It’s that very special week of the year, when we collectively realize that “American Idol” contestants were born the same year we saw “Uncle Buck” at the Westbury Drive-In. It’s the dreaded “Songs From the Year the Contestants Were Born” theme, or as I like to call it, “Producers Force Thia Megia to Sing a Song That Wasn’t Written 100 Years Ago.”
But this week “Idol” is also giving back. Portions of the proceeds from the studio recordings will go to helping the relief efforts in Japan. But really, the entire world benefits from watching Steven Tyler sing, “There’s something wrong with the world today … Oh, hi there. Let’s talk natural disasters.”
Before I point out that 75 percent of the season 10 contestants were born after “Mannequin” hit theaters, and 25 percent of them after “Mannequin 2: On the Move,” let’s rip right into the top 12′s performances.
Song: Tina Turner’s “What’s Love Got to Do With It?”
Verdict: What’s Pitch?
You know how Coco Chanel used to say, “When accessorizing, always take off the last thing you put on?” Naima could have taken off 30 things, and she’d still be a busy disaster of neon wrist-laces, chunky crystal neck brace collars, dangling earrings and silver chain mesh vests. You know you need fashion help when Steven Tyler accuses you of raiding his closet. (Tonight he looked ready to play Mahjong with the ladies who lunch. In Boca.)
I’m focusing on Naima’s clothes only because I wanted to start on a positive note. Her off-key rendition was so unpleasant, it made the judges deliver retroactive criticism. “Hey, remember how we raved about your reggae ‘Umbrella’ last week? Well we were wrong and you are a disgrace to this show and we wish we never met you,” said J. Lo and Randy. (I’m paraphrasing.) At first, Steven Tyler’s “sorcerer’s grasp for melody” critique skewed positive, but then I remembered hearing stories about a famous tone-deaf Aerosmith roadie named Sorcerer.
Song: Elton John’s “I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues”
Verdict: Cold Man
It’s time for a nursery rhyme sing-along. I rewrote the lyrics to “Old McDonald” to honor “Idol’s” resident “cool dude in a loose mood.” (Steven Tyler’s words, not mine.)
Paul McDonald has a cold.
He’s got a frog stuck in his throat.
With a bad note here.
And a glazed-eye there.
Here a cough. There a tweak. Everywhere a squeak squeak.
Did it sound any different from previous weeks?
Pocahontas’ Vanessa Williams’ “Colors of the Wind”
Verdict: Trail of Jeers
Since I started hosting “Idol Party Live” (Thursdays! 9 pm ET! MTV.com! “Idol” experts, celebs and YOU dishing about the week’s “Idol” happenings live! Tweet us using the hashtag #idolparty), I’ve been boldly predicting that Thia Megia would eventually sing this song. It’s a pageant staple; written with the sole intention of winning an Oscar, with a pat “yay environment” message that’s objection-proof (unless you’re part of the “Anti-Grinning Bobcat” movement).
I did not, however, predict feather earrings. Touché, Thia Megia. Touché.
Thia’s performance was as banal as I imagined a Thia Megia “Colors of the Wind” performance would be. But I did appreciate catching the guitar player’s accidental “wah wahhhhh” face as the rote ballad came to an end. And any excuse to cutaway to vocal coach (and future best friend forever) Peggi Blu is all right with me.
Thia showed more personality as a baby singing an original called “I Will Always Love You.” Before you blame a 6-year-old for plagiarism, Thia said she wrote it before she knew about “the Whitney Houston song.” And before you blame her for not knowing “I Will Always Love You” is really a Dolly Parton song, Thia’s hard drive hasn’t been the same since her dad accidentally spilled a Diet Coke on her three years ago.
Song: Bon Jovi’s “I’ll Be There for You”
Verdict: Pop Goes the Weasel
According to the adorable Mama Durbin, James was a happy little boy who sang his ABC’s in perfect pitch. “I think it’s a lot of bull,” laughed James. But nobody laughed harder than me. “James Durbin’s perfect pitch” my keister. Speaking of butts, his damn tail’s back.
To his credit, Durbin’s raucous Bon Jovi cover looked like it was a party and a half in the studio. Producers even gave the dude pyro! At this rate, by the time we hit the top four, Nigel Lythgoe’s going to have to add unicorns to performances to keep us impressed. Slow your roll, Lythgoe!
Unfortunately, the fun didn’t translate to my living room. Sort of like your friend’s long-winded story about his recent “funny” experience at the DMV. “I guess you had to be there.” From where I was watching, it played like karaoke night at Coogan’s Pub, no matter how many fancy leather studded bandanas he wrapped around his feet.
In house, the performance did the trick. It convinced Steven Tyler to perform with James at the finale, which prompted the first Steven Tyler Live Bleep of 2011. The bleep lasted a good 5-6 seconds, so either Tyler let out a string of obscenities that would make Richard Pryor blush or the Fox censor was just groggy after being lulled to sleep by the first third of the show.
