Double Trouble

The producers decided to start the show with a recap of last Thursday’s dramatic results show. A little bragging, maybe? My thought is that they are trying to get more viewers from Wednesday to tune in on Thursday night. Idol had a great week, very dramatic, so brag away guys.

Tonight’s theme is songs from Sir Elton John. I know most of his hits from the 1970s, but I’m sketchy after that. Paul did what was probably his most famous non-Diana song from after 1980 a couple of weeks ago. Elton is more of a melodic balladeer than a rocker, so it might be tough to find good up-tempo songs. Good luck on that, Pia. No pressure. Oh, and he writes complicated melodies and works the circle of fifths and the major scales and modes more than a lot of pentatonic scales, which are the staple of blues types. His songs are famous for Idol train wrecks, so even this talented group might be up against it.

The singers, the songs-

Scotty– “Country Comfort”

Good song choice for Scotty. He sang the crap out of the song itself, but he probably didn’t do himself any favors with the gimmicks. Still, I was entertained and his version was his own style and very pleasing. The emotional power was missing, but he had everything else going well. He brought out the guitar, and it fit his style to have it on.

Judges: J-Lo is looking to be more proactively constructive, I think. She might have turned a corner last Thursday when she tore Scotty a new one about the screaming and the antics. She is still being too nice, but at least she is looking to judge, instead of just support. All the judges were positive.

Naima– “I’m Still Standing”

Reggae version (no big surprise, this is Naima). I was worried when they showed her practicing. She was out of tune and really moosy, which she is prone to at times (moosey in Me-speak means pushing too much air, especially on the low notes, and sounding like a moose, or maybe a ghost if that works better for you. Booooo……).

Not to worry. Naima nailed it, and it was terrific. Her performance might not be the best of the night, but it’s probably the best that she is capable of right now. I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if this ends up being her song on the Idol Tour. Moment? Hmmmm…… Close. It was certainly a moment for Naima.

Judges: Strangely, they didn’t like it. There must have been something live that I didn’t see. As far as I’m concerned, she nailed the crap out of it. Was it the accent? Naima isn’t fromUgandaor anything (she’s fromMilwaukee), but she’s an ethnic African. The accent seemed organic to me.

We are never as smart as we wish we were. It never occurred to me until just now that the Jamaican accent comes from African roots. It does, doesn’t it? It ain’t Hispanic, and who else went toJamaica? I don’t know.

Paul– “Rocket Man”

Hopefully not the Shatner version…..

Masterful. Paul had no chance in hell of hitting the notes that Elton hit so he just made up his own melody, and he pulled off the difficult task of changing the melody without disrespecting the original one. He has no power, so he brought it down to almost zero to give himself some room to crescendo, and he was dynamically effective. He gave the song some emotion, and he brought the audience into his little circle, and sang to them. Again (Naima), this was about as good as Paul can be on a song like this.

Judges: They are maybe too much in the “constructive” mode compared to their past record, which is jarring. Hopefully the voters notice, and don’t think everyone who doesn’t get the gushing sang like crap. Paul was fantastic.

Pia- “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me”

Oops? Another ballad, and not just another ballad; the queen mother of overdone Elton songs. Pia is going to have to really blow this one up.

I really liked the bluesy runs that she did. That’s new for Pia, and color me impressed. She didn’t show off her big notes this time so much as she just came out and blew the song off the stage, over the crowd and off the back wall. My guess is that she was insecure about singing another ballad, and went out with the intention of ramping the energy as high as she can.Missionaccomplished. She was much more emotional, and much more wildly intense without missing a single note. She called her “moment” and raised it.

Judges: Gushed, and the whole “sings too many ballads” thing was discussed. They all felt that this was an amazing performance, which it was. I preferred last week a little bit more because it was such a new revelation, but Pia came off of her “moment”, and sang even better. Is that another moment? Maybe not, but it’s another A performance. Pia is going to be hard to beat if she keeps improving like this. She is a “moment” machine now.

Stefano– “Tiny Dancer”

I loved the Doctor Nick “Hello, everybody” that he said in his pre-performance segment. He kind of looks like Doctor Nick, doesn’t he? If they ever make a Simpsons movie with live actors, Stefano has a role.

