Last night on American Idol was “Now and Then” night. The five remaining contestants had to sing two songs each. They had to choose one contemporary song, that is, a song from the past few years, and a classic song from the 60’s and 70’s.
Working with mentor Jimmy Iovine this week as guest mentor is superstar Sheryl Crow. While I think she will provide some fantastic advice, I don’t think she’ll nearly as humorous as will.i.am. But I’m sure she will be effective as a mentor.
Since the singers have two performances each, I am listing them in two separate categories: one for contemporary and one for classics.
James Durbin started things off with Closer to the Edge by 30 Seconds to Mars. I will say that I am really not very familiar with this song, but to me, James didn’t sound nearly as strong as he usually does. And his vocals were all over the place, range wise. I don’t think he knew what pitch he was trying to sing in. Once again, Randy used his new favorite catch phrase, James is in it to win it. I think we got that already. I couldn’t disagree with Randy more. This was one of James’ worst performances in weeks and the first time I don’t have him in the Top 2. 4
Jacob Lusk took on the challenge of singing both parts of the duet No Air by Jordon Sparks and Chris Brown. Like last week, I found him to be all over the place vocally. I like this guy less and less each week. His voice is strong, but for the first time, I don’t think he had very good control of it. I am very confused by this consistent comparison to Luther Vandross. He is no Luther. 5
Lauren Alaina sang Carrie Underwood’s Flat on the Floor. This was a good performance for her. It was quick and peppy, and had young country star written all over it. There were a couple of moments where the song overwhelmed her a little, but she got by those moments and pushed on. As I’ve said in the past, she has found her niche, and she keeps finding songs within it that allow her to get better and better every week. The other thing she’s improving at every week is her connection with the audience and her self-confidence which has been one of her biggest obstacles in past weeks. 3
Scotty McReery went with Gone, by Montgomery Gentry. He went right back to his trademark baritone. But the cool thing about him is that you know he’s telling you a story right from the first note. And you also know that he’s having a good time, and he’s good doing it. The bad thing about Scotty is that so many of his songs sound so much alike. This is where he differs from Lauren, who manages to sound different every week. However, he has showed some definite maturity in his voice. And once again, Randy said that he was in it to win it. So, according to Randy, the only one so far who isn’t “in it to win it” is Jacob. Glad we’re on the same page. 2
Haley Reinhart had the privilege of singing You and I, an unreleased Lady Gaga song that mentor Jimmy Iovine was able to get for her. Jimmy thought it would be a great song for her to sing and Haley explained that she spoke to Lady Gaga and got her permission to sing it. I thought it was very good. In fact, this is the type of song I think she should be singing. The judges hammered her for choosing a song that no one has ever heard of at this point of the competition. And it is always risky. But that being said, the song itself was good. It started off in a slower tempo and quickly picked up to a much faster frenzy. By the songs end, she was in full Rock n’ Roll mode. It reminded me of a couple of songs by Heart. I would hate to hear Gaga ruin it now. 1
James started off Round 2 singing Harry Nillson’s Without You. During the pre-song package, James was very emotional thinking about leaving his family every week and the song clearly touched him deeply. Once again, during this performance, he became very emotional. The judges praised him effusively, saying that because he was so emotional, his vocals didn’t even matter. I’m not sure how true that is. It is true that when the performer is very emotional you tend to want to give them a pass. But they still have to be able to sing. And last night, James just wasn’t up to his usual greatness. And this was the song to really show his pipes. The runs in this song are awesome, and as Mariah Carey showed in her version, when she could still sing, you can really do a lot with this song if you know what you’re doing. James missed a great opportunity here. 4
Jacob went with Nazareth’s Love Hurts for his Classic choice. He was accompanied by a harp, which was a very interesting choice. He showed crazy range, seemingly hitting several octaves of the scale during the song. He started in a falsetto and then moved into down the scale all the way down to a baritone. But the problem was, they weren’t exactly in sequence and they didn’t flow together very well. Like the first song, while his voice was strong, he didn’t seem to know what to do with it. Steven Tyler said everybody got lost in him because he got lost in the song. I think a different way to word that was we were all confused. Why is he still here while Casey is watching from his couch??? 5
Lauren chose The Righteous Brother’s smash hit Unchained Melody for her classic hit. Jimmy Iovine said that most people would know it from the movie Ghost. Lauren’s voice was clear, strong, and mostly in melody. Her runs were perfect, but she hit some flat spots in the second verse. At one point she actually ran out of breath mid-word. As her first song choice, the song was almost too big for her. But it really is a great song, and despite what Jimmy Iovine said, I knew it and loved it long before Ghost came out. 2
Scotty sang Willie Nelson’s signature hit, Always on My Mind. He started off a little slow, and kept it at that tempo throughout the song. There really was nothing wrong with the performance, or the way he sang it. He was back in his country groove, full tilt. Like Lauren, this is clearly where he is most comfortable. But unlike Lauren, he tends to sing very similar songs week after week. 3
Haley went with The Animals’ The House of the Rising Sun. She sang the whole first verse a cappella. And really, there was no other way for her to make her mark on this song. And even a cappella her voice was haunting, powerful and in tune. She started the second verse with a light drum accompaniment, with her signature growl, and it was perfectly placed. She kept going and she never looked back. Without question, not only was this was the best performance of the night, but it was also Haley’s best performance. The standing ovation from the judges and the crowd was well deserved. 1
GOING HOME: FINALLY… JACOB LUSK