Song: Whitney Houston’s “I’m Your Baby Tonight”
Verdict: My Baby Is Back
Jimmy Iovine, who apparently moonlights as a licensed therapist based on his one-to-one sessions with “Idol” contestants, reassured Haley that she has no chance to win this year. “But you might still get a record deal,” was the basic gist of his “encouraging” speech. Haley stared at him politely while imagining a feral cat digging its claws into his eyeballs.
Regardless of what Mr. Iovine thinks, Haley was back in rare form this week. Her endearing, growly, drunk-baby vocal quirks led to some of the most spectacularly misheard lyrics in “Idol” history. “You got a magic bone,” “I’ll go down on your baby,” “I don’t want the pizzas,” “I’ll be your ninja” and “I’ll be, yo midget!” are all things I’m pretty sure Whitney Houston said on “Being Bobby Brown,” but never during the song “I’m Your Baby Tonight.”
As if those weren’t enough for me to proclaim this my fave “Idol” performance of the season, Haley somehow smeared bright red lipstick all over her chin, teeth, cheek and microphone in what will be forever known as “The Great Lipstick Massacre of 2011.” This is true love, folks.
Inexplicably, the judges called Haley out for the same exact things they love about the boys. Jennifer Lopez loves when Paul McDonald “dances,” but looks at Haley and says, “Don’t force your movement.” Randy accuses Haley of an identity crisis when she jumps from Alicia Keys to country to Whitney but adores Casey Abrams’ “art before commerce” song choices, ranging from Screamin’ Jay Hawkins to the Beatles to Nir-frickin’-vana. This is “American Idol X: Only Those With Penises Can Be Quirky.”
I don’t disagree with Steven Tyler’s “more blues, less Whitney” assessment, but I also think Haley’s presence on the show deserves a heck of a lot more attention than a shrug and a “you look beautiful.”
Song:Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes’ “If You Don’t Know Me By Now”
Verdict: Little Soul Patch, Big Voice
Barely 10 minutes after James Durbin gushed over the songs of ’89, Stefano Langone — who inherited his passion for music and carefully sculpted miniature soul-patches from his dad — went on a rant about the mess of late-’80s chart-toppers. So Langone found a loophole. In 1989, Simply Red had a hit dusting off Harold Melvin’s soul ditty, and now Langone is eager to make it a hit in 2011. At weddings.
Cheesy arrangement aside, Langone’s performance was scrumptious, mixing the best qualities of David Archuleta and Elliot Yamin’s voices and presenting them in the fresh wardrobe of Anoop Desai. It was legit enough for me to (almost) forget about David Brent’s version.
Side note: Paul McDonald gets a lot of love for his white smile, but this is the second time Stefano has opened up his mouth wide enough for us to notice that he has zero fillings in his teeth. I get it, Stefano. You floss. Big whoop. Do you think we can go a week without looking at your uvula?
Song: Whitney Houston’s “Where Do Broken Hearts Go”
Verdict: Pia: The Remix
Pia Toscano took the judges advice to “do an uptempo number” by singing a ballad a little bit faster and making Rodney Jerkins add a beat to it. Sneaky!
Her powerful pipes are impressive. There’s no debating that. Her glory note inspired a friend to tweet, “Three letters: P. I. A.” But her shoulder-exposing high-waisted pantsuit was WTF and if she doesn’t start picking songs with more personality, she’ll continue to make me ZZZ.
Song: Travis Tritt’s “Can I Trust You With My Heart”
First “What’s Love Got to Do With It?” Then “Where Do Broken Hearts Go?” Now “Can I Trust You With My Heart.” Season 10-ers asked a lot of questions Wednesday night.
There’s no question (segue!) that McCreery is going to get signed to a record deal, regardless of whether Seacrest reads his name tomorrow night or at the finale. Still, Scotty’s pushing himself to do new things every time he’s on the “Idol” stage. For example, this week, he chose a country song performed by a deep-voiced cowboy and sang it with a smirk. Crazy, right? The possibilities are endless! (Do you think he’ll ever try a Randy Travis song?)
Actually, Scotty, the ex-Elvis impersonator, did stretch a little by attempting to hit a high note this week. According to J.Lo, he held it longer in rehearsal. Kudos to her for attending rehearsal and bigger kudos for stepping up her judging game big time for week three.
Song: Taylor Dayne’s “Love Will Lead You Back”
Verdict: Oh, Brother. Jonas Brother.
10 Things We Learned About Karen Rodriguez Wednesday Night
1. She is the last remaining MySpace user on the Internet.
2. Celeb stalking runs in the family. Her sister pushed her to try “Idol” to get her closer to Nick Jonas. (“I’m tighter with Joe,” quips Seacrest, not realizing that those four words fuel fun rumors for both of them.)
