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Watching "American Idol"

By admin Published: March 16, 2011

Some technical difficulties, and a drab day. Notes on the songs, after the performance.

Songs from the year you were born. Naima, born '84, leads off with Tina Turner's "What's Love Got To Do With It." Very bad. She's lost track of the tune. Tyler calls her beautiful but Jennifer and Randy both question her singing; Jennifer drops a "pitchy" on her. Randy says he listened to the playback of last week and found her vocal a mess. BECAUSE THE JUDGES CANNOT HEAR THE PERFORMANCES IN THE HALL.

Paul, also '84. Elton's "I Guess Why They Call It the Blues." I love this song and I hate Paul. Need I say more? Jennifer is singing along. But any time he has to do, oh, melody, it's horrifying. Still hate him. Jennifer says "I feel you" but sensed he was struggling; still loves his "soul" and "star quality." OMFG. Randy kind of differs. Some notes were very pitchy but the thing he likes is that Paul is kind of like Ray LaMontagne, putting his own spin on. (Except Ray can sing.) Steven loves his swagger. I was thinking after Naima, that Steven was asking himself "When did I become the new Paula?" Apparently he's fine with that.

Thia, 1995. Judging from the old photos, she has been groomed for a singing career for a lonnnng time. Song: "Colors of the Wind." Looks as if she's borrowed some pages from Pia's playbook: glam up and stand still and sing. She's on point most of the time, and pretty. But also dull. Very lounge. Randy thought the vocals were OK but he was bored. Thought it was kind of a pageant performance, safe and boring. Steven thought it was beautiful but "is that song who you think you are?" She thought it fit with what's going on in the world today -- and "it was the best choice of all the songs I had." Jennifer says she has an Adele kind of quality but it's a little safe, and her vibrato needs work and "push out of the box." But after a lot of softballs a week ago, the judges are at least offering some criticism.

James. Ryan points out Kate Hudson in crowd. James, Stefano, Casey and Paul have a band. James born 1989. Bon Jovi's "I'll Be There for You." Jimmy brings up all the sickness in the contestant house.  Performance: He's confident onstage, he executes reasonably well but this is a little too close to JBJ -- more imitative than a lot of what we've heard from him before. But still the best performance so far tonight. Steven brings up the dolls in the video. And says he has leftover sandwiches under the bed older than James. Warns: Don't get too poppy. James says Aerosmith did some great songs but he's saving his Aerosmith for the finale. Massive apparent bleep. Jennifer mentions singing along with him. Yeah, but she did it with Paul, too. Still, thinks James is great. Randy says James finds a way to make a song his own. I still think he wasn't as distinctive tonight. A discussion of his boots ensues.

Haley. 1990. Both her parents are in a band. She's just walking in their footsteps. Doing Whitney's "I'm Your Baby Tonight." Jimmy alludes to the importance of "work ethic." Is that an off-camera issue? She is deeply unsuited for this song. Deeply deeply. She can offer the words, but she has no power. I generally sit through entire performances but wandered up to the refrigerator for a soda during this. Didn't get far enough away not to hear it, though. Jennifer offers an ambiguous critique indicating she thought Haley was forcing it. Ryan kills time with some deal about Haley's lipstick. After that, Randy is confused: Alicia, country, Whitney, he's not sure what Haley is, and he had some issues with the performance. But Steven thought it was sweet and tough, but wants more blues.

Stefano. Born 1989. Grandfather had a music store, and father grew up in it. He liked the choice of songs from '89. Took "If You Don't Know Me By Now," because of Simply Red. HAROLD MELVIN AND THE BLUE NOTES!!! TEDDY!!  He is not the first to say Jimmy I makes him nervous. But we've seen very little reason why he would. Performance: He's trying to be soulful, but he's reedy for a lot. Hits a good note, but I'm not putting him ahead of SR. Or Teddy. But I expect he's getting a big teen-girl base. Randy brings up Harold and Teddy, bless him, but undercuts that by calling it the best performance of the night. Sorry, I've still got James at the top. Steven/Paula loved his phrasing. Jennifer calls it a "perfect, perfect song for you."

