Time for my annual American Idol penultimate review, when the group has been whittled down to a reasonable number and it’s worth considering just what the hell is actually going on. It’s been an interesting Idol year.
The interesting thing for me about Idol is watching the contestants begin as ungelernte amateurs and develop over time into accomplished singers. Some of them anyway. They are tutored in the arts of singing. They learn how to sing with a band, how to sing in a big room, how to sell a song and work a crowd, and how to be versatile in song choices. There are always a couple of surprises, contestants who blossom and grow. So, which of these gunsels has shown real growth this year?
Jacob led off this week, singing “Oh, No, Not My Baby.” (It’s Carol King week.) Earlier on he had trouble finding the notes, but he’s doing much better with that. He was not always comfortable on stage, but he’s doing better with that too. He started out with an overly personalized style that was wildly overdone, recalling for me Billy Stewart singing “Summertime” in the old days. He’s toned down considerably, and there was a good voice in there with the hurricane of ornamentation. So I guess he’s matured somewhat as a singer. Never my cup of tea, though, and he’ll be gone soon.
Lauren is an example of a failure to grow. She’s got a good voice, but she’s still afraid to use it. She sang “I Will Follow,” in a key that was too low for her. She’s afraid to attempt high notes. Her voice lost power where she really dipped into the low registers, and she was often drowned out by the backup singers, who were better singers than she is and outshined her in this song. (That’s a must to avoid.) The poor thing, she never seems to really understand the content of the song. Not my favorite.
Casey and Haley made a duet out of “I Feel the Earth Move.” She hit it sometimes; he struck out, as usual.
Scotty sang “You’ve Got a Friend.” This kid is a great little vote getter, and it’s easy to see why. He’s big, buff and obviously the girls think he’s cute. For my taste, he looks a little too much like Alfred E. Newman, who was drawn with the features of a boy suffering from cretinism. He sings every song in the same, low-voiced Country drawl, and some songs, most songs, don’t call for it or tolerate it well, as was the case here. He might win this thing, even though he should have gone home during Hollywood Week.
James is my big surprise this year, and my guilty pleasure, and my favorite. He has worked hard, and has learned to scale back the rock and roll when necessary, as tonight. He seems to completely ignore his Tourette’s, which is as it should be. He has also acquired real versatility, tonight’s song was way outside his original comfort zone. I was dubious when I heard what he was going to sing tonight, but he really nailed it. In fact, he totally crushed it. I hope he wins it all.
Lauren and Scotty sang “Up on the Roof” together. Can I have that three minutes back, please?
Casey reached deep into the Carol King catalog for “Hi-De-Ho,” which I’d never heard before. Late Blood, Sweat and Tears evidently. The crowd and the judges unaccountably love this guy. I find him totally annoying and virtually untalented. Randy, especially, fawns over him with ridiculous comments like, “the best musician we’ve ever had on the show!” It’s because Casey is a faux Jazz Guy, affecting an interest in jazz and masquerading as a person with talent. No matter, tonight turned out to be rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic for Casey.
Haley has grown more than any of them, and she’s become a good, professional singer. Tonight she sang “Beautiful,” and she did a good job. She was comfortable, and she seemed to enjoy herself, but the song was only okay. There are parts that aren’t screwed on.
(Steven Tyler commented that he “heard God in her voice,” breaking new ground in the hyperbole that has characterized the judging this year. Let’s face it, although Steve is actually a professional singer, after a fashion, if his understanding of real singing were coffee, he couldn’t put enough in a cup to wake up a rabbit.)
Jacob and James sang “I’m Into Something Good,” and it reminded me of Sam and Dave. Two talented guys, each convinced that it's his act and what is that other guy doing here.
Then it was off to the result show, which was kicked off by a particularly awful Carol King medley.
It was Casey’s turn to go, thank God. This is not a show for a weirdly self-conscious hipster-wannabe, constantly mugging for the camera and pretentiously speaking for jazz, of which he has an incomplete understanding.
Those still standing: Haley will make a nice wife for someone someday; Scotty will make a fine propane salesman; Lauren will make a bitchy wife for two or three unfortunate guys; what Jacob will do after his breakdown is anybody’s guess; and James could get into a Metal tribute band and rock the cruise ships, but whatever he does, if he crushes one more song like he did yesterday, they should send the rest of these bozos home and call it an Idol.