Monthly Archives: April 2011
After several weeks of general themes, American Idol went back to their old ways and pigeon-holed each contestant into the narrow theme of Carole King songs. While King is a prolific songwriter, a night dedicated to her songs by young people was a huge miscalculation by the Idol producers. A season once filled with hope and promise is now limping towards the finish line. The momentum created by adding Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez is gone. In fact, Tyler’s comments are starting to become a bit strange, and he seems bored while delivering them.
To make matters worse, this lackluster show comes on the heels of the debut of “The Voice” (a fresh new approach to a singing competition). Thankfully, this season of American Idol is coming to an end in May. With Simon Cowell’s “X-Factor” on the way, Idol may once again need to try and reinvent itself next season if it wants to remain on top.
Here is this week’s breakdown (in reverse order):
 Scotty McCreery – The song that McCreery chose this week (“You’ve Got a Friend”) is one of Carole King’s best because of its ability to evoke emotions. While McCreery finally stepped out of his deep-voice comfort zone this week, his sleepy rendition of this classic song lacked emotion. The judges and America love him, so he will probably be safe, but his total lack of a “wow factor” may catch up with him and keep him out of the finale.
 Jacob Lusk – Some contestants strive to get noticed for their singing. Others for their stage show. This week, it seemed that Lusk was trying to use a crazy wardrobe to capture the attention of the Idol viewing audience. His performance of “Oh No Not My Baby” was better than his performances in previous weeks, but his singing was overshadowed by his extremely feminine dance moves. The judges liked him, but he’s been in the bottom three with regularity lately, so America might not share the enthusiasm of the judges.
 Casey Abrams – No one can argue that Abrams is a talented musician. And even though he can be very strange, there is something cool about him as well. His one-handed piano playing at the beginning of his performance of “Hi-De-Ho” was very impressive. His signature growl was acceptable in the song, but it is starting to feel like a crutch at times. He did a good job with this song, but more in a Broadway musical kind of way. The judges are so infatuated with him that they tend to forget to judge his singing at times. This was not his best performance of the season, but it also wasn’t his worst.
 Lauren Alaina – Once again, Alaina’s lack of confidence in her abilities was on display when they showed her session with Jimmy Iovine and Babyface. They pointed out that she never seems to disappoint, and urged her to push the envelope a bit. It seems that the mentors’ message was received this week. Alaina’s confidence on stage seemed to be higher than usual. She hit some big notes and showed good presence as she worked the crowd during her performance of “Where You Lead.” This was another solid showing for Alaina.
 Haley Reinhart – It took many weeks, but it seems like Reinhart is finally in a comfortable enough place to allow her natural talent to shine through. Her confidence and sex appeal seem to grow by the week. She showed some good power and range in her performance of “Beautiful” this week. Mixing in slow parts with up-tempo parts, Reinhart delivered her most dynamic performance to date. She is a regular in the bottom three, and Randy Jackson’s comments about the beginning of her song may very well land her there again, but she deserves to stay another week based on this week’s performance.
 James Durbin – Another week of average performances…another week of Durbin showing that there is no one who even comes close to him in this competition. This week there were no pyrotechnics. There was no surprise appearance by a legendary rock guitarist. In fact, there was barely any stage show, and yet Durbin still outshined his peers by a very large margin with his stripped-down version of “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?” This song had a Bon Jovi-like quality to it. Like Bon Jovi, Durbin has the ability to take a very familiar song and make it into his own. Somehow he managed to tastefully bring his heavy metal influence to the song. There isn’t much that needs to be said about James. He is by far the most consistent performer this season, and is one of the best in the history of the show. He deserves to be named the next American Idol already. The rest of the competition will do nothing to change that fact.
THE BOTTOM THREE
At this point, half of the contestants will be in the bottom three, and it will most likely have more to do with their body of work than their weekly performance. For that reason, the bottom three will be…
WHO GOES HOME?
Even though Lusk had his best performance in several weeks, it seems like his fate has already been sealed by his regular presence in the bottom three. It’s possible that Reinhart could be the one to go, but if she is, it won’t be because of her performance this week.
Carson Daly appears on the screen. He briefly describes the concept of “The Voice” and quickly reads off the achievements of each of the four judges: Christina Aguilera, country music star Blake Shelton, Maroon 5’s Adam Levine and Cee Lo Green. After the introduction, the four judges took the stage to show the world how it’s done as they performed “Crazy” by Gnarls Barkley (featuring Cee Lo Green). It was so good that they could probably sell millions of copies if they released it as a single. It didn’t take long to show that The Voice is much more than NBC’s answer to American Idol.
On American Idol, each contestant’s overall performance and popularity with teenage girls have as much to do with their success as their actual singing ability (see Pia Toscano). One can’t help but wonder if Toscano would have been better off being a contestant on The Voice rather than on American Idol because of the rules of the show.
Each of the four judges must build a team of eight contestants to mentor based solely on hearing their vocal performance. The judges’ chairs face the audience, so they cannot see the performer’s stage presence, their look, their age, etc. They can only see them once they hit a “Family Feud-like” buzzer to spin their chairs around. At which point, the words “I Want You” are illuminated at the bottom of the judges’ platform.
