Jesus, jeers and Journey -- those are the bullet points for this week’s performance show. And I can’t forget the fourth “J” -- jfavoritism. (The “J” is silent.) Could the judges be any more blatant about who they are (and aren’t) pushing?
Despite James’ double diagnosis of Asperger’s and Tourette’s, it is Haley who has emerged as the underdog this season, partly do to the panel’s rough treatment of her. Her voice has the least dime-a-dozen quality to it, yet the judges continues to play mind games with her week after week.
This week bordered on cruel.
Perhaps it’s because the producers can’t figure out what part of the industry she’d fit into if she were to actually win. After several ho-hum winners, the franchise could really use an undeniable superstar.
Be honest: how many Lee DeWyze songs can you name?
Haley’s originality is what makes her unique, yet it also makes her a bit of a liability, as the others are more of a sure thing. I mean, let’s face it. Scotty has a career regardless; his voice defies his age yet his age is the only thing that differentiates him from a hundred other country artists. James is the poor man’s Adam Lambert, screeching his way to stardom with pyro and props. As for Lauren ... well, what’s better than one Carrie Underwood? Two, of course!
I have a feeling that Haley’s repeat appearances in the Bottom Three have less to do with her song choice or vocal talent than her likability. She’s like a singing Erin Brockovich -- unafraid of confrontation or her own sexuality. This, however, is not a winning combination when it comes to earning “Idol” votes. Talking back doesn’t help, either. No matter how harsh the critiques are, sometimes you’ve just got to appear congenial and play the game.
This week, the Final Four were tasked with performing two songs, one of the “inspirational” variety and the other from the songbook of Jerry Leiber & Mike Stoller. Casey Abrams and Paul McDonald showed up to support their former competition. Lady Gaga was on hand to mentor the little monsters along with Jimmy, much to the apparent horror of Scotty.
Song #1 “Don’t Stop Believin’” by Journey: “Does anybody know this song?” James, clad in a Journey T-shirt, opened the show with the the type of amateur shoutouts usually only reserved for karaoke bars. He even added in a cheesy “Come on, Randy! I know you know the words!” for the former Journey musician. The only thing missing was someone ordering another pitcher of Natty Light. The truth is, James, yes, everybody knows this freakin’ song. From the movie “Monster” to the last episode of “The Sopranos,” it seems to have become even more ubiquitous now than it was in the '80s. I was just waiting for Rachel Berry and the rest of the Glee club to show up to provide the background doo-wops. And that’s what I didn’t like about it. He brought nothing new to this classic, aside from the trademark Durbin pyro and scream. (And let’s be real, that stuff really ain’t that new at this point.)
The judges, on the James-is-in-it-to-win-it train, disagreed completely. “Great song, great job, great performance,” said J. Lo. Randy agreed: “That was the highest degree of difficulty and you did it.” Backstage, James was positively giddy. Defying his Asperger’s, he looked the camera right in the eye and said, “America, you’re amazing!” before blowing the country a kiss.
Song #2 “Love Potion #9” by the Clovers: Normally, the fact that a contestant opens the show wouldn’t be seen as an advantage. But opening and closing the show on the same night? That deserves an explanation from Seacrest. A simple “James is having a twitch fit backstage” would’ve alleviated any suspicion that producers are forcing him into the finals, yet such a statement never came. Regardless, I give James credit for taking this oldie and transforming it into a hard rock tune. I also give him credit for letting Gaga grind on him from behind to “loosen him up” during rehearsal. Connecting with the audience is something he does well, whether walking through the aisles doling out high fives or reveling in their cheers from atop a pedestal. James is like Jimmy Buffett: an entertaining concert experience but not necessarily number one on your iPod rotation. “What you can’t do with your voice you did tonight,” said Steven. Randy agreed: “You’re having a moment every single week and i love it.” Jennifer was hesitant about the song choice but became a believer: “You know what that showed me, James? That you can sing anything.” .
Song #1 “Earth Song” by Michael Jackson: Oh Haley, Haley, Haley ... Haven’t you learned by now that, though you’re just as talented as James, his song choice is irrelevant while yours is grounds for crucifixion? I was wary when Seacrest mentioned Michael Jackson, thinking we’d be in for the pleasant-yet-soporific “Heal The World.” (Jacob, after all, had already alienated America with the inspirational “Man In The Mirror.”) It was a twist then, when we learned Reinhart would be performing the beautiful but lesser-known “Earth Song.” The problem was that, despite the gospel choir, there just weren’t enough colors in her voice. The best thing about Haley’s vocals are their contrasts, but this song was too light on the syrup and too heavy on the gravel, especially at the end. The audience didn’t seem to mind, though. (Especially a manic Casey Abrams.) Haley’s performance had them on their feet in a frenzy. Cut to a stone-cold judges’ panel. For a trio that’s been criticized for being too nice all season, they sure were harsh. Jennifer first applauded her for choosing a song that truly inspired her, then chastised her for not picking a hit. If this is a problem, perhaps they should change the theme from “Songs That Inspire You” to “Songs That Are Overdone.”
