This week, America will shatter someone’s “Idol” dreams the way that Chris Brown shatters windows (allegedly); it’s time to narrow the pool down to the official Top 10. The 11th-place finisher may not fade into the immediate oblivion of past seasons, but they’ll narrowly miss the chance to go on the “American Idols Live” tour.
And who doesn’t want to go to Toledo?
America had its work cut out for it. There was not a single bad vocal on Wednesday’s Motown-themed night, though I expected more sequins and bouffants. It’s really going to come down to personal taste and “connection,” a word that the judges repeated like a mantra throughout the show.
How could we possibly pick our favorites from this talented bunch? Steven Tyler suggests simply casting your votes for the performers who “changed your everything” and moved you to tears.
Easier said than done.
CASEY ABRAMS “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” by Marvin Gaye
Casey’s growl is perfect for this song but his mission was to contain it so that it didn’t get into the screechy territory of last week’s Nirvana song. Mission accomplished; this was a great start to the show. Abrams definitely has the voice and what he lacks in looks, he makes up for in unlawful amounts of charisma. He worked the crowd like a pro, wading into the audience with his shlubby-sexy confidence. Giving a nod to Motown, he donned a suit but his untucked shirt made it unmistakably Casey. “I think you’re the perfect entertainer,” proclaimed Tyler. Jennifer praised his originality and Randy agreed, saying, “You can only do you and that ‘you’ is great.”
THIA MEGIA “Heat Wave” by Martha & the Vandellas
Thia nixed the pageant-friendly ballads this week, instead opting for a pageant-friendly toe-tapper. This song is so repetitive that a few extra runs or embellishments would’ve been welcome, as Megia is more than capable vocally. The judges were happy that she took a risk but totally overlooked her main problem: connection. There is never an indication that Thia believes what she’s singing -- no personality or passion. Granted, we can’t expect all 16-year-olds to have the sage wisdom or magnetism of Justin Bieber but Megia’s poise borders on sedated. She needs to focus more on having fun and less on pseudo-savvy soundbites like “I felt great just having the opportunity to loosen up for you guys.”
JACOB LUSK “You’re All I Need to Get By” by Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell
Unfortunately for Lusk, Gospel Night may not be PC enough for Fox. Motown Night, on the other hand, fits the bill almost as well and has fans worshiing at the altar of Jacob anyway. “Little Luther” took Jimmy Iovine’s advice and played this perfectly by not indulging himself with his usual oversinging. His stage presence is so hypnotic in itself that he doesn’t need the incessant runs and high notes. When he does do them, though, it makes it that much more exciting. Lopez agreed, saying, “You made us beg for those notes!” Yes, it was probably Lusk’s best performance yet, but the judges lauded him as if he could walk on water. Steven was even moved to get out of his chair and embrace Lusk on stage, while Randy thought that Berry Gordy himself might be watching and saying, “Oh my God.”
LAUREN ALAINA “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” by The Supremes
Lauren connected with this song because now that she’s in the spotlight, there are a lot of people out there saying things about her that “aren’t exactly nice.” Oops. Sorry. Yes, she’s had a couple of so-so performances, but she redeemed herself with this one. The beginning was quiet and slow before breaking into the familiar driving beat. Whether her voice is “on” or “off,” one thing this girl knows how to do is work the stage. She even walked down a few precarious steps to sing to Randy himself. Remember, this is the girl the judges once deemed a potential winner. J. Lo loved her attitude and Randy said that “she’s now got her swagger on high.”
STEFANO LANGONE “Hello” by Lionel Richie
Stefano, who has sung Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder on past episodes, grew up on Motown. As referenced last week, his main problem has been connecting to the audience and to what he’s singing. Like Thia Megia, you often get the feeling you’re watching musical theater when he performs; it’s the tone of the voice and the cold detachment. Iovine touched on that as well, saying that you can’t “start out like you’re in the middle of a Broadway play.” As difficult as it is for Stefano to keep his eyes open when he sings, it may be even more difficult for the audience. Snore! The sound is beautiful but there’s nothing behind it, good looks aside. The judges said as much, with Randy offering that Langone is “one of the better singers we have here.”