If only one judge hits the buzzer, then the contestant is automatically assigned to that judge’s team. However if more than one judge hits the buzzer, then they each get to make their pitch as to why the contestant should choose them as their mentor.
Fortunately for the judges (and also for the viewers), the only singers who perform on the show are the ones who have been hand-picked by the producers. Unlike American Idol, there is no suffering through the bizarre and the terrible to get to the good singers.
Once each judge’s team has eight members the “blind auditions” end. At that point, each judge will mentor their team members. And this is where it gets even more interesting. Before America will ever get the chance to vote for their favorites, the judges must reduce their teams from eight to four based on head-to-head competition.
If the first episode is any indication, the 16 finalists on The Voice are going to be far better singers than the 13 finalists on Season 10 of American Idol (which is supposedly the most talented group in the show’s history).
By the time that the first episode came to an end, each judge had signed up three members to be on their respective teams. They are as follows:
Tarralyn Ramsay – Ramsay was the first contestant to perform on the show. She performed “Breathe” by Faith Hill. Her voice is powerful, she has nice range and she put her own soulful spin on the song. If she were on American Idol, her bad wig, neon makeup and loud outfit would have distracted from her voice. Of course, at 31 years old, American Idol wasn’t an option anyway. She chose Aguilera over Cee Lo Green.
Frenchie Davis – Another 31-yr old who wouldn’t qualify for American Idol at this point. She was already on the show, and made it into the top 12 of season 2, but never got to perform when topless photos of her surfaced on the Internet. Even though the photos were taken long before she tried out for American Idol, they chose to eliminate her from the show. Her version of Katy Perry’s “I Kissed a Girl” was good, but nothing special. It was kind of surprising that Aguilera hit the buzzer. But the bigger surprise was that Cee Lo Green immediately recognized her when his chair was turned around at the end of the song with the other judges who didn’t buzz in.
Beverly McClellan – Aguilera rounded out the night with another contestant who needed a competition like The Voice to get noticed. McClellan is a 41-year old butch lesbian with a shaved head, and matching tattoos on both sides of her neck. She would probably scare the American Idol audience, but her version of Janis Joplin’s “Piece of My Heart” showed that she has something special. She is powerful and edgy, but also shows great control over her voice, which has a Melissa Etheridge quality. It was interesting to see that her mannerisms are reminiscent of Judas Priest’s Rob Halford. She had the choice between Adam Levine and Aguilera. When she announced her choice by saying “I think I’m gonna do Christina” it seemed more like a goal than a Freudian slip.
FIRST IMPRESSION OF CHRISTINA AGUILERA’S TEAM – It wasn’t intentional, but Aguilera’s team embodies what The Voice is all about. All of the women are heavy-set, and two of them have shaved heads. They are all over 30 years old, and most likely would not have had an opportunity like this on any other show. While Frenchie Davis has enjoyed the most success so far (American Idol and Rent), she is the weakest member of the team. Tarralyn Ramsay is very good, but the best one on this team so far is Beverly McClellan.
Patrick Thomas – Almost immediately after Thomas starting singing Tim McGraw’s “Live Like You Were Dying,” the judges started to hit their buzzers. All but Aguilera did so, but she explained afterwards that that it was only because she didn’t feel comfortable in the genre. For all of the hype that surrounds Scotty McCreery on American Idol, he has yet to have a performance that was even in the same league as Thomas’. Whereas McCreery’s style caters almost exclusively to diehard country music fans, the 20-yr old from Nashville transcended musical taste with his performance (cowboy hat and all). He wisely chose Blake Shelton over Adam Levine and Cee Lo Green, but it is understandable why each of them wanted to work with him.
Elenowen – This was the most unusual performance of the night for the judges. They had no idea that a duet would be allowed to compete, so when the second verse of “Falling Slowly” by Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová switched from a female voice to a male voice, it threw the judges for a loop. Josh and Nicole Johnson are a married couple struggling to make it in the music business. They are currently living in Nicole’s parents’ basement as they pursue their musical dreams. The young couple performed well together, but Nicole is clearly the stronger singer of the two. On his own, it’s doubtful that any of the judges would have buzzed in, but the two inspired both Cee Lo and Shelton to do so. It’s hard to pinpoint what their genre will be from just one song, but Shelton did seem like a better fit for them than Cee Lo.
Xenia Martinez – This 16 yr-old girl who is so shy that most of her peers don’t even realize that she is a singer also gave a surprising performance, but for a different reason. Martinez may be young and shy, but when she hits the stage, she becomes cool and has a voice that is mature beyond her years. Her version of “Break Even” by The Script had a great vibe to it. She seamlessly blended her raspy voice with tasteful falsetto. Martinez is another one who is difficult to categorize after just one song, although her performance was reminiscent of Linda Perry from 4 Non Blondes. Once again, Shelton beat out Cee Lo to get her on his team.
FIRST IMPRESSION OF BLAKE SHELTON’S TEAM – Although he used the same blind auditions as Aguilera to build his team, Shelton ended up with singers who are much more marketable due to their youth and appearances. Aside from Patrick Thomas, the others are not country artists, so it will be interesting to see his approach in mentoring outside of his comfort zone. Each of his team members is talented, but Elenowen may have a harder time advancing as a duo because one is clearly better than the other.