A condescending J. Lo then told her that she needs to think about what the other contestants are doing when she’s choosing her songs. “That’s part of competing, ‘K?” Haley uttered a meek “K” as the audience erupted in jeers. Then it was Randy’s turn: “The song doesn’t really suit you or fit you ... I felt like you were screaming at top of your range.” “That’s not the top of my range,” she shot back, receiving applause from the audience. Randy kept going: “The song needed you to deliver it ... I felt like you were just screaming at the end the same note over and over...” He would’ve liked to have seen some added runs. Haley did not back down: “I didn’t know I should even have changed it. I thought it was beautiful the way it was.”
Longtime Haley fan Steven interjected, telling her not to listen to them, before Randy interrupted him: “My opinion is I didn’t like it ... I thought you were screaming. I thought it was a bad song choice.” An angry Haley quieted him with, “ I heard it ... I know what you have to say.” As a dumbstruck Ryan looked on, Steven attested that they were both wrong and that, though it wasn’t a hit song, she nailed it with feeling. “The audience heard it and America heard it. Don’t believe it.” Casey and the rest of the crowd went wild. Backstage, Haley was just as dumbstruck as Seacrest: “I never thought i’d get emo on the show but ... i mean, the song means a lot so ... to get a little bit put down about something that means so much ... kinda weird.”
Song #2 “I Who Have Nothing” by Ben E. King: After the Final Four had performed their inspirational songs, Ryan checked in with the judges to see who had “won” the first round. “I think it’s a tie between Scotty, James and Lauren, round one,” professed Randy with nary a hint of sarcasm. Cruelty doesn’t suit Randy and it sounds much better in a British accent anyway. Then, the zinger from Seacrest: “After this quick break we start round two with ... Haley.” Ouch. Cut to a hurt Haley.
After the break, Ryan scolded Randy for being “a little mean tonight,” but Randy responded that he was just being honest. No matter, because Haley does best when she’s pissed off. (See last week’s round two comeback.) It didn’t hurt that Gaga took a shine to her, either. Impressed with Haley’s singing, she knew that the challenge would be adding the drama to this tune of unrequited love. “How do you feel about getting a little psycho?” she asked, before suggesting “a little Edith Piaf” and a little “I’m crazy.” Haley thought that it had the potential to be a real moment for her, and she was right. Thanks to Gaga’s drama lessons, this rendition blew Jordin Sparks’ version out of the water. Perhaps it’s because Haley probably does have “a little psycho” in her or maybe it’s because the lyrics “I who have nothing” took on a different meaning after the judges’ comments. Even the judges got on board, giving her a standing ovation. Is this their new thing now? Last week they did virtually the same thing.
“This is why we can’t take it easy on you,” said Lopez. “Look what you’re capable of, baby ... One of the best performances of the year here.” Steven agreed: “It was classic moment with classic Haley. You just Reinharted yourself into the middle of next week.” Even Randy, so harsh previously, doled out his favorite compliment: “You just had a moment right here which put you in it to win it !”
Song #1 “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)” by Alan Jackson: This song means “so much” to Scotty “as an American” and he thinks that it also speaks to everybody else in the country. Which begs the question: Where exactly was Scotty on 9/11? My guess is fingerpainting or learning his very first racial epithets. (I kid, I kid.) But seriously, this was a shrewd move on his part. Osama bin Laden’s death has given him the perfect opportunity to gain “Idol” votes, just as it gave those yahoos outside the White House the perfect opportunity to get drunk and party like it was Mardi Gras. I have to give him credit -- at least he didn’t sing a Toby Keith song. If the “woo hoo, America!” message doesn’t get the votes, the lyrics about Jesus certainly will. It was a nice touch using the guitar and getting a little misty in the middle. Randy bought into the hype. “I think it’s the perfect song choice for where we are now as a country ... I think you’ve set your mark on this stage this season ... You’re ready for superstardom, dude, and i hope you make it.”
