Talking Shit

Idol Recap: In Which We Learn What's Really Important. (High Notes!)

There's a reason singing isn't an Olympic sport, and here it is: Notes are boring. No matter how high, no matter how low, no matter their vibrato, color, or duration, notes are inert and useless things. If I know this -- me, a blogger making 15 cents a day in an un-air-conditioned blogshop on the outskirts of Manilla -- then it seems American Idol's gazillionaire judges should know it too.

But they don't. They're irretrievably stupid. "Go for the big notes," they say, over and over, between somnambulistic ejaculations of their favorite adjective, amazing. Last night was great for big notes and amazings.

The theme was "Songs From the 21st Century." Here's the breakdown.

Scotty McCreery sings Leann Rimes' "Swinging":

The word the judges were looking for in their appraisal of McCreery's

cheeky, personable take on Leann Rimes' "Swinging" was casual. If they

had located that word, and if they had uttered it, it would not have

been a compliment. Scotty sang like he was singing about something, not

like he was singing for a prize. No big notes! Scotty got panned.

James Durbin sings Muse's "Uprising":

big voice can do just about anything, but what it most yearns to do is

take cheesy, over-the-top, third-gen rock songs and recheesify them unto

utter ridiculousness. (Witness his take on Sammy Hagar's "Heavy Metal.")

He got props this week from Interscope's Jimmy Iovine for picking a

song that didn't immediately smack of dumb-rock bombast and theatrics

and proceeded to stuff it full of dumb-rock bombast and theatrics -- as

well as rock-god posturing inane enough to make Scott Stapp jealous. The judges worshiped Durbin for this, for he had big notes. (But, you

know, rereading the lyrics to "Uprising," it occurs to me that Durbin

treated it with about as much seriousness as it deserves.)

Haley Reinhart sings Adele's "Rolling in the Deep": Adele's

voice is a great, Wagnerian wall of sound; Haley's can be that too, but it's so much more. Her

"Rolling" begins as a light, jazzy lament and after the first chorus

explodes into a roiling hurricane of pissed-off femalery. Goddamn,

listen to the way she whittles down her voice to a jagged, wounded rasp

on the last repetition of the phrase "you played it" -- gosh! And the

whole time, she avoided doing the awkward stage movements that dogged her

earlier performances. As usual, the judges were far less friendly to Haley than

they should have been. What was up with J-Lo's horrible fake smile at

the end?

Jacob Lusk sings Luther Vandross' "Dance With My Father": Lusk,

who possesses far and away the most sublime vocal instrument on the

show (ever!), needs to lighten up. Every week, it's tears and

histrionics, and moreso than ever last night, when Lusk dedicated his

performance to his deceased dad. The judges didn't like it, but as usual,

they picked on the wrong thing -- in this case, the absence of high

notes. Who cares? You don't need high notes in every song. You do, however, occasionally need some levity.

Casey Abrams sings Maroon 5's "Harder to Breathe": Ferocious!

Last week, Casey did yeoman's work reviving the old, delicate Nat King

Cole song "Nature Boy." This week, he rocked like an actual rocker

(unlike James Durbin, who rocks like a very talented guy impersonating a

rocker at a karaoke party), singing indelicately but soulfully as he

banged intermittently on a guitar. Again, this is a Maroon 5 song

-- not usually boner-inducing material. But Casey owned the song in ways that lifeless band never has. At the end, Casey walked up to

the judges' table and gave J-Lo a kiss on the cheek. He gets style

points for that but no bravery points: After such a gutsy performance, coming on

the heels of so many other gutsy Casey Abrams performances, a more

fitting coda would have been kissing Randy Jackson. On the mouth.

Stefano Langone sings Ne-Yo's "Closer":

receiving some terrifically bad advice from Jimmy Iovine, Stefano

decided to ditch his usual romantic schtick (which involves, among other

things, clutching his hands to his chest and pleading with the girls in

the front row) to replace it with some new, schlocky schtick (which

involves, horror of horrors, dancing). It was no good. When he didn't

look completely uncomfortable, he looked like he was leering. Though the

judges didn't notice, enacting his new and useless stage persona took

Stefano's mind off his singing, which was alternately lazy and strident.

He was hugely flat on the sustained notes of the first chorus -- a

mistake that may not have come across to those at the taping but that

made television speakers across America buzz in disgusted disharmony.

Very sad.
Lauren Alaina sings Sara Evans' "Born to Fly": Lauren

Alaina is a singer blessed with a big, beautiful voice but not an

especially wide range. Which is fine. It should be obvious to anybody

who's thought about music for more than two nanoseconds that it's not

the notes you hit but how you hit 'em. And Lauren Alaina hits 'em well.

Her singing on "Born to Fly" and everything else is strong, rich, and

sweet, like good brandy. That didn't matter to the judges, who think

artistry is something that can be measured by how often and how

dramatically one overshoots soprano high C. They told her, in effect, that

her songs can't be good till she starts hitting stratospheric high notes

-- which, if she's not comfortable with them, will not only sound

awful but also imperil her lovely vocal cords. What bums.

Who should end up in the bottom three?

Scotty McCreery (because he's a fine genre singer but not in the least

iconic), Stefano Langone (he's an overemotional balladeer), and Lauren

Alaina (because at 16, she's too young to lend her tenderhearted country

songs the gravitas needed to counterweight the automatic beauty of her


Who will end up in the bottom three? Scotty McCreery (because the American people don't like casual performances on Idol),

Jacob Lusk (because his seriousness and overemotionalism have begun to

feel manipulative), and Stefano Langone (because he's freaking


Who should go home? Stefano Langone. He's brilliant at muzak, and there's nobody I'd rather hear singing dimly from the overhead speakers as I squeeze my peaches in the Publix produce department. But it's the produce department, and not my television, that is the proper place for a man of Stefano Langone's talents.

Who will go home? Stefano Langone. See ya!

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Brandon K. Thorp