Sorry for the lack of updates lately, my fellow Idol obsessives. My first semester of grad school finally came to a close, and in the final few weeks, I wrote somewhere between forty and fifty pages of academic writing, which didn’t leave me a bunch of time to write about my favorite little TV singing competition on the side. It might be a good thing, actually, because my words would have been so acidic that they might have managed to burn you through the computer screen.
Seriously, the past few weeks of Idol have been largely disappointing, featuring a smattering of lackluster performances, awkward interactions (Ryan asking Scotty to join the pair of fellow contestants he thought were safe? Yeesh.), and atrocious judging. Most of my ire stems from the giant beef I have with the judging panel. They have been steadily getting worse all season, but they reached their peak (or so I thought) last week after tearing poor Haley Reinhart apart after her first performance (Lady Gaga’s as-yet-unreleased track, “You and I“) and then trying to make up for it with immense praise of her second song, a scorching, slow-burn cover of the Animals’ “House of the Rising Sun.” Not that the song did not deserve praise; rather, I would award Haley’s bluesy/fiery rendition the coveted “Performance of the Season” award. It just would have felt more honest if the judges hadn’t just torn her apart for her previous song choice, which, may I point out, was thrust upon her by Jimmy “Justin-Beiber-wannabe” Iovine, who even went so far as to call up Mother Monster herself to get her personal affirmation. Haley was very unsure about covering the song, but when someone as powerful as The-Tight-Leather-Jacketed One pushes a song on you by one of the most eminent names in popular music that has yet to have a studio version released, you don’t refuse. You sing the damn song. So, I find the judges severely out of line with their heavy criticism of Haley’s song choice.
Oh, look. What a perfect segue into my coverage of tonight’s uneven episode. We’ll start with The Growler.
Okay. I will be the first to admit that I am very partial to Ms. Haley Reinhart. I really disliked her at the beginning of the season, but as she learned to control the growl and use it more sparingly, I found myself warming up to her. Couple that with her stretch of excellent song choices that supported her unique voice (“Bennie and the Jets,” “Piece of My Heart,” Rolling in the Deep”) and she quickly moved to the front of the pack, in my opinion. But still: even if you are not a fan of The Growler, you cannot deny that two weeks running now, she has been mercilessly thrown under the bus by the show’s judges and producers during her first song choice (she covered Michael Jackson’s “Earth Song.” tonight) Both Jennifer Lopez and Randy Jackson proceeded to condescend to her and treat her like she was nothing more than a brainless larynx that happened to be able to sing well. Without J.Lo and Randy’s “expert” guiding hands, that brainless larynx produces lackluster performances when IT CAN JUST DO SO MUCH MORE. Ugh.
If I’m being honest, I was revolted by the words pouring out of their mouths while they were speaking to Haley, who was visibly upset by the critiques. If all contestants had been held to the same standards, and all the contestants had been equally criticized, I would have been less indignant. But to rip Haley apart, and then to bring all four contestants back out at the end of the first round and have Randy announce that his favorites from the first round were Scotty, Lauren and James (they all were tied in his book, natch) was adding insult to injury. And if that wasn’t enough, Randy felt compelled to remind Haley that she was the one who needed to step it up for Round 2. Was it Haley’s best performance? No. She did growl far too much in the last third of the song. Was it as bad as the judges made it out to be? Never. You could see the passion that Haley had for the song in her eyes, and the girl was in tune the whole time. (More than can be said for the other three contestants tonight.)
I must say that many people likely found it very off-putting when Haley back-sassed the judges after her critiques, and usually, I find contestants who try to defend themselves after a critique deplorable, but when the judging is as ridiculously unfair as it has been two weeks in a row, the attitude is not only deserved, it’s almost required. Thank you for standing up for yourself, Haley.
