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TV Column
Posted at 06:00 AM ET, 03/31/2011

‘American Idol’ 2011: Top 11 sing Elton John tunes


The top-11 Idolettes sing Elton John on performance night. (Michael Becker - Fox)

It’s Elton John Week on “American Idol.” So judge Jennifer Lopez has come dressed for going clubbing, while judge Steven Tyler is dressed to go on a cruise. And Randy Jackson has just come from the gym. But, in the most startling development, show host Ryan Seacrest has foregone the spiky do and has instead parted his hair on the side; he has never looked more like Dick Clark than he does tonight.

And, because Elton John wears clothes, it’s the perfect week to also make the Idolettes the objects of an Entertainment Weekly fashion photo shoot. We have the feeling we’re going to see the same taped fashion photo-shoot bit for each of the Idolettes, over and over, and over. So, please cut and paste this wherever you feel appropriate:

Idolette ________ is seen in the dressing room trying on _______ and posing with an expression that says _______. “He/she is just a natural ______,” says an Entertainment Weekly photographer. “I never had so much fun in my ______,” says the Idolette.

Scotty McCreery has picked “Country Comfort” to sing. It’s the most important song from Elton’s one-song country period. Scotty says he’s picked this song because it has the word “country” in the title. No, really -- he did.

We’ve never heard this one before but in Scotty’s rendition it goes: “Huhruh ruh huh rhu country/ Ruh huh ruh huh country.” He’s decided to perform it like a Mississippi stroke victim. Apparently the far side of drawling is just plain slurring.

Naima Adedapo does “I’m Still Standing” as a reggae song. Record industry mogul/“Idol” in-hour mentor Jimmy Iovine suggests she start with a spoken dedication to all the people in the world who are out there struggling to survive, which is actually a brilliant idea -- or would have been if the “Idol” producers hadn’t given us the big spoiler, because it’s apparently more important to show Iovine’s genius than to give Naima her moment.

Unfortunately, she does her shout-out in a feigned Jamaican-accent, in order to be able to carry it over into her tune, and it doesn’t ring true.

Paul McDonald has chosen “Rocket Man” because, he says, when his band covered it, it was such a disaster they only did it once and never again. Naturally, he’s now going to do it on national TV. Iovine tells him if it doesn’t work out he can get him a job singing jingles. In a toothpaste commercial, Paul says, finishing the gag. Well, props to him for pushing himself. Sadly for him, this song is beyond his highest volume setting. We’ve heard babies with the croup do better in the high range.

Here comes Pia Toscano. Must be ballad time! She’s picked “Don’t Let The Sun Go Down on Me” because it’s “one of my very favorite songs,” she says. Of course it is – it’s a ballad. She swears to the camera that if we keep her around in the competition, she’s gonna get us movin’ with an uptempo tune – “next week!”

Iovine thinks Pia’s got to be a cross of Fergie and Axl Rose to pull this off. Pia listens carefully to what Iovine says. Then she walks out on stage, stands in one place, holds the microphone in her right hand, flaps her left arm around, tilts her head up to the lights to hit those power notes until we can see her adenoids. Just like every other week.

Stefano Langone is going to turn “Tiny Dancer” into a lounge performance. “I had to wake him up,” Iovine says of his tough-love approach to working with Stefano, who was in last week’s Bottom 3. He’s good but, once again, never gets beyond a sequence of notes. Stefano does manage to keep his eyes open for most of this performance, however. And, as he hits the last treacly notes, he’s standing in front of the judges’ table and he holds out his hand to JLo. Only Randy reaches out to take Stefano’s hand, but JLo swats it away and takes Stefano’s offered hand.

Howie Mandel looks and sounds like Stefano’s father and there’s some good natured banter between them in the audience for a few seconds before Howie launches into a frantic promo for some show he has coming up that involves “flash mobs” -- that thing that was awesomely cool what, six years ago. Howie sounds so very frantic that this show just must be a trainwreck – we are so there!

Iovine is genuinely enthusiastic, for the first time in tonight’s taped bits, with Lauren Alaina’s rehearsal for “Candle in the Wind.” For our money, this is the performance of the night so far. We don’t want to keep bringing up the fact that she’s only 16 years old but – she’s 16. Which maybe makes it creepy that Tyler tells her, “Sing like that and you’ll be able to afford the rest of that dress.”

James Durbin’s performance of “Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting” is so complicated it’s like a Where’s Waldo picture. He’s in the balcony, looking like a singing usher. He’s carefully making his way down a staircase. He’s on stage. He’s running around the catwalk behind the judges. He’s back in the audience. It has all the earmarks of a run-through. Meanwhile, James is singing in the range of a smoke alarm, which is fitting since the piano has combusted.

James tells Seacrest that the scariest part of that performance was having so much hairspray in his hair to make his fauxhawk stand up properly, while being so close to the burning piano. “I worried about having a Pepsi Moment,” he said, comparing himself to Michael Jackson, whose hair ignited during the shooting of a pyrotechnic soft drink ad.

Thia Megia does “Daniel.” Iovine tells her to put feeling into it. Naughty girl, she disobeys teacher and doesn’t listen.

Fresh off the drama of last week’s Judge’s Save, in which the judges’ overruled America’s decision to dump Casey Abrams, Casey now has to undergo some kind of quest of self-discovery to recover from the spell that had him growling like a bear and looking kind of like a bear, come to think of it. Iovine and his Band of Infallible Genius Hitmakers send Casey off to get a haircut and a shave, just like happened to the little guy with the big feet in “Lord of the Rings” or The Ring Cycle, or “Bells Are Ringing,” or something with rings. And it works!

The judges are impressed, especially with themselves, each one congratulating the table for, as Randy says, “one of the greatest saves we’ve ever had on the show.” And Randy is particularly impressed with himself for recognizing the notes at the end of Casey’s performance. “Was that a major 9?” Randy asks, fishing for a compliment and Casey assures him that it was.

Jacob Lusk will sing “Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word. Iovine warns him not to get overdramatic -- like, for instance, emerging on stage in a fog bank and standing in a shaft of blinding white light that is piercing an inky darkness – oh, too late! Actually, Jacob does this one with tasteful overdramatics, if that’s possible. The judges, following the Idol Judges Rule of Gotcha Coming and Going, of course, dis him for not going all out on the drama at the end of the number. If only he’d thrown a “major 9” in…

Haley Reinhart is cute and likeable doing “Bennie and the Jets”; part of her appeal is her cheery ability to get back up after being repeatedly knocked down, like one of those roly-poly clowns. Haley was on her way out for sure, until she pulled off this performance which Randy declares the night’s best.

By  |  06:00 AM ET, 03/31/2011

 
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