By our guest blogger, Catherine Fuentes
Motown night is always my favorite night of the entire American Idol competition. Like so many of the contestants, I too grew up listening to Motown, and hearing people who love these songs really put contemporary spins on them, and – dare I say it – do them justice, is never a bad thing.
I’ve been thinking a lot about how this group of contestants stacks up to past seasons, and I figured that Motown night would be a good barometer of talent. Everyone gave a good performance. No one was offensively bad, and no one did anything that warrants being sent home immediately, so I believe that the voting off will be based on all of the performances to date.
The problem with all of the contestants giving great performances is that it’s really difficult to pick a favorite of the night. I think of one name, and then think back through everyone, and can list seven favorites.
However, I can choose a favorite, and that is Paul McDonald, whose rendition of Smokey Robinson & The Miracles’ “The Tracks of My Tears” was one of the least Motown-y performances of the night. The original song is one of my favorites, but I really liked that he finally picked up his acoustic guitar and gave a raspy voiced, Rod Stewart-esque performance to such a soulful song. He is the consummate performer of the group, he knows who he is, and I love everything about him.
I also really loved James Durbin’s performance of Stevie Wonder’s “Livin’ For The City.” Steven Tyler told him that he thinks “It takes a little bit of crazy to make a difference in the world,” which seems like some sage-like wisdom for a young performer who has Steven’s voice and his energy. James danced, he interacted with his fans, and he sang the hell out of an incredibly strong song.
I felt Lauren Alaina had one of the most perfectly chosen songs of the night, with The Supremes’ “You Keep Me Hanging On.” She looked great, and seemed truly confident and comfortable up there, going so far as to give the camera some well-deserved attitude. I’ve been a fan of Lauren since day one because I think her voice is beyond powerful, but I just really like the way she comes across on television.
Casey Abrams and Jacob Lusk both gave really solidly strong performances, and both looked like they were having fun on stage paying tribute to a genre of music that seems to have inspired both tremendously. Casey tried to be suave with some brushed, slicked back hair and a suit as he sang Marvin Gaye’s “I Heard It Through The Grapevine,” which was such a departure from last week’s Nirvana performance. It just goes to show the breadth of Casey’s talent and musicality, and that he can nail any genre thrown his way.
Jacob Lusk gave an incredibly restrained performance of Marvin Gaye’s “You’re All I Need To Get By,” but you could tell just how much fun he was having actually performing the song solely by looking at his face. I like Jacob’s voice, but I think he tends to get a bit too carried away with his vocal runs, so a more dialed down performance was a welcome addition to Jacob’s performance repertoire.
Pia Toscano gave yet another great performance of Stevie Wonder’s “All In Love Is Fair.” I love her voice, and I love how each week Pia takes the stage and somehow looks like she’s already a superstar diva, but I’m getting really tired of her singing ballads.
Thia Megia is a contestant whose inclination to sing ballads and nerves might have unfairly hurt her, and it might make it difficult for her to recover. I’ve always loved Thia’s voice, because it reminds me of Adele, who is one of my favorite female vocalists of the moment. Going uptempo with Martha & The Vandellas’ “Heat Wave” was a brilliant move for her. She had fun, she was energetic, and I think it’s the best she’s ever been, so I really hope she’s safe.
On the other hand, Naima Adedapo knows upbeat songs that she can dance to are her strong point, so she did just that with Martha & The Vandellas’ “Dancing In The Street.” She listened to the judges and spent time with her singing, so she wasn’t pitchy like she’s been in the past.
I was nervous to hear what Scotty McCreery would do with Motown night just since it seems so far from who he is as an artist. He sang a country-inspired version of Stevie Wonder’s “For Once In My Life,” and somehow it really worked. It wasn’t the best performance of the night, and it wasn’t his best performance ever, but it impressed me.
I liked Haley Reinhart’s performance of Smokey Robinson’s “You Really Got a Hold On Me,” even though she started off a bit shaky, which I completely attribute to nearly falling off the stairs, but she really got into it as the song progressed. She has the best vocal range of the competition, and hearing her sweet soprano voice and her deep growl play so perfectly with each other in one song was a great treat.
My least favorite performance of the night was Stefano Langone’s version of Lionel Richie’s “Hello.” First of all, how has Stefano never heard this song before? Has he never seen the video where the blind lady builds Lionel Richie’s head out of clay? This song is quintessential Lionel, but I digress. I didn’t like this performance because it felt too much like a cheesy lounge act. The words felt over-annunciated, but still sounded weird. David Cook’s performance of the same song a few years back is an ‘Idol’ classic, and this doesn’t remotely come close. I hate when I hear a song on ‘Idol,’ and immediately think back to a vastly superior performance of the same song.
Picking a bottom three was hard, but to me, I think it’ll be: Haley, Thia and Naima. If I was forced to add a male to this mix, I think Stefano has got to be in it.