Talking Shit

Recap of American Idol: In Which Judges Corrupt Otherwise Nice Kids

Last night's Idol theme was "songs from the movies." Apparently, the definition of a "song from a movie" in the Idol universe is "a song that was once listened to by someone on the set of a film." None of the obvious choices made it. "Mrs. Robinson"? Nope. "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing"? Nope. Instead, we got "Bridge Over Troubled Water" -- because when somebody thinks "Bridge Over Troubled Water," he immediately thinks of The Pursuit of Happyness. Right?

Anyway. Here are the highlights:

Jacob Lusk's "Bridge Over Troubled Water": Though

he seemed occasionally stymied by the song's simple, unimprovable

melody, Jacob wisely avoided essaying Aretha Franklin's needlessly

bombastic version. Merely by lending Paul Simon's lyrics the automatic

loveliness of his voice, he imbued "Bridge" with something new. At the

song's climax, he dodged Garfunkel's famous high note on the word bridge and instead sustained the song's final word, down, for 14 seconds, as he led a chorus of backup singers through three

gorgeous, ascending chords. The resulting noise was angelic.

Casey Abram's "Nature Boy": This is a gentle, chordally complex Nat King Cole number that Idol's

hitmaker-in-residence for the season, Interscope founder Jimmy Iovine,

warned Casey to dump. Casey refused. He hauled his stand-up bass onto

the stage and created some truly special sounds -- a more knotted or

nuanced melody has never been sung on Idol. The concern is that

jazz-averse viewers might be unable to process this kind of music and

hear Casey's singing as atonal. They may have thought the notes were wrong. But

they weren't. They were blue, and sometimes the embellishments took a

turn for the chromatic, but the notes themselves were very, very right.

That's it for the highlights. Now, the lowlights:

Paul McDonald's "Old Time Rock and Roll": Not

a movie song and definitely not a Paul song. With his kinky little

wisp of a voice, he should be singing Jose Feliciano or maybe Macy

Gray. Earlier this season, his pipes proved barely capable of sustaining a

decent Rod Stewart impersonation -- how the hell is he supposed to go

toe-to-toe with the baritonal Bob Seger? He can't. Doesn't matter. The

judges loved him, even though he was dressed like the Chiquita Banana


The judges' reaction to Haley Reinhart's "Call Me": The judges have ruined Haley Reinhart. Early on, she turned in virtuosic performances of Alicia Keyes' "Fallin" and Leann Rimes' "Blue,"

and the judges punished her for her stylistic range. The next week, they

told her that she'd be better off as a badder, bluesier version of herself

and that she should sound more like Janis Joplin. So now she's done

three weeks of vague Janis impersonations, thinking that tapping into her inner JanJop is just a matter of growling and belting herself hoarse.

Maybe the judges think so too -- they finally started praising her

performances just as the performances became painfully self-conscious.

No more praise, though. Haley's "Call Me" was fine -- she flubbed the

song's first note, but the rest of the performance was relentlessly

dynamic. At one point, she negotiated a shocking melodic improvisation

over one of the choruses with throat- hemorrhaging intensity, and

everybody in the room where I was watching gasped at once. Still, the

judges were unimpressed. Whattabunchatools.

As to the rest of them: Lauren Alaina did an all-right version of a Miley Cyrus song, if Miley Cyrus songs can be said to have all-right versions. James Durbin did a screaming, dynamic, brainless, and generally perfect take on Sammy Hagar's contribution to the Heavy Metal soundtrack

(with an unfair assist from shred-legend Zach Wylde). Teen heartthrob

and George Bush impersonator Scotty McCreery did a passable George Strait song; and Stefano Langone greatly improved a Boyz II Men song that I had honestly hoped to never hear again.

The bottom three should be:

Scotty McCreery (cuz boring), Paul McDonald (cuz suck), and Lauren

Alaina (cuz she's sweet, she's talented, but America does not need a

16-year-old idol who is moved by Miley Cyrus).

The bottom three will be:

Stefano Langone (cuz he's too sweet and sappy to pull off the romantic

persona he so yearns to inhabit), Haley Reinhart (cuz the judges are

dumb), and Lauren Alaina (cuz see above).

Paul should be going home. Instead, we're probably gonna bid adieu to Haley. Life's not fair.

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Brandon K. Thorp