And yes, like last week, The Growler came out for Round 2 with head held high and slayed her cover of “I (Who Have Nothing).” Her growl was on fine display and she was styled impeccably. The riff in between the two sections of the song got a little out of her control, unfortunately, but her two big notes were held out in spectacular fashion. And the judges gave her another compulsory standing ovation. Woo. At this point, it may just be better for Haley to be eliminated, because she’s more likely to be able to make an album that she truly wants to make. If she gets much farther, she’ll probably wind up losing creative control for her debut. And let’s face it: Lee DeWyze’s snoozer of a debut album sold under 40,000 copies its first week.
Anyway, the other three contestants did covers as well, I promise, and they were all quite uneven, to say the least. James opened the show with an extremely capable karaoke cover of Journey’s signature song, “Don’t Stop Believin’“. I just wish he had brought something new to it, instead of wearing a Journey T-shirt and wearing a tuxedo jacket with tails that Steve Perry made famous. Sorry, James: Steve Perry, you ain’t. Despite the cover’s technical proficiency, I found myself surprisingly unexcited about the whole affair. His second song, “Love Potion No. 9,” was a definitely a big improvement, however. The song was a bit moldy-oldy feeling, but James managed to update it nicely, and it felt like a rock song I could maybe hear on the radio today. The ending, complete with two complete stops to the music, was a bit overindulgent. After his first performance, I was happy to see a performance of his I moderately liked, because I expect that we’ll be seeing Scotty and James face off for the Idol title at the Nokia Theater very soon.
Speaking of Scotty, his first performance (Alan Jackson’s “Where Were You When The World Stopped Turning, written about the aftermath of September 11th) lacked any semblance of honest emotional connection. The kid was only 7 on September 11th, so I find it difficult to believe that he was most inspired by that song. Then again, who am I to tell people what they are or are not inspired by? Randy and J.Lo? I can’t stoop that low. Unfortunately, unlike James, Scotty’s second performance (Young Blood) did not improve. Instead, it veered into heretofore unseen levels of cheese, with Scotty prancing about the stage, strolling into the audience and delivering many different variations on the ol’ sidemouth microphone, complete with crazy eyes and a few limp wrists to boot. Lady Gaga gave Scotty the best advice of the whole competition (sing straight into the mike), and he proceeded to let it go in one ear and out the other. Sigh. If I had my way, I’d love to see Scotty go home, not so much because of my dislike for him (which is minimal compared to my dislike for Karen Rodriguez or Thia Megia), but because he has seemingly become the producers’ ordained victor of Season 10, with Randy calling him a “seasoned professional” and telling the audience that we had just seen “both sides of a Scotty concert.”
Lauren Alaina busted out a pretty solid rendition of Martina McBride’s “Anyway,” and her love for the song just poured out of her. She managed to deliver a powerhouse vocal, despite being saddled with one of the more unfortunate dresses of the season. I just find myself wishing that she’d take that voice and find herself an Idol moment. Lord knows she deserves one. And unfortunately for little Lauren, she went the Scotty route for her second performance, delivering what could maybe be considered her worst vocal of the season on the Leiber and Stoller classic “Trouble” after the song picked up tempo about halfway through. Poor girl missed about five or six notes at the close of the performance, and it showed on her face. She is strikingly insecure, and I wish that she would realize how talented she really is, because her insecurity is not exactly appealing. Lauren could very well be in danger of going home tomorrow night.
I think our bottom two will likely consist of Lauren and Haley tomorrow night, and I think that The Growler may finally meet her demise. I think I’d rather see the two women in the finale in two weeks, but because this season seems to have it out for the women, I will be surprised if they make it to the big Nokia stage. Instead, we’ll probably have an all-male finale with Randy and Jennifer’s heads exploding from all the “incredible vocals” and “perfect performances” and “seasoned professionals” abounding on stage. Maybe if the judges had been doing their jobs all season, we might have four contestants who are more like seasoned professionals instead of four contestants who can be boiled down to unfortunate caricatures: James, the screechy rocker; Haley, the growler; Lauren, the insecure country girl, and Scotty, the cheeseball deep-voiced country crooner. With proper judging, these four would have been instructed to dial back their idiosyncrasies and actually mature as vocalists.
SIGH. I think I’m jumping ship for The Voice.