Even though I’ve been saying how Season 10 of Idol so far is different in the right ways, I still didn’t think the Top 12 boys singing would be anything special. To be honest, when I realized there’d be five hours of Idol this week, I kind of wanted to throw up. After all, the first performance episodes of Idol have always stunk of amateur hour, with corny songs, bad staging, and awkward relationships with the camera and audience.
Oh, me of little faith. Of course I should have known that J-Lo and Steven Tyler wouldn’t sit in the dinky little studio in which the Top 12 performances previously took place, and with the bigger stage, I should have expected the fancier band and backup singers. But I didn’t actually expect, at this stage, to be excited already. Of course there were some forgettable performances (and one or two bad ones), but a Season 10 forgettable performance would have been pretty awesome for Seasons 1 through 7 or so.
There appeared to be no particular theme as the Top 12 boys performed, a motley crew if ever there was one. After a few OK performances and a few questionable ones (which I’ll get to later), James Durbin was the first standout of the night. With the big stage came the singers’ responsibility to fill it. “Having a good time” is not typically my top criteria when it comes to judging the contestants, but Durbin really seemed to hit the sweet spot of having the time of his life and letting that influence his performance (and if you’ve been reading me thus far, you know that I don’t even like him that much). He sang “You Got Another Thing Coming,” and as Steven Tyler pointed out, there was something pretty awesome about hearing Judas Priest on American Idol. I was rolling my eyes initially at James’ screeching and devil horns and bandana-tail but I was eventually sold. (On the performance, not the tail. Forever no to the tail. Down with the tail.) I agreed with Jennifer that James’ performance was organic: He filled up the stage and the theater with his voice and just seemed thrilled to be there. The performance won one “fucking” from Steven and two politically incorrect statements (“Insane!” “Crazy good!”) from Jennifer. The icing on the cake was how James resembled an overgrown little boy and Ryan looked like his little doll when he stood next to him.
I think a big part of Idol this season is going to be the singers’ ability to quickly sell themselves and their identity to their audience. While Stefano Langone’s style isn’t really my cup of tea, either, he also did a great job embodying Bruno Mars’ “Just the Way You Are,” with his high voice and puppy dog eyebrows. Once again, he managed to fill up the space with his voice and made me believe he knew what he was doing (I even thought his high note sounded OK, until I spied Jennifer making a stankface right when he hit it). He’s the Idol contestant for the little girls out there. The judges enjoyed his performance so thoroughly Randy forgave him for his high note.
I think Paul McDonald is my favorite in the competition so far, and it’s not just because of his beautiful white teeth or the fact that he dances like a drunken marionette. (By which, of course, I mean the puppeteer in question is drunk. I know a marionette can’t get drunk. Get off my ass.) I really like the tone of his voice. I don’t know that Paul will go very far in the competition, but if he does, I’d be interested to see what he does if he really tries. I thought his rendition of “Maggie May” was good but a little too soundalike. The judges liked it a lot, but at this point, I like him and his country hipster persona more than what he brought tonight. I hope he makes it far enough that we see him actually get competitive.
Then there was Jacob Lusk with “A House is Not a Home.” I still have doubts about how Jacob would fare when forced to take on specific genres (I wonder how he’d sound doing Judas Priest), but when he does what he does, which is, channel Luther Vandross (in various ways), nobody on the show can touch him. Jacob is immensely charming when he performs: The way he flirts with his eyes when he sings makes me smile, not to mention his adorable cheeks, his nice suit, and the fact that he can bring it when he sings soul. I liked Steven pretending to swoon at the end of his performance.
The episode ended with Casey Abrams, whose balls I have to admire because just the slightest misstep on “I Put a Spell On You” could have spelled campy disaster. Of course, he growled and snarled when he sang the song, but I liked that he didn’t dress the Screamin’ Jay Hawkins part. If anything, I wouldn’t be opposed to Casey going in for a little trim and whitening. He sings as if he won Idol already, and he’s just dicking around for fun onstage. After all Casey’s theatrics, I liked that he ended the song on a sweet, high note: There aren’t too many contestants on this show who can be funny while they sing and still seem professional. The judges were enchanted, and Jennifer’s delight in the performance was infectious (she called Casey sexy and mimicked him gobbling up his performance). Casey really is the most unassuming-looking guy on the show, which is charming when you consider how talented he is and how comfortable he seems.
