The Top 13 were introduced tonight, each choosing a song by their personal idol. Or, one of their idols. Or, just a singer they respect and admire. Or, just a singer. This time, the performers all got to work with Jimmy Iovine and his stable of star producers to perfect their songs, and the effect was…well, I don’t know what the effect was. In the case of some of the performances we heard tonight, if those were the perfect versions, I wouldn’t have liked to hear the imperfect versions.
Lauren claimed Shania Twain is her idol, which I had a hard time believing for some reason. Maybe I just see her being too all-American to pick a goddamn Canuck as her idol. Anyway, she sang “Any Man of Mine” and it was lacking a little oomph, the authority she had onstage last week. The first part of the song was fun but Lauren sounded a little bit behind after the song switched up, like she couldn’t stick all the notes. I think she needs more rock in her country, and the judges seemed to agree with me—that she’s capable of much more. I also hope Lauren learned the lesson I did when I tried to wear jeans under a dress in public: don’t.
Casey took on Joe Cocker (I was glad he said that Joe was one of his idols, because is Joe Cocker anybody’s idol?) with his version of “With A Little Help from My Friends.” Casey said part of the reason why Joe is his idol is that he’s not hot, which is one of those things that would be a dis if it wasn’t just true. I appreciated that for the first part of the song, Casey held back and refrained from doing a Joe Cocker impression, although he went for that at the end with a lot of yelling. My favorite thing Casey does is when he suddenly switches from over-the-top to soft and sweet. Steven called him a “rainbow of talent,” and while I thought it was pretty good, on a scale of the Judas to Jesus Christ, I’d give it a Luke.
I have yet to hear a performance from Ashthon Jones that makes me really adore her. She sang “When You Tell Me That You Love Me,” by Diana Ross, a song I’ve never heard before tonight. Ashthon’s rendition didn’t make me want to look it up and hear it again—I just don’t find a lot of warmth in her tone. Plus, I know her concern with the song was that she’d be going too high, but to me, it started too low. It wasn’t terrible, but I feel like Ashthon is one of those “it’s just a matter of time” contestants. I am also on the verge of getting sick of her mugging, the winking and kissing and “Hey!”’s. The judges liked it but think they can see more from Ashthon. I think she’ll be gone before we see it.
I don’t want to sound like a person who can’t like a song unless I’ve heard it before, but I also didn’t get Paul’s performance of Ryan Adams’ (“That’s Ryan, with an a R”) “Come Pick Me Up.” I didn’t think it was a good song for the competition in general: I don’t know if it was the song or Paul, but aside from the chorus I couldn’t really find a melody in Paul’s voice (he didn’t hold a lot of his notes for very long), and when I did it didn’t always sound consistent. I just didn’t dig it, which made me sad because I like Paul. The judges reassured met that I’m not crazy: they like Paul, like I do, but said they hope America enjoyed the performance enough to vote for him. Steven found it pitchy, Jennifer confessed she’s never heard Ryan Adams before (does that make you like her more, less, or no difference?) and Randy demonstrated that he is familiar with the music of Wilco and Whiskeytown. At this point in the show I wasn’t seeing any special effects of having the producers on-hand to help the singers.
Pia claimed that Celine Dion is her idol for being so family-oriented but I think she just wanted to sing a Celine Dion song and show everyone how it’s done. She took on “All By Myself” and killed it in a metallic dress that would be gorgeous if it didn’t have a tail tacked onto it. Pia’s a belter but I like that she has really good control. A lot of other girls would lose it when they get back to the quieter notes after the big ones, but she always sticks the landing. Pia’s greatest moments are during key changes. I have had an idea for a while for a gag song that’s just one chorus sung over and over again in key changes, which is kind of what this performance was, as she sang “All by myself,” about eight different times in different keys (but all sounding good.) The judges loved it, and Steven took this moment to wish Pia a Happy International Women’s Day. On behalf of international women everywhere, I respond, you’re a day late, Steven, but we appreciate the sentiment.
I think I like James Durbin a lot more when we aren’t being told to think about his “story.” And also when he’s lost his tail. He sang “Maybe I’m Amazed” and was really solid. I think it’s the kind of song that sounds pretty simple but is actually hard to perform, especially the “Maybe I’m a man” bridge, which is probably why James repeated it several times. I liked that he was selective with the scream and that he ended on a soft note, and by the stars and stripes on his vest, I sense that he is down with America as well. Randy was clearly feeling nostalgic for rock and roll tonight because he took this chance to mention how he was in Journey. Steven said two Steveny things, one about how James took everything he ever felt and kicked it into next week, the other about if there was ever a review (revue?) of him, he just sang it. Jennifer encouraged James to milk his applause and then Ryan quickly told him to knock it off. I think Ryan resents James always being so much taller than he is.
