Here we go a-Idol-ing! Cutting down to ten

It’s Tour Cut Week – the person going home tonight doesn’t get to hang out with the cool kids around the country.  So what you gonna do, brotha, when Idolmania runs wild on you???? Here’s the recap of the performances, and “the surprising results” at the end.  (You’ll have to take my word for it that I wrote the other stuff first.)

It’s MOTOWN! They have a nice retrospective on Hitsville – over 400 charting singles, 50+ #1’s.  “Fearless, original” music – true, but glossing over the struggles of Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, and others to control their own catalogues and produce groundbreaking music in the late 60’s that would have broken the singles format.  They have a picture that subtly underscores it: a “Tamla/Motown UK Tour” banner.  (Tamla is Stevie Wonder’s own label.)

01 – Casey – singing Marvin Gaye’s “I Heard It Through the Grapevine.” Hopefully better than his poorly-rendered Nirvana last week.  He’s cleaned up: wearing a suit, taming his hair.  Better-controlled this time, in key, not shrieking, though I could do without the Happy Facing.  Good, not great.  Judges go on for a while about being unique and amazing and original.  Randy- “You can only do you and you are great!” OK, dial it back.

02 – Thia – Martha and the Vandellas, “Heatwave.” Based on warmups, it sounds like the Ronstadt cover – except the Lovely Linda can belt it, and Thia can’t.  This is horribly underpowered.  At times the backups and the band smother her voice.  JLo – connect with your lyrics. [NF – gotta remember the lyrics first.] You don’t have the life experience to feel it, so that’s where acting comes in. Randy likes that she took a chance with the song and wants more like it. ST – “I’m good with it.” NF – I’m not. It wasn’t dreadful but there’s just no ooomph to it.

03 – Jacob – “Motown is about the SOUL!” I love this kid’s personality. He’s singing Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell’s “You’re All I Need to Get By.” Excellent choice. As the mention, his gospel background will be helpful. Jim Iovine – “Don’t overdo the runs!” THANK YOU. He’s off to a great start. Building it perfectly. It’s structured flawlessly to a big finish, and he nails it. Best of the night by a country mile.  Chris McCreery and James Durbin have some company.  ST rushes the stage (heheheheheh), everyone gushes… and Ryan invites the whole first row to come up and hug Jacob, who is taking it perfectly. Wonderful moment. Great kid. He crushed it.

04 – Lauren – “Keep Me Hanging On,” the Supremes. Talks about not such nice things that people have said “now that I’m in the public eye.” Her three months’ career has taught her to just be true to herself. ST says “You ripped that song a new beauty mark.” JLo gushes. Randy says she’s picking up her swagger.

Now, following that last was really a rough draw. She sang it well and had a good arrangement. Hated the walk around the judges table, which seemed forced.

After the break and the Kitchen Nighmares promo, Lauren says it was a tough act to follow Jacob but she sang to all the boys out there. Oh, and hi Chef Gordon! Please take over the judges’ table.

05 – Stefano – fueled by his Mom’s homecooked meal, he’ll sing “Hello” by this guy. David Cook rocked it in Season 7 – he’s got to be careful. Don’t oversing and keep your eyes open, they say.  PS – don’t offer me gum.  I do not want gum.

Sigh. He’s got his eyes closed. He’s oversinging. He’s judo-chopping the air on EVERY note. But at least he’s on key. I can take or leave this.

JLo – “Let’s talk a little bit.” [uh-oh.] She breaks out a checklist: “You look fine. [It’s the Paula Looks Compliment! Fleeeee!] You sing like crazy. So now, we want you to connect. You’re telling a story. The intensity should come from that, not from wanting to perform well.” [That’s excellent advice, actually.] Randy – “You’re hitting your high notes at will, whatever, but take your time.” [Yeah, he said “Whatever.”] ST – “You took off too early, gotta build it up first.” JLo – “Don’t just throw it away to get to the next song.”