Of course, not everybody was strong-to-great. Jordan Dorsey delivered the only true misstep of the night, and of course, we all secretly reveled in it after he came off like such a prick during Hollywood week, right? He chose to sing Usher’s “OMG” and styled himself in the manner of Bobby Brown during his heyday, complete with “sexy” dance moves. All he needed were some knee pads and patent leather shoes. The song was a horrible, horrible choice—it’s not a good singing song for anyone, not even Usher, so Jordan sounded weak at best, brought down to “bad” by the dancing, which made him appear as if he already thought he was a star. It was the first performance of the night to earn the judges’ universal disapproval. Since I’ve already worked up a good running start on disliking Jordan, I was slightly disappointed by the way he totally agreed with the judges that he picked the wrong song. I actually kept expecting him to blame someone else for the song choice, but whatever his motivation was, he kept it to himself.
I also thought Brett Loewenstern looked laughably out of his depth tonight. He sang “Light My Fire,” and while he might have done pretty well for an early series episode of Idol, his voice sounded too thin and high, and his stage presence was too uncertain, compared to most of the other guys tonight. (But I’d love to know what sort of conditioner he was using. His hair looked the best it ever has, and he tossed it accordingly, causing Jennifer to tease him about it, in a gentle self-referential way.) I was surprised the judges were as nice to him as they were: Randy called him “fun and bold,” but that’s not how he read on my TV. I also believed it when Brett thought Ryan called him back onstage after his performance for a hug and not just for blocking.
Robbie Rosen is technically a good singer, but I’m just too overcome with the urge to shove him into a locker to take him seriously. Plus, he sang that Sarah McLachlan song that plays during the ASPCA commercials, so I loved it as much as I love watching footage of poor little abused one-eyed dogs. I think once he matures a bit, Robbie will have a great Buble/Groban-type career, but he is not my kind of singer whatsoever. I cringe thinking about how he’ll go over when he tries something that actually has some grit to it. Steven and Jennifer liked him, but Randy took this moment to disagree with his “co-hearts” to say that it didn’t quite work for him. Robbie explained that he had a lot of “fun” with the song, which to me is like saying that you have a lot of fun singing “Tears in Heaven.”*
Tim Halperin squandered the goodwill he had built up from his Beatles night performance with his boring, unspecial “Streetcorner Symphony.” The way Tim ran onto the stage, I expected a much more high-energy performance, and that’s how the entire performance read: That he had more energy than his song. The judges looked bored as Tim sang in a manner that was merely proficient, although the backup singers helped cover up some sins tonight. This was the one other performance where the judges unanimously were unimpressed. I don’t think Tim stunk up the joint or anything, but in a night with so many standout performances, he chose unwisely.
Jovany Barreto also chose a snoozer of a song, a watered-down, tinkly, smooth-saxophoney version of Edwin McCain’s “I’ll Be”. All I could think about while Jovany sang was how much he looks like a frond. Jennifer and Steven loved it, but Randy “broke up the apple cart” to say he didn’t care for it, talking about how hard it is to cover songs without sounding karaoke (making it sound like only Jovany was singing someone else’s music while everyone else on the show wrote their own tunes).
The rest of the guys were okay but faded from memory in comparison to everyone else. Clint Jun Gamboa opened the show with “Superstition.” I find him rather shrieky, although I’ll give him props for a confident-seeming first performance. The judges liked him, and they liked Scotty, too, for doing what he does best: singing an old-fashioned country song, sounding like he always does (Randy at once praised him for “switching it up” and staying the same with his cover of “Letters from Home”). I think Scotty is all well and good when he sticks to that genre, but he’s going to fall apart if he has to tackle anything else. Also, he has the hair and stage presence of a G.I. Joe doll.
But even with the bumps in the road, I venture to say it was the best Top 12 episode the show’s ever had. We’ll see if the girls can bring it as well tomorrow night.
*I asked for help with this joke. Other morose songs suggested to me over Twitter included “Strange Fruit,” “Cat’s in the Cradle,” “Danny Boy,” “Seasons in the Sun,” “When She Loved Me,” and “Send in the Clowns.”
- I would have liked Tim Halperin more if he had talked about what a bunch of bastard shitasses the other contestants were as that huge Coke ad scrolled behind him.
- Simon Cowell when being booed: “Shut. UP!” Steven Tyler when being booed: “Yeah, well, nevertheless.”
- I picked out the cast of Raising Hope and Mr. Jennifer Lopez in the audience, but they weren’t as eye-catching to me as Casey Abrams’ grandpa.
- This season, you can vote for your favorites online. Did any of you try this? Will you vote more now? Save your favorites!
- —Hey you guys? You guys are my co-hearts.