Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Top 5 - Now & Then

I'm practically on time this week! And have been working my butt off during the day, so I don't even feel guilty about recapping tonight.  J. Lo is dressed like Miss Havisham in a gauzy high-necked blouse with a flower in her upswept hair.  Ryan tells us that this is the most important night in Idol, and asks Randy to tell us why.  Randy says that tonight is when they look for "who is in it to win it." This would be more meaningful if he hadn't declared each of these contestants IITWI at multiple points in the season already.

Tonight's theme is "Now and Then," and everyone will sing two songs--one from "the last few years" and one from "back in the day." Way to be specific, show.  And our mentor tonight is Sheryl Crow.  Well, that's fresh. Or did they choose her because she's what you get when you split the difference between "now" and "then"?

Because we have so many songs, we jump right in with James, who will be doing his "Now" song, "Closer to the Edge" by 30 Seconds from Mars.  Because I am An Old, I say, "Bwah?" But he starts singing and I recognize it as a sort of annoying fixture on the weekend VH1 Countdown.  Screamy, right in James' wheelhouse.  Aw, Sheryl is harmonizing with him in rehearsal.  Jimmy says that a voice like James doesn't get heard much on today's radio.  But...but he's singing a song FROM TODAY'S RADIO.  So once again, I say thanks, we've already got one.  Off he goes in performance, and the lights are set to Rock Out!, but I think he's flat all through the verse.  I also think he hits a bit of a wall on the last chorus, and his voice gives out.  Everyone's cheering for him in his dumb studded vest anyway, though.  Tyler says James "kicked that song's ass." Whatever.  J.Lo says that they're feeling it, and that James is showing them that he wants it.  Randy declares that James is in it to win it!  Oh, OK. So we're done? You said that's what you were looking for, Randy.  Dummy.

Jacob is next, and he is seated with Ryan for an interview.  He looks like a giant next to wee Ryan! He will be singing "No Air," by Jordin Sparks & Chris Brown. He picked a duet? In rehearsal, he's up in the rafters singing the Jordin part, but Jimmy tells us he'll be singing both parts.  Well, sort of--he has a small army of backup singers for the actual performance.  Oh, and I see we renewed our fog subscription this week!  The stage is covered in fake mist.  Jacob? Sounds strained & shrill.  He seems tight, he's singing at the top of his register, and I don't like it.  Do the judges? J.Lo starts off with a simper--"Hi Jacob!"--but basically says she hasn't been able to tell what the heck his record would be, because he's been all over the map.  She liked this song choice, and encourages him to stay in this box.  Randy begins with "Uh...listen...I disagree." He doesn't think this was the right direction and that he shouldn't have done both parts of the duet.  (And agrees that he was sharp through most of it.)  Ooh, Randy and J.Lo are getting into it!  J.Lo is trying to defend her position, and Randy's trying to say, "Dude, don't pick this niche, you're Luther, not Chris Brown."  Steven is waiting for the song that's "100% you."  Basically, none of them think he has any personality or direction.  Correct!  Guess Jacob is not IITWI.

For tonight's non-Idol interludes, I'm going to show you some of the shows you could have been watching instead of Idol.  On SyFy, you could have enjoyed "Fact or Faked: Paranormal Files." Tonight's episode is called "Symphonic Spirits/Hovering Humanoid." Actually, that sounds fairly close to Idol.  Better luck next commercial.

Lauren's up, and she's singing with a rock fiddler.  What's the song? (I skipped the rehearsal footage, trying to catch up with my Twitter buddies!) It's "Flat on the Floor" by Carrie Underwood. Well, she's certainly gunning for that career path, so fair enough.  Oof, Angry Stylist is working some stuff out this week...Lauren is wearing a sleeveless black top with a gold collar neck and some sort of fringy stuff at the waist, plus black leather pants?  It's like she's an extra in "Exit to Eden."  She sounds much more rocky, but it's still country rock.  She's sassy and performing and fun!  We finally got her Aerosmith side back, even in a country performance--she did quite well.  The judges love it! Randy extends J.Lo an olive branch by saying that Lauren was definitely showing us who she is, and should pursue this direction.  J.Lo also loves it and says that she's made her presence known, and Steven burbles something that seems to vaguely confuse the audience, but is positive.

Scotty's singing "Gone" by Montgomery Gentry (a duo, not a person), and starts out his performance in the audience before coming onstage to join his twin blonde backup singers.  This is actually pretty "rock" for him--it genuinely feels contemporary (in a country way).  He also managed to move around the stage a little bit!  Steven Tyler says "Up till now you've been like a Puritan, but I saw you dance with the devil tonight." Steven prepares to collect another fresh young soul to extend his life by one more scarf.  J.Lo loved it and thought Scotty performed better than he ever has.  Randy adds his cogent and penetrating critique to the pile--say it with me--Scotty is In It To Win It.  Well, this is going to be awkward when everyone is still awesome at the end of the's almost like the judges are useless!

SoYou'reNotWatchingIdol #2! If you had been watching QVC, you could have seen the two-hour segment on "Bob Mackie Wearable Art."  I think you'll agree we've all missed out by skipping that, but I suspect that's where Angry Stylist gets many of her pieces.