Coming from commercial, Ryan gives Stefano’s mom’s pasta to Gordon Ramsay and asks for a critique. “Thank God he can sing.” HAHAHAHAHA. “No, but how is it really?” Gordon – “It’s fine.” Ryan’s in good form tonight.

06 – Haley – wants to avoid the bottom three again. Singing Smokey and the Miracles, “You Really Got a Hold On Me.” She’s apparently counting on her legs and bare midriff to sway the voters, but gets off to an awkward start trying to get down the stairs in those tall heels. Not improving much as she sings. This is a hot mess of a performance: slowing down, growling, speeding up, high notes, she’s all over the map. There’s no plan to any of this, just a “toss it at the wall and see what sticks” approach. I do kind of like the country inflection. Mostly on-key. Overall, weak. Randy liked the blues aspect and “the Joplin thing,” which I think means that she gets in the general proximity of the melody of the song without actually following it.  ST agrees. “You don’t look a day over fabulous,” he says. He then demonstrates Haley’s “Joplin thing” and puts the lie to the whole concept by doing it perfectly and sounding twelve times better than Haley. Ooops. JLo – “You have perfect control, your voice goes where you want.” But that’s not the point, my friends! It’s discretion as well as ability. If she’s doing this ON PURPOSE, she’s in big trouble.

07 – Scott – He’s the mini-Man in Black tonight. He’s singing Stevie Wonder, “For Once in My Life.” Gonna country this up; I think this really could work.  Jim Iovine says to have fun with it, “bring smoothness, don’t be a lounge singer.” Words to sing by. It helps that his voice sounds made-to-order by the Grand Ol’ Opry.  The singing is effortless. Gold. He’s getting on top of those high notes, too. I really like this. Just stop pointing, please, Scott. ST – “Just like Glen Campbell, taking country in new directions. Way to take a chance, it paid off.” JLo and Randy both say it wasn’t his best vocal, and Randy asks that he should have peaked a little sooner.

Commercial – new show, “Breaking In.” It’s Christian Slater! He kind of looks like the successful, 1985 George McFly. Interesting choice to jump-start a career. Tim Roth and Timothy Hutton pulled it off (Roth on Fox with “Lie to Me”). We’ll see.

08 – Pia – the only lady with any shot at this thing. Going into the break they announced she’ll do a Stevie tune from the 70’s. I predict “Sunshine of My Life.” I’m wrong. “All in Love is Fair.” Nice to hear this – it’s a tough song and a good challenge, plus it’s not done to death on the radio. Jim Iovine tells her to get outta her mind, she has a wonderful voice, just use it.

Brilliant start here. She’s covering the whole range, which is NOT simple to do. Great high power note. Missed her pitch right after but pulled it back on track. Strong finish. Clearly top three. JLo is checklisting – looks, voice, but “we need you to add some showmanship. You have the voice already.” Randy praises her approach and hitting the notes. He wants her to sing more uptempto, or even “midtempo,” and get away from ballads. That’s good advice but man, what about what you actually heard? ST – “You’re closest to being a star now, just kick it.” That’s spot on. She killed it out there.

09 – Paul – he’s gonna play his guitar and sing “Tracks of My Tears” by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles. Producers say he’s going with a folk-rock vibe. I’m worried. He’s not the best anunciator as it is, he doesn’t need to Dylan this up. He knees chew… knees chew! Sigh. I can’t say I like him any better but this was at least a passable performance. I don’t care what the judges said. Sowry.

10 – Naima – “Dancing in the Streets,” Martha and the Vandellas. That’s kind of predictable. She also wants to add dance from around the world into the performance, since that’s what Martha Reeves was singing about. She really struggled two weeks ago doing this so I can’t call this a good idea, though I admire her moxie in going for it again. Jim Iovine cautions her to keep her breath, learning when she needs to be ready to sing. I sense a great disturbance… as if millions of listeners cried out in terror, and suddenly silenced their TVs.

