American Idol Top 11 Performance

Before this season began, Nigel told us there would not be themes, just decades, so the contestants would not have to figure out ways to sing songs out of their boxes. No decades yet, but “Personal Idols” and “Birth Years” contain all genres so everyone could potentially find the right song. Or find a reasonable choice on the list, or at least get assigned a song within their wheelhouses.

Tonight was Motown night. That’s a theme, that’s a specific genre that would make things difficult for the country singers, at least. It would harder if they had to find a way to deal with the songs all by themselves (learn to sing that style or rearrange the song so they can sing it their way), but it’s still not easy. But this was a fast turn around.

We begin with a package about Motown and its effects on music history – considerable, of course, and deservedly so. And then we go to competition, with clips on who worked with the kids and held their hands and so on.

No, not letting that go.

We start with Casey, who sings “I Heard It Through the Grapevine”, and he basically growls his way through it. I like growly male voices, so I liked this, but it did feel like he was trying too hard. He also circled the stage – yay for moving, boo for cheesy move. The judges love everything he did, even the screechy note at the end. Steven calls him “perfect.”

Thia has chosen to go uptempo with “Heat Wave.” Not sure I enjoy a sixteen year old (she had a birthday) singing such a song but I’m a prude. She also had no emotional connection again, and I was waiting for the pretty perfect singing to end. Thia has a voice and a look and is boring. Judges LOVE it, of course. Jennifer wants her to go even deeper.

Jacob sings “You’re All I Need to Get By”, and this time he promises restraint. Does he show it? Yes, but mostly by Jacob standards. We get to hear his lovely voice singing, instead of oversinging, and that is of the good, but he still does too many riffs. The judges are all over that performance, too. Steven even goes up and hugs him. And then Jacob gets hugged by his grandmother, and then the audience queues up and Ryan has to cut short for time reasons. It was overdone.

Lauren tells us “You Just Keep Me Hanging On” was chosen by someone else. She’s wearing a pretty, flattering pageant gown. She also manages to keep her twang under control, so it doesn’t sound so country. I didn’t like her flirting with Randy, but better him than Steven, which is just old. And she doesn’t. Steven calls her beautiful, his favorite word of the night. My problem with Lauren is that she comes across as arrogant, and that’s bad in general but worse for a teen-ager. Cultivate the appearance of humility, Lauren. It’ll help.

Stefano’s mom (who looks very young and is probably about my age) came in to the mansion to cook garlic chicken and penne for the kids. She even gives Ryan leftovers, and he eats them. Eye-roll. Stefano has been given “Hello”, a song he has never heard. Which means he didn’t watch season 7, because David Cook had a genuine moment when he sang it. Note to Idol – I know you have a limited songbook, and you’re going to have the same songs over and over again, but once someone has a defining moment, you need to retire the song. Yes, that means “Hallelujah” AND “Imagine.” Don’t even try “Heartless.” You only invite comparisons that will not be good.

That said, Stefano has a gorgeous voice and he sang the standard arrangement very well. The judges thought he needed to connect with the song more, implying that he should already know heartbreak. This led to Randy pretending it was Stefano and Ryan, and. No. No gay banter – you can’t do it as well as Simon did, plus it’s ugly. I did NOT miss it in season 8 (to me, it seemed that they didn’t want to play that game with an actual out gay man on the stage, one with the potential of saying something) and did not welcome it back season 9. Jacob may or may not be gay, but IF he is (and he pings me hard), I guess he doesn’t have Adam’s dominant personality.

Haley is next with “You Really Got a Hold on Me” and it’s terrible. It’s thin and shaky and growly in a not good way, and she’s off-key. And the judges seem to love it anyway. I don’t get it. Steven calls it beautiful. She’s going home.

Now we get to Scotty, and Scotty is quite the basketball player – he shot from a balcony of the mansion across their court into the net. I’m very impressed. He said his dad is a fan of the Jackson 5, which is why he’s singing a Stevie Wonder song. Yeah. It’s “For Once in My Life” and they’re making it country. Some people were bothered by this,but I’m not. I think changing a song into your genre is permissible provided it’s down well and doesn’t hurt the song. This was Daughtry’s stock in trade – he made it all alt-rock. I’d rather he’d made or found his own arrangement, but that’s not happening this year.

He’s good, though. He and the harmonica player make it work with his deep voice and the judges rightfully say that his low notes are bringing the little girls.

Pia is next. I like Pia and her big voice, which she’s using for “All in Love is Fair”, another Stevie song,and one I do not know. And I don’t want to know it. It’s yet another ballad and it is DREARY. She does not sell it – she just stands there and, well, drears. Jennifer says she needs to move and both she and Randy want her to sing mid- or uptempo songs. Steven thinks she’s beautiful.

And Paul is singing, with his guitar, “Tracks of My Tears.” And, yes, another song with a big moment attached. This was when people realized Adam could actually sing anything he wanted to, as he sat down on a stool, no make-up, no nail polish, and with great restraint sang Smokey Robinson’s song to him, and Smokey gave him a standing ovation with tears in his eyes. Yeah.

Paul couldn’t imitate Adam if he wanted to – his voice and his abilities are in an entirely different place and Paul is an intelligent man. He sings a different arrangement. The only problem is, his voice is not up to it at all. He strains audibly, and the whisperiness overwhelms it. People compare him to Rod Stewart and I can see why, but Rod Stewart’s rusty voice has real power behind it. Paul’s does not. I’ve heard he has a vocal node. This is bad and explains why it seems to be getting worse each week. He sounds fine on recordings, too, and he does have real musicality. Randy refers to his singing as “tender”, and frankly, I didn’t hear tender. I heard whisper. Steven says his voice is “beautiful”.

Naima goes next, singing “Dancing in the Streets.” She works up an African dance as part of it, and wears amazing pants – gigantic bell bottoms. And she just seems to open up and enjoy herself. I spent the performance grinning happily just watching and listening to her. To me, she was the best of the night. The judges loved her. Steven – E to the Z to the Twiddlidee.

And the pimp spot goes to James, who is singing yet another Stevie song – “Livin’ For the City.” And he has the energy and the voice and he sells it. It’s a good performance. He’s a little disconnected, but less so than, say, Thia. The judges love him. James does act arrogant, as if he’s already a rock star, which is going to hurt him, too. The problem is, while they can tell Lauren to cultivate humility and she can probably do it, James would need a lot more help and there simply isn’t enough time with their schedules.

Haley is going home, and I predict Paul and Pia in bottom three.

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About mamadeb

I'm a devoted fan of Adam Lambert, but also of cooking, knitting, science fiction and pretty anything pop culture. I'm @_mamadeb on Twitter.
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