A female Idol favorite? Haley Reinhart comes out swinging as James Durbin failsto deliver & Lady Gaga looms
For my sanity (and yours, too), the judges shall not be mentioned in this week’s recap of the Top 5 “Now and Then” night on American Idol. Foolishness and general worthlessness do not deserve recognition.
James Durbin, “Closer to the Edge” & “Without You”
Coming off his best week yet and my favorite performance of the season to date, Durbin hit a disappointing low with both songs this week. He performed with characteristic high energy on the former anthemic 30 Seconds to Mars number, but the vocals were a mess, showcasing a weak lower register on the verses and flailing off pitch on the chorus’ high notes.
Durbin toned it down on the latter classic hit, succumbing to palpable emotion but once again falling just under pitch throughout the song. I’m all about emotion defining music — heck, it’s why I love it as much as I do — but emotion alone doesn’t bring a song to life; you need a technically proficient or at least pleasant canvas to work off of. He didn’t deliver.
Jacob Lusk, “No Air” & “Love Hurts”
Let’s be brutally honest here: Lusk delivered the worst performance of the season with his wretched (solo?) performance of the duet “No Air.” The song — a moment of pop brilliance, if you ask me — demands pulsing, controlled passion, not the unruly, free-for-all vocal massacre that Lusk threw on it. Worse yet? The pelvic thrusting. I have no words.
Lusk's soulful spin on “Love Hurts” was a much wiser choice, especially the refined, harp-accompanied opening bars, but his performance still went off the vocal deep end near the end.
Lauren Alaina, “Flat on the Floor” & “Unchained Melody”
Lauren Alaina infused Carrie Underwood’s hidden gem with more fire and drive than we’ve seen from her all season. Her punchy delivery caused her to run out of breath and eat the ends of phrases, but it was an otherwise engaging performance. Props to her stylist for finally getting it right.
It was Alaina's understated second performance of “Unchained Melody,” however, that hit my sweet spot. She has a knack for switching up the melody in ways that make you sit up and pay attention, and I particularly liked how she chose to treat the song’s biggest notes with carefulness and vulnerability instead of sheer power. As mentor Sheryl Crow pointed out, I only wish she had chosen a song that didn’t require heightened emotional maturity, something she’s yet to show.
Scotty McCreery, “Gone” & “Always On My Mind”
I’ve never quite taken to Montgomery Gentry’s clunky song, but McCreery’s pure voice alone stripped it of some of its obnoxiousness. His awkward facial expressions may be the subject of many a joke this season, but I actually liked the massive amount of personality he squeezed into this performance, mostly because it felt entirely authentic. I believe him when he sings.
His performance of “Always On My Mind” served as a great complement to his raucous first performance — tender and emotional, albeit a tad sleepy.
Haley Reinhart, “You and I” & “The House of the Rising Sun”
Jimmy Iovine hit the mark by suggesting Reinhart sing the bluesy, slow-burning unreleased Lady Gaga song, which is just the kind of thing that highlights her strengths. And in comparison to at least two of the other contestants this week, her performance was more than good. But I’m still having trouble getting past her typical affected phrasing — if she had avoided that on this song and instead sung it straight, I’m convinced she would have killed it.
Likewise, the first half of “The House of the Rising Sun,” even the a cappella intro, was tainted by off-putting phrasing — but that’s where my criticism stops.
It’s become clear over the past few weeks that Reinhart's grown more than any other contestant this season, and her performances — this one especially — have been consistently marked by conviction, hold-nothing-back effort and the kind of sheer passion that only comes from love for your craft. I may not have adored this performance the way others seem to, but at this point in the competition, this is the kind of performance that should be the standard bearer.
Justice was served on the results show last night when the voters sent Lusk home, in what will likely be the last predictable elimination of the season.