped up she was throughout the entire performance. As fate would have it, the producer she worked with on the track, Tricky Stewart, also produced the original version. It was such a high point of the night because of how welcome it was, not because it was vocally the best, since it wasn’t even close to that.
I loved Paul McDonald, and appreciated his choice to sing Ryan Adams’ “Come Pick Me Up,” a song that I can see a lot of ‘Idol’ fans not knowing – Jennifer Lopez had never even heard of Ryan Adams. I felt this song was perfectly chosen for him, his raspy voice sounded impeccable, and I loved his awkward dancing.
Similarly, and not surprisingly, I also loved Casey Abrams, who gave a really energetic performance of Joe Cocker’s “With a Little Help From My Friends” that far surpassed last season’s off-key, uninspired, and unimpressive duet between Lee DeWyze and Crystal Bowersox at the finale. Jennifer Lopez said that the performance blew her away, and I have to agree.
Lauren Alaina and Pia Toscano were both great, and both played to their very different strong points. Lauren sang Shania Twain’s “Any Man of Mine,” an upbeat song that got her dancing and playing to the crowd and cameras in a big way. She always sounds great, and this was no different, but I agree with the judges in that I was hoping she’d be more kick-ass.
Pia Toscano, on the other hand, knows that her strength is nailing beautiful ballads, and she sang Celine Dion’s classic “All By Myself.” I always think it’s gutsy when someone tackles a Celine song as iconic as this one, especially so early in the competition, but Pia proved her vocal prowess by really nailing this song. Her hand movements were a little too choreographed and annoying, but really, when she’s singing so powerfully, it doesn’t really matter. I actually prefer last week’s rendition of The Pretenders, but I think that comes down to actually preferring that original song over anything Celine Dion.
I liked James Durbin and Scotty McCreery tonight because to me, each of them went against their normal performance inclinations. James’ version of Paul McCartney’s “Maybe I’m Amazed” was subdued for him, and it showed raw emotion, and how pitch-perfect his singing is at all octaves. Scotty, on the other hand, opened up and came across as youthful and engaging in his version of Garth Brooks’ “The River.” I always viewed Scotty as really closed off and not at all playful, which made him seem older and not right for “American Idol.” Tonight on top of hearing him sing a familiar song incredibly well, I saw his personality, and I really liked that. I was worried that both James and Scotty weren’t coming across as versatile, and felt that might be a hindrance later on in the competition, but after tonight, I’m a bigger fan of both of them.
Thia Megia and Karen Rodriguez suffered from opposite problems, but ultimately, I feel both girls deserve to be safe. After Randy told her last week that she sounds like Michael Jackson, Thia sang Michael Jackson’s “Smile.” It started off beautifully, when it was her voice gently singing along to a guitar. She is at her very best when the production is very simple. However, halfway through the track, the drums kicked in and she sounded pitchy as she sang along to what seemed like a Muzak track. Not her best work.
Karen, on the other hand, clad in a Selena-inspired tacky sequin belly-baring suit, started off slow with Selena’s hit “I Could Fall in Love.” Unlike Thia, she sounded shaky and uneasy throughout the song, especially on the pitchy low notes. However, she improved as the song went along, and I always feel it’s better to end great than to start great and end not so great.
While I felt that Karen would sing Selena (or Jennifer Lopez) on idol night, I was most excited to guess who Jacob Lusk would sing. He chose R. Kelly’s hit “I Believe I Can Fly,” which was at once surprising (I was thinking he’d go with another Luther Vandross song, or even Diana Ross), but totally expected and cliché at the same time. His performance wasn’t surprising: it was pitch perfect, incredibly moving, and over-the-top. It also was backed by a choir, which is usually reserved for much later in the season.
Stefano Langone sang Stevie Wonder’s “Lately” and my sole thought throughout the entire performance is “Why is there an awful techno thumping beat?” The judges chalked that up to him making the song his own, which I guess is accurate, but I thought it was terrible. He started bad, and made it halfway decent, with no thanks to the Jersey Shore inspired techno beat.
I wasn’t surprised by Haley Reinhart singing LeAnn Rimes’ “Blue,” even though it’s a song I thankfully don’t think of very often at all. I also wasn’t surprised that this was one of my least favorite performances of the night. I don’t like that song at all, I don’t think it was right for her, but I like Haley’s interesting voice, and hope that a boring performance and a terrible song choice don’t send her home.
Also not surprising was Ashthon Jones’ performance of Diana Ross’ “When You Tell Me That You Love Me,” especially given the judges advice to play to her diva side and sing Diana Ross after last week’s Top 40 disaster. It wasn’t great. It was better than last week, but I agree with Jennifer in that she should’ve gone with a Diana Ross song a little more recognizable, maybe a little more upbeat, and certainly not as big.
My predictions for bottom three: Stefano, Ashthon, and Haley.