Haley took on Leann Rimes’ “Blue.” I cringed at about the fifth note of her yodel, but then I realized that…it’s supposed to sound like that? Anyway, I agreed with Randy that it was something of a sleepy performance for her but I found her much more likeable in this performance (where she seemed young) as opposed to last week when she was trying to convince us that she’s sexy. I prefer the yodeling to the growling.
I have never, ever come close to remotely liking the song “I Believe I Can Fly.” I find it so cheesy and overwrought and graceless (maybe it’s because I never watched Space Jam?) Would Jacob change my mind? No. If anything, this performance changed my mind on Jacob. I don’t know what the judges were talking about when they shot their wad all over him after his performance (Randy tentatively gave him a mini-critique) but I thought Jacob lost control of the performance way early and was just screechy and over-the-top for the majority of it. Plus, I presume he didn’t have anything to do with this but the robed choir singers and inspirational puffy clouds behind him were just too much. I don’t believe you can fly, Jacob. You are grounded until further notice.
Thia Megia took on “Smile,” the famous Michael Jackson song, and along the way she was forced to endure an excruciating lesson on the existence of a man named Charlie Chaplin. The song was beautiful at the beginning, with barely any accompaniment, but then the arrangement got jazzed up for some reason. I’m sure it’s to prove to us that Thia is more than a girl who just practices 12 hours a day and has no personality, but in the end the “pop” part of the song seemed pointless. The judges all agreed with me—I know a lot of you think they’re ridiculously out of touch most of the time but I was pretty pleased tonight with their willingness to tell people when they were less than awesome.
Stefano performed “Lately,” starting off a little low, eventually sounding like a pretty okay Stevie Wonder impersonator and then finishing up sounding like a solid cruise boat singer (NB I have never been on a cruise boat: I am just imagining what their singers sound like.) Stefano is best when he can belt out a big high note that shoes us the inside of his face. While the judges by and large liked Stefano, it wasn’t a “I can’t believe you idiots almost didn’t put me on the show” performance.
Karen’s idol is Selena and she sang “I Could Fall In Love With You,” in English. I found her fancy outfit and accessories more entertaining than the performance, which was sleepy at best and sounded a little tense at the high notes. I like Jennifer’s feedback, because it felt like she was honestly critiquing someone that she truly likes—that it wasn’t her best performance but she hopes America votes her through to next week.
Scotty took on Garth Brooks’ “The River” and I can’t hate on the performance. Scotty was at the peak of his Scottiness, showing both facial expressions: smirking and eyes closed. But seriously, it was a nice arrangement with the backup singers and all. For some reason I am dying to see Scotty be forced to sing something that is not country, but in the meantime the judges love it when he does what he does.
I wish we never had to hear another Rihanna song on Idol ever again. Without the help of studio magic, the weakness of her songs is all too evident when sung by others. So Naima covered “Umbrella,” and my main reaction was pretty much WTF: not so much to the song, or her raggae rap or her dance solo, but because this girl is a mess so far when it comes to showing us who she is on the show. Last week it was "Summertime" and now this? And, yes, the rapping/dancing was a bit of a mess. The judges liked her enough to give her credit for trying, but they picked her apart for pitchiness, control and breathing issues (which happens when you sing and dance at the same time, which is of course why you get your Britneys who lip synch and so on.) So basically when you add all that critique up, I’m wondering why I still kind of like her. I guess because she says things like “overstand.”
Underall, I wasn’t that impressed with tonight’s results. I think the show’s theme rang false and the addition of the producers raised expectations at best and added too many cooks at worst. Who will get sent home? Carrie Raisler will guide you through tomorrow night’s results episode.
—Do any of you have much to say about any of the producers in particular? I recognized some of their names, like Christopher "Tricky" Stewart and Don Was, and then I realized that beyond that, I didn’t notice any particular influence they had on the singers, but maybe those of you who know them better might have.
—Tonight, Pia was in the chair for Everybody’s Happy Coke Time.
—Lauren turned me off by claiming that she had a good time while she sang (who cares) and then personally apologizing to Steven for disappointing him, prompting her to say, “Oh, no, baby, I love the way you sing!” Her onstage relationship with him creeps me out a bit and it’s all her, not him.