Song selection has been the downfall of many an “Idol” hopeful, and with good reason. After all, it’s pretty hard for a rocker type to shine during “Shania Twain Week.” So when Seacrest announced that contestants would be performing any song of their choice for the first live shows, the excitement was palpable.
Finally, the Idols would get to show us how they see themselves, without awkward stabs at foreign genres or embarrassing questions like “What’s a Manilow?” But, for some, trying something innovative fell as flat as those “young and hip” Oscars. For a group that may be the most talented in “Idol” history, they don’t seem to be so talented in the art of song selection.
Twelve male finalists performed Tuesday night, but only five will make it into the Top 10 along with five girls. While each of the guys is a vocal virtuoso in his own way, I think that the eliminations will come down to who has the confidence to be their own artist.
Clint Jun Gamboa: “Superstitious” by Stevie Wonder
Regardless of what Steven Tyler said, the karaoke host in Gamboa totally came out with this performance. It was obvious that he’s done this number many a time at his bar in Long Beach; even the vamps seemed rehearsed. His job gives him the opportunity to experiment and add to his repertoire — definitely a good thing if he’s planning on being around for awhile. One thing that may hold him back? Those of us who remember how he treated poor little Jacee Badeaux during Hollywood Week may withhold our votes based on sheer likability, regardless of his vocal prowess.
Jovany Barreto: “I’ll Be” by Edwin McCain
If you were given a chance to impress millions of people with one song, would you choose a selection made famous by “Dawson’s Creek"? No? How about taking said teen soap number and adding a showtuney key change at the end? Didn’t think so. Barreto is a perfect example of someone who, while talented and good looking, doesn’t quite have the “it” factor. Like it or not, image is a big part of the music industry. (See: Ke$ha, GaGa and J. Lo herself.) Without any discernible sense of style, he needed to do more than sing a song that should’ve been retired in 1999. Yes, he makes J. Lo swoon but think about it. She has to go home to the likes of Marc Anthony every night.
Jordan Dorsey: “OMG” by Usher
What a trainwreck! I’m sure that Clint Jun Gamboa has seen many a karaoke performance that would put Dorsey’s (pictured above) to shame. While he has been a strong singer all along, tonight Jordan put all that aside to focus on his … dancing? What resulted was a schizophrenic attempt at what he thought the audience wanted. Here’s a tip for next time, in the off chance that you are actually granted one: We don’t want to hear bad vocals. Dorsey may be in serious trouble. He won’t earn votes from those of us who were turned off by his cocky demeanor during Hollywood Week. As for new viewers who are experiencing Dorsey for the first time, this was not the kind of performance that will earn a fan base.
Tim Halperin: “Come On Over” by Rob Thomas
The guy who gave Lopez goosebumps with his performance of the Beatles’ “Something” in Vegas failed to impress with his tepid take on this song. Again, it seemed like an odd choice to dazzle America. Halperin should be able to coast for awhile on his stellar Vegas performance alone, but he’s going to have to be more thoughtful about selecting his numbers if he remains in the competition. Lopez said he had one of the best voices she’d ever heard and it would be a shame for him to leave without really showing off what he can do.
Brett Loewenstern: “Light My Fire” by the Doors
Jim Morrison he is not, but Brett (pictured) has a sexy style that is truly unique to him. Thrashing his red curls about like a professional stripper named Ginger Snap, you almost wondered if it were he and not James Durbin who has the issue with Tourette’s. Yes, it was different but it was also organic. This kid is not pretending to be anyone other than himself, making him one of the few who can actually benefit from this “pick a song, any song” idea. Add to that the fact that he is an amazingly gifted singer and you’ve got a true artist.
James Durbin: “You’ve Got Another Thing Coming” by Judas Priest
While Durbin’s rocker style is not my thing, he definitely gets points for delivering an electrifying performance. While comparisons to Adam Lambert will continue to be made, that is not necessarily a bad thing. Durbin, like Lambert, can do things with his voice that not many singers can. So why not show that off with some exhibitionist flair? As someone who understands that being a rock star is playing a colorful character, Steven loved how over the top he is. Randy simply said, “That’s how you do it.” Expect to see more of him.
Robbie Rosen: “Angel” by Sarah McLachlan
The teenage Rosen has been consistent throughout the preliminary rounds, but with this performance, he was a little off his game. The strange arrangement was infused with unnecessary runs that would make Christina Aguilera blush. (At least Rosen remembered the lyrics, though.) While I like Rosen, I was not impressed this time out. The judges disagreed with me, though. Steven said that Rosen “can sing a ballad like no other” and Lopez actually preferred his artistic choices over those that Sarah McLachlan made in her original recording.
Scotty McCreery: “A Letter From Home” by John Michael Montgomery
As the lone “Idol” cowboy, McCreery has a serious advantage. It also doesn’t hurt that he has a voice that could be on country radio today. Unlike Dorsey, he wasn’t trying to imitate Usher or even Garth Brooks. He just sat on a stool and did what he does best — sing. No cowboy hat or mullet required, 17-year-old McCreery’s voice speaks for itself. As Lopez said, he was “born to sing country music.”
Stefano Langone: “Just The Way You Are” by Bruno Mars
Stefano is like a better version of Barreto. Both are good-looking guys with a kind of vanilla flavor to them. Like Barreto, Langone also seems unsure of who he is as an artist. The choice to perform a song that is already on heavy radio rotation seemed a little misguided. He is likable and cute, though, dedicating his tune to “all the ladies out there.” Lopez praised his consistency and noted his ease on stage. If harnessed properly, his higher register could make him stand out.
Paul McDonald “Maggie May” by Rod Stewart
McDonald continued his pursuit of total “Idol” domination with the classic that he auditioned with in Nashville. Tyler said that he had a “real character” about his voice, while J. Lo added that he had a “real character” in the way he moves. Twirling around on the stage, his dancing was like a much hipper and cooler version of Elaine from “Seinfeld.” There is also “real character” to the way he dresses. Quirky not just for the sake of being quirky, he donned a black suit reminiscent of Johnny Cash, complete with a black rose on the lapel. Flawless.
Jacob Lusk: “A House Is Not A Home” by Luther Vandross
Sporting a power suit and delivering velvet vocals, Lusk (pictured) was like the second coming of Luther Vandross. This was so evident that it even made Lopez emotional. Citing Vandross as her favorite singer, she said, “He’s gone. But now we have you.” The compliments just keep coming to the man whose Hollywood performance was deemed “Idol’s” best ever by Randy. Seeing as how Dorsey probably blew his chances this week, Lusk may hold the torch as the only true R&B male left, with the possible exception of Gamboa.
Casey Abrams: “I Put a Spell On You” by Screamin’ Jay Hawkins
While Lusk earned the award for best “Idol” performance so far, it was Abrams that Randy deemed the franchise’s “best musician ever.” He lived up to that title with Tuesday night’s vocal acrobatics. And to think, it almost didn’t happen due to his health issues last week. Abrams mentioned that he is “trying to create a different "American Idol’ mold,” and he seems to be succeeding. He is not the typical pop star pretty boy, nor does he sing the typical pop star fare. He, like McDonald, is a refreshingly different contestant from those we’ve seen in years past. That fact alone should get him to the final three.