Stefano is a quick learner. All the things that made him seem sing-songy and unemotional were addressed tonight. He drove off the beat, he replaced his little cute boy look and manner with a more gritty stance, and he blocked out and performed the song with much more dynamic range. His problem is sort of like “past bad acts” for a defendant on trial. Every gritty facial expression looks fake; and every vocal dynamic change seems contrived and forced. The fact is that Stefano is a nice kid, cute and sweet, who is obviously tough (his recovery from getting hit by a drunken driver and almost losing his life) but can’t seem to project toughness on the stage without looking ridiculous.

He can sing his butt off, though. Will it be enough to get him through, until he can find a song to project some genuine emotions? It’s not a good fit for a competition like this to be so obviously nice and so obviously sweet, and have the kind of voice that usually sings songs that are full of angst and heartbreak. Stef is probably going to get knocked out earlier than his talent deserves, because he is guilty of the heinous crime of being too nice.

Judges: Gushed, which was nice. Stefano deserves some time to rework his persona, and show the country his edgier side. He was in tune almost perfectly tonight, too. Now he needs to find a way to get away from the paint by the numbers technical worries, and let his emotions out in a way that is believable.

Lauren– “Candle in the Wind”

I liked everything about it but the weird smile that kept growing on her face, and the nods to the crowd like she was doing a Bill Murray lounge singer impression. I am the last guy to hammer singers for missing the point of the lyrics on Idol, since most of the time they are rushed into learning the melody and memorizing the lyrics. They don’t get months to figure out the meaning of the song. I’ve argued with several readers over the years about this, always defending the singer. Lauren is so good, and she sang this song so well, that I hate to be THAT guy, but this is not a song that should include the lounge singer mannerisms.

I noticed that Scotty did this too, but I glossed over it. Scotty is 17, Lauren 16. They are (hopefully) not experienced enough yet to really FEEL some of the emotions that older contestants will feel. Lauren sang the song really well. It was the kind of performance that a contender pulls out when they know that they are safe, and they are saving something for later. I give her a zero for emotional impact, though. This is a tragic song, and she sang it like a lounge singer.

Judges: Gushing, Steven a little creepy but very funny. Lauren is so charming, really. She seems contrived at times, and then we get a glimpse at her raw self and we are reminded that she really is that person. The occasional Dolly comparisons are not as far off base as they seem. Lauren has some Dolly in her.

James– “Saturday Night’s Alright”

I almost typed in the song title before he announced that he was doing it. It’s his obvious choice. Now let’s see if he can pull of some cool phrasing to go with the cool notes.

He sang the song. That’s all. All of his energy went into the visual, and the song itself was just, well – singing the song. Of course, this works on a different level with JD. His “singing the song” includes his voice, which is effortlessly amazing. He is Pia’s polar opposite, which is an exciting thing to contemplate for us Idoloonies as we envision the endgame. Pia needs to pull off something more up-tempo. James needs to pull off a ballad. I have zero concern about either one. JD might be showing some serious competitive savvy here, like a jockey on a racehorse that knows that he can get the distance. He is hanging back in the pack, to avoid showing his hand too early.

Judges: Gushed. They made a good point: JD puts on a show, and his performances come off like concert performances. JD has a huge personality and a great sense of comedic timing, which is coming out more and more as we go on. He made a move forward tonight, despite singing a fairly tame arrangement. He can get away with it, because he has so much in him. His 75% is way more than some of these talented contestants can dream of.

Thia– “Daniel”

Cue the little girl from the suburbs, singing a song about a confused adolescent boy’s crush on an older gay blind man who was (apparently) very wise. I started writing about how this song was Elton’s first foray into coming out of the closet, but then I remembered that he didn’t write the lyrics. I love this song anyway, and I can’t imagine that anyone could sing it without emotion. The obvious Lauren comment comparison has been noted.

The entire way through the performance I was thinking that Thia was singing her swan song, that she is going home tomorrow night. She didn’t do much with the song, just sang it, and left most of the cool parts of the melody on the cutting room floor, and didn’t even show off her fantastic tone. She sounded like she was holding her breath in like Siobhan did on a couple of songs after Simon roasted her, like she was singing scared.

I was holding the remote, ready to hit pause when the song ended (I do that for every performance) to write my review. When the song ended, though, and I hit pause, I had tears in my eyes. I think it’s because I know just how good Thia can sing, but that she is wasting her best shot at barely 16 years old. After a couple of years in the limelight (she was on AGT last year), this is about the end of her run. I like to think that I can get cynical when I need to, but I can’t be cynical about this kid. She is truly a special talent, just not ready for the big leagues yet. Will somebody PLEASE put her through the best performing arts school that they can find? I hate to think that she is going to just get tossed in the dumpster of Idol rejects.

