>Review of American Idol 10: Motown Night

>First things first: with more than 50 #1 hits and 400 charting songs in Motown’s history, you’d think that the Idols could choose some tunes that hadn’t been done in previous seasons. Instead, only two of the 11 remaining Idols chose songs that had never been performed on the Idol stage. The other nine chose retreads, and some chose songs that had been done several times. One thing I’m looking for is originality. As good as this cast is, they’re not exactly blazing new trails.

On to the performances, from start to finish:
Casey Abrams, “I Heard It Through the Grapevine.” As much as I want to like Casey, I have to dub him “The Angry Idol.” Every week he sings a song about being pissed off and growls the lyrics through grimaces and clenched teeth. Listen to the Marvin Gaye original (or the myriad of covers by the likes of Creedence Clearwater Revival or Michael McDonald) and you’ll hear attitude, but not anger. Yes, Casey’s unique, and I like his voice. But people will get enough of the angry act. Worse, he started with rough pitch and finished with a blown big note. What came in the middle wasn’t bad, but it was still too damn angry. (6/10)
Thia Megia, “Heatwave.” I have really wanted to like Thia. She’s lovely and seems really sweet, but she’s been one of this season’s big disappointments. Tonight she chose to step things up, and the change in tempo was a pleasant surprise. But in the midst of a wealth of female vocal talent, Thia’s voice is, well, ordinary. She did a fine job with the song, and it was definitely an improvement over the first two finals weeks. It was fun and lively, but it wasn’t something that anyone in my home would think of downloading into their iPods. The judges were really kind tonight (even overlooking her forgotten lyric line near the end), but read between the lines and you’ll hear damning praise like Stephen’s, “Just great. I’m good with it.” Given that Thia’s been trending downward, this could be something that puts her at or near the Bottom Three. (6/10)
Jacob Lusk, “You’re All I Need to Get By.” Sadly, Jacob is another Idol who started with incredible promise but who has failed to deliver in the finals. Tonight he may have turned things around. Instead of losing control on stage, Jacob stayed well within himself and still managed to dish out some fancy vocal gymnastics. Kelly Clarkson did an incredible version of this song in Season 1, and it was a sneak peak of the champion she would be. Jacob’s mired back in the pack right now, but this performance was something that should show people just how amazing of a singer he truly is. This was a perfect cross of fun and quality. (9.5/10)
Lauren Alaina, “You Keep Me Hangin’ On.” The only other Idol to sing this in the finals was Season 2’s Vanessa Olivarez; she was eliminated the week she sang it. Lauren’s in no danger of elimination right now, especially after her version of this Supremes hit. Vocally, this was not really much better than what Thia did. Lauren, however, has a star quality that seems to elevate her performances. I wasn’t really in love with her zebra-print floor-length dress at the start, but by the end of the song, I could see how much she looks like a title contender and future gold/platinum selling artist. Again, vocally, it was just OK. But for performance value, it was as good as it gets. (8.5/10)
Stefano Langone, “Hello.” This was perhaps the worst song choice of the week. Ryan reminded us of David Cook’s great version of “Hello” in Season 7, but David’s success was largely based on a very different rendition than the original. Stefano has an unreal voice, and he had a lot of nice vocal runs tonight. But so much of this sounded forced and, as the judges said, had very little connection with the audience. I suggested the Four Tops “(Reach Out) I’ll Be There,” because it would have been a lot of fun and allowed people to warm more to Stefano’s voice and personality. Instead, he went with a somewhat mournful song and brought no emotion to it. It was exactly the opposite of Lauren’s performance: incredible vocals but with a low performance value. (7/10)
