This has been a crap day. Too much rain, lousy time at school. "Idol" performers, beware. Notes on all the performances, after the jump.
Couple of general notes before getting into my writing-while-watching stuff: The strategy this season is now absolutely clear. Break the contestants into different formats and demos, carpet-bomb radio and iTunes and make more money than you do with one all-things-for-all-people winner. Also clear is that the judges are going to be very hesitant to criticize, and Jimmy Iovine is going to look for positive things to say rather than criticize someone whose music he's going to have to peddle. And, these singers are so very, very young.
On to the as-I-watched notes:
Theme involves songs by performers' favorite artists. Lauren leads off with Shania Twain. Says Shania was the first artist to combine pop and country. Funny, Patsy Cline was doing eons ago. Oh, well. Jimmy I's comments just totally positive. She sings. Not well to these ears. Judges are gentle but tepid. Steven wishes she had kicked it up more. I wish she hadn't squeaked so much. But Lauren does say one interesting thing -- that she went up-tempo because everybody does ballads. So often true.
Casey. Joe Cocker's rendition of the Beatles' "A Little Help From My Friends." Casey heard it on "The Wonder Years." Ai yi yi. Jimmy basically tells him to feel it. Casey gets a big backing choir. But it's all -- dare I say it -- karaoke. And he likes the gruff authority of Joe's version, which becomes ever more evident the harder he tries to be soulful. I am not impressed. But judges euphoric. Jennifer calls his notes and pitch "amazing" and thinks "I'm watching somebody important. Wow!" Randy says he's always excited to see Casey, and "you were so unbelievable." As the judges cheer (Steven calls him "a plethora of passion"), I keep thinking: Taylor Hicks.
Ashthon. Diana Ross, "When You Tell Me That You Love Me." Getting pushed in the studio. Jimmy I nervous about her top range, and he was pleased; invited Berry Gordy to hear her. Well, the outfit is Diana. But her performance is waaaayyy breathy at the start. And struggles until she hits a big note, then falters again. So far, tonight is unpleasing. Randy liked it, albeit with reservations. Steven thinks she has more than she is showing, but he is confident she will show it. Jennifer wants her to sing songs they can sing along with -- that Ashthon's been too obscure in song choices.
I have not been assigning grades. Not inclined to think about grades tonight. Will try to rank them at some point.
After Casey comments backstage on his reception, Goofy Paul. Ryan Adams, "Come Pick Me Up." He kind of clicked with Don Was. I love Don Was. And Was Not Was. Jimmy I says the song is about intensity. More kudos. Isn't he supposed to be the tough guy on the show? Paul singing. Does he have any range at all? Not here so far. Jumping around. I still hate his singing, which barely qualifies for that description. WHY is he on the stage? Steven loves the character and the rasp, but thinks he was a little pitchy and needs to nail a chorus next time. Jennifer was so bored by his work that she was looking at the audience. Well, she didn't say it quite that way. But she hopes America "gets it," since she obviously didn't. Randy loves "the character of who you are" -- this from the judge who STILL calls this a singing competition.
Paul, backstage, also hopes America gets him. Pia, meanwhile, has loved Celine Dion since she was 8 years old. Chose "All By Myself." Somewhere, Cleveland's own Eric Carmen is wanting his props. Jimmy remains useless. As a semicompetent rendition of a song I don't care for, I suppose this is OK. At first. But she is very restrained, too much so, on the chorus. Kind of icy. But the show is already very much in her corner. Jennifer is teary, and that she topped last week. Randy says the big three are Mariah/Whitney/Celine and don't tackle the songs if you can't do them -- but Pia hits the notes dead-on and "I'm in awe. . . Very hot, dope, cool performance." Steven says it was the sum total of all she has done so far.
Backstage, Pia says this was for her dad, who always wanted her to perform a Celine song. James loves Paul McCartney, "Maybe I'm Amazed." Second Beatles-tied song tonight. Payback for the Vegas tie-in? Jimmy -- oh, never mind. James's beginning reminds that this is a tough song -- and he's inching toward a metallic tint. Which he doesn't need. Closer. Closer. But holding it in so far. No screech. Wait, closer. There it is -- but still held in. And he pulls it back for the ending. Nicely done. Loved the tension in it, the possibility of going over the top, but not doing it. My favorite performance so far tonight. Randy says James is one of his favorites, with a voice that can sing anything, and showed a sensitive side tonight. "James Durbin is dangerous, America!" Steven also impressed. Jennifer pauses to let the audience applaud more and "you have what the greatest rock singers have . . . a melodic quality."
