It’s Songs from this Century night on “American Idol.” Or, as we like to call this episode: The Judges’ Awaken.
Judge JLo has gotten re-chromed for the occasion. Randy Jackson just finished 18 holes of golf and Steven Tyler’s in a relatively subdued outfit -- a sort of rocker-applies-for-loan outfit.
Before the surviving 7 Idolettes sing, the producers introduce “Idol’s” own version of The Grateful Dead – all those Idolettes who were members of the Top-13 but have been voted off. We’re reminded that only chicks have been whacked until Paul McDonald got the hook last week.
Dressed all in black, strutting around stage, the ladies are singing “So What,” the Pink anthem, at the top of their lungs. Then they’re joined by Paul, in his black embroidered floral suit, looking like a mariachi band performer who’s wandered into a Curves aerobics class looking for his wife.
Scotty McCreery is going to sing “Swingin’.”
“Scotty is doing what he does cause that’s what he does,” in-house mentor Jimmy Iovine tells the camera. “What happens on a show like this is people can become complacent and that’s a little bit of a danger – not Scotty, but the audience.”
Please, let it be so.
Iovine urges Scotty to add some more contemporary, rock touches to his performance to mix it up. Scotty instead suggests adding actual swings on stage. Scotty has turned into a parody of Scotty. The head tilt, the eyebrow flapping, the unbroken staring into the camera, the flautist’s grip on his microphone. Scotty looks like a marionette in the control of a puppeteer who is losing his grip. Scotty is not showing any growth in his song choice; his development isn’t just arrested, it’s doing time in Fulsom Prison.
And then, just like that, the judges wake up from their deep, weeks-long sleep.
Tyler wonders if this was, for Scotty, the equivalent of a Rolling Stones tune – like he meant it to sting. He tells Scotty to “boot scoot a little more – sashay around, you know, run a little, like you did from your last girlfriend.”
“We were expecting more from you, Scotty,” weighs in JLo. Randy dismisses it as “so safe” and “boring.”
Out of character – but good for them.
James Durbin is going to sing “Uprising,” by Muse.
“Every song I sing, I suddenly get this amazing vision up here in all the craziness,” Durbin says, pointing to his head. His vision of this tune: post-apocalyptic protest. So out he comes, dressed up as a steampunk ringmaster, leading a band of drummers. No backup-singing crutches for James tonight – he’s singing it all out himself. Toward the end, James goes into a ridiculously high octave, and starts to sound more like a parrot who lives in a house where they play a lot of Muse. But overall, it’s a performance that makes him look like a contemporary artist with a career.
“That is going to be, theatrically, the best performance of the night!” JLo forecasts. “Unbelievable,” says Randy. “You stay out of my closet, now!” Tyler joshes, calling James’s look “Mad Max meets storm-troopers on Melrose.”
Haley Reinhart will sing Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep.” Iovine pegs the tightrope Haley, a frequent Bottom 3 dweller on results nights, has been walking since the competition began: “If she goes right below ‘magic’, the audience seems to reject her.” Haley rises to the occasion, maybe because the tune is a fave of hers. Also, she spends a good chunk of it sitting down, which keeps her from doing her annoying arm flap. The judges give her mixed reviews. JLo commends her courage picking a tune “everybody knows so well right now,” but Tyler finds it slow at the start but great after that.
Jacob Lusk is singing Luther Vandross tune “Dance with My Father” and, in the set-up tape, we learn he lost his father at a young age, as did Iovine, which really sets us up to anticipate a very emotional performance. Unfortunately, some doofus in the sound booth texts his girlfriend during the performance, we’re guessing, because Jacob suddenly looks around like he’s heard a loud noise and tears the earpiece out of his ear. Jacob tells Seacrest after the performance that he had suddenly heard drums in his earpiece. Anyway, despite all that, Jacob builds the song up nicely, and it’s a great, controlled performance -- though we’re guessing some will say tomorrow they were disappointed it wasn’t more gushy. Like Randy does when he says, “critiquing really helps everyone” and adds, “vocally it was good but it didn’t make me jump up and down…Don’t hold back any more!...I need The Church Kid back!”
Tyler, meanwhile, notes Jacob “lost the track” at one point (see doofus in sound booth, above) but compliments him on smoothly pulling his voice back on key.
Seacrest takes a break to go talk to ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars” professional dancer Mark Ballas, who is in the audience. You may remember that Pia Toscano is one of the booted Idolettes who performed at the top of the show. Mark and Pia are said to be an item. Pia is singing on “Dancing” next week and Mark – who, according to “Dancing” host Tom Bergeron, is her “good friend” – will be dancing as she sings.