Vicky Martinez – After listening to Martinez perform Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep,” it became very clear that the talent on The Voice is far superior to the talent on American Idol this season. The 26-yr old brought the song to life with a raspy style a la Melissa Etheridge. She mixes power and soul in a way that Haley Reinhart didn’t even come close to when she performed the exact same song recently. Martinez chose Cee Lo over Aguilera, but either would have been good for her.
Kelsey Rey – While the concept behind The Voice seems to be to give a fair shake to those that have the voice, but not necessarily the looks to go along with it, the opposite was true of Rey. She has always been given accolades for her singing, but was never sure if it was because of her stunning looks. It didn’t take long for Adam Levine and Cee Lo to buzz in to check her out after hearing Rey perform “American Boy” by Estelle. She has a great tone to go along with her looks, and gave a very good performance. Aguilera buzzed in just as the song was ending. Rey certainly had to feel validated having the choice of three of the four judges to work with. Although her style seems most similar to Levine, she chose Cee Lo over the others. The 20-yr old from Florida was certainly a good addition to his team.
Tje Austin – In the piece before his performance, you saw Austin walking down the street with his parents, but they only showed his legs. His parents looked like typical white Texans, so it was no surprise to see his dad sporting a cowboy hat. The surprise came when the 27-yr old Texan took the stage to perform “Just the Way You Are” by Bruno Mars. In the voiceover, he said “most people are pretty surprised when they look at me…they don’t expect for me to be able to sing.” Yes, he can absolutely sing, but that wasn’t all that surprising. What was surprising was the fact that he is black and has an afro that would have fit perfectly in the movie “Car Wash.” Once you got past his surprising looks, you couldn’t help but appreciate his talent. Adam Levine and Cee Lo buzzed in at the same time once again. Christina regretted not buzzing in and mentioned that he had a Cee Lo feel to his voice, so it should come as no surprise that he chose Cee Lo over Levine.
FIRST IMPRESSION OF CEE LO GREEN’S TEAM – Like Shelton, Cee Lo put together a formidable group of singers who are all in their 20’s, and all have a marketable look. It’s hard to say whether Cee Lo is less discriminating or if he is confident that he can work with all types of artists, but he buzzed in more than any other judge. Some chose him, and some didn’t, but in the end, he ended up with a very intriguing team.
Jeff Jenkins – You couldn’t help but root for Jenkins. The 22-yr old small-town Texan lost his mom 10 months ago. Losing a parent is hard enough, but Jenkins lost more than a parent. He also lost his biggest supporter when his mom passed away…“she taught me how to love, how to forgive, she taught me confidence and how to believe in myself.” His performance on The Voice was his first time singing without his mom in the audience, so it had to be incredibly difficult for him, but to his credit, he performed “Bless the Broken Road” by Rascal Flatts like a professional. Like Patrick Thomas, Jenkins’ performance was far superior to Scotty McCreery (his country music counterpart on American Idol).
As he finished the second line in the song, Levine and Cee Lo once again hit the buzzer at the same time. In the middle of the chorus, Aguilera hit the buzzer. Inexplicably, Shelton didn’t hit his buzzer until the song was almost finished. Had he buzzed in earlier, he probably would have been the favorite to land Jenkins. But Levine made a very strong push to get him, and in the end, Jenkins chose the one who wanted him the most. Even more puzzling than Shelton’s slow trigger finger was Levine’s comment to Jenkins…“I’ve never heard that song, but I’m pretty sure that no one can sing it as well as you just did.” There is no doubt that Jenkins did a great job with the song, but it is shocking that Levine had never heard it before.
Rebecca Loebe – Billed as a “homeless musician,” the 27-yr old from Georgia travels around the country performing as many shows as she can. She doesn’t earn enough money to justify paying rent for a place that she won’t use on a regular basis, so she lives out of the back of her 1992 Toyota Camry station wagon. Before her performance, she simply stated…“I’m just hoping that The Voice will help me get to the next step where I can make music and no longer live in my car.” Loebe’s dedication to music and performing is what sets her apart from almost every American Idol contestant. Her version of Nirvana’s “Come As You Are” was nothing short of brilliant. She slowed it down and connected with the song in a truly unique way. Her tone, her range, her power and the beauty in her voice should have had the judges leaping for the buzzer. Aguilera, who buzzed in first, said that the arrangement was so inspiring that she was actually jealous that she didn’t come up with the idea first. Levine took longer to buzz in, but ended up securing Loebe on his team because she felt that his career has taken a trajectory more similar to her career aspirations.
Javier Colon – A 33-yr old from Connecticut, Colon came on The Voice with the goal of making a better life for his family. He is married with two beautiful little girls. His irregular earnings as a musician have made it difficult to make ends meet for his family. Like many people in today’s economy, he worries about how he is going to pay for diapers and his mortgage. Before he took the stage, Colon said…“I’m singing for my family, so I’ve got to give the performance of my life.”