Pia, the judges' darling. 1988. Singing Whitney at an early age. Loved her grandfather, now deceased. Whitney, "Where Do Broken Hearts Go?" So two contestants ignore Randy's beware-Whitney-songs warning. As she sings, I am thinking that these kids who start singing Whitney early never have a chance to develop character in their singing; they just learn how to sing the notes, and they discover the phrases from the singers they're covering, and the emotion gets lost amid the practice. Yes, she has a good voice -- although she shrieks some here -- but, again, it's not interesting. Very by the numbers. And Jennifer does not look impressed. Steven thinks she nailed it in her own special way. Jennifer was glad she did something uptempo, and that Pia has an angel (that is, her grandpa) watching over her. J's face said otherwise. Randy says Pia is in it to win it. Because we were running behind on our restating-the-obvious quota.

Scotty. 1993. Was an Elvis fan from early childhood. His parents sing a bit of his audition song. He is singing Travis Tritt, "Can I Trust You With My Heart." Jimmy wants him to grow and get better, without changing. Right. Got it.  The performance is workmanlike but nothing more.  And it's not that great a song. Jennifer again looks somber during the performance while Randy and Steven nod their heads in time. Then Jennifer says he pushed it out there at the end -- and says he held the note even longer at the end. She's a real interesting case of indicating one thing and saying another. Randy says he knows who he is but he also wants him to do something more -- i.e., something non-country. Steven briefly says he liked it.

Karen. Another '89. Gets her talent from her mom. Song is "Love Will Lead You Back," Taylor Dayne. To show she's not just the Spanish singer. Can't get used to the hair. She gets the emotion more than some of the other women, but her voice is not strong. Certainly not TD-level. And she still plays the singing-in-Spanish card. Ho hum. Randy thought it started a little rough but she found it around the first chorus but he is still not jumping up and down. Steven loves it when she breaks into her "ethnic what-it-is-ness" and they move on before he elaborates. Jennifer wants her to perform from her heart.

I have now caught up with the DVR. Rats. No commercial skipping.

Casey. 1991. Parents are now in their sixties but he finds them wiser than other parents. The first "Idol" Nirvana song, "Smells Like Teen Spirit." He believes in taking risks. Includes playing bass. Interesting vocal re-working at first. Then, blam, the full Cobain. Hard to judge the performance in a way because the instrumentation on this so gets into your head, but the vocal isn't breaking through to be memorable.  Didn't hate it, but didn't love it. Steven thinks he's crazy and talented and has it all together. Jennifer says it got a little screamy-screechy, unlike Cobain, and that Casey is at times too pleasant. Randy says it wasn't his best performance but that Casey is fearless. And I am thinking that Jennifer for once really nailed a critique on the pleasant thing -- for all the talk about risk-taking, Casey still wants to be loved -- and it limits his performing.

So far, not a great night.

Lauren with a surgical mask. Has the flu. So it really is a germ house. Born 1994. Anyone else notice that the current photos of the cast look a lot like the late '70s cast shots on "Saturday Night Live"? But I digress. Melissa Etheridge, "I'm the Only One." Jimmy's expecting a lot from her tonight. And she is delivering, cold and all. It's got that country undercurrent but I am kind of sold. (Makes me think of Robin Lee's "Black Velvet" relative to Alannah Myles, although I like what Lauren's doing more than what Lee did.)  You can see her weakening as she goes along, but she keeps pushing through. Very impressed.  Jennifer calls it "very nice" and "you made it your own." Randy says, cold or not, that was very nice, "so have a cold every week." Steven agrees with Randy and drops a "shining star" on her. He really is Paula.

With Jacob set to close, the show continues to stack what should be two memorable performances at the end. If he delivers.

Jacob. Born 1987. Says his mother cannot sing, although she thinks otherwise. Song: Heart, "Alone." Should be right in his sights. But he struggles on the second line, and the time cut is awkward -- he doesn't get to build to the chorus, going right for the frenzy. And it doesn't work as well as I would expect. In fact, the harder he pushes it, the worse it gets. As I said, some of this is a function of the way the song is reshaped. And I like the way he ends it. But not great. Randy calls it "very, very nice." Thought he got lost in the modulation but he found his way back, and Randy liked the tenderness at the end. Steven says gospel had a baby and named it Jacob Lusk. Jennifer thinks he gives himself completely and everyone feels that.

On the extremes, my faves were James and Lauren, and I'd send home first Paul (surprised, right?) and Naima.

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