Judging American Idol: It's Good To Be (Carole) King

The Carole King songbook gets Idol-ized...
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American Idol

To start off Wednesday night’s show, Ryan Seacrest comes out like Flava Flav or some other crack-addled hype man, making long, slow strides across the stage yelling “Let’s hear it!” over and over. It was a little disconcerting but let’s focus on the reason we’re here. Tonight the remaining six not-yet-worthy American Idol contestants will attempt to do the songs of Carole King justice. 118 of her songs charted on the Billboard 100, she has garnered 4 Grammy awards, and was still a teenager when a little song she co-wrote called “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” was recorded by The Shirelle’s and reached Number One.  See? So not worthy.

Jacob Lusk is opening the show with “Oh No Not My Baby” and I’m so annoyed they’re suggesting he freak out, wail, riff, etc because that’s what turned me off of him to begin with. I like him soft, tender, and saving that craziness for appropriate songs. He starts of beautifully, his vocals and moves are right for the song, even his low notes that usually annoy me to end were pretty spot on. He saved the heavy artillery for the end, it was actually quite good and I liked it more than I’ve liked a Jacob performance in a while. Steven Tyler says we all knew he could sing, we were just waiting for him to shake his tail feathers. I wasn’t! JLo said it was a great overall performance with the end being the best, Randy revealed he likes when Jacob scats.

Lauren Alaina tackles “Where You Lead.” I picked this for her! Jimmy Iovine and guest producer Babyface encourage Lauren to push her voice higher, she’s worried that she’ll try and fall flat on her face. Jimmy brings Miley Cyrus out to meet Lauren since she idolizes her and Miley tells her to go for it and ignore negative comments. She comes out on the stage with confidence and a more authentic swagger, she had a few pretty, lilting notes. I hated the screeching backing singers on the chorus. Lauren did a solid job making this not just the Gilmore Girls theme song but her own country version. She was flirty, age appropriate, and so adorable she brought her voice to a little different place. I was impressed. JLo said she heard her voice crack a little and was so proud because she knew that Lauren was pushing herself. Randy didn’t like the song choice but did like her swagger and confidence. Steven says her voice breaking was the best part of her performance and to keep believing in herself. I swear I was waiting for Stuart Smalley to show up with a mirror and make Lauren repeat after him, “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it…people like me.”

Next we must endure a duet of Haley and Casey doing “I Feel The Earth Move” (which I picked for Haley to do as her solo). In their cutesy, pre-performance clip Casey reveals to America that he likes to growl with Haley; that gave me an image I hope to bleach out of my memory soon. Their duet is a predictable mess of growling and poorly placed grunts however the parts where they actually harmonized together I’d give an A plus. Very nice. Steven Tyler said to Casey “Hey weird beard, how much in love with Haley are you? It showed.” There’s that image again.

Scotty McCreery sings “You’ve Got A Friend” (which I also picked for him) and he sits his butt down, connects to the audience, his eyebrows stay where they belong, and he sings the entire song while holding the mic with only one hand. Big strides this week, Scotty! I was hooked from the first note; he was sweet and free of gimmicks… mostly. I was able to watch and enjoy him and his voice without being distracted by goofy faces and awkward gestures. The judges are still a little harsh on him- nitpicking over silly, miniscule things and its starting to feel like tearing him down for sympathy votes. I have a sneaking suspicion the Idol head honchos don’t care who’s in the finale, as long as Scotty’s one of them.

James Durbin takes on “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” which is such a great song of raw, exposed emotion and I suspect James will nail it; I didn’t call this particular song but I did call him doing a sweet, softer song. He stays put, sings with his guitar, and it is beyond fabulous, especially the beginning before he brings in the guitar. I truly love this kid’s passion and I’m in awe of his God-given talent. I’m so glad he didn’t go predictable with this one! His voice shines so brightly on this song. No crazy antics or show-offy, flashy moves…he killed this song in the very sweetest way possible. For the second week in a row, JLo announces James to be the best of the night and he’s not even the last contestant. Steven says he madly loved the beginning before the guitar, not so much after that…did Steven Tyler just give a contestant a real critique? I think he did! He also reveals it’s the first song he made out with a girl to, in a bowling alley, and he didn’t strike out. Ba dum bump. Randy loved every bit of it and announces that James is the one to beat. Wowza, they are pimpin’ this kid harder than Ice T at the Playa’s Ball. He absolutely deserves it! I just fear the backlash that sometimes follows the judges so blatantly picking a favorite.

Time for another duet, this time we get Lauren and Scotty doing “Up On The Roof” and their pre-performance interview was pretty damn cute. They have an entertaining back and forth playfulness that I love and it translates so well onto the stage. Another great job by these two, I would listen to anything they do together, Scotty makes Lauren better somehow. JLo said Lauren sang her brains and out oh yeah, Scotty was good too. What the eff are they doing here? You cannot praise and exalt this kid since day one and now treat him like a sub-par afterthought.

Casey Abrams is predictably doing “Hi-De-Ho” and I’m annoyed with myself for not picking this because it was the obvious song for his voice and style. I wasn’t a fan of it, because it was the same thing it always is with no real development, growth or change. I know he started at the top of the pack and was already so very good but, please…everyone could stand to improve and hone their craft some. Steven Tyler said it was the most “mother lovin’ show” of the whole thing tonight, and Casey even made his scalp itch. Randy said a lot about being entertained but nothing about being good. JLo agrees that he was in his element, but she’d like ot see him be a little looser. And Randy said “less growl!” about seven times as cameras switched back to Ryan.

Haley Reinhart does “Beautiful,” which I wanted James to do (but, he ended up doing the way better song for his “moment”) and it’s just okay. She didn’t bring anything new to it, and I think the Casey duet and then the solo performance is just too much Haley for me. She got the coveted “pimp spot” being the last judged performance of the night but wasn’t the most memorable of the night at all. Ask me tomorrow, I’ll have no idea what song she did but, I’ll be able to tell you what color shoes she wore the last three weeks. Steven said he just saw God, JLo said her voice was amazing and she has one of the best voices. Randy admitted it was only OK in the beginning but, improved for him by the end.

Poor Jacob and James get paired up for “Something Tells Me” (which is such a cornball song to begin with) and even they knew it was a questionable coupling at best. It wasn’t great but was infinitely better than I was expecting. They for sure did all they could do with it. Steven Tyler said he was confused by where they were going with that, it wasn’t award winning but they were obviously having fun.

I was looking for one of these six to have their “moment” tonight and I don’t think anyone did but Lauren, Scotty, and James absolutely solidified themselves as major contenders and are consistently a pleasure to watch. The bottom three will (and should) be: Casey, Haley and Jacob with Jacob or Haley going home. Even though I have enjoyed her more lately I would love for it to be Haley. What did you think of tonight’s show? Any breakout stars or obvious front-runners? Who should go home? Come back tomorrow and see who went home and leave your thoughts.