“It’s Mark Ballas from ‘D…’ – never mind,” Seacrest jokes, and then asks Mark who is his favorite this season.
“Actually, Casey is my favorite,” Ballas says.
“Well, THAT’s a curveball!” roars Seacrest, who clearly was paying attention when Rob Reiner came on the show last week to teach the Idolettes about schtick.
Casey Abrams sings Maroon 5’s “Harder to Breathe” and once again he looks like a guy who could have a real career fronting a band. Iovine is delighted with his song choice and his performance. Remember, they butted heads last week when Casey refused to budge from his tune choice. “Casey is as stubborn as one of my sons,” Iovine says with a smile. After rehearsal, Iovine kisses him on the forehead, and tells the audience the performance will be “very different than we’ve seen Casey do so far on the show and I’m really proud of him.”
What we’ve seen so far is that Casey likes to switch gears for a surprise ending to a performance, but he tops himself this time when he sings the last few notes all up in JLo’s face, and then give her a kiss on the cheek. The audience erupts.
“See, now Casey’s not playing fair,’ JLo gushes. “Casey’s got soft lips,” she adds, blushing prettily.
“I love it,” she adds – then realizes she said that out loud.
“The performance! The performance – the performance was great!” she back-peddles.
“You already are a cult hero,” Tyler says. “Millions in America really angry because you are so [having sex] good,” Tyler said. At least we’re pretty sure that’s what he said – Fox bleeped it. But we read his lips. “You’ve changed so many people’s minds,” Tyler adds, referring to the fact that viewers voted Casey off the show a few weeks back and has only survived because the Judges Save card got played.
Seacrest walks out to Casey on stage, wearing a false red beard. “You just kissed the most beautiful woman in all the world,” he says.
“Are you going to go it too, because you’ve got the beard on?” Casey asks.
“There’s a joke there, but I’m not going to it,” Ryan cracks. Then he starts to take off the beard; it sticks to his face. “Is this what it feels like to be a man? I can’t get it off,” Seacrest wonders. Which may be his best “Idol” line ever.
We can’t help but notice that tonight, all the performers seem more comfortable singing songs from their era. Maybe the songs aren’t so tough for them to learn because they’ve actually, you know, heard them. Maybe the Idolettes just don’t feel genuine singing the old-school stuff. Anyway, “Idol” producers, we hope you’re taking note.
Stefano Langone is an enigma wrapped in a muscle shirt. Based on his looks, he should be going for the boy-band vibe – he could have been in Menudo or New Kids, with some hair gel, right? But his performances always seem like he’s singing to the old ladies. Then again, maybe that’s the secret of his appeal to the “Idol” electorate right there.
He’s better tonight than we’ve seen him, after some swagger lessons from Iovine, but he’s still never quite a completely satisfying experience, speaking as a viewer. He’s Cheerios without milk.
Iovine has pegged Lauren Alaina’s problem when he brings hotshot producer pair Rock Mafia into the room while Lauren is rehearsing and Lauren clams up: lack of self-confidence. She seems like such a together teenager but then again, on stage, she really hasn’t scored a winner in a while, so we’re sadly accepting his diagnosis. “If she gets over that hurdle…she could win this whole thing – she’s that magical a singer,” Iovine says.
Sadly, she does not get over that hurdle tonight, and she’s just all right, singing Sara Evan’s “Born to Fly.” Lauren never really rises above all the backup musicians and singers. We’re sorry, dear. So are the judges, who urge – no, they beg her to be more confident. JLo, for example, suggests she sing loud and long, privately, in her closet or in the shower, to get over her fear of belting out notes. “Challenge yourself,” adds Randy.
Tonight’s show has been a big head snap in the “American Idol” organization, something like the White House the morning after the last mid-term elections. We’ll never know how they got the judges to act like their jobs were on the line and that simply gushing over each contestant (or in Tyler’s case just staying awake) wasn’t going to cut it anymore. But something broke through the complacency. We’re thinking shame in some form. Maybe they made them watch the tape over and over again, seeing themselves tell everybody they’re great, then acting shocked that anybody goes home.
But, at the end of the show, when Seacrest asks the judges to predict which if the Idolettes could win this season, the judges demur – except Tyler, who addresses Casey by name, to say, “God says all men are created equal but some are created more equal than others.