Judges: Jen gushed, but the guys both dammed her with some faint praise. Thia has top five talent, maybe even top three, but she is just way too inexperienced. She is still mostly a melody singer at her age.

Casey– “Your Song”

Good song choice; Casey gets to show whether he can sing or not. At this point, nobody knows. Casey’s personality needs some weirdness, so I don’t know whether trimming the beard matters. After getting the bottom vote count, though, it can’t hurt.

Oh. My. GOD. Hold on, I have to go back and listen to this one again.

I might just be too happy to see Casey making the huge comeback, but this was a MOMENT, and maybe a MONSTER MOMENT. I don’t know that he was as perfect as Pia tonight, or even Pia last week, but after what happened last week this was at the very least an IDOL MOMENT. This performance might end up being one of those Idol clips that keep getting listed among the most dramatic, and the most emotional Idol performances ever. So much emotion, so much control over the moment, so much artistry, so much “I’m a badass and you didn’t like me. How do you like me now?”; so much the Casey that we have been missing for several weeks. I especially loved his nod to the piano player in the middle of the song, and his sheer command of the room, of the entire freaking country. Casey pulled out all of his peacock feathers, but he also pulled out his heart and soul. I am just floored. What an amazing performance!!!!! I am going to be listening to this for years on Youtube, like Siobhan’s “Paint it Black” from last year.

Judges: Randy pointed out the major 9 final note, which was cool even though Casey’s voice isn’t really the type to sing that. Pia, Jacob, but not so much Casey who sounded a little bit weak. Other than that, the judges all were giddily validated because Casey totally carrying the mail tonight, after getting saved with 11 left.

Aside- I was honestly worried that we might get some trainwrecks tonight. After last week’s run of consistently good performances, I half expected that Elton’s songbook would be too much for most of the contestants. I was massively wrong. This group of singers has been dubbed the most talented group in several seasons, but I’ve been maybe impatient while I wait for the talent to become reality. Tonight they have flat out kicked butt so much that I am disoriented, worrying that I am giving out too many “moments”. Naima, Paul, Pia, Casey, Scotty, all could be called moments. Lauren, Stefano and Thia all sang very well. Nobody has been anywhere near a trainwreck, and this night of performances would sell well as a concert. Last week they were all good, some great. Tonight, it seems like they are all great.

It’s amazing what not having an old asshole on the judging table to bring everyone down can do for a contestant’s confidence, and a contestant’s growth. We are now reaping the rewards from the singers, for not needing the heel bringing everyone down. It will get even better. We have nine more weeks, and if these kids keep improving like they have the last few weeks we are going to get the best season in the history of Idol. Go have your silly show, Simon. We are making music here, dude; making memories.

Another aside, quickly: Jimmy Iovine is starting to be more specific in his criticism. He has been more willing to point out the negatives, after several weeks of glad handing. I was expecting this, but I didn’t know when it was going to come. My take is that he had the training wheels on for several weeks, using his influence to buck the kids up until they had some success. Now that they have had plenty of positive feedback, he is taking the training wheels off and working on level two of the process: Molding them into potentially relevant recording artists.

As far as Idol’s mission to create recording stars goes, I don’t know if Simon’s damage will ever be repaired, but Jimmy gives me hope. Simon’s way of doing things reduced Idol to an afterthought, turning the winner of a 25 million viewer show into a 100 thousand record selling mediocrity. Simon’s style of picking recording stars was to hate everyone and dismiss everyone and hope that somebody could overcome his hate. Jimmy’s style is to bring them all in, and then mold them, and then (coming later in the season) challenge them to pick who they are and compete with the established artists in their style.

Who do you want making decisions on these kids? Some guy that had one fluky success (Leona Lewis, anyone remember her?) and years and years of dismissing real talent, or someone that discovered the two biggest selling recording artists in the last decade? Jimmy made Eminem and Lady Gaga stars out of nothing, by forcing them into a cookie cutter industry that had already rejected them, and changing the entire game. I’ll take my chances with Jimmy, while (if I was a struggling artist) I would get a restraining order against Simon. Jimmy would be a terrific judge, too, but he’s much more valuable behind the scenes. He is just getting started.

Jacob– “Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word”

I get why he picked it, but I am bummed. I really wanted Jacob to sing “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road”. With his effortlessly emotional nature and his range, he would have blown it up and created something amazing.

