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American Idol: The Remix, Indeed

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Last night on American Idol, the Top 13 were singing songs by their musical idols. Each contestant was mentored by a music producer from in-house mentor Jimmy Iovine’s team.

Kicking off the show was Lauren Alaina, who worked with producer Don Was, was singing Shania Twain’s “Any Man of Mine.” My first thought was that she was going to be able to show loads of personality and in the words of Randy Jackson, “Blow it out the box.” That was definitely not the case.

Don’t get me wrong, Lauren sounded fantastic. But her performance was boring. She really needs to learn how to move around the stage and really work her song. She hardly infused any personality into her performance, which I think is going to be her downfall in the competition. The judges keep talking about having the full package, she’s got the voice, but she needs more self-confidence.

Casey Abrams worked with Jimmy Iovine on The Beatles’ “With a Little Help AMERICAN IDOL: Casey Abrams performs in front of the judges on AMERICAN IDOL airing Wednesday, March 9 (8:00-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. CR: Ray Mickshaw / FOX.From My Friends.” For me, this was the best Casey has sounded since the Hollywood rounds. He reined in his growl, which presented a more controlled vocal performance. He hit a light falsetto note, which I also thought was pretty nice.

This week Casey needed to prove that there is a voice behind the growling and the scatting, and he pulled his performance off really well. As far as I’m concerned, he’s the real deal and he can sing.

Working with Rodney Jerkins this week was Ashthon Jones, who sang Diana Ross’ “When You Say You Love Me.” The judges told her last week that they viewed her as more of a Diana Ross-type of singer, so she picks a ballad, which was pure karaoke. Ashton needs to step away from the ballads. We get it, you can sing. But, last night’s performance is exactly why she was not originally put through to the Top 13. She’s picks songs that are not familiar to the audience and proceeds to put on a boring and forgettable performance. If she makes it through to the Top 12, she needs to re-think her game plan, because as far as I can tell, it’s not working.

Paul McDonald worked with Ron Was on Ryan Adam’s “Come Pick Me Up.” You know, Paul is a quirky dude, so I was expecting something a little different from him and he delivered. What I like about Paul, is that he treats every performance like he’s in the middle of a concert. He comes off as very personable and likeable. His dancing left much to be desired, and sadly this week, so did his vocal performance. I thought he was pretty pitchy throughout his performance. I’ve never really heard anyone with a voice like Paul’s before, and I am wondering how he is going to make it work with his song selections. It’s important to have a good song, but it should be a good song that also works with your voice. I didn’t think that this was the best we’ve heard from Paul, but I hope he moves on to the Top 12.

Ron Fair worked with Pia Toscano on Celine Dion’s “All By Myself.” When I found out that Pia was singing Celine, I felt like the song choice was a little indulgent, but she managed to pull it off.

In the beginning, her voice was really kind of shaky, but by the middle part she pulled it altogether, and hit one incredible note. I really wish she could have held onto that note just a wee bit longer, because it ended slightly abrupt. By the end of her performance, I had chills. That said, it’s time for Pia to step away from the ballads. We haven’t seen any real personality from her yet, and that is what will send her on an early trip home if she doesn’t shake things up.

James Durbin worked with Jim Jonsin on Paul McCartney’s “Maybe I’m Amazed.” I thought James gave a great vocal performance this week. He showed restraint with the screams, which my ears more than appreciated. Did anyone else catch the sly, almost cocky look he gave to the camera towards the end of his performance? That almost ruined the whole thing for me. With this performance, he finally proved to me why he has made it this far in the competition, but someone needs to serve him up a slice of humble pie, pronto. Modest is hottest. Just sayin’.

Producing duo Rock Mafia worked with Haley Reinhart on Leann Rimes’ “Blue.” Haters to the left, because I really liked this performance. Haley kicked off “Blue” very nicely with that opening note. I felt like she was showing a little bit of vocal versatility with this performance. She did struggle during the middle of the song, but found her way back at the end of the song. She received a mixed bag of comments from the judges, but I think she will be around for Top 12.

Jacob Lusk worked with Rodney Jerkins on R. Kelly’s Space Jam classic, “I Believe I Can Fly.” I ran out of love for this song back in the eighth grade, but I figured maybe Jacob could do it some justice. And he almost had me sold this week. Backed by a choir, I thought he would maybe keep the performance focused and not get crazy with the vocal wrongs. Boy, did I think wrong. In an attempt to take it to church, Jacob’s notes were very sharp at the end. He definitely ventured on entering the perimeter of Danny Gokey’s “Scream On” performance from season eight. It was truly that bad. It seems like Jacob is not planning on holding anything back this season, but he needs to truly watch himself when he starts going crazy with the vocal theatrics. I was bored with them when they were in key, but now my ears just hurt.

Randy Jackson keeps referring to Idol this year as “Season 10: The Remix,” and last night a Thia Megia and Stefano Langone took his phrase quite literally.

Thia worked with Ron Fair on the Michael Jackson version of the Charlie Chaplin song, “Smile.” Or according to Thia, Charlie Chapman. I think a long with the Idol contestants working with top notch producers, some of this season’s finalists need to get schooled in music history. Especially those who have never heard of The Beatles (Ashthon, I am looking at you), or for those who had no clue that they singing a Charlie Chaplin song. I just don’t think you can or should be the next American Idol without knowing these things.

Thia kicked off the song with her rather weird vocal tone that has reappeared since making the Top 13. Imagine that! I thought her first couple of notes were just not good. As she was beginning to hit her stride, the arrangement took an unlikely turn into somewhat of a jazzy remix. I just wasn’t loving it at all. Performance aside, Thia kind of comes off as having all the personality of a robot while on stage. And did anyone else’s jaw hit the ground when Randy compared her to Adele? Really, Randy?

When the cameras were behind the scenes getting reactions from the contestants, it was fairly obvious at why Idol shouldn’t have lowered the age limit. Between the sad puppy dog face and innocent Georgian drawl from Lauren Alaina to tears from Thia, both of these girls were shining examples of why they are too young to be in the competition. Sorry ladies, you’re not always going to like what you hear.

Polo Da Don was who Stefano Langone worked with on Stevie Wonder’s “Lately.” At the beginning of the song, Stefano hit quite the rough patch. He did manage to pull out a couple of nice sounding notes, when the arrangement took a turn into the disco era. To be honest, I thought the remix on the song was weird. I still don’t entirely understand how Stefano got a second chance at the Wild Card, let alone being put through to the Top 13. But, he’s probably got the young girls’ vote on lock, considering he looks like a post-pubescent David Archuleta, just minus the vocal ability.

Karen Rodriguez worked with Jim Jonsin on Selena’s “I Could Fall In Love.” The way Karen talks about her love for Selena and her music, while interchanging Selena’s name with Jennifer Lopez’s name, leads me to believe that she doesn’t entirely grasp the fact that they are indeed two separate people. But, maybe that’s just me.

Karen’s vocal performance last night was bad. There’s no sugar coating my way around this one, folks. It was go-home-and-pack-up-your-Selena-dolls bad. There’s no possible way Karen is not going to be taking a trip to the bottom three tonight.

Baby lock them doors, I mean, Scotty McCreery worked with Don Was on “The River” by Garth Brooks. I think Randy summed it up best last night when he told Scotty, “If it ain’t broke, don’t even consider thinking about fixing it.” I definitely agree, because Scotty is on a roll. I would love to see him challenge himself next week with an upbeat country number.AMERICAN IDOL: Naima Adedapo performs in front of the judges on AMERICAN IