About five minutes after Pia Toscano’s shock elimination last week, rumors surfaced that she’d signed a big deal with Interscope. Now, a major label deal is pretty much what all these kids are competing for in the first place, and this is the first time I can ever remember a contestant getting the bounce early and talk of that person getting signed happening so quickly afterward. It just goes to show: This program does an awfully good job creating the illusion of high stakes, even though there are no stakes here whatsoever. Chances are good that, within the next five years, only the most trivia-obsessed among us will remember any of these people’s names. It’s just how the game goes.
And speaking of how the game goes: We got to deal with will.i.am and Jimmy Iovine babbling inanely before every performance tonight. This week’s theme was songs from the movies. And it’s true that will.i.am was in the unbelievably shitty movie Wolverine: X-Men Origins, but I don’t think that quite qualifies him as an expert here, you know? At the outset of the show, we also got a big announcement from Ryan Seacrest that People had named Jennifer Lopez the most beautiful creature in the universe or some such. And I sort of have to co-sign? I was sick of Lopez a good 12 years ago, but here she is, on TV in HD every week, and good lord. That’s been the real revelation of this season of American Idol: Jennifer Lopez is still very pretty. I stand corrected.
Anyway. Paul McDonald, singing first, unveiled a rhinestone suit even more ghastly than the one he’d had before. I’m almost impressed with his sheer dedication to ugliness. But I guess you have to dress like an old-school Nashville entertainer when you’re singing a Bob Seger song, right? Actually, no. No, you don’t. He sang “Old Time Rock N’ Roll”, and Jimmy Iovine revealed his all-time music-related cluelessness by suggesting that Paul throw a “beatbox” in the middle. will.i.am, to his credit, had enough of a level head to inform Iovine that this would’ve utterly contradicted the whole point of the song. Fun fact: This song was in an Orioles fan video in the mid-’80s, with Rick Dempsey lip-syncing and Eddie Murray pretending to play saxophone, and I must’ve watched the goddamn thing a million times when I was six. Paul McDonald, naturally, is no Rick Dempsey, and his rendition was squeaky and bloodless. He did get one slick move where someone offscreen threw him a tambourine, but yeah, no, get rid of this guy already.
Lauren Alaina sang “The Climb,” the big power ballad from the Hannah Montana movie, and acted all embarrassed when Iovine said she has a better voice than Miley Cyrus. Weirdly, the Idol house band didn’t go on for the full-on bombast that the song really demanded, spending too much of it in stripped-down mode. Lauren still hit some big monster notes toward the end, and that was cool, but she also looked overwhelmed and stressed during almost every moment of the song. It’s not fun to watch her like that. It’s not fun to watch anyone like that. “The Climb” is a good song, though.
Did you remember that “End of the Road” was in Boomerang? No. Of course you didn’t. Nobody did. Nobody except Stefano Langone, who sang a sleepy and schticky version of the song that just bored the living hell out of me. Toward the end, he built up a decent head of steam, but he still got totally upstaged by a split-second shot of his dad in the audience, singing along and looking deeply moved. I’d like to hang out with Stefano’s dad. Don’t know about Stefano himself, though. Judging by the extended bleep-out silence, I’m pretty sure Jennifer Lopez called his performance “the shit”, which is pretty funny.
Scotty McCreery showed his range and imagination by singing “Cross My Heart” from Pure Country. Seriously, Scott’s song-selection process deserves some closer inspection. If this was U2 week, he’d probably sing “In God’s Country”. For a minute, it looked like he was going to sing Harry Nilsson’s “Everbody’s Talkin’,” and it sounded like it would’ve been awesome, but God help anyone who tries to prevent this kid from doing the exact same thing every week. Fortunately, he’s really good at the one incredibly narrow thing he does, and “Cross My Heart” is a good song, so I don’t even know why I’m bitching. He did fine.
Jimmy Iovine seriously straight-up demanded that Casey Abrams sing something other than Nat King Cole’s “Nature Boy”, and he looked utterly pissed when Abrams decided to sing the song anyway. I don’t know that song at all, but he sang an intense rendition, twisting his face into all sorts of contortions and falling completely into it. There was a moment where he scatted while playing along on his goofy stand-up bass, and I didn’t even mind it. So yeah, I’m back to liking this guy. He stood up to a music-business bully, sang a weird little song, and sold it completely. He didn’t even sing one gigantic note at the end. Randy Jackson seemed a little self-congratulatory for liking it, but that’s how this show works.
For Haley Reinhart, the American Idol backing band played Blondie’s “Call Me” as tootless bar-band rock, and if you’re not going to do any of the Moroder disco-pulse on that song, then don’t even fucking do it. From what I could tell, she sang it pretty well, but the band just annoyed me too much for me to even hear what she was doing with it. It was nice to hear her do something other than yelling all over the song, anyway. The judges all shitted on her performance, something they’re so hesitant to do these days.
After Iovine vetoed Jacob Lusk’s version of “To Dream the Impossible Dream”, he ended up singing “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” which I guess was in The Pursuit of Happyness. And he just looked totally defeated in saying that he was going to sing it. That’s a great song, and Lusk should’ve been able to do great things with it, but something about the loose and tinkly arrangement and Lusk’s oversinging made it lose steam. He was only really singing the song’s melody at the end. He’s still by far my favorite on the show, but this might’ve been my least favorite week for him.
James Durbin sang the theme song to the movie Heavy Metal, a cartoon I’ve never been stoned enough to watch, and it led to this classic Iovine exchange: “When does the hook come in?” “That was the hook.” If nothing else, this episode turned into a fascinating look at this mercenary blowhard and at the contestants who either would or wouldn’t stand up to him. Here’s the thing, though: Iovine wasn’t wrong. There are plenty of metal songs with good hooks, and some of them, I’m thinking, have actually been featured in movies. This song, however, is bullshit. Zakk Wylde showed up to play guitar, thus proving that this guy will show up anywhere and do anything if you’ll point a camera at him. I have to question the wisdom taking the time out of your 90-second performance for a seven-hour guitar solo. In the judging moment, Randy Jackson namechecked both Avenged Sevenfold and Ozzfest. Is either of those things even a thing anymore?