HALEY REINHART “You’ve Really Got a Hold on Me” by Smokey Robinson & the Miracles
Haley’s big goal this week is to not land in the Bottom Three again. She insists that she wants to be here but, week after week, her body language betrays her. Like Stefano and Thia, her main problem is connecting with the audience. Sporting a more polished straight ‘do, she showed off her legs in short shorts. She is definitely the, uh, “sultry” one this season. The vocal itself was really impressive. Haley has one of those unique sounds that is instantly recognizable. In fact, J. Lo said that her voice is the “most soulful of anyone in the competition,” with the possible exception of Jacob. Randy and Steven announced that she was back. Time will tell for how long.
SCOTTY McCREERY “For Once in My Life” by Stevie Wonder
Though it may seem risky for this cowboy to attempt Motown, country music has been switching songs with R&B for years. Did you know that Reba McIntyre has a cover of Beyonce’s “If I Were a Boy?” Motown is full of such great lyrics and melodies that it is easily transferable to any genre. No, this country rendition wasn’t the most exciting, but it was pleasant enough. One thing the judges all agreed on is that those low notes are always intoxicating. Like your favorite blanket, Scotty is always warm and comfortable. While innovation may not be his strength, consistency is part of his appeal. You know what you’re gonna get -- a deep baritone twang singing about honor, farming and other country stuff.
PIA TOSCANO “All in Love Is Fair” by Stevie Wonder
“There’s just not singers like her anymore,” said producer Harvey Mason, Jr. Pia has yet to give a less-than-perfect performance, putting her in a class by herself. Iovine advised her to get out of her head and really feel the emotion. Again: connection. She seems to feel it just fine to me, though. Though the song had a slow build up, the vocal could not have been better. Lopez boldly told her that she could have a career like Celine Dion’s. Randy wants to see her do something more uptempo. As for Steven, he crowned her “the closest star in this ‘American Idol’ universe.”
PAUL McDONALD “Tracks of My Tears” by Smokey Robinson & the Miracles
Paul grew up listening to Motown and declared that “whenever you hear it you have to move around.” Alas, there was a severe lack of kinetic candy this week, as McDonald opted instead to stand in place and accompany himself on guitar. I was a little worried, as Adam Lambert’s rendition of this same song two years ago was one of the few Glambert performances I really enjoyed. But Paul, like Lambert himself, is a true original and made it his own. Randy and Steven praised his distinct voice, with Steven even comparing his uniqueness to that of Bob Dylan or Willie Nelson. Lopez said that he is the complete package who just needs a good producer. (No offense, Jimmy Iovine & Friends.)
NAIMA ADEDAPO “Dancing in the Street” by Martha & the Vandellas
What Paul lacked in dancing, Naima more than made up for. Iovine advised her that “it’s gotta be contagious” and to “push out the fun.” What’s more fun than traditional African dancing? This seemed like it could be disastrous but Naima has obviously learned from some of her past mistakes. For one thing, she didn’t try to sing and dance at the same time. Instead, she saved the African drum dance breakdown for the very end of the song, only singing a couple of lines after it was over. Yes, it was out of the box, but we should be used to that by now. Her vocals didn’t suffer this time and she did something completely original. love it or hate it. J. Lo admitted to her first goosebumps of the night and superfan Steven deemed her “the whole package.”
JAMES DURBIN “Living for the City” by Stevie Wonder
Durbin just gets better and better every week. His screeches aren’t gratuitous; he somehow fits them in appropriately. The irony here is that on a season where audience connection seems to be the biggest problem, it’s the kid with Asperger’s who seems to connect with the audience the easiest. He gets the in-studio crowd clapping along and engages those of us at home by looking right into the camera. And his vocals are seriously good. Lopez was left speechless. Steven had this to say: “I think sometimes it takes a little bit of being crazy to make a difference in this world and that’s what you’re all about.” Durbin is definitely one to watch.