I wish that he’d sung “Goodbye Yellow Brick   Road” even more now. This song gave him a few places to do things early in the song, but the background kept shouting him down and it got increasingly louder and more obtrusive as the song went on. It’s not easy to shout Jacob down. He left the cool stuff in the back room, and relied on his powerful baritone range and never went up to the sky like he usually does. He held his last note through all the background noise, almost as if he was giving in but not agreeing with the arrangement. It felt like the wrong song, but even more it felt like the wrong song arrangement. Jacob has an amazing voice, but it was wasted tonight in this loud, overwrought arrangement. Much like Pia a couple of weeks ago, Jacob needs one perfect vehicle, one perfect song arrangement, to show the country what he can do. This wasn’t it. He looked pissed at the end of the song, as he waited for the judges. He is too good to be wasted like this. Maybe this night will motivate him to come out with something really spare, and give himself a chance to really blow us away.

Judges: J-Lo, amazingly, gave a shout-out to that turkey of an arrangement. Randy did too. What are they thinking? Steven even noticed, but he backed off and called it great. Face it. That arrangement was a freaking mess. Jacob deserves better, and he will be better when he finds that perfect song.

Haley– “Benny and the Jets”

Perfect song choice for the bluesy growler. I liked the rehearsal video a lot. Let’s hear it.

Wow, that was really cool!!! The song started out too fast, and the effect of the hot bluesy chick on the piano wasn’t as effective as she probably was hoping for, but she kicked it in and I don’t know that she has ever sounded better. Haley has a very weak low range, so if it was me I would have told her to keep it up in the higher range. Her high range was scratchy more than growly, which is a good thing. She looked comfortable, and she sounded amazing, and if this was last year she would be safe to the top 5. Not this year, though. It’s a tough crowd, kiddo. Even this very strong performance won’t keep you out of danger. Great performance, though. I was thoroughly entertained.

Judges: Gushed, overly. Randy called it the best of the night, which is insane. I am Haley’s biggest fan, but common. Casey was epic, and Pia is always better than everyone else. I’d call it top 5, though.


Tomorrow night is going to be a tough night. I say that a lot, but really; who deserves to go? Thia was probably the weakest, so she should go, but she wasn’t even close to bad. Who else? Naima? She was amazing, but the judges didn’t get it so she is probably on the bus. Haley was fantastic. Paul was fantastic. Lauren was solid, by a higher standard. James was solid, by an even higher standard. Casey was unbelievable. Pia was amazing. Jacob was impressive, despite getting run over by that mess of an arrangement, and he ain’t going anywhere. Who else? Stefano made strides, and Scotty is, well – Scotty; and he sang his butt off.

I tend towards hyperbole sometimes, but I can’t remember a night with so many great performances since the night that hooked me on Idol back in season seven. Looking back, that night wasn’t nearly as amazing and impressive as tonight was. Elton John’s songs are really frigging hard to sing, and these kids blew them all out of the room. I expected at least a couple of train wrecks, but we got nothing but strong, entertaining and technically professional performances. I am amazed at the level of talent, and I am even more amazed at the growth of these kids, as they grow from lumps of clay into diamonds. The judges were amazing, the mentor was amazing, and the singers were amazing, under very tough conditions. Best night ever? I can’t say (I didn’t get on board until season seven), but I can say that I am excited for the rest of the season. This is no longer just a talented group. This is a professional group; a group of performers that can, and will, amaze us every week. They were sooooo good this week, but they are just getting started. Simon, choke on it. This is how you do Idol. Let the singers sing, you arrogant bastard. As you might have noticed tonight, even inexperienced kids can sing like the pros if you don’t keep telling them that they stink.



Scotty- B+

Naima- A-

Paul- A-

Pia- A

Stefano- B

Lauren- B

James- B+

Thia- B-

Casey- A+

Jacob- B

Haley- B+


Safe to in danger:





Probably safe-




In mild danger-



In grave danger-




I expect that my bottom three will be the ones in the hard chairs. I don’t want to root against anyone, but I don’t believe that any of the mild danger or grave danger contestants will be able to beat Pia, James or the rejuvenated Casey. They are all on the tour. It’s not going to be tragic for several weeks. They are all great, and they are all going to be great on tour. The next several weeks are all about finding moments andAmericanot doing something dumb like trying to toss Casey again, or for chrissakes Pia or James. The big question is going to be what to do with Scotty on the surface, but I think Jacob is the one that needs to be defined more than Scotty.

Either way, we should all be thankful for such an amazing night. They all brought it, and we got 11 amazing performances.