Last Night on American Idol 2011, Motown Sound Reigns Supreme (or Stevie, if You Will)

Last night on American Idol, the Top Eleven brought out the Motown Sound in a big way and Stevie Wonder, Martha and the Vandellas, and Marvin Gaye were the picks of the night.  Oddly, there wasn’t a Jackson hit to be found, and only one Supreme song chosen.  You know if Ashton Jones was still here, there is no doubt whatsoever that she’d be singing some Diana Ross.

Tonight’s vote is an important one.  The remaining ten contestants will be the ones who go on tour next summer.  And they knew it too.  Last night’s performances was far better than last week’s, by any measure.

Not sure what was going on with Jennifer Lopez’s eye shadow, but it was seriously distracting.  All I could think of was Mimi from the Drew Carey Show.  Lay off the war paint, please.


Casey Abrams started off with the previously unrecorded Joe Cocker version of Marvin Gaye’s Heard it Through the Grapevine.  This was a perfect song for his vocal range and abilities.  He captured just the right tone of blues and rock that Marvin Gaye (Joe Cocker) was shooting for with this mega-hit. 4

Thia Megia picked Martha Reeves and the Vandellas’ hit Heatwave. It was the first time that we saw her actually come out her shell and sing something that wasn’t a ballad and it wasn’t awful.  She mostly stayed in tune, although she did let it get away from her a couple of times.  Her voice just isn’t powerful enough for most songs and that’s going to ultimately be her demise. 10

Jacob Lusk went with You’re All I Need to Get By, by Marvin Gaye.  The first verse started off a little off key but when he hit the melody, like every week, he was right on target and fully into it.  His runs are in various octaves, almost like he’s not sure where he wants to be, and are of interesting ranges.  I’m not sure I loved the ending run, hitting about four different octaves, despite what the judges said.  The weirdness continued when he was through as first Steven Tyler was moved to get up for no apparent reason and hug him, then various members of the audience did the same.  They are clearly seeing something that I am not.  He’s good, but I don’t feel basked in glory when I listen to him.  6

Lauren Alaina sang The Supremes (really, it took 4 songs to get to The Supremes on Motown Night??  I thought they’d be forgotten.) super-hit You Keep Me Hanging On.  She rushed through parts of it but still hit most of her notes.  There were some areas in the second verse where she fell a little flat, but J Lo was grooving through it anyway, head bobbin’ side to side.  The judges just love this girl and have almost no negative criticism for her.  Even J Lo, who started with the usual death knell of “You look amazing tonight” didn’t have anything to say but good things after that. 3

Stefano Langone gave Lionel Richie’s 1984 ballad, Hello a shot.  His voice, usually strong, confident, and powerful, failed him miserably this week.  Ryan Seacrest reminded us of Season 7 winner David Cook’s great success on the Idol stage with this song, not that we needed him to.  For regular Idol fans it was pretty unforgettable and a clinic on how to make a song your own.  Cook’s version blew Stefano’s away, hands down.  Stefano was way out of his league with this one.  He was all over the place, notes everywhere.  J Lo telling him that his vocals were fine and she needs to feel his heart breaking when he sings, and Steven telling him that he made the song too big, too fast, are perfect examples of how the judges still have such a hard time with real criticism.  Can’t you just tell the guy that he wasn’t good tonight?  Face it, it was a hot mess and his worst performance to date.  11

Haley Reinhardt sang Smokey Robinson and the Miracles’ You’ve Really Got a Hold on Me. While the slow, sensual tempo of the song certainly worked in her favor, she tried to use her growly, throaty vocals to sound sexy, but it came out screamy instead.  The judges must have been hearing something else live, because while they were hearing control there, sitting in my living room, I was hearing screaming.   Randy Jackson compared her to Janis Joplin, but I’m just not getting it.  When she wasn’t doing her growly-screamy thing, she actually sounded pretty good.  9

Scottie McCreery made my younger daughter Nikki a little nervous.  Yes, he is her favorite.  What was he going to do?  Could he possibly move away from his country roots enough to successfully sing a Motown song?  She texted me from college just how nervous she was.  Scottie was going with Stevie Wonder’s 1967 hit, For Once in My Life.  He told us in the pre-song package that was concerned that he was going to come off like a lounge singer.  No worries there.  He practically rewrote the song.  He rearranged it completely and totally made it his own.  And as much as I dislike country music, I have to say, it was really, really good.  He hit high notes, low notes, and mid-range notes with relative ease.  Nikki felt great for him.  I felt great for them both.  I still don’t like country music. 5

Pia Toscana went with a Stevie song as well, singing All in Love is Fair.  With the eight piece orchestra backing her, all I could think was, this is her life in 5 years.  This girl was most certainly in her element, belting out a huge ballad with power, feeling, and soul.  I totally agree with Randy, she needs to bring something else to the stage beside the constant ballads, as amazing as they are. 2

Paul McDonald also sang a Smokey Robinson song, the legendary Tracks of My Tears.  He really used his unique tone to his advantage on this song choice.  And, holy smokes!! He listened to my plea from last week and brought out a guitar with him.  I’m so happy that he reads my column!  And speaking of happy, my one major critique is that he shouldn’t have looked so happy singing this sad, sad song.  It was very out of place and disconcerting.  There clearly was no connection. But as far as his voice, technically he was right on track.  8

Naima Adedopo really didn’t surprise anyone with her choice of Martha and the Vandella’s Dancing in the Streets.  It is a joyous, expressive song that fits her to a “T”.  One thing about Naima, she does own the stage when she gets out there.  She was pretty much on target through the whole song.  She finally picked a song that she didn’t have to stray far in her range, so it was actually pretty safe.  But she sounded good doing it.  She even earned what we are now going to have as our new weekly feature: Steven Tyler’s Insane Quote of the Week, “It was e to the z, oo, Tweedle-y- dee.”  That’s good, I think. 7

James Durbin also hit up a Stevie song, the great, gritty, Livin for the City (one of my favorite Stevie Wonder songs).  He took it down a notch from his usual rocker persona and added some serious blues. Not only can this guy rock his ass off, he has some major soul too.  Great song choice.  He finally knocked Pia off her #1 perch as he left J Lo speechless with no critique to offer.   Wow.  What else can I say after that.  Going over and thanking the musicians and backup singers after the song was a great touch and shows just what kind of a guy he really is.   Once again, the producers knew what they were doing when they put him in the pimp spot.   1

GOING HOME:  HALEY REINHARDT – she wasn’t the worst of the night, but it’s been enough trips to the bottom 3.