Like Loebe, Colon chose to take a song and make it his own. You could feel his emotion as he sang Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time” to perfection. As usual, Cee Lo and Levine hit the buzzer at the same time. At this point, you almost had to wonder if their buzzers were connected. Christina buzzed in after a while, and Blake finally buzzed in as the song was almost over, which was very surprising. Even Carson Daly couldn’t understand what was taking him so long. Backstage, the cameras caught him saying “oh Blake, you’re an idiot.”
Levine was actually encouraging Shelton to hit the buzzer as he stood up and hit his own buzzer over and over again to try and coax him into joining the rest of the judges in the competition for Colon.
Colon deservedly received a standing ovation from the audience after his performance, with Levine leading the way. In his effort to secure Colon on his team, Levine said…“I want to win this s**t, so I really, really need you to pick me.”
Aside from his outstanding performance, Colon also has an engaging personality. He playfully asked Aguilera the question that the viewing audience had to be wondering about the judges who waited to buzz in…“What took you so long?”
In the end, Levine’s passion and salesmanship won out over the other judges.
FIRST IMPRESSION OF ADAM LEVINE’S TEAM – Every other judge had already secured two singers on their teams before Levine got his first. But he more than made up for his slow start by picking a team of all-stars. As of right now, he is going to have the toughest time making cuts when they get to the next round. So much so, that he may actually benefit by hitting the buzzer on some lesser contestants that the others all pass on.
THE BOTTOM LINE
The unique rules of The Voice make it a much more interesting competition than American Idol, but that is not the only thing that makes the show so entertaining to watch.
The talent level is far superior to American Idol this season, despite the fact that the judges keep saying how great all of the remaining contestants are.
Having the judges compete to mentor instead of just praising or critiquing is a stroke of genius, but it shouldn’t come as a surprise given that it is a Mark Burnett production.
The chemistry and competition between the judges is much better than it is on American Idol where they all basically echo each other’s thoughts on a weekly basis.
Carson Daly is the perfect host. He does just enough to gather information and throws in the occasional funny commentary. Other than that, he doesn’t interject himself into the show the way that Ryan Seacrest does on American Idol.
Will The Voice replace American Idol as America’s favorite singing competition? It’s too soon to tell, but if the first show is any indication, The Voice certainly has the potential to chip away at the American Idol audience.
Despite the fact that the judges continue to marvel at how talented the Top 7 American Idol contestants are, the overall performances this week were far from jaw-dropping. The theme this week was songs from the 21st century, so there was certainly an ample selection of songs to choose from. And with the contestants being as young as they are, it should have been easy for them to find songs to showcase their talents. Clearly, it was not. But they may not be solely responsible for their sub-par performances.
At the beginning of the season, it seemed like the changes to the judging panel would breathe new life into American Idol. Unfortunately, what has happened is that none of them give enough constructive criticism to push the contestants to improve from week to week. As the season has progressed, the absence of Simon Cowell has become more and more noticeable.
With Simon in the mix, every contestant lived in fear of receiving his wrath in front of a national television audience, and it brought out the best in them. There may have not been as much natural talent in some of the previous years, but by this point in the competition, there were always a handful of contestants who left their mark with memorable performances.
By pushing the best singers to improve each week, the gap between the top and the bottom was much more evident than it is now. Because almost every contestant leaves the stage each week with the three judges acting more like fans than critics, none of them are inspired to reach greater heights. Without the push from the judges, the contestants are left to their own devices to figure out to improve from week to week. If not for Jimmy Iovine, there would be almost no real guidance being offered.
Though the judges once again said that this is anyone’s competition to win, the reality is that there is only one contestant who delivers memorable performances on a weekly basis.
Here is this week’s breakdown (in reverse order):
 Scotty McCreery – The good news for McCreery is that he is getting more comfortable on stage each week. The bad news is that his performances have become so formulaic that they only appeal to country music fans. His version of “Swingin” by Leann Rimes was not only a ridiculous choice given the amount of potential artists to choose from, but it was also very safe and very boring. Even his most diehard fans had to realize that his performance was nothing special after seeing James Durbin take the stage right after McCreery. His fan base will most likely keep him out of the bottom three, but based on this week’s performance, he deserves to be there.
 Stefano Langone – Like McCreery, Langone is starting to show better stage presence, but he took a step backwards vocally this week. His rendition of “Closer” by Ne Yo was no better than average. If Cowell were still a judge, he most likely would have called this performance “forgettable.” America does not seem to be in love with Langone as evidenced by his weekly presence in the bottom three. He had to deliver a game-changing performance to avoid the bottom three this week. He did not, despite the positive feedback from the judges.
 Jacob Lusk – If ever there was going to be a week where you would expect Lusk to break down in tears, this should have been it. As someone who has suffered the loss of a father, I know just how emotional it is to hear “Dance With My Father” by Luther Vandross. To have to sing it in front of millions of people had to have been very difficult. And though Lusk’s father passed away a number of years ago, the void never goes away, and the pain can still be intense at times. Lusk did an admirable job of getting through the song without breaking down. The song was made even more challenging due to the fact that he couldn’t hear the proper mix in his earpiece, forcing him to remove it almost immediately. He has a Luther Vandross quality to his voice, so the song choice made sense. Unfortunately, it was merely an average performance of an incredible song.
