Saturday, April 2, 2011

American Idol: The Resurrection

I figured the time was right to finally weigh in on this season of American Idol.

Last year at this time, it was becoming apparent that the season was a dud. With several years of declining ratings, was American Idol in a permanent decline? Winner Lee Dewyze so lacked charisma (and often pitch), and the search for new judges so upstaged the contestants, many declared the reality show juggernaut DOA.

Not so fast. Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez couldn't single handedly save the show without a great crop of talent to hit the stage. The stars aligned and the show got its mojo back. While no panel could ever replace the Simon-Paula-Randy trio, Tyler and Lopez have breathed new life into the show with passion, compassion, and humor. My only beef is that they tend to be a little too easy on the contestants. I do miss Simon's reality checks, but a decade after it premiered, Idol needed a fresh start. It got it.

Let's take a look at the remaining nine contestants:

Casey Abrams - Raspy soulful voice and crazy performance style. He can go out of control sometimes, but if he surrounds himself with some pros who can rein him in a little, he can have a great post-Idol career. He definitely makes songs his own. I had the pleasure of being in-studio 3 weeks ago when Casey sang Joe Cocker's arrangment of "With A Little Help With my Friends" and I can tell you, that was the season's first "moment." So he's another white guy with a guitar. David Cook fans are a sizable voting block. The judges like this 19-year-old: they used the season's only save on him two weeks ago. Now 11 will go on tour instead of 10 this summer.

James Durbin - the rock aura of David Cook with the intense range of Adam Lambert. I'm not a fan of Lambert's high range glory notes and so it's not my favorite quality of James - but he's dialed it back a little the last couple of weeks and I just love the kid. He's got the stage presence of a winner and true star power. He could siphon off the Cook-Daughtry fan vote from Casey. He also had a bit of a "moment" singing Paul McCartney's "Maybe I'm Amazed" on Top 13 night.

Paul McDonald - some of the rock-loving fans (again, the Cook-Daughtry crowd) loves this guy, but many of us just don't get him. I think he sounds like Macy Gray (and not in a good way). His movements on stage are bizarre. So are his wardrobe selections. He may have a distinct "sound" but I'm not sure it translates to "Idol Winner."

Scotty McCreery - This 17 year old with the baritone pipes has never delivered anything less than a perfect performance. Idol's most successful winner is Carrie Underwood - a Country artist. Idol has never had a male Country winner. I'm kind of feeling he could take the whole thing. He's so damned likable... but over the next few weeks will Scotty be "too much of the same thing?"

Jacob Lusk - he's given us some really pitchy performances, but he's also blown me away at times. I can't get past him sounding like a mix of Pearl Bailey, Della Reese and Oleta Adams. His best performance so far was Motown night when he sang Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell’s “You’re All I Need To Get By.” That was kind of an "Idol moment" as well.

Stephano Langone - This kid burned bright out of the gate. His making the wildcard slot had many of us thinking that this season's rules were A-ok. I'm sad to say the last few weeks this drop-dead gorgeous hotty has faltered. The slide began the week before last, when he sang Lionel Richie's "Hello." He committed a cardinal sin: performing a song that was slayed by a former contestant. And not just any contestant: David Cook, one of the most popular winners in the show's history. Cook's "Hello" is considered one of Idol's great performances and one that put Cook on the map in season 7. So why would Stephano do such a thing? It gets worse: he had no idea Cook had sung it before and revealed he has little knowledge of prior Idol seasons. Kid, you could have been the next Bruno Mars. Bye bye.

Now for the gals. It seemed the powers that be wanted a woman real bad this year. They've got two contenders but on the whole the guys have outshined the gals. Let's start with two whom I think will make Top 5.

Pia Toscano - She gorgeous. She's got power. She's got range. She's got phrasing. All she needs to do is get past the pageant persona and get off the ballads. Please Pia, pick an up tempo (or at least a mid-tempo) pop tune next week! You've got what it takes to be a sexy superstar!

Lauren Alaina - her persona kind of annoys me, but she can SING! I'm not a huge fan of country music, but this gal has what it takes to make it big in that genre. Keep your eye on her.

Haley Reinhart - Why is she still here? Ok, she did to an amazing performance last Wednesday of "Bennie and the Jets." My problem is that it's my least favorite Elton John song. I have not liked Haley's pitch most weeks and the public seems to agree: she's been in the bottom three most weeks. Time for her to go.

Some additional musings. Last Thursday's results show traded in the cheesy group number for duets, trios and quartets. LOVED IT! I also loved Season 3 winner Fantasia's performance. And stay tuned: unconfirmed word in the blogosphere is that season 7 winner David Cook will perform his new single, "The Last Goodbye," on the Idol results show April 21st. The single drops two days earlier on April 19th. David co-wrote it with hit-maker Ryan Tedder of One Republic. David also recorded this year's exit song, a cover of Simple Minds' "Don't You (Forget About Me)." If you want his patented sexy growl on your iPod, you can purchase it on itunes or download it free when you pre-order David's upcoming sophomore album at David will return to Idol on the final 2 performance night to sing the "boot song" live (an Idol tradition).

What do you think of Jacob Lusks' "Motown" performance?

Did Casey Abrams indeed have a "moment" with "A Little Help from My Friends?"

Randy said Haley's "Benny & the Jets" was the best performance of the night. What do you think?


Amy said...

We're on the same Idol page, Scott. Although I have to say that Haley's "Benny and the Jets" performance finally showcased her talent. I don't think it was the best performance of the night, but she propelled herself ahead of Stefano and Paul, who I was never excited about, and deserves at least another week or two.

I do think Naima's Motown performance was the best of that night. Sadly, she was voted off. I was looking forward to seeing more of her.

The save for Casey was the best night I've seen on Idol. The spontaneity and drama of it all looked very genuine and, for a change, unscripted. Who knows if it was, but it looked that way.

This is the most impressive set of finalists the show has ever had. The judges work and I haven't really missed Simon. Now if only "Mad Men" could pick up where Idol leaves off...

Jane said...

I haven't watched this season at all and this is the first time I've actually felt guilty about it. Looks like Casey is the one to beat from the video you posted. Maybe I'll have to watch this week! Thanks for such a detailed and insightful post Scott!

Lisa said...

Always fun to read your takes on anything, and this show in particular! Such insight and enthusiasm!

Great to see you here -- it's been a while!