The brass section sounds good. I love a good brass section. HOLY COW what the heck are those pants? She looks like she got lost on the way to Soul Train. I think Ryan jinxed it when he told Randy that he hadn’t said “pitchy” yet, because this is flat every step of the way. And the dance thing is… uhm… eh. Looks all right if that’s your thing, but it’s tacked onto the end, not part of the performance – so what’s the point? She didn’t have to learn how to conserve her breath for the singing, did she? Just sing, and THEN dance, and not worry at all about it. Kind of a cop-out. So, yeah, welcome to the bottom three. ST is apparently high. JLo praises the dancing, calls it her “first goosebumby moment.” [What??!? Did she sleep through Jacob’s performance?] Randy is also swigging from Pauler’s Sippy Cup. Ladybug – “If she misses the tour they’ll lose some flavor. I can think of other singers I won’t miss.” True, but is it the correct flavor in our musical stew? We’ll see.

11 – James – “Living for the City.” This means that we get no Four Tops and no Temptations. (A college buddy once joked that the Temptations would convert to Catholicism and call themselves “The Near Occasions.” I’d buy the album.) As far as this song, I hope he doesn’t screw up the tone. He calls it a hopeful song. It’s really much more of an angry song. Don’t Happy Face! And he skirts close with his goofy two-step dance, but pulls it out of camp and back on track. It helps that he’s singing the doors off it – holding something in reserve for the big finish.  Taylor Hicks just threw his remote out the window. Judges liked it, I’m tired, let’s wrap it up.

TOP 3: Jacob far and away, then Pia, and… hell, let’s give it to Scott by a nose over James. LB disagrees with that last.
BOTTOM 3: There are a few choices available. On the musical merits, I say Haley, Thia, and Stefano. Naima will skate. (Maybe literally next week, we’ll see.) LB and I both agree that Haley is a goner.

RESULTS: they open the show with a blurb, over the instrumental track to Edwin Starr’s “War.” (Beg pardon, “kinetic military action.”) For them to break that out the week the US starts lobbing missiles at Libya? Talk about a good brass section.

Marc Antony was at rehearsals and backstage this week, coaching the Idol contestants on how to properly use their earbuds during the performance.  That explains why there was much less wandering away from the key this week. It carries over to the singalong, a nice mash up of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”… and… well, “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.” (I’m the locksmith… and I’m the locksmith.) Stevie Wonder then comes out to sing to Steven Tyler for his birthday. There’s cake! Love it.

Anyhow… buncha kids are safe, Sugarland sucks er, sings, Jennifer Hudson sings, and James reveals his love of pro wrestling in a riot of a segment, ending with a Royal Rumble in the living room of the contestants’ home. And… WAITAMINUTE… that’s…. that’s Hulk Hogan’s music!  NOOOOOOOO! NOOOOOOO!

Sorry, had to give it the proper setting. (I absolutely would have been doing that at the judges’ table.) He whunks Ryan in the head, and Ryan does a good job of selling it. Then he does the shirt tear. James is literally on his knees, losing his mind over the whole thing. I love how geeked he is over this.

Now more kids are safe, and the bottom three… Thia, Stefano, and Casey?  Uh-oh. Casey’s paying for the Nirvana thing. It’s a classic – you don’t go home the week you’re dreadful, you go home the next week, after you’ve improved. I think maybe America is tiring of the personality as well… Casey can come off as contrived and forced. I don’t agree with that assessment, btw, just observing that his humor and delivery are easy to get wrong. Meanwhile, Haley’s “Rolling Stones” strategy – Tart me up! – has succeeded in getting her on tour.

The voters send CASEY home. WOW. He can’t even sing his “save me” song and the judges just cut him off… to tell him that they are giving him a second life. He turns pale as a ghost… he may throw up right on stage, he seriously looks like he’s having a panic attack. I think he has been woken up as far as being sloppy with his performances, which smacks of a lack of effort and lazy attitude. He thanks the judges profusely and vows to work harder.  I think this was a good call.  It’s not likely that James, Chris, Pia, or Jacob will need saving to get into the final five, so this was as good a time as any. And Ryan announces that TWO people will go home next week, but that all eleven remaining Idols go on tour, instead of ten. “You’re welcome, America!” he says.

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