 Haley Reinhart – While McCreery had the misfortune of being followed by James Durbin, Reinhart had the even bigger misfortune of having to follow Durbin. For someone who watched Pia get voted off for not giving enough of a performance on stage, Reinhart took a big risk by basically standing in one spot during her entire performance. This was especially surprising given the fact that she has also been a mainstay in the bottom three. She did a good job with Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep.” It was a song that fit her well, and it gave her a chance to mix in some of her signature Joplinesque sound…but will it be enough to keep her out of the bottom three?
 Casey Abrams – Although he received a standing ovation from the judges last week for his performance of “Nature Boy” by Nat King Cole, it was not a smart song choice. This week, Abrams went much more mainstream by choosing “Harder to Breathe” by Maroon 5. It is one of the best songs of the decade, largely because of its energy and sex appeal. Abrams’ version didn’t have much of either. But he was entertaining, and the song was solid, if not spectacular. As he got deep into Jennifer Lopez’s personal space before laying a kiss on her cheek to close out the song, it’s hard to imagine that she wasn’t at least a little bit freaked out, even if she was flattered by the attention. His performance was good, not great. But it should be more than enough to keep him out of the bottom three this week.
 Lauren Alaina – If Alaina had more confidence in her natural abilities and stopped living in fear of not measuring up to the others, she might pose a real threat to win the competition. She has shown that with the proper songs, she can be a force in the country crossover category, much like Carrie Underwood, Faith Hill and Shania Twain. Her cute and bubbly personality shines through almost every week. And though she doesn’t believe in herself the way that she should, Alaina is one of the best singers left in the competition. “Born to Fly” by Sara Evans suited her very well, and she gave an above-average performance.
 James Durbin – Unless the American Idol voters are asleep at the wheel, there shouldn’t be anything stopping Durbin from becoming the first rock Idol. No matter what the theme, no matter what song he chooses, he always finds a way to entertain and make things interesting. It was disappointing to see him so early in the show because the show goes downhill fast once he leaves the stage. After his performance of “Uprising” by Muse, the judges were already telling him that it would be the best of the night. His use of the marching band drummers was further proof that he knows what it takes to deliver that something extra to make it a memorable performance for the audience. He even found a way to make a ridiculous Adam Ant-inspired outfit (circa 1981) look cool. With this performance, Durbin proved that he can successfully bridge the gap between his classic heavy metal roots and modern-day hard rock. Idol producers should be praying that he makes it to the finale!
THE BOTTOM THREE
Because the number of contestants is dwindling, those who often find themselves in the bottom three will likely have to give Durbin-like performances to ensure their safety. None of them did this week, so the bottom three will be…
WHO GOES HOME
The judges praised Langone and Reinhart this week, but warned Lusk that he would have to do more if he is back next week. Was that foreshadowing? Subliminal messaging to the voters? No one knows for sure, but it seems like Lusk was the only one who received a true critique this week. If the voters base their decision on the judges, then Lusk will likely be the one going home, but it would not come as a shock at all if it were either of the other two in the bottom three.
After last week’s shocking and extremely disappointing elimination of Pia Toscano, it has become clear that it is almost impossible to predict what will happen going forward. Never in the history of American Idol has such an outstanding talent been sent packing so early on in the competition. Though the judges have been heaping praise on nearly every contestant from week to week, many performances deserved more constructive criticism.
If Simon Cowell was still a judge, the show would not be the weekly “lovefest” that it has become. He said as much in an interview this week. Perhaps Pia still would have been eliminated if Cowell were still there, but his harsh criticisms of others may have kept her around longer. There’s no way to tell for sure.
The one saving grace to Pia’s early departure is that there will be long-overdue changes made to the elimination process in the future.
With or without Pia, as the saying goes…“The show must go on.”
This week’s theme was songs from movies.
Here is this week’s breakdown (in reverse order):
 Paul McDonald – With his wild outfits and unique stage movements, McDonald is never accused of being boring. And yet, each week, I find myself thinking that his two minutes last forever. There is not much more that can be said about McDonald. He appeals to the judges, and that has probably why he is still in the competition. That, and the fact that he is male, which seems to be a big factor this season. His performance of “Old Time Rock and Roll” by Bob Seger was typical. The best part was the female saxophone player. Enough said.
 Casey Abrams – The judges and the studio audience gave Abrams a standing ovation after his performance of “Nature Boy” by Nat King Cole. I didn’t get it at all. Jimmy Iovine recommended that Abrams steer clear of this song for a reason. It doesn’t translate well in a competition. In a smoky, dimly lit room, this performance would have been fine, but on a big stage, it just seemed like Abrams was trying too hard to be different, which is a bit ironic given that his makeover has now transformed him from cool to nerdy. If this was a contest based on musicianship, Abrams would win for sure, but it’s not. It’s a singing competition. The judges loved his performance, but will the voting audience?
