After Wednesday’s Final 4 “American Idol,” one thing is clear: Lady Gaga reads “Project ‘Idol’” religiously. We’ll get to that later. First we have some analysis in a competition that’s getting tighter by the week.
Each of the Top 4 (top photo) sang two songs to determine who makes the Top 3—and gets a hometown parade and show next week before we find out which two make the big finale.
Round One: You’re the Inspiration
This round – intended to showcase what stirs the contestants’ souls – was anything but inspirational, showing that personal motivation doesn’t always translate to good singing. First case in point is James Durbin’s Journey cover, “Don’t Stop Believin’” – a high hurdle to get over with the famous vocals and phrasing of Steve Perry. Durbin’s way more of a showman than a vocalist, and the performance was flat in a lot of places as usual, yet the judges fawned. As a former member of Journey, Randy seemed to be more flattered than analytical.
Haley Reinhart’s earnest yet pudding-mushy “Earth Song” was one of the oddest numbers of the season, going from zero to 60 in 2.3 seconds. Great message, terrible song choice. The arrangement was strange; her falsetto was a non-event; and then she went right into a growl when the song didn’t call for it. Haley (second photo) got a little snappish with the panel, and Randy rightly pushed back on her because, well, the song was 100 percent not a match for her vocals. Next!
The national impact of Osama bin Laden’s offing seemed to bubble up during Scotty McCreery’s performance of the Alan Jackson 9/11 tune “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning),” and again, Scotty delivered a solid if modest rendition. Scotty seems to be at his best when he allows himself out of his comfort zone. Also, we get it Scotty, you love Jesus. Still, this was one of the best songs of the round. JLo’s comment, “I’m in love witchu,” was a bizarre, Jenny-from-the-Block moment. And she gets a fashion grade, again, of “D” with an inexplicable, over-the-shoulder denim dress. Really?
As an aside, it was great to see Google Chrome’s “It Gets Better” ad that debuted originally during “Glee.” It just never gets old. A great message for the 20 million folks watching the show. Yes, it is “brave and fantastic.”
Finally, Lauren Alaina (third photo) walked up to the mic stand and just sang. It’s about time. She seemed more comfortable and confident, and from the waste up, she looked absolutely beautiful during her rendition of “Any Way.” The rest of the dress was a mess of twisting chiffon that made no sense. The vocal itself was rousing and built to an arc; she finished some of her notes with a falsetto that shows she’s still struggling a bit with confidence.
Round 2: Songs of Leiber & Stoller
After the debacle of the Michael Jackson song in round one, Haley had to lay down “I (Who Have Nothing)” like the gauntlet the song is. In the same form as last week, she roared back and delivered probably the song of the evening. Not four weeks ago, she was written off as an odd-moving pole dancer who couldn’t find herself. I think the vocal itself was rushed and the diction was off, but with the uninspiring numbers of the evening, this one broke through. Comparing apples to apples, Haley was way more confident and expressive and emotional than Lauren, and I wonder how that comparison is going to play.
Anyone who’s read “Project ‘Idol’” this season knows Scotty (fourth photo) gets teased for holding the mic titled to the side – like he’s about to chomp down a luscious Oscar Meyer wiener. Enter Gaga, who urged Scotty to be more direct and forceful with his microphone interaction. “You gotta get right in the center of that hot dog.” Admittedly, Gaga’s zombie facial dots were off-putting and painful to look at, but at least we know she’s a loyal reader. The latter part of the segment where Scotty says, “Lord, this is not my doing” was a tired and contrived way of absolving himself of Gaga’s more controversial vibe. Strange. His “Young Blood” by the Coasters turned out OK and better for the guidance Gaga gave him. His hokie eyebrow raising is just lame, but it probably causes the teenie-boppers to twitch with delight. We’ll see how it goes.
The concept of “evil” appropriately came up in Gaga’s meeting with Lauren – who has probably spent her life striving to be the “good girl,” and she made a few steps out of that zone, showing flashes of a sassy hard edge. The “performance quality” improvement JLo noticed was not lost on this reviewer, either, because Lauren’s had trouble connecting issues in past weeks. The question is, which of the girls connected more last night? I’d give the edge to Lauren, but that big performance by Haley might complicate things for Lauren.
James’ collaboration with Gaga caused him to get “hippy” in the lead-in segment, and as much as I like James as an individual, his vocals are all over the map. Even “Love Potion No. 9” (bottom photo) was pitchy and just kind of a mess overall. Again, he’s way more performer than vocalist, so we’ll see if America is ready to coronate someone who isn’t a true singer. He did have the pimp spot as the final performance of the night, though, so maybe his placement there will notch him into the top three.
If that logic proves true, there are two spots left. They should go to Lauren and Scotty. But we’ll see if Haley’s “I (Who Have Nothing)” is her ticket to the top three. All bets are off at this point, and since the performances were all over the place, we’ll be on the edge of our seats to see how it turns out on Thursday night after performances by Gaga and Enrique Inglesias plus the premiere of a new video by Steven Tyler.
Will Pollock is an Atlanta-based freelance writer, photographer, musician and artist. He is founder and director of ARTvision Atlanta and writes “Emo.Intel” for EquallyWed. Pollock is also working on a number of books, including one on emotional intelligence in men. He blogs about politics, pop-culture and other nonsense, and you can follow him on Twitter.