Project ‘Idol’: Top 9 Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame

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imageWhen James Durbin found out that songs from the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame were on tap for this week’s “American Idol,” he probably went through the ceiling with joy. But would he deliver?

After all, Durbin has positioned himself as this season’s sensitive glam rocker. How would he do, and how would the rest of the “Idol” kids manage to rock it out?

Jacob Lusk (top photo) flirted with the choice of the Marvin Gaye classic, “Let’s Get it On.” He ultimately switched to “Man in the Mirror” by Michael Jackson, which, he opined, would put him in the bottom three only if America couldn’t look at ourselves in the mirror.

With that strangely arrogant statement out of the way, he did not disappoint on the song, although he’s at a huge—repeat, huge—unfair advantage being able to sing it with its original writer and background singer, Siedah Garrett. She’s a prolific performer and songwriter, and she seriously brought Jacob’s rendition into a different realm. He struck some nice emotional tones with his performance, too, and is turning into quite the showman—bad hip thrusting notwithstanding.

imageI can’t say the same about Miss Haley Reinhart (second photo), but after a glowingly reviewed performance of “Piece of My Heart,” we’ll probably be listening to her for another week. She growled, scooped and ran her way through a Janis Joplin classic—enough to impress the judges and probably America too—but she’s still super off-putting and badly made-up for me. Siedah stuck around for the Joplin cover, too, so it was great to see her for more of the show.

Casey Abrams rocked the upright bass again, this time with “Have You Ever Seen the Rain,” with mixed results. He put his personal stamp and twist on the song, and Randy is right that he’s putting the cool in the stand-up bass. Steven’s note was right on, too, when he said that Casey is a musician rather than a singer. I still like him and hope he gets through, but the performance sounded shouty and unrefined, and I’m thinking he might land in the bottom three again.

Could there be a bigger song than “Natural Woman”–made famous by Aretha and tried over and over again by wanna-bes? Kelly Clarkson has done it proud, but Lauren Alaina somehow turned one of the most intense and bold girl-power love tunes into a sleepy, breathless, adult-contemporary number that just didn’t go anywhere for me. She’ll sail through, of course, but the song didn’t soar, and didn’t break any new ground.

imageAnd now to the aforementioned James Durbin (third photo). He was smart to slow it down with “My Guitar Gently Weeps,” but it was so painfully out of tune most of the way that I just wanted it to end. He ended on a high note, as he so often does, but it was sharp and flat and obstructed his emotional connection. I always like when James tries to modulate and bring an intensity that reveals his emotional side, but it was pitchy in many places.

Elvis’ “That’s Alright Mama” was Scotty McCreery’s best performance to date. He brought it and showed way, way more charisma and spunk that he just hasn’t had before. He rose above his awkward microphone holding–is he about to eat a hot dog?–and odd movements to show some real moxie. The schlocky girl-mob that rushed the stage at the end was lame, but hey, it wouldn’t be “Idol” without some cheese.

Pia Toscano did “River Deep, Mountain High” proud. She’s taken some big, big songs in the past and worked them out really well, and this was the best and most exciting performance of the night. I agree totally with the panel’s continuing comments that she should get better at selling her numbers. Selling the song is just as important as the vocals so that singers actually come to own what they’re doing on stage.

A strong performance from Stefano Langone on “When a Man Loves a Woman” was, again, missing the “oomph” behind what he’s doing. Where is the nuance, the vocal interpretation, of this classic? He started in falsetto, and it’s not that he sang badly, I’m just still missing something from the overall package. Meh.

imageJohnny Iovine and will.i.am seemed to save Paul McDonald (bottom photo) from Lauren Alaina’s fate of bland and boring. Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues” needed to be as crazy, ragged and stank as possible. Paul delivered on that for sure and earned the night’s final “pimp spot” with a great performance. If I have one criticism, I wanted him even more over the top with that song, but I still liked it. He will sail on through.

From an accompanying-musician standpoint, this has been a great season of “American Idol.” Producers and choreographers have worked in backing vocalists, accompanists and others very well. And they’ve enhanced the numbers, as evidenced by Wednesday’s—and other nights’–stagings and pairings.

Results-wise, we very well could see some surprises given the high caliber of performances. We may have an all-male bottom three this week, with Casey, Stefano and James in danger, and perhaps Jacob on the bubble given his lead-off performance position. We’ll see in Friday’s recap, and in the meantime, good lookin’ out.

imageWill 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.

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