Ooh, Haley's up next doing Gaga!  I don't care for Haley, but I love Gaga! Whatever will I do?  Haley's going to sing "You and I," which isn't a song I know--and Sheryl Crow explains that this song isn't even released yet!  Is that a mistake?  I think in general on this show you should sing songs the audience already knows...but in rehearsal, Haley sounds just like Gaga.  She starts out reclining on the IdolStairs, and clearly last week's deal with Angry Stylist was not renewed, because she's wearing some deeply terrible pants.  They're sort of a mushroom color, and they have zigzagging lines of sparkles running down them, and they're skin tight.  She should have just worn Gaga's bubble dress.  However, she sounds good, in a raspy bluesy way, and she does her thing.  (But to be honest, I think there's a reason this was not one of the first singles off Gaga's new album. Also, Gaga has a grammatical error in the verse, singing "something about you and I" when it should be "you and me." One of my authors kindly points out that she did the opposite in "Bad Romance." Servicey!)  J.Lo shares my trepidation--she tells Haley it wasn't so smart to do an unknown song when she has trouble getting the votes.  (J.Lo refrains from calling her a dumbass, but I won't. Dumbass.)  Randy goes on, "Yeah, listen...I'm not sure it's that great of a song." Somewhere Gaga mutters, "I was born this way and Randy was born a hack."  Randy thinks Haley didn't do herself any favors and should be doing Joss Stone-type stuff (um, is Joss Stone still singing?).  Steven doesn't really care and says Haley's "just one perfect song away." They all basically say she's lucky to have another song to sing tonight.

SYNWI #3: Oh, on TLC we've hit the jackpot! Not only could you enjoy an hour of "Conjoined Twins: After Separation," but you could follow that up with a half-hour episode of "Extreme Couponing" (which you probably need to do when you have twins to feed, conjoined or separated).

And before we know it, it's time for the "Then" songs!  Man, this show flies by when you have to squeeze in ten songs. There is simply no room for bullshit, people! We gots singin' to do!

We seem to be keeping the same order, so James is singing "Without You" by Harry Nilsson. I'm noticing that Sheryl Crow doesn't seem to have much to say. Why is she even here? She's not giving any advice.  Oh, geez, James listens to the words, and it makes him cry so much that he has to take a moment to go outside.  I am rolling my eyes into the next county, I find this so pretentious.  For the performance, he starts out on a much calmer blue stage, and he's changed into a simple black long-sleeved t-shirt--and NO butt scarf!  All good things.  There's a string octet up there, and some other musicians, and he's standing still at center stage.  He starts low and gets bigger, but my cable cuts out for a bit in the middle and I come back to hear him screaming the "I can't LIIIIIIIIIIIIIIVE" note, which didn't sound on-key.  Again, audience is cheering...ugh, and James is weeping.  Sack up, dude! Randy says that his performance "wasn't perfect--the notes, some of them were flat, sharp--but it was emotionally perfect." Steven agrees that his emotions were beautiful, even if the song was "pitchy in a strange James Durbin way." J.Lo says that he is a true artist. So, I guess we don't actually care anymore if the person can sing on key?  (Even as I say this, I realize that the pervasiveness of Autotune means that no, we don't care.)

Ugh, Jacob is back. He comes to rehearsal with some suggestions, but Jimmy says that he should do "Love Hurts." Wait, isn't that a James song, not a Jacob song?  Jacob protests its rock nature, and Jimmy asks Sheryl to demonstrate a non-rock interpretation, which she does without missing a beat.  Jacob decides to take a risk (but as we know now from listening to the judges, they're no longer into risk-taking, and want people to have selected their boxes by now).  This risk includes having a harp onstage for performance, by the way.  Jacob starts out in his falsetto again (or maybe just his upper register? anyway, he's really high).  It's all soft and deliberate, but goes lower in preparation for a big shrieky note on the chorus.  To be honest, he actually sounds much more interesting than he usually does, but he pushes so hard that he breaks in the middle of the climax.  Rides it out well, though, and the audience responds.

AAAAGH! Anthony Hopkins is in the audience, and as the crowd is cheering all around him, he stares calmly into camera with his best Hannibal Lecter stare.  I think he's going to eat Jacob with a nice chianti after the show.

Unsurprisingly, the judges love his intensity (Jacob's, not Anthony/Hannibal's), and although Steven and J.Lo both call out his slip in the middle of the song, they feel that the emotion of his performance more than made up for it.  Randy goes one better and says "I could be wrong, but that may be the highest note ever sung on this stage."  Um, yay?  But OK, even though I don't like Jacob, I must grudgingly admit that he did pretty well here. Still think he needs to go.

SYNWI #4: The Discover Channel is airing a "Mythbusters" marathon.  While you were watching Idol, Adam and Jamie were in "Bubble Trouble," determining if it is impossible to stay afloat in carbonated water.  (Is that a myth? I can't say that I ever wondered about it. If anyone knows, feel free to tell us in the comments.)