Haley Reinhart, “You Really Got a Hold on Me.” Hand it to Haley for breaking American ground by singing this Smokey Robinson classic. Haley also brought out a new look with newly straightened locks. So much of what Haley is doing is really strong. She looks great. She sounds good. But compared with who’s surrounding her, she is struggling to find a toehold. Tonight, Haley’s performance didn’t evoke much of the soulful emotion of the song, but her vocals finally hit the smoky, sultry aspects that made fans and the judges take notice. Performance-wise, it wasn’t amazing, but it was decent to listen to. This won’t launch her into the favorites, but it should give her safety for another week. (7.5/10)
Scotty McCreery, “For Once in My Life.” I know why Scotty has so many fans. The kid is good looking, sings well and has a killer personality. Every young girl in America wants to date him, and every mom and grandma wants their daughters and granddaughters to date him. Tonight was a case-study in why he’s not going anywhere, in spite of a number of missed notes and some cheesy moves. Scotty took a Stevie Wonder classic and countrified it in such a way that I could envision it showing up on a CD. Right now, Scotty’s flirting with the label of “front-runner” and this performance will at least keep him near the top. (7.5/10)
Pia Toscano, “All in Love Is Fair.” This season’s most professional-looking performer chose yet another Stevie Wonder song, but like Haley’s choice, it was one that hasn’t been done by an Idol finalist. Seriously, this girl is so head-and-shoulders above the rest vocally that even without pre-finals pimping, she’s quickly risen to the top, ala-David Cook. Pia looks the part and sings the part. But J-Lo’s comment about stage performance (or lack of it) was spot-on. Pia loves taking centerstage and singing into a mike. Vocally, this performance was finals-worthy, and that’s really where Pia appears to be headed. (9/10)
Paul McDonald, “Tracks of My Tears.” For the record, I’m not a fan. I don’t like his voice. I don’t like his stage quirks. And I don’t like how he starts every performance with, “What’s going on, yo!” If I wanted to hear someone singing like they’d swallowed broken glass, Rod Stewart is still around. Paul’s biggest problem was on full display tonight: pitch. He has what I call “lazy pitch,” because he never really makes an effort for the notes, but just the vicinity of the notes. This was better than he’s been recently, perhaps because he picked up the guitar and didn’t do his patented “Paul” dance (which involves weird steps and weirder hand gestures). Last season, this might have placed him near the favorites. This season, it places him near the bottom. (5.5/10)
Naima Adedapo, “Dancing in the Street.” It’s no secret that Naima is the new favorite for going home, so this next-to-last slot tonight was a big help to her. For the first 90 seconds of “Dancing in the Street,” Naima’s performance was also a big help to her chances to stay on the show. Unfortunately, her inclusion of “African dancing” might end up as Talk Soup fodder more than it will end up as fuel for voters. This Martha Reeves standard has a fun soulful feel that Naima captured for the most part, but the dancing interlude simply didn’t fit. Some fans might warm to that, but it’s doubtful it will be enough to keep her from the Bottom Three. (6.5/10)
James Durbin, “Living for the City.” This is the only song prediction I got right, though I was a bit disappointed that James didn’t rock it out as much as he could have. Still, James is consistently separating himself from the “just like Adam Lambert” dig that some folks have made. James is a very strong performer who rarely misses a note. It’s completely amazing to watch this guy battle the effects of Tourette Syndrome during interviews, but to watch him seem completely unaffected and home while singing. This kid belongs on the stage, and if he keeps singing like this, maybe even on the Kodak Theatre finals stage. (9.5/10)
Tonight’s Rankings
1) James Durbin (9.5)
2) Jacob Lusk (9.5)
3) Pia Toscano (9)
4) Lauren Alaina (8.5)
5) Haley Reinhart (7.5)
6) Scotty McCreery (7.5)
7) Stefano Langone (7)
8) Naima Adedapo (6.5)
9) Casey Abrams (6)
10) Thia Megia (6)
11) Paul McDonald (5.5)
Initial Predicted Bottom Three: Jacob, Haley, Naima
Initial Predicted Elimination: Naima

About Douglas Blaine

Capnpen is a writer who was a newspaper and magazine journalist in a previous life. A college journalism major, he now works as an administrator, but gets his writing fix by blogging about a variety of topics, including politics, religion, movies and television. When he's not working or blogging, Capnpen spends time with his family, plays a little golf (badly) and loves to learn about virtually anything.
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