For Wednesday's two-hour American Idol episode, the dozen finalists performed songs from their birth years. It might have been more exciting, and challenging, if the peg had been astrological signs.
This season has the advantage of very good vocalists, but consistency has the relative disadvantage of not being as much fun. Remember Tatiana? I miss her sometimes. Then again, if you have five performances you can consider good, that's nothing to sneeze at.
Best:Stefano Langone (1989), who's more emotional than necessary, sang "If You Don't Know Me by Now" at full throttle. "Over the top, over the top, over the top," murmured Steven Tyler – he meant that admiringly. "Best performance of the night so far," Randy Jackson said. "A perfect, perfect song," Jennifer Lopez added.
Pia Toscano (1988), who followed Stefano, is arguably his female counterpart. She chose Whitney Houston's "Where Do Broken Hearts Go," handling the beat well and pounding out the big diva notes. "You are why this show is called American Idol," Steven said.
Scotty McCreery (1993) talked so much about his love of Elvis, I half expected him to do something by the King – but of course Elvis was dead long before 1993. Scotty instead sang Travis Tritt's "Can I Trust You With My Heart." Smooth, confident, effortless. "You can sing anything," said Randy. "We believe in you."
Casey Abrams (1991) became the first contestant ever to sing Nirvana, in this case the generational classic "Smells Like Teen Spirit." It was startling to hear something that sounded like rock, even faux rock, on Idol, and more surprising to hear it from Casey. (Although why did the lighting have to turn a diabolical yellow-green?) "It was a risk," said Jennifer, who thought the vocal wasn't always "pleasant." "I love that you were putting art first," said Randy, suddenly possessed by ex-judge Kara DioGuardi.
Jacob Lusk (1987) also tried to rock, a little, with Heart's "Alone." He got himself to the high notes as quickly as possible and then wailed. The judges were mighty pleased. "It was genius, dude," said Randy. Steven observed that gospel "had a baby, and they named it Jacob Lusk." Well, okay.
Beyond and arguably below:James Durbin (1989) went with Bon Jovi's "I'll Be There for You." He seemed to almost wade in with uncustomary caution, but Jennifer was bouncing along happily in her chair. "Don't get too poppy on me," said Steven. "But good." (Then he was bleeped out as James jokingly tried to pull him onto the stage to sing some Aerosmith.) "Very tastefully done," Randy said.
Lauren Alaina (1994), battling the flu, also struggled a bit with Melissa Etheridge's "I'm the Only One." But the judges were pleased – "Have a cold every week," said Randy – and their consensus was that she'd recovered (as a contestant) from last week.
Paul McDonald (1984), whose spindly arms seem to be propelled by their own energy, was also having problems with hoarseness from a cold, and he sounded close to squeaky in a few moments during Elton John's "I Guess That's Why They Call It the Blues." But Jennifer forgave him. "You have so much soul," she said. "You define a cool dude in a loose mood," said Steven. I can't see him lasting long, though.
Possibly in the trouble zone:Ah me – another iffy night for Thia Megia(1995) and her lovely, low vibrato. Jimmy Iovine said she could be the season's dark horse, but the judges all wondered if she's been picking the wrong material – too safe, too conservative, too tame. In this case, it was "Colors of the Wind" from Disney's Pocahontas.
Naima Adedapo (1984) sang Tina Turner's "What's Love Got to Do With It," and didn't bring much original fire to it until the end. Jennifer faulted her for being "consistently pitchy," and Randy said the vocals were "a mess." "You got a sorcerer's grasp of melody," said the kinder Steven.
Haley Reinhart (1990) chose Whitney Houston's "I'm Your Baby Tonight," a style of pop that probably doesn't play to her strengths. Jennifer wasn't crazy about her moves, although she still loves the voice. Randy faulted her for not having established her musical identity. "That was sweet and tough," said Steven. But he wants more blues from her.
Performing under a towering bun of hair, Karen Rodriguez (1989) sang "Love Will Lead You Back." Unlucky for her, she suffers in the shadow of Pia. Jennifer praised her for conquering her nerves and overcoming her uncertainty at the start. Hmmm. I'd keep her in the race just because her mother gave such a nice taped interview. Voters may not have such stirrings of sympathy.