 Jacob Lusk – As one of the judges’ favorites, it seems that Lusk can do no wrong. But Jimmy Iovine thinks otherwise. It was great to see Iovine dress Lusk down for his arrogant pre-song ultimatum that he gave to America last week. “You’re gonna preach to 25 million people and you haven’t even put a record out yet? Don’t preach to people!” said Iovine. Lusk looked visibly shaken, and a little bit scared, which is probably why he agreed to take Iovine’s advice on his song choice. It didn’t matter anyway. Lusk’s performance of “Bridge Over Troubled Water” was basically the same as all of his other performances. He sings better at the top end of his range than the bottom. For some reason, his deep voice always seems to sound like Kermit the Frog doing “Rainbow Connection.”
 Scotty McCreery – Another week, another similar country song by McCreery. If you love country music, there is no reason not to love McCreery. For non-country music fans, McCreery’s performances are fine, but nothing special. It is a bit comical that Pia was constantly criticized for her stage presence when McCreery’s stage presence is nothing more than leaning to one side as he sings. I once thought that he would be sent packing early because of his limited range, but I know think that he may actually make it all the way to the finale. His performance of George Strait’s “I Cross My Heart” was exactly what you would expect it to be. Every week is just more of the same from McCreery. If you like him, then you look forward to his performance, if you don’t, then he will never do anything to make you change your mind.
 Stefano Langone – This was an interesting week for Langone because he thought that he was going home for sure when he ended up in the bottom two with Pia. When he surprisingly dodged elimination, he knew that he had to make changes if he was going to stick around. In his pre-song interview, he said that connecting with the audience is just as important as singing the song. He clearly learned his lesson after witnessing Pia’s elimination. To his credit, he made drastic changes this week. His performance of “End of the Road” by Boys II Men was probably his best of the season. He moved around the stage and kept his eyes open while still delivering a powerful vocal performance. It may not save him from the bottom three, but he doesn’t belong there this week.
 Haley Reinhart – Early on in the competition, I could not understand how Reinhart was surviving from week to week. To the judges’ credit, they saw something in her that didn’t show up on TV. But then things finally clicked for Reinhart, and she has definitely been the most improved since the show started. Her performance of “Call Me” by Blondie was one of her best of the season. She looked and sounded sexy, and used just enough of her raspy voice to make the song her own. Once totally awkward on stage, Reinhart has become a confident performer. The judges didn’t love her performance, which makes me question them. They told her that it wasn’t a good song to showcase her vocals, and Randy Jackson used the word “karaoke” to describe it. Regardless of what the judges said, this performance was entertaining and showed another side of Reinhart.
 Lauren Alaina – This has nothing to do with Alaina, but her pre-song meeting with Jimmy Iovine and Will I Am was a bit surprising and unintentionally funny. Iovine told Alaina that she has the opportunity to “snatch up” Pia’s voters. This wasn’t necessarily untrue, but it was surprising to hear Iovine say it. The funny part came when Will I Am kept saying “snatch em up” and reaching out to grab the air. It was reminiscent of a scene in Beverly Hills Cop with Eddie Murphy speaking in a very effeminate manner to sneak past a gatekeeper. Will Alaina “snatch up” Pia’s voters? That remains to be seen. But she did do a very good job with her performance of “The Climb” by Miley Cyrus. Iovine said that she would do it better than Cyrus, and he was right. Alaina has proven that she has the makings of a country pop star in the vein of Carrie Underwood. With the right songs, she can achieve the same kind of success as Underwood.
 James Durbin – The order of the contestants is supposedly random, but there is no way that having Durbin close out this week’s show was anything but careful planning. He has always been the best performer from the beginning, and he keeps getting better by the week. With Pia out of the competition, there is no one who comes close to him vocally either. If ever there was a time for a rocker to win American Idol, it is now! But even if he loses, it won’t matter a bit. This kid is going to be a rock star! His performance of “Heavy Metal” by Sammy Hagar this week was brilliant. To paraphrase a movie title in honor of this week’s theme…James Durbin is in “A League of His Own.” He is the headlining act every week, and should always go last. It’s hard to imagine what it would have been like for another contestant to try and follow up Durbin’s performance last night, especially since it featured Zakk Wylde on guitar. Durbin embraces metal with pride and refuses to back down from doing what he wants to do even when the mentors instruct him otherwise. If Durbin is not in the finale, then this voting system will have ruined Season 10 of American Idol.
THE BOTTOM THREE
WHO GOES HOME?
Last week’s vote has proven that predicting who goes home is an exercise in futility. Given the fact that the girls seem to be getting picked off one-by-one, and the fact that the judges didn’t give Reinhart high marks for her performance, she will probably be the one eliminated. Hopefully, the voting audience will deliver another surprise this week and finally get rid of one of the boys.
Season 10 of American Idol has had its share of surprises but none even come close to the shock of seeing Pia Toscano eliminated so early on in the competition. Since the show’s inception, there have been times where the judges were disappointed and surprised by how America voted, but never has there been such a look of shock and anger on their faces when the results were announced.
All season long, the judges have been encouraging Toscano to show that she is more than just a great ballad singer. This week, she took their advice and performed an up-tempo song and ended up in the bottom three for the first time ever. What appeared to be a scare for Toscano turned into a nightmare for the producers of American Idol when it was announced that she received the lowest amount of votes.
