“American Idol” Drags Itself Into The 21st Century


Last night’s episode of American Idol started as this gramatically ridiculous question flashed on the screen: “Do you remember when they were just a face in the crowd?” No, I don’t. I don’t remember when they were all just one face. That would’ve been some weird David Cronenberg shit, and I’m glad it didn’t happen. Honestly, when you’ve got the highest-rated show in the entire country and you’re putting text up onscreen, can’t you hire somebody with a working grasp of sentence construction? Is that too much to ask? And while you’re at it, can’t you prevent Steven Tyler from wearing big red kissy-lips on his cheek? Because he looked like a fucking idiot. It’s the little things, Idol.

But as many little things as the show got wrong, it got one big thing right this week: Focusing entirely around songs recorded this century, something I don’t think they’ve ever tried before. If you’re going to make a whole big thing about the contestants staying current, something the judges talk about all the time, it certainly helps to let them sing songs that might exist somewhere in their sentient memory. And to introduce this concept, we got a big group-sing from all the eliminated contestants on Pink’s “So What,” a song that I love deeply. It was pretty funny how all the people who got bounced got to sing such a bitter song, and it was even funnier how Paul McDonald sounded like he’d spent the six days since his elimination on some sort of cocaine-and-vodka bender. I don’t know if he just wasn’t trying or if he’s actually entirely forgotten how to sing, but I was entertained either way. It was also fun to watch Pia display that she has some real hope of getting famous someday; she sang everyone else off that stage, and I’m vaguely sorry she’s not on this show anymore.

This was also, unfortunately, the week where the contestants were introduced in video packages where all the kids do impressions of each other and giggle a lot. This happens every year, and every year, I could do without it. I withstood it just fine, though, since we learned after the first montage that has finally stopped sitting next to Jimmy Iovine and dispensing nonsensical advice. This was a pretty weird week for to disappear, since he has, after all, made a lot of pop music this decade. (Actually, now that I think about it, he’s probably one of the defining pop-music figures of the past decade, which bums me out a bit.) But I’m not going to sit here and complain about’s first week off my TV in like the past month.

Right away, Scotty McCreery upheld the letter but violated the spirit of the current-music episode by choosing LeAnn Rimes’ “Swingin’,” a dumb fucking throwbacky double-entendre song that resulted in maybe Scotty’s most annoying performance yet. When he tries to handle uptempo stuff, Scotty’s confidence tends to falter, and his deep baritone turns into a barely audible mutter. The song also gave Jimmy Iovine a chance to make some winky, off-color jokes, which ew, and revealed that Scotty didn’t know what the song’s actually about–or, at least, he pretended not to know. Great. Exactly what America needs: A kid who can sing simplistically sexed-up songs like somebody’s mom. The judges finally called him out for being boring about a month later than they could’ve done.

James Durbin picked some Muse song, because of course he did. Hey, you know what fucking sucks? Muse. Muse fucking sucks. In the context of this show, though, that band’s absurd pomp can be pretty fun. So I laughed pretty hard when he emerged in a gigantic black duster, with epaulets, while a marching-band drumline followed him out. Durbin, at the very least, is fully willing to embrace the silliness of what he’s doing. He throws lots and lots of way-too-high notes into the song for no discernible reason, but that’s really just a musical extension of the stuff he was wearing. It’s fun to think that, if Idol had existed in the early ’90s and if Durbin had been on it, he would’ve totally been singing Queensryche tonight.

Haley Reinhart had the sheer balls to sing something from this calendar year, which might as well be 10 years in the future as far as this show is concerned. She sang Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep,” a good song and a great choice for her particular singing style. The song doesn’t give her too much room to cut loose with all the snarls and yips she usually brings out, but it also gives her enough room to show some vocal range. It’s not that those growls were gone; they were there, but they made sense within the context of the song. They served it. I liked her a lot this week.

I had to actually look up Luther Vandross’ “Dance With My Father” to make sure it came out this century. It did. That’s what Jacob Lusk sang, dedicating it to a father who died when he was really young, which is the sort of thing that would absolutely suck me in if I didn’t already love this guy. And look: It’s ridiculous that this guy has to exist on the same show as all these other jokers. He’s in a different universe, conveying actual fiery emotion when he sings and saying things that amount to more than “please keep me on the show please”. He’s to the point now where I get mad and protective whenever the judges say anything remotely critical of them. There was an ugly moment at the end where he complained about the track in his ear, always a bad look, but I honestly didn’t even notice any stumbles in his performance. I’m turning into one of those fans.

After burying last week’s hatchet with Jimmy Iovine, Casey Abrams sang some dumb Maroon 5 song. This was one of those moments where I feel like Casey picked the song less for its actual strengths as a song and more because him a launchpad to grunt and yip and scat, which means it’s not especially interesting. Everything about this dude just annoyed me this week. I can’t decide if I like this guy or not. Every week, he changes my mind for me. It was cute where he kissed Jennifer Lopez on the cheek mid-vocal, I guess. I hope he realizes that Marc Anthony totally played the gang leader in The Substitute. You need to be Tom Berenger to take that dude on, son.

Stefano Langone chose Ne-Yo’s “Closer” in what must be an attempt to lock up the Maura Johnston vote. It was fun to hear someone on the show sing something with an actual beat; it feels like a while since that’s happened. His voice was well-suited to it, too. But he didn’t need to do that thing where he high-fived people in the crowed while he was singing. It always looks like amateur hour when people pull that.

Lauren Alaina sang Sara Evans’ “Born to Fly,” exactly the sort of country shitkicker song she should always sing. Seriously, she should be just as much of a one-trick pony as Scotty McCreery. She does brassy Nashville charm just perfectly, and you can get by fine on just that and everything else. The only thing that messed this song up for me was how fucking goofy all the guys in the backing band looked. How the hell are you going to be a fiddle player with Brokencyde hair? Fiddle players should not have Brokencyde hair.

This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on April 21, 2011

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