Gwen Stefani was on this week’s American Idol because somebody paid somebody so she could hawk the clothing line that she apparently still has. But this wasn’t Ska Week or New Wave Week or Neptunes Week, as awesome as every last one of those would’ve been. Instead, the theme this week revolved around the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, since the best way for a show to stay current is to honor an institution where you can’t get in unless you’re a bazillion years old. (Me at the show’s beginning: “Maybe someone will cover Chic! Or the Beastie Boys! Oh wait.”) In the video package opening the show, narrator Steven Tyler showed why he shouldn’t narrate any video packages. And will.i.am was this week’s guest mentor, for reasons that I can’t even begin to contemplate. (He does know Slash, I guess.)
What are the odds that anyone associated with this show will ever make it into the Hall of Fame? Kelly Clarkson, maybe, if she goes through a few more career revitalizations? Simon Cowell, if someone pries control of the nominations from Jann Wenner’s cold, dead hands?
Jacob Lusk, in all white everything, went first, singing Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror” even though his take on “Let’s Get It On” led Jimmy Iovine and will.i.am to say incoherent things. Predictably, he ripped the song’s heart out and left it still beating on the stage, since that guy’s a beast and that’s what he does. He ripped the ear monitor from his ear at the outset; I like picturing Marc Anthony throwing TV monitors against the wall in a fury backstage. And he also did a fairly restrained version by his weird standards, only cutting loose with the histrionics at the end. Siedah Garrett, who co-wrote the song, sang it alongside him, and Steven Tyler called it “the finest song that’s ever been written”. And, I mean, I love it too, but let’s not go nuts. Quick question: Is Lusk the most outwardly gay contestant the show has ever had? I’m not mad; I think it’s awesome. But compared to this guy, Adam Lambert is Lemmy.
Haley Reinhart (I keep wanting to type “Haley Scarnato”, still) noted that everyone has been comparing her to Janis Joplin since the show started, so maybe it was time for her to sing a Janis Joplin song. Good thinking! She picked “Piece of My Heart,” but did this unhinged grunt-screech-stomp version that just barely held onto the song’s melody and left behind rhythm altogether. Lusk also pulls off vocal pyrotechnics, but he does it in service of the song, and I feel like Haley just does it to ram the fact that she can down everyone’s throat. Also, not necessarily her fault, but that wheedley guitar was a bad look.
I have no idea what the hell happened between Casey Abrams, Jimmy Iovine, and will.i.am during the pre-song interview, but it was uncomfortable, and it led to Casey singing a way-too-restrained version of CCR’s “Have You Ever Seen the Rain” while thumping on his goofy-ass stand-up bass. If ever a song begged for the Haley Reinhart gnash-wail treatment, it’s this one, but Casey’s version, while it did give him a chance to do some nice vocal runs toward the end, was straight Avett Brothers. At this point, I’m about done with this kid; he hasn’t moved me in like three weeks, and that’s death on this show. Unless he comes back nasty next week, throw him on the Siobhan Magnus pile of guys who were good but lost their steam. The rubber-raincoated Randy Jackson made a big thing about how he’s making the upright bass cool. Somewhere, the Reverend Horton Heat’s bassist is so mad that he’s smashing the flame-decalled windows of his vintage Camaro.
Lauren Alaina, who is a child, elected to sing Aretha Franklin’s “Natural Woman,” a ridiculous idea that worked pretty well in the end since she seems to get the idea that the best country singers are also great soul singers. I wasn’t too sure about the pompadour and the daisy-dukes pantsuit she was rocking, but none of the judges made fun of it, so maybe it was my problem. Christian Slater, who the cameras captured in the crowd, seemed to love it, which would probably give me nightmares if I was Lauren Alaina.
James Durbin, for reasons that only barely made sense, stepped back from the uptempo stuff he’s been doing lately to sing “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” in a way that really just reminded me of the guy who won Rock Star: Supernova. (Lukas? I think his name was Lukas.) He’s got a voice that sounds pretty nice on the slow bits but if he’s making expressions in the camera like he’s in a video for a Billy Idol power-ballad, it’s not really going to work. I did like how his one big howly note at the end didn’t even consist of an actual word; it was one big “owwwww” that existed entirely outside the song. In the post-song interview, Durbin also used the phrase “my struggle,” so he also reminded me of the blonde guy from Party Down.
In the pre-song video package, Scotty McCreery promised that his take on Elvis’ “That’s All Right, Mama” would have a “rock edge” to it or something, which I think meant “denim shirt,” since nothing else about it was any different from anything else he ever does. The band’s weird arrangement of a spare rockabilly classic as some weird Vegas Grease shit, and I was not feeling it. Apparently, though, a gang of girls in the front row did, since they bum-rushed him after the song. Jennifer Lopez also said, in very excited tones, that he had “a little bit of flavor,” which huh?
At least until the cheeseball horns kicked in, Pia Toscana’s version of “River Deep, Mountain High” sounded like a James Bond movie theme, which actually worked pretty well with her whole grande-dame style. When things inevitably turned into a Vegas revue, though, she got lost, and the whole thing came out more forced than whatever the fuck was going on with her outfit.
Stefano Langone had maybe his best week yet by giving a classic soul-singer rendition of “When a Man Loves a Woman,” which is really the only way you can sing that song and not sound like a shithead. He sold the bejesus out of it, hitting all the high notes and big swoops that the song demands. It was just good. I have no jokes to make. Absurdly, Stefano got the only remotely negative judges’ comment of the night when Randy told him to slow down or something.
Paul McDonald pretty much lost me forever by singing “Folsom Prison Blues” like a guy who’d never even spent an afternoon in detention. I can abide a whole lot of bullshit, but you can’t sing that song on TV while smiling. This is not a thing that I can accept. Almost any other song, you can pull that and get out alive. Not that one. Just no.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on April 7, 2011