The gravity of the American Idol competition always seems to sink in for viewers and contestants alike during Top Four week, with only two weeks left until the big finale. Making it through means hometown visits and parades the following week — or as Ryan put it, “going home in style — one of the most endearing aspects of the entire Idol process.
Unfortunately for James Durbin, he headed home the regular ‘ole way last night as he joined the likes of Chris Daughtry (check out this comparison), LaToya London, Allison Iraheta and Jason Castro. A tearful Durbin — who'd been compared to American Idol icon Adam Lambert earlier this season — went from shock to sadness to pride, reveling in the fact that pushed the boundaries of what could be done on the show — namely giving “metal a chance.”
Given this week’s performances, the subsequent judges’ critiques and each contestant’s voting bloc, it isn’t exactly surprising that Durbin was ousted. Let’s examine the “Songs that Inspire” and “Leiber and Stoller Songbook”-themed week:
James Durbin, “Don’t Stop Believin’” & “Love Potion No. 9”
Covering a song that has nine lives in pop culture requires accepting the fact that you’ll be riding off the song’s own adrenaline rush unless you bring something new to the table. Durbin delivered a competent but unremarkable version, coloring well within in the lines and even singing with less fire than he usually infuses into this performances.
But the judges were more than satisfied, with Randy Jackson even going so far as to say he mastered the “highest degree of difficulty” by performing this song. (Seriously?) By the way, if you didn’t pick up on it the past 68 times it’s been mentioned on the show, Jackson used to play for bass for Journey.
Durbin fell into his groove the second time around, putting an edgier spin on “Love Potion No. 9.” Made of all the energy and spice that makes him an interesting contestant, the performance was engaging if not show stopping.
Haley Reinhart, “Earth Song” & “I Who Have Nothing”
Choosing Michael Jackson’s sleepy but highly passionate “Earth Song” was a bold move for Reinhart, who clearly felt strongly about the song’s message but risked giving a performance perceived as an oddity. In the end she fell somewhere in between. Her conviction was palpable, even if she was shaky in the lower verses and dipped too much into her signature growl during the chorus, but the song didn’t do much by way of elevating her to great.
What followed was a moment that most Idol fans will remember when they recall Reinhart’s journey: The judges ripped into her performance, eliciting from her a hostile response. I can’t say I blame the girl, considering the judges gave all three other contestants a free pass on their own flaws this week (and previous weeks, for that matter).
Her performance of “I Who Have Nothing” fared better technically, but it was otherwise fabulous mentor Lady Gaga’s advice that dampened its effect for me. While a little drama can give a performance punch and color, in this case it made the song feel like a theatrical number — heavy on the drama and light on the sincerity.
I suspect the general public enjoyed the excitement, though; coupled with the tension created by the judges, this performance is likely what fueled her fan base to vote their asses off and propel her past Durbin and into the top three.
Scotty McCreery, “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)” & “Young Blood”
“Knowing who you are” as an artist is a description that gets thrown around a lot on the show, but its significance shouldn’t be overlooked. The best Idol contestants — and winners — arrive on scene with a staunch sense of self and a willingness to bend only to push their own creative limits. These are the Idols whose post-show music is rich with authenticity — Carrie Underwood and Kris Allen come to mind.
In light of recent events, it would be easy to question McCreery’s choice of the iconic Alan Jackson song as pandering, but to do so would be to miss the sheer authenticity and commitment he brought to the song. Jackson’s advice to remain, like Alan Jackson, a simple “singer of simple songs” was spot-on: this is Scotty McCreery; take him or leave him.
His take on “Young Blood” was a step (or two or three) down, peppered with corniness and silly facial expressions — but alas, no such critique from the judges.
Out of all the contestants, I’d venture to say McCreery’s fan base is the strongest right now. It’s no surprise that he flew into the top three.
Lauren Alaina, “Anyway” & “Trouble”
Here’s the simple key to giving Alaina the confidence she needs to soar: force her to sing a song she believes in. Her performance of “Anyway” was the first in several weeks that brimmed with conviction, and a funny thing happened when she sang the lyrics from the inside out — she showed a confidence that elevated her vocals to gorgeous new heights.
Just as Alaina has a tendency to lose herself in her lack of confidence, she also often falls victim to her lack of maturity. Lady Gaga gave Alaina some of the best advice she’s received all season for her second song: “You’re not a kid. You’re 16.” It’s endearing to see Alaina’s childlike innocence in interview clips, but as I’ve said for weeks now, if she wants to win this competition, she’s got to reach deep into herself and find that emotional maturity that punctuates great performances.
Unfortunately, her cover of “Trouble” was only a baby step in this direction, lacking the necessary bite and ending messily with a string of off pitch notes. Not shockingly, the judges loved it.
Like McCreery, Alaina seems to have a solid fan base that likely picked up the slack this week after last week’s bottom two scare, sending her into the top three.
Quote of the Week
“You’re going to kick so much ass, little pony.”
-Lady Gaga to Haley Reinhart, during her “I Who Have Nothing” mentoring session.