Jennifer is also buying Scotty’s “I’m a stand-up guy” routine. (Have we all forgiven and forgotten how he kicked little Jacee Badeaux out of his group during Hollywood Week?!) “I’m in love “wich” you,” said Lopez, adding that from what he stands for and brings to his music, she can tell that he knows who he is and what touches people. “It’s the mark of somebody who was meant to do this,” she gushed. “I’m glad we’re here to witness it.” Wait, was he singing about Jesus or impersonating Him? Steven called it “beautiful.”
Song #2 “Young Blood” by the Coasters: Judging from his rehearsal, I don’t think Scotty will be opening up for Gaga anytime soon. Lady Gaga liked that he showed his humor in his voice and personality but she had to coach him on using the microphone. It’s about time somebody did! Gaga’s techniques may have scarred our conservative little Scooter for life, though. Referring to the microphone, Gaga painted a picture with words: “That’s your girlfriend and she says to you, ‘If you don’t stick your tongue down my throat, we’re through,’ so you keep your mouth on that mic if your life depends on it or that *****’s gonna leave you ... You’re gonna make love to that microphone.” A shocked Scotty kissed his cross necklace after his session and probably said a few extra prayers that night. “Apparently he’s a bit more conservative than I had imagined,” said a demure Gaga, clad in a tasteful latex onesie. Jimmy knew that Scotty could handle the vocals but was concerned about his “emotional” connection. Was he serious?!
Scotty’s performance was literally laugh-out-loud funny. He had timed the camera shots to the lyrics. “Looka there!” (Camera 1!) “Looka there!” (Camera 2!) “Looka there!” (Camera 3!) “Looka there!” (Camera 4!) Like Durbin, he walked through the crowd -- a technique that the girls have yet to master. Scotty’s comments usually fall into one of two categories: “It ain’t broke don’t fix it” and “I’m at a Scotty McCreery concert!” His cheeztastic performance earned an inevitable from Randy: “I think we just saw both sides of a Scotty concert. I think he’s ready.” Steven spoke in tongues: “Dude, you made Gaga’s yaya go lala.” Thank goodness Scotty has an exorcist on speed dial! J. Lo thinks that Scotty has hit his stride and she wants to see a different side next week as he sprints to the finish.
Song #1 “Anyway” by Martina McBride: Lauren dedicated this song to those affected by the tornados last week and later added that anyone who has been through hard times can relate to the words. Kristy Lee Cook did this song during “Inspirational Week” on Season 7 after being judged harshly week after week. While Lauren has had a pretty easy time on the show, she did face being in the Bottom Two last week, a position that made her openly weep on national television. I was worried that her stumble last week would shake her confidence but her voice was in full effect. As she did with “The Climb,” Lauren seems to do best when she connects to the lyrics. These were more than appropriate: “You can pour your heart out singing a song you believe in that tomorrow they’ll forget you ever sang. Sing it anyway.” The question is, are she and Scotty going to split the votes of the country fans?
“You did it again,” said Steven. “You broke my heart ... You deliver a song like a blue plate special...you’re the whole package.” J. Lo commended her, saying that she seems to be listening to their critiques and if they seem harsh, it’s only because they want her to arrive at that moment with the confetti. (How did she know that confetti, along with cupcakes and sparkles, were Lauren’s weakness?) Randy gave her the ultimate compliment: “Lauren is back in it to win it!”
Song #2 “Trouble” by Elvis Presley:
Lauren is concerned about America thinking she’s evil if she sings the lyrics, “I’m evil.” Say what?! Lady Gaga reassures her that when she was 16, she was way too weird to be on “Idol.” Wait, is Gaga calling Lauren weird? Jimmy explains to her that it’s a character; she is not literally evil just because she sings it. I’m not sure if Lauren is serious about not getting this concept. Does she really think that Carrie Underwood ever “woke up not even knowing her last name” or “took a Louisville Slugger to both headlights?” Sheesh. You’re not gonna get to that confetti moment by acting like a dummy. Regardless, Lauren started the song off as a (dare I say it?) sexy woman ... er, 16-year-old. She didn’t quite sustain that attitude throughout the song and she had some weak moments in her voice towards the end but it was nice to see a different side of her.
Will it be enough to propel her to the finals? Regardless of Steven Tyler’s early prediction, I’m just not sure. The judges seem to be gunning for the guys, though they gave her positive critiques. Lopez thought it was “really, really good” and was surprised and happy to see some maturity that she hadn’t seen before. Randy saw her fun side and Steven said, “Well done. I just love you.”