Last Night on American Idol: Non-Rock Songs From the Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame

Last night on American Idol, the contestants sang songs from the Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame. Not much pressure there. With an intro to the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame by judge Steven Tyler to kick off the night, how can we possibly go wrong? Well, they found a way. Mostly by not singing many actual ROCK songs. But more on that later.

After last week’s epic show which saw the departure of not one, but two hopefuls that could not be on further ends of the spectrum. Young Thia Magia, with the beautiful voice but painfully boring stage presence, and the always colorful Naima Adedapo, who had but a pretty decent voice. The nine that remained last night clung desperately to hopes of singing well enough to stay out of the bottom three and not be sent to the silver seats of doom in tonight’s results show. Most of them succeeded and it was not easy for me to select a bottom three. But I persevered and somehow managed to. For you, my readers, anything.

Jacob Lusk started off the Rock n Roll festivities with him singing Michael Jackson’s Man in the Mirror, barely Rock, but we’ll roll with it. Maybe somebody should mention that Michael Jackson is THE KING OF POP. And anyway… the song started out a little rough, but his overall power reigned it in and the chorus was great. Here’s the problem I have with Jacob: His voice is too big. What I mean by that is he tends to be so dramatic that he over-sings most of the songs. This week he had the privilege of singing this song with Siedah Garrett, the person who actually co wrote this beautiful song (with Glen Ballard) and that didn’t hurt him at all. But what did hurt him was his arrogance when he told the camera, “If I’m voted out tomorrow, it’s not because of the way I sang the song, it’s because the voters can’t look in the mirror.” Um, dude, it’s because of the way you sang the song. Let’s take it down a notch or two, or take your show over to Broadway where you belong. 8

Haley Reinhart really used her full range of her vocals and then some more with Janis Joplin’s Take a Little Piece of My Heart. Without question, it is a tough, tough song to sing, and she couldn’t quite pull it off, particularly in the first half of the song. Going from the classic Janis screeching back down to singing as effortlessly as Joplin did it is near impossible. And while Haley sure gets an A+ for effort, there was a lot of shrillness in there. The second half of the song got much bluesier the way it was meant to be sung. 7

Casey Abrams went with the rockabilly hit, Have You Ever Seen the Rain, by Credence Clearwater Revival. This was actually a great song choice. Casey has a very similar texture to his voice as CCR’s lead singer, John Fogerty. Most of the song was pretty spectacular. His raspiness was just right for this song. He hit a pretty sour note when he tried to go to his upper register, but it was the only bad note of the whole song. And the sad thing is there was no reason at all for him to do that. He should have ended the song low, where it was meant to go. 3

Lauren Alaina went with the legendary Aretha Franklin’s You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman. In a very smart move, she changed the arrangement just enough that we weren’t thinking Aretha, we were thinking Lauren. She successfully made the song her own, something that is very hard to do with such a huge hit. Going into her higher ranges slightly like she did and putting the run in the second verse was a very nice touch and changed the song a little more. Not too bad at all. And with Lauren, we get Steven Tyler’s Insane Quote of the Week (#1): “Tonight, you are a natural born woman” OK, this one was just a little more creepy than insane, but I’m going with it. 5

James Durbin went with something completely different than we’ve seen and sang The Beatles’ While My Guitar Gently Weeps. His voice was just as strong and confident as it was when he sang Judas Priest a few weeks ago. No question that he was totally emotionally connected to this song. It was heartfelt and full of soul, and he let it all out up there. The one screaming note at the end was a great touch and changed the song up just enough. And with this performance, since the last quote wasn’t really insane, we get the weekly Steven Tyler Insane Quote of the Week (#2): “While the Beatles wrote great songs, George Harrison did too.” I guess he forgot that old George was one of the Beatles for a while. 4

Scottie McReery sang a song from his childhood idol, Elvis Presley. If you remember from one of the promo packages a few weeks ago, we saw Scottie as a young boy, impersonating Elvis. So this is really no surprise at all. Scottie sang Elvis’s That’s All Right, Mama, his very first hit. For the first time, Scottie actually departed the country music arena and entered a whole new world, and he was pretty good. We heard something a little different than his usual deep bass voice and I, for one, liked it. He grooved himself around the stage a bit and the only thing that would have made the performance better was if was playing a guitar at the same time. 2

Pia Toscano promised us all last week that she was going to sing River Deep Mountain High, by Tina Turner, and she kept to her word. This definitely was a far cry from the ballads we are used to hearing from her. Not only that, but she MOVED AROUND THE STAGE for the first time and even walked into the audience and around the judges’ table. I’m not saying that she looked all too comfortable doing it, but hey, she did it. Her voice is so powerful, and so complete, it seems there is nothing that she can’t sing. You want up tempo, she’ll give you up tempo, in a big way. 1

Stefano Langone went romantic with Percy Sledge’s version of When a Man Loves a Woman. It started off a little off-key but he grooved right in. The bridge and second verse were great. The run in the second verse was right in line with what got Stefano this far. Overall it was a pretty good, but fairly forgettable performance. Not what you’re looking for with 9 people left. At this point, these guys need to WOW the voting audience and this performance didn’t even come close. 6

Paul McDonald sang Johnny Cash’s legendary Folsom Prison Blues. This was a weird choice for him, given the fact that his soft spoken, child like voice couldn’t possibly be any different than Mr. Cash’s. But one thing they have in common is the limited range they both possess. Now, when Johnny Cash sang this song, it had a specific tempo, and a beat. And like most of Johnny Cash’s songs, this one tells a story. In fact, it tells a pretty sad story about a guy who’s stuck in prison. Paul missed the boat on all of these points. I think he really missed the whole point of this song. And he was grinning like an idiot through the whole thing, further proof that he missed it. This seems to be a regular problem for him. He really should be thinking about what he’s singing about. And the judges were no help at all, not calling him on it and telling him how great he was. 9

So, on a night where our performers sang mostly non-rock songs from the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame (Percy Sledge?? Really??) , most of them sang pretty darn well. One of the best things about the evening was for the first time we got to see a different side of Scottie, Pia, and James. And they were all just as good as what we’ve seen in the past. Just more proof that they are exactly where they belong, in the Top 10.

GOING HOME: CLUELESS PAUL McDONALD (isn’t someone mentoring these people???) what the hell is Jimmy Iovine and doing? Why aren’t they telling him to stop smiling during these serious songs?