By our guest blogger, Catherine Fuentes
I always have mixed feelings about Elton John night on American Idol. I like seeing the contestants be stuck in a fairly narrow theme to see how they handle it, and how they “make it their own,” but the songs tend to be on the slower and cheesier side, and I think that tends to be American Idol at its worst.
I think the contestants realized how high pressure the night was, because in a surprising twist of events, a contestant who has firmly been in the Bottom Three or close to it gave a performance that might put her in the Top Three. Haley Reinhart closed out the show with a growly, upbeat performance of “Benny and the Jets.” Sure she flailed her arms around awkwardly, but her energy was high, her voice was incredible, and her range never ceases to amaze me. Randy called it the best of the night, and quite honestly, it might have been.
Other contenders for best of the night: Casey Abrams, whose near-elimination last week inspired him to trim his bushy beard and hair, and sing a truly beautiful and subdued version of “Your Song.” His performances have gotten a bit weird and quirky the past two weeks, and he got the least amount of votes, so by sitting near a piano and singing something stripped down, he just reminded America how good his raw voice is.
Paul McDonald consistently is one of my favorites because he is not your typical Idol contestant. He picked up his guitar and sang a dreamy and understated version of “Rocket Man,” and was likely my personal favorite of the night. Contestants can only play instruments three times this season, and Paul is already up to two, but they’ve been worth it.
I knew James Durbin has a crazy voice that blends classic rock screamers with Adam Lambert, and somehow bundles it together in a more likable package with a scarf tail. His performance of “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting” would’ve offended Simon Cowell – James started in the balcony with the audience and made his way to the stage, before climbing on a piano that caught on fire – but it didn’t seem like he was competing in the Top 11. It didn’t seem like he was competing at all. He played a rock concert and I was riveted.
Lauren Alaina surprised me by her choice to sing “Candle in the Wind.” I for sure pegged Pia to sing this one – and wanted to hear Lauren sing “Tiny Dancer” – but I liked it. I think Lauren sounded a bit uneasy singing a ballad in a ball gown at first, but she got into it. The performance was the complete opposite of everything Lauren has done on the Idol stage thus far: It was restrained, it was controlled, and it was beautiful. It proved that this girl really can do anything, and that her voice is even more amazing than I ever thought.
Jacob Lusk’s performance of “Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word” made me miss fallen contestant Robbie Rosen. I liked it, but Jacob proved that he can’t do restrained vocals too well, and that’s fine: He has a big voice full of soul, but it’s not terribly interesting to me anymore.
Another week, another beautiful, but boring, Pia Toscano performance. I feel I’m going to write a basic Pia paragraph, and copy and paste it in each recap until she gets eliminated (or wins). Even though the judges begged her to choose something upbeat, Pia naturally chose another ballad, with “Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me.” She stepped it up a bit, and seemed more energetic with her choir background vocals, and it sounded beautiful, but I’m getting really bored of Pia’s interchangeable performances.
Vocally, Thia Megia gave one of her best performances of the season with her sensitive arrangement of “Daniel,” however, despite its beauty, the performance was rather safe and boring.
Naturally Scotty McCreery found an Elton John song with country in the title and to tug at America’s heartstrings, dedicated it to his grandmother (the one who told him to tell J.Lo that he’s ¼ Puerto Rican?) who was in the audience. Again, Scotty will never be my favorite contestant since I’m just not a fan of authentic country music, but I cannot ever deny how incredible and powerful his voice is, and how impressive his confidence and comfort on stage is. I also liked him playing his guitar, as it made him seem like a fuller package.
Somehow, Naima found a way to infuse reggae flavor to an Elton John song. She sang “I’m Still Standing” with a heavy reggae beat and a rasta colored jumpsuit. She knows who she is and is consistently the most interesting and refreshing contestant, and that should count for something. But she gave another love or hate it performance, and I don’t think it worked at all.
As I’ve already mentioned, Stefano Langone sang “Tiny Dancer” and I wish anyone else had tackled that song. He always comes across as awkward and too much of a lounge act to ever please me. He’s certainly getting better and more engaging, but he’s far from being the best.
My picks for bottom three: Stefano, Thia and Naima. A safe selection.