Since last we spoke, Karen Rodriguez has gone back to MySpaceLand, Steven Tyler’s wardrobe has grown impressively more absurd, and Jacob Lusk has bodied the fuck out of Heart’s “Alone.” I missed the last week of American Idol blogging because I went to SXSW. Last year’s runner-up Crystal Bowersox played a showcase in a hotel ballroom or something, and I didn’t even go; I was watching Shabazz Palaces or some such thing instead. But it’s not like I stopped thinking about Idol. Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon reunited with DeYarmond Edison, his old band, and all I could think about watching him was what a great Idol contestant he would’ve been. Watch this and tell me I’m wrong. He would’ve been top five contestants in the show’s history, easy.
So anyway, this week. It’s Motown week, which spurs Jennifer Lopez to wear something somehow even more attractive than what she wears during other, non-Motown weeks. There’s a video package to tell everyone what Motown is, just in case we have any Thia Megia-level idiots in the audience. We get to see Smokey Robinson’s plastic-surgery death mask, so that’s fun.
Casey Abrams picks Marvin Gaye’s “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” possibly the single greatest song that came out of the 1960s, and thus further proves himself to be a man of taste. He gives it one of his patented screechy-grunty bug-eyed performances, wading through the crowd and making scary faces at random people in the crowd. He’s still on a roll, and still just consistently fun every week. His “Smells Like Teen Spirit” last week was maybe a touch too goofy, but I could just be saying that because I never need to hear that song again, in any context.
Last week, the judges got on Thia Megia for singing boring pageanty ballads every week, so this week she comes back with a boring pageanty uptempo song, “Heatwave.” Problem solved! Except no! At least when she’s singing ballads, I can comfortably ignore her, and I’m not getting attacked with that freaky rictus smile and what I can only assume was supposed to be a flirty outfit. And just yikes. I don’t need to see any more of these horrifying gargoyle performances. It doesn’t matter what tempo song she’s singing. She could be singing Danish happy hardcore and she’d find a way to make it boring and uncomfortable. Also, she’s a fucking dumbass. You can just see it in her eyes.
Jacob Lusk just continues to monster these things, doing “You’re All I Need” and building from low simmer to just volcanic joy, then bringing it back down and up again like three different times in his minute and a half. It vaguely occurs to me that if Naima Adedapo had sung this one, she would’ve thrown a Method Man verse in. Steven Tyler, concerned that somebody else might be getting too much attention, runs up and hugs him immediately after he gets done. The judges justifiably bug the fuck out. He’s then mobbed by overprivileged kids running up to hug him, which is irritating, but if helps him get votes, whatever. If there’s even a chance this guy could win, I would be a happy man indeed.
When she sings “You Keep Me Hangin’ On,” Lauren Alaina actually looks like someone who could, at some point, be a star. The weird little hip-shimmies are a bad look, and she needs to stop doing the thing where she tries to give judges lap-dances. But I really like it when people with heavy twangs in their voices sing soul songs and don’t try to slow them down or throw lap-steel guitar all over them or whatever. The best country singers, after all, are soul singers too. Seacrest calls her “swaggeress” after she’s done, and that nickname is just not going to catch on. Invent better nicknames, Seacrest.
Before he sings, Jimmy Iovine tells Stefano Langone to stop closing his eyes when he sings. Jimmy wants him to connect with people, see. Except that Langone’s natural inclination is to sing with his eyes closed, so we get this weird dance where he keeps squinting really hard and not quite closing his eyes, and that fight to keep his eyes open completely overwhelms anything he’s doing with his voice. He sings Lionel Richie’s “Hello,” a perfectly silly song, and gives it some Enrique Iglesias overcooked drama. Jennifer tells him to actually think about the words he’s singing, which is something that every American Idol contestant should remember at all times.
That thing I just said about people with twang singing soul songs? Never mind. Forget that for a second, at least as it applies to Haley Reinhart’s “You Really Got a Hold On Me”, which is a sloshing mess of too-big smiles and straining-to-impress oversinging. This was one of those situations where the judges tell an unconfident person to be confident, so she compensates by putting on this ridiculous pantomime of confidence. Randy Jackson hears some Janis Joplin in her? Shut the fuck up, Randy Jackson. Haley’s been circling the drain since the show started, and maybe that was annoying enough to send her home. But the judges all like her? Whatever. Fuck it.
Scotty McCreery can make about a 50-yard horse shot from a balcony, and I don’t know why that would make me like him more, but it does. He talks about wanting to make his song “more Scotty,” which is a fucking awful thing to say about anything, but I still sort of like him. He sings Stevie Wonder’s “For Once in My Life” as a country song, and it works pretty well. I have to say, though, the way that guy holds a microphone is starting to bother me. He holds it like I hold a shitty diaper– only the tips of his fingers, as far away from his face as he can manage while still singing into it, and sort of crooks his wrists. Just hold the mic like a regular person, dude! It probably doesn’t have shit on it!
Pia Toscana also sings Stevie Wonder (“All Is Fair in Love” this time), and it generally doesn’t work when people sing Stevie Wonder songs on this show, even though they do it all the goddamn time. That guy hits such weird, unexpected sideways notes, and the kids who go on this show just don’t know what to do with it. But Pia does her song the way she does every song, as a soaring Celine Dion-type ballad with lots of strings and no discernible rhythm. And in that incredibly narrow lane, she always does really well, so this was just another well-done performance. I just wish she didn’t bore me.
I finally figured out who Paul McDonald reminds me of: Charlie Day, from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Fortunately, this epiphany doesn’t make everything he sings sound like “Night Man.” I was a little worried about that. His vocal performance on “Tracks of My Tears” is a little pedestrian, but this guy is getting really good at figuring out arrangements that suit him, and the strummy back-porch thing he does here suits the song really well. He also looks a whole lot more comfortable holding a guitar, which is absolutely going to help him as the show goes on. White guys with guitars just own this show lately.
Is it racist if I say that Naima Adedapo’s African dancing looked pretty silly? Because it was. I’m sorry. I have to call it like I see it. She did, however, figure out that she needs to bust out her big dance moves at the end of the song so she doesn’t get all winded. And singing “Dancing in the Street”, she sounded better than she’s sounded on the show. There’s a brassy depth to her voice that I really like, and she seems like she’s got the sort of confidence where she could sing a Keyshia Cole song and it would make sense. I’m just worried that her goofy-ass impulses are going to torpedo her.
James Durbin, who seems to really be feeling himself lately, has chains all over his jacket, and he makes really terrible squinty faces when he sings. I like the weird step-dancing move he does halfway through. And just like everything else James Durbin sings, his “Living for the City” is about two thirds of an Adam Lambert performance. That’s still pretty good, I guess? But I don’t get why he got the sustained standing ovation for it.