Haley. LeAnn Rimes, whose song "Blue" takes her back to when she was a lot younger. Isn't Haley, what, 16? Jimmy seeks additional superlatives. Performance: Baaaaad yodel, while Ms. Rimes so nailed the yodel that I played this song about a million times. I have the same issue I had with Haley last week. She puts a lot into silly, stagey gestures while not singing very well. Steven thinks it was beautiful and for "the country-western part of America." Steven also name-drops Patsy Cline! Jennifer finds her voice diverse and special. Randy impressed that she's gone from Alicia to LeAnn, but found the performance a little boring. Jennifer leaps to Haley's defense. Randy still unconvinced.
James, backstage, says making it this far means he has already won. Dangerously modest, when other singers are begging to stay on. Jacob. R. Kelly is his idol. "I Believe I Can Fly." Jacob was 9 when "Space Jam" came out. Performance is very trembly, a little hoarse. Was wearing a scarf in rehearsal footage. Bad cold? He's fighthing through it to get to where the chorus comes in. Jacob is dramatic, but this is not a great vocal, no matter how much he pushes it. Goes high to get past the hoarseness, and it's not as effective. I don't believe.
Steven speaks of pure passion and "you are all that." Jennifer thinks "you make us feel so much when you sing" -- but this is a tough year because of so much talent. Randy thinks he has a signature sound, but he fell off at the B verse -- but was "unbelievable" at the end. Once again, Randy is excited any time THIS performer hits the stage.
Thia. Her idol is Michael Jackson. Song: "Smile." Jimmy points out it's originally Charlie Chaplin. "Charlie Chapman?" she says. These contestants are SOOOOOOOO young. Performance: low-key and pretty, straight pop vocal at first. Then instruments kick in and she tries to make it more jazzy. It's not as assured as the early parts; I don't think she's comfortable with the tempo. Should have stayed with the basic pop. Nice voice, though. Randy loved the intro, heard a little Adele, but didn't love the jazzy bit. Steven agrees, particularly on the pitchy middle -- "but you gave it up. Thank you." Jennifer also questioned the arrangement, although she liked seeing Thia move. Thia agrees with the judges.
Backstage, a sad Thia hopes America will give her another chance. Then, Stefano. Stevie Wonder, "Lately." Several clunkers early. More talking than singing. Very nasal in places. Improves as he goes through a second time, but still not very good overall. Stefano thinks he pulled it off and it built from beginning to end. Jennifer says he had her dancing for a minute with his "dance remix" rendition; he "sounded great." Randy thought it sounded rocky at first but Stevie would be proud because Stefano was "soaring."
Karen. Favorite is Selena; her mother used to dress her as Selena when she was younger. Also has Selena Barbie dolls. What, no video of the movie? Also sounding raspy, and Jimmy I warns her to save her voice. Dressed up very Selena/Jennifer. Pretty good vocal, although I keep waiting for it to get bigger than it is, and this is a song that could use a big finish -- but she does not deliver. Still, good singing. Jennifer thinks she was uncomfortable with some of the notes, but "you are one of our strongest girls" and she wants her to get through to next week. Randy thought she was fighting the song and it was "sleepy." Steven feels the same way.
Scotty. Garth Brooks, "The River." He's singing a little higher, and it sounds more mature than some of what he's done before. But is there any emotion there? He's trying to stay so true to the song, that he sounds a bit like a sung recitation -- not as emotional as Garth would have made it. (Yes, I own some Garth.) A vocal step forward in one way, but nothing extraordinary in others. Randy, saying "what I love" for about the millionth time, thinks it could be a record now. Steven thinks he rode high. Jennifer, pulling out a "what I loved" herself, thinks Scotty is taking us on the ride with him.
Naima to close. Rihanna's "Umbrella." And working with Tricky, who produced "Umbrella," as her producer. Well, that should have torn it up in rehearsal, anyway. Not sure about the start. Awkward stage moves. A little bit rap/reggae in the middle. I've been a big defender of Naima up to now, and this is not my favorite performance, and the vocal was off. But the show is sure working for her: fake lightning! Still, not my idea of a fabulous way to close the show. Steven thought it was a little pitchy but "you brought flava tonight that no one else has done." Jennifer doesn't care about pitchy; "you've got fire, girl! . . . like stars do it." But she needs to work on the control. Randy does care about pitchiness but thinks Naima learned the challenge of dancing and singing. And he loved the reggae thing, and wants a whole reggae version.
Maybe I can come up with a ranking by tomorrow. My favorite tonight: James. Worst: Paul.