Judging American Idol: Back To The Future

An underwhelming theme leads to underwhelming performances...
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American Idol

On tonight’s American Idol our remaining five contestants perform songs from a very loose theme, “Past and Present,” which is supposed to be current and '60s songs. Jimmy Iovine has Sheryl Crow as the guest mentor; she reveals she wants to see more depth and desire in each contestant. Randy gave the “America wants to know, who’s in it to win it” speech and implored the contestants to show us what music they want to record, and what kind of artist they want to be.

James Durbin starts us off with “Closer To The Edge” by 30 Seconds To Mars, Jimmy tells him that he thinks he’s more of a  contemporary rock guy and less of the '80s rock guy. Jimmy’s convincing us of this so we will believe James is marketable.  I love James and this seemed like it was the wrong key for him and he was actually out of tune for a lot of the beginning. I have no idea but it only worked part of the time, and I know I’m pissy but his pretentious mussed hair and faux hawk made me annoyed. He did sing his ass off, he can work a stage but I didn’t love it at all. Maybe I just hate that song. Steven and JLo were polite and Randy yelled “He wants it, Ryan!”

Jacob Lusk does “No Air” by Jordin Sparks and Chris Brown. What the hell, Jacob? He’s trying to be contemporary and appeal to the Stefano audience. Horrible. This is the type of music he’ll sing when he records? It was the worst performance of his yet. The chorus was godawful- the rest was okay but none of it was good. He sang both parts in the duet and it was doomed from the get-go. It’s a bit of a shame because he can sing circles around the other four. JLO said a lot of vanilla, sweet nonsense. Randy said it was corny and reminded him he’ll never be Chris Brown or Rhianna (right, because he can sing) and said he’s the “church kid” and needs to stick with that. Steven Tyler s says he’s amazing but needs to find who he is. Doesn’t matter anyway because Jacob will be gone Thursday night.

Lauren Alaina’s doing Carrie Underwood’s “Flat On The Floor” and Sheryl says to stay put, don’t run around and be silly, because there’s more power in holding back sometimes. Poor little Lauren was very confused by that idea. She was however, MUCH improved, vocally she was alright but, her confidence was through the roof, she was so comfortable and nailed the song. She actually commanded the stage. Proud of her! Randy said “Yo, listen man…this is your direction” he said it was fun, connected, energetic and exactly the type of music she needs to record. Steven Tyler said he can’t believe a 15 year old can sing like that…me either, because she’s 16.

Scotty McCreery chooses “Gone” by Montgomery Gentry, it’s got more range and it’s a fun song to sing along to…good pick son. He had fun with it, he interacted, and didn’t back down from the challenge to stretch his range and show us who he wants to be as a recording artist- as if we’ve ever had any doubts. He was performing as if it was a Scotty McCreery concert. He was silly and it was actually appropriate this time. JLo said she lost it she got so excited, she loved his growling, and he is Idol material. Steven Tyler sad he’s been a Puritan up to now and tonight he danced with the devil.

Haley Reinhart did a song suggested by Jimmy Iovine, a Lady Gaga tune called “You And I.” She was unsure of it and said if she talked to Gaga and got her blessing she’d do it. I think she has the distinct advantage of doing a lesser known song by a mega-star because the majority of the voters won’t be familiar with it and won’t know how badly she growled it to death.  It was one of the better performances of hers, I loved the beginning, seriously loved it until she stood up and walked off the stairs. JLo thought Jimmy threw her under the best because it was a lesser known song. Randy thought it wasn’t a good song to begin with, and that she needed to go more in a Joss Stone direction. But, not to sweat it…she has another song to go. Steven Tyler said she made the song work; he didn’t know it but, loves her voice. He also said she’s “one perfect song away from being the next American Idol.” If this is true, I quit.

James chooses “Without You” by Harry Nilsson and he broke down just hearing it. He attributed it to his fiancée and son immediately. That’s one of my favorite things about James; his ability to connect to a song personally and make it relevant but also make it unique and his own. He sang it beautifully, I really love him soft and tender, and he’s like no other out there right now. He was teary all the way to the end and I’m once again more in love with this kid. Fabulous! He even stopped for dramatic effect at one point… something they tried to get Stefano to do and he never could figure that out. Randy said this is the mark of a true artist that he was emotional, connected, and honest. Randy declared this was James’ competition to lose. Way to put a target on his back, Randy. Steven says even when he’s pitchy, he’s perfect. JLo said he’s a true artist and he’s amazing for delivering what he gave us while being so emotional at the same time.

Jacob picks “Love Hurts” by Nazareth and he was really unsure about it at first until Sheryl sang it for him… and he saw it in a different way. Sheryl was worried about him because this song is nowhere near his genre. I find it humorous the judges just said to figure out where he fits in the music industry and now he busts out Nazareth. He of course sang the hell out of it, Jacob’d it up a little with some weird high-notes but it was all wrong. Steven said he’s a sucker for passion and despite any bobbles he might have had, Jacob pulled it out and JLo agrees it was great and just what he needed. Randy said Jacob pulled out Mariah Carey-like high notes.

Lauren says “Unchained Melody” by the Righteous Brothers is her parents' song so she hopes she can do it justice. Funny, didn’t she say “I Don’t Wanna Miss A Thing” was her their song, in her audition? Sheryl is unsure because being so young singing this song it takes a lot of maturity and she trails off making a “yikes” face. Anyway, she comes out with her Farrah hair and a rodeo queen gown and tops the look off with blue eye shadow. I don’t know why I always bag on Lauren’s outfits, too easy I guess. She did all right with this song but it was “mumble mumble,mumble, BIG NOTE, mumble.” JLo said nothing to judge there, that it was a beautiful song, sang beautifully. Lame! Steven called her ripe and he’d love to listen to her all night. Oh, Lord.

Scotty decides tonight is a good time to bust out “You’re Always On My Mind” and it was a pretty damned good decision. Jimmy gave him the advice to be himself and stop competing with the others, just “do you.” Sheryl loves Scotty, she lives in Nashville, and she’s ready for him to move there too and have a big country career she can horn her way in on. He’s corny… he’s country, he hams it up to cameras- its always going to be that way. Deal with it, people. It was a good performance but it seemed like it never took off. It was a little stagnant with no brilliance but it was solid. JLo said he’s well-rounded and a complete artist, not awkward at all, and was meant to be on stage. Randy said Scotty’s their “youngest veteran.” Steven said he can’t pick it apart because it was too good.

Haley sings the hell out of “House Of The Rising Sun,” made famous by The Animals. The beginning was the best, the entire thing ended up being about average. Randy said every week someone’s out-singing everyone else and tonight was Haley’s night. Steven said he’s a lot like Haley- sweet, sour and raspy. JLo thinks Haley was pissed at them and sang it aggressively and totally worked for her.

I was underwhelmed tonight. I didn’t like anything Jacob did, I can’t fully jump on the Haley train, Lauren’s cute but not a winner, and Scotty and James can almost do no wrong for me. The bottom 3 will be Jacob, Haley and Lauren; with Jacob going home.