Lauren's "old" song is "Unchained Melody."  No, Lauren! You're supposed to sing that for Simon! Wrong show!  She says she chose it because it's her mom & dad's song.  Sheryl wonders if she has the maturity necessary to carry off this one.  It would help if she weren't styled like a Barbie doll, Angry Stylist!  She's in long feathered hair, and a deeply terrible evening gown in white & blue, with a big crystal waist-brooch and side cut-outs.  Mucho '70s.  She sounds good, the country twang is manageable and the big notes are suitably big.  But the bridge is dull, and this lacks the fun of her earlier performance.  Slow & cruise shippy.  J.Lo says, "Nothing to judge there! It was a beautiful song, sung beautifully. By you." Um, thanks for nothing, lady.  Randy loves seeing another side of Lauren, which is basically the opposite of all the advice he's been giving all night. So that's helpful.  And Steven also cops out and agrees with J.Lo, saying "You're just beautiful."  Well, she'll certainly be able to improve that way, gang!

SYNWI #5: On WLIW (oh, yeah, we're way up in the channels now), you could have watched "New Scandinavian Cooking with Andreas." Tonight, we were learning to smoke "as the Hurtigruta ferries people along the Norwegian coastline." You're all on your own as to "Hurtigruta."

Scotty's doing "Always on My Mind," by Elvis Presley.  I thought that was a Willie Nelson song? Did Willie write it? Sheryl kindly says that she loves Scotty and "can't wait for him to move to Nashville and make a big scene there that I can figure out a way to horn my way in on."  Heh.  Scotty starts off very slowly, but more in his tenor like he did the other night.  I'm not loving his halting phrasing, which feels both iffy in key and breath. He builds up on the chorus, but I think he was actually really off key for a lot of this song.  Of course everyone adores him, but I don't think this was that good.  But who listens to me?  There's a bit of a kerfuffle amid the judges because they don't remember whose turn it is to start.  J.Lo jumps in, then Randy, she defers, but then he says, "Go ahead. I loved it." And J.Lo leaps back in to praise the way his song choice showed his range.  Randy comes back to praise his quiet tenderness on this song, so that it doesn't always feel the same even if it's always country (ARE YOU LISTENING JAMES?).  Steven also loves it and "cannot pick that apart."  He says America's going to have a tough time.

SYNWI #6: And finally, on HBO, you could have watched all the thus-far-aired episodes of "Game of Thrones." No, seriously--you should really watch that.  It's very good!

OK, it's Haley's redemption song!  She flubbed the Gaga, but is now singing "House of the Rising Sun" by the Animals. I would just like to point out that we were told before the commercial that she was doing a song by the Animals. Over the break, I Wiki'd them, looked at their list of hits, and tweeted, "Think she'll do 'House of the Rising Sun'?"  Because I. Am. AWESOME at TV!  Jimmy basically says it's made for her.  Sheryl recommends that she start out singing a capella, in order to give it some drama and make space for her interpretation.  Uh-oh, the fog machine's started up again.  Haley's sitting on a stool, singing a capella as discussed, and drawing out each line with great deliberation.  Gotta say, she sounds terrific.  She's also come to a bit of a truce with Angry Stylist...her top has a creepy feather neckline, but her pants are much improved.  She's very growly once the band comes in, and is hitting it a little hard, but this was absolutely her best performance so far.  The judges and the audience are on her feet and I think she just saved her butt this week.  Randy begins and says that Haley wins best performance of the night! Loved it.  Steven agrees and adores her rasp.  J.Lo says, "I don't know if you came out a little mad at us, but...Great. Job."  She really did excellently.  She sounds completely spent while talking to Ryan, though!

And that's it!  Basically, the judges loved everybody more or less all night, they don't care about pitch as long as you cry, and they want singers to pick one lane and stay in it...until they need to show range.  I don't understand why some of the contestants get confused, do you?


Bpoelle said...

Are you kidding me? If I would have watched Idol INSTEAD of QVC, I would have missed out on purchasing THIS gem...JEALOUS?!?!

Leslie said...

Excellent Idol wrap up, as always. (symphonic spirits? Snort!) I'm predicting Jacob and Lauren in the bottom since Haley pulled it out on the second song.

Please can we sing goodbye to Jacob?

I'll even look in my Idol-crystal-ball and say it will be James and Scotty top two. What would play better than country vs. rock smack down?

You are must-read, Abby. Keep the analysis coming.

Abby said...

Thanks, Leslie! Great to see you here. And B, I look forward to seeing you in that delightful garment at our next outing!

Josh said...

last night i watched 3 weeks worth of american idols in a row. in about an hour. my favorite parts: everyone making fun of the way scotty holds the microphone (which is beyond ridiculous) and haley's house of the rising sun.
if i were voting, which i'm definitely not, i'd go w/ haley. 2 best performances of the season were both her - last night's and her benny & the jets.
and jacob has to go tonight (how is he still on?) but if not him, lauren would be fine. (i still like james for the dorkiness and the twitchiness - though not the musicianship - and i'm still hoping scotty will magically change 100% and have a killer stage presence to go w/ the voice).