As the finals finally begin (and Ashthon exits), American Idol is missing themagic
There’s a certain magic to the first night of the American Idol finals. The gravity of the competition kicks in, the contestants hit the big stage for the first time and it’s all done in real time.
This year, though, much of that magic was stripped away. Not only had the contestants already performed on the big stage during the semi-finals, Wednesday’s performance show was actually taped Tuesday (but don’t throw your conspiracy theories at Nigel). Maybe this context explains the contestants’ lack of fight — because all but a few performances were lacking in energy and relevance.
Let’s start with the good: James Durbin delivered the deepest performance of the night with a relatively toned-down “Maybe I’m Amazed” that only fell off pitch towards the beginning.
Casey James similarly shook up the stage with a rousing performance of “With A Little Help From My Friends,” a song choice that fit him like a glove.
Pia Toscano went for the glory notes for a second week in a row with a solid and sincere (albeit a tad boring) rendition of “All By Myself.” All three felt like performances.
Step down one tier, and you have Lauren Alaina and Scotty McCreery, who both covered iconic country songs with decent but uninspiring results. Lauren’s self-assessment on the results show –that she was “bad”— wasn’t quite accurate; her performance of Shania Twain’s “Any Man of Mine” wasn’t bad so much as it was a lazy choice of song. Scotty made a better choice with Garth Brooks’ “The River,” but it once again felt a little karaoke.
Paul McDonald and Haley Reinhart’s performances also teetered the line between decent and boring. The former might have introduced Ryan Adams to a whole new audience, but he didn’t infuse his unfamiliar song with enough passion to engage the audience. “Blue” is a killer song in that it’s both rousing and slow-burning, but Haley didn’t quite capture this spark with her sleepy performance.
Ashthon Jones, Jacob Lusk and Karen Rodriguez took us back to Idol circa 2002 with song choices that needed a big dose of ingenuity to make them relevant in 2011. None delivered on this: Ashthon’s schmaltzy rendition of “When You Tell Me That You Love Me” (hey remember this?), Jacob’s oddly pitchy “I Believe I Can Fly” and Karen’s oh-so-misguided “I Could Fall In Love” did the three singers no favors. It baffles me that after nine years, contestants don’t have a better grasp on what types of songs work on the Idol stage.
And finally, my biggest issue of the night: the influence of the producers. Despite the big hype surrounding the inclusion of top name music producers behind the scenes of the show this year, I was unimpressed with the way they handled almost all of the songs, particularly Thia Megia and Stefano Langone’s, whose arrangements were dreadful.
And while Naima Adedapo gave a confident, energetic performance of “Umbrella,” its flashiness left me wondering if Idol had shifted gears to performances that look and sound like records at the expense of quality vocals. I know the point of the show is to find a recording artist, but its charm has always rested in its ability to find artists that can sing circles around the concentration of auto-tuned chart-toppers in the mainstream.
In the end, America chose the correct bottom three –Ashthon, Haley and Karen—and sent Ashthon home.
Let’s hope this week was a wake up call for the contestants that the Idol finals call for razor sharp instinct and electric performances — no less.