3. Her. Mother. Is. A. Dorable.
4. Jimmy Iovine thinks Karen’s a horse. (Did anyone follow his analogy?)
5. Karen’s Bond-villain-meets-”Earth Girls Are Easy”-meets-”Jersey Shore” styling exposed her as an alien sent to Earth to sing backup for the B-52′s, fist-pump and kidnap Jennifer Lopez. Not necessarily in that order.
6. Karen has the unique power to get J. Lo to admit that her singing career is a farce. “If you are nervous about certain notes, don’t go there,” Lopez said, speaking from experience.
7. Slipping into Spanish mid-song is known as “ethnic what-it-isness,” according to Steven Tyler.
8. TV tip! When producing interviews with Latina mothers, it is best to needlessly subtitle them, film them in an alley and wallpaper the soundtrack with ethnic music.
9. Karen has no idea who Mikalah Gordon and Carmen Rasmusen are, since Taylor Dayne’s hit sent both of them packing on previous “Idol” cycles.
10. Performing is 5 percent singing on key, 95 percent neck snapping.
Song: Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit”
Fun fact: Casey Abrams’ hilarious parents were the basis for the Lily Tomlin and Alan Alda characters in “Flirting With Disaster.” (Not a fact.)
Casey’s, um, spirited rendition of Nirvana’s classic marked one of the instances I longed for Simon Cowell’s descriptive takedowns. “It was like something you’d see in a final showcase at music camp, where the 15-year-old thinks he’s cool for refusing to perform Beethoven but in reality he’s exposing how uncool and unsure of himself he is,” he’d say, baffled by Randy Jackson’s and Steven Tyler’s rave reviews.
The good: Casey busted out the first instrument of season 10, and, I believe, the first electric bass on “Idol” ever. Also, in a night full of ballads by Whitney and Disney princesses, I appreciated Casey’s left-field song choice.
The bad: The lighting (green?!), the arrangement (copycat but with bonus jazz trumpets?!), the singing (or, as J. Lo called it, the “screamy screechy”?!) He wanted to be a water-cooler moment. He ended up being a headscratcher.
Song: Melissa Etheridge’s “I’m the Only One”
Verdict: Getting There
I’ve been a Lauren Alaina supporter since day one, yet I’ve noticed she inspires intense anger from the haters on the Internet. So, as a public service, I’d like to offer the 16-year-old some helpful hints that might prevent her from rubbing people the wrong way.
Bragging about being photographed as a toddler giving the “talk to the hand” pose: not endearing.
Singing the crap out of a song through a fluey fog: endearing.
Pouting when the judges give you constructive criticism, a la last week: not endearing.
Smiling politely when the judges sing your praises a la this week: endearing.
Acting loopy on cold meds during a pre-performance interview: surprisingly, endearing. (What can I say? It was like having Paula back on “Idol” for a few brief moments.)
Never endearing: treating Ryan Seacrest like your boyfriend or brother or sister or cousin. No obnoxious nicknames, no mock coughing. Just hold up the appropriate number of fingers based on your phone number, smile, and only speak when spoken to.
Really never endearing: Letting mom wear your clothes. (Mama Alaina: Aeropostale is not appropriate for 30-something parents! Where’s Jenny Jones and her business casual makeovers when you need her?)
Song: Heart’s “Alone”
Verdict: Holy Terror
Lusk was eager to put his “Lusky stink” on a rock song. His first victim? Heart’s beloved single, “Alone.” How is said stink created? Easy! Simply sing like you’re holding in a burp when going for a “quiet” moment. Gently caress the microphone, except when threatening to swallow it. Unhinge your jaw when you want to sing high notes, which will end up being 99 percent of the time. Hums, hems and hiccups should be used for maximum drama.
The performance went off the rails at the midpoint key-change. I could hear Jacob’s internal monologue saying, “Oh snap, I still have another half of a song to do? I shouldn’t have started so high. It’s OK. I’ll rock back and forth onstage and shout. Nobody will notice that I stopped singing 40 seconds ago.”
For the most part, he was right. “Gospel had a baby and they named it Jason [I mean] Jacob Lusk,” said Sal, I mean, Steven Tyler. Personally, I’m shocked that Jacob’s mom and Gospel would have premarital sex. But stranger things have happened. Like that one time the sassy over-singer got the final pimp spot at the end of an “Idol” episode.
Who were your faves Wednesday night? Do you think producers passed Lauren Alaina’s microphone around backstage to make everyone else sick? Am I an “Idol” dork for being more excited by seeing Fred Bronson in the audience than Kate Hudson and Matt Bellamy? And what did Carly Smithson do to “Idol” producers to be so blatantly snubbed by Seacrest during his chat with Mary Murphy and Tamyra Gray? And did anyone else catch the irony of Steven Tyler calling out Bon Jovi for being too “poppy” when Tyler allows every “Man Dresses Like a Woman” Hollywood comedy to use “Dude Looks Like a Lady” in a montage? Sound off in the comments below, or hit me up on Twitter @jambajim! Hope to see you at tonight’s “Idol Party Live!”