With the one save of the season already used a few weeks ago to give Casey Abrams a second chance, the dumbfounded judges were powerless to do anything to keep Toscano in the competition. This turn of events should have Idol producers rethinking their methodology for determining who goes home each week. But will their ego allow it?
It is totally irrelevant to the viewing audience, but Ryan Seacrest announces how many votes were cast each week during the results show. The only logical reason to mention the total amount of votes is to impress current and future advertisers, even though advertisers base their decisions on ratings, not votes. The total number of votes only indicates how many times the voting base hit redial in support of their favorite contestant. And therein lies the problem.
The voting audience does not accurately depict of the opinion of the entire viewing audience. It has become painfully obvious that young girls are controlling the results of the show. And while they may be the ones who are most likely to buy the music of the winner and attend the annual American Idol tour, they are not the only ones watching. Unless American Idol wants to become the television version of Seventeen Magazine, the time has come to make a change.
With a total overhaul of the judging panel (except for Randy Jackson), there was a real possibility that Idol ratings would start to drastically decline, but it didn’t happen. However, if viewer favorites continue to get sent home because of an ill-conceived voting system, the ratings may very well take a massive hit. And with Simon Cowell’s new show “X-Factor” about to debut, viewers will have an appealing Idol alternative.
So, how does American Idol fix this broken voting system?
 They don’t have to look very hard for the easiest solution. Nigel Lythgoe produces American Idol and So You Think You Can Dance, but the shows don’t use the same system to eliminate contestants.
Both shows announce the bottom three contestants, but on American Idol, the die has already been cast, and there is nothing that can be done to prevent the contestant receiving the lowest amount of votes from being eliminated (once the judges have used their one “save” of the season).
When the bottom three contestants are announced on So You Think You Can Dance, each is given the opportunity to “dance for their lives” and then the judges determine which of the three will be eliminated. American Idol should do away with their wildcard save rule and switch to this system. While it is no guarantee that the right contestant will be sent home, it does prevent the absolute wrong contestant from being eliminated.
 American Idol won’t do this because of its sponsorship with AT&T, but if they really wanted to even out the voting, they could eliminate the phone vote all together by putting all of the voting online. Each voter would have to have an American Idol account which allows them to vote once per week. This would not be foolproof as people could easily sign up for multiple accounts using different e-mail addresses, but it would take a lot more time to cast votes on multiple accounts than it does to just keep hitting redial over and over again.
 If American Idol really wanted to fix this problem, they could take the online voting one step further by forcing voters to rank every contestant in order each week. Each first place vote would have the highest point value assigned to it, and each last place vote would have the lowest point value assigned to it. All votes in between first place and last place would have a descending point value.
This system would help in the following ways:
- Prevents robo-dialing and continuous redialing
- Makes it more difficult to vote with different accounts because it takes longer to complete
- Evens out the voting process so that a larger percentage of viewer opinions are represented
If American Idol decides to make a change, it will most likely be to adopt the So You Think You Can Dance methodology. Aside from the obvious Nigel Lythgoe connection, it would allow the current voting system to remain intact and it would be a seamless change to voters. It would allow American Idol to continue their relationship with AT&T, while also allowing the show to give themselves a weekly pat on the back by sharing the meaningless voter numbers with viewers.
If Pia Toscano’s elimination doesn’t inspire American Idol to make a change, they should not be surprised to see their ratings drop in the future.
Since American Idol cannot fix their broken voting system until next season, they better hope that the teenage girls vote James Durbin into the finale. If he should suffer the same unjust fate as Pia Toscano, Idol’s season of hope will turn into a disaster as viewers would surely start to tune out long before this season’s winner is anointed.
Last week’s double elimination show started out with the typical fake drama that has become a staple of reality television. By telling the audience that the results were shocking, we were led to believe that someone like Casey was going home because there were no saves left. It was a mild surprise to see Thia go home after her improved performance, but certainly not shocking. And though Naima has had her moments on the show, it was hard to find anyone who thought that she was staying after her performance of “I’m Still Standing” with a faux Jamaican accent.
As the number of contestants starts to dwindle, barring any terrible performances, the voting is very likely to be determined by each contestant’s fan base.
This week, the contestants were once again given a wide variety of song choices with the only limitation being that the songs had to come from artists who are enshrined in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Here is this week’s breakdown (in reverse order):
 Paul McDonald – Out of all the remaining contestants, McDonald’s voice is by far the weakest one. It’s hard to say what would have been a good choice for him other than a Rod Stewart song, but the decision to perform Johnny Cash’s “Fulsom Prison Blues” was a huge miscalculation. Jimmy Iovine even stated in the introduction that there is no one cooler than Johnny Cash. Love him or hate him, I doubt very much that anyone thinks of Paul McDonald as “cool.” About the best description that he can hope for is “quirky” or “eccentric.” His stage presence has always been bizarre, and this week was no exception. As he delivered the line “blow my blues away” his face was painted with his signature gigantic smile that was reminiscent of a clown’s mouth at a fast food drive-thru restaurant. Not exactly ideal when singing about the blues.
 Scotty McCreery – When the Top 13 were first announced, I predicted that McCreery would be one of the people who would exit quickly because of his limitations. While I still think that he is a one-trick pony, I believe that the trick is a good one for those who enjoy country music. His voice is just as good as most country stars, and he could make an album today and succeed without any further help from American Idol. For some reason, McCreery chose this week to try and show some versatility, but it didn’t come off very well. I found myself looking forward to the parts that featured his signature deep voice. His version of “That’s Alright Mama” was just that….alright. Nothing special and nothing terrible. He did show some stage presence, but other than that, this was not one of his better performances.
 Jacob Lusk – During the introduction, Lusk proclaimed “If I end up in the bottom three, it won’t be because I sang the song bad, it won’t be because I sang the song wrong…it’ll be because everybody in America wasn’t ready to look at themselves in the mirror.” I’m sure that this meant something to Lusk, but it just came off as arrogant on the show. His version of Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror” was exactly what you would expect it to be. Although Lusk has a wider vocal range than most, he has become a bit formulaic, and seems to be on the verge of becoming a one-trick pony just like Scotty McCreery. He can sing, and he can work the crowd from the stage. But there is nothing all that original about him, except for the fact that he seems to be more emotional than the rest of the contestants combined.
 Stefano Langone – Every week the judges encourage Langone to open up his eyes and connect with the audience. To his credit, he is trying to take their advice. However, making a drastic change is not easy to achieve in such a short time span, and watching the transformation can be a bit painful at times. You can tell that he is trying to take the judges advice, but at times he ends up squinting as he fights the urge to do what he has always done. His rendition of Percy Sledge’s “When a Man Loves a Woman” had its moments, but overall it was nothing special. When he sings in his natural voice and hits the power notes, his voice is as good as most of the contestants. But his falsetto in this song was weak, and it took away from the other parts. There is nothing terribly unique about Langone. He is just a very good singer who looks and sounds like a lot of other very good singers.
 Lauren Alaina – Even though American Idol is predominantly a singing competition, there has to be some consideration given to style. At this point in the competition, the show should be helping the contestants with their wardrobe. If they already are, then the person who is working with Lauren should be let go. Her voice is great, and she seems to be gaining in confidence from week to week. However, her look tends to take away from her performance at times. Her version of “Natural Woman” by Aretha Franklin was a good fit for her voice and she sang it very well. However, the arrangement was kind of slow and sleepy, and didn’t really allow Alaina to shine as brightly as she could have if it were a little livelier. Either way, she is one of the best this season, and her performance tonight should be more than enough to push her through to next week.
 James Durbin – It was going to be very difficult to top last week’s over-the-top stage show that Durbin delivered as he performed “Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting,” so he didn’t even try to do so. He surprised everyone by going in the complete opposite direction by sitting down and performing George Harrison’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” With the theme of the night being Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, most people expected another concert-like performance. Instead we got to experience the softer, more emotional side of Durbin. The song wasn’t ideal for showcasing his incredible vocal range, but it did show that he is the most versatile and dynamic performer in this year’s competition.
 Haley Reinhart – Throughout the competition, Reinhart has always been solid, but rarely spectacular. Her stage presence early on was equal parts awkward and strange. But once she guaranteed her slot on this summer’s American Idol tour, things seemed to click for her. All along the judges have been mentioning Reinhart in the same breath as Janis Joplin. In all honesty, I didn’t see it until tonight. Her version of Janis Joplin’s “Piece of My Heart” was by far her best since she has been on the show. Not only was it ideally suited for her voice, but she also connected so well with the song that it changed her whole demeanor on stage. For the first time this season, I finally saw what the judges have seen all along. She deserves to stick around for a while after tonight’s performance.
 Casey Abrams – He may not always be the best, but Abrams is always one of the most interesting contestants that has even graced the American Idol stage. His brush with elimination clearly served as a wake-up call. The original song that he chose for this week was Sting’s version of “Every Little Thing She Does is Magic,” but he wisely decided to go in a much more appropriate direction with Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Have You Ever Seen the Rain?” instead. Accompanied by his upright bass and a guitar player, Abrams delivered the kind of performance that had him turning heads early on in the competition. He showed a more “conventional” side with this performance, but also tastefully included some of his signature growls that make him stand out from the other contestants. Once again, the judges’ decision to use their one save on Abrams was validated with his rendition of a CCR classic.
 Pia Toscano – The judges and the fans all want to see Toscano’s subdued stage presence turned up a notch so that they are in line with her amazing vocals. It didn’t quite get there tonight, but at least it wasn’t just another flawless ballad. As promised last week, she stepped out of the ballad zone and into an up-tempo number that showed her versatility. Her performance of Tina Turner’s “River Deep, Mountain High” was one of her best of the season. Even though the song lent itself so well to showing that she can dance, Toscano still played it fairly close to the vest. But she did move around a bit, and she proved that her talent goes well beyond amazing ballad performances. As good as some of the female vocal performances are from time to time, none are even close to Toscano when she nails it. Her singing is at a level that puts her at the top of all current and previous female vocalists on American Idol.
THE BOTTOM THREE
WHO GOES HOME?
Paul McDonald – He has outlasted all of the people who didn’t have a strong enough following to stay in the competition. He was in the bottom three last week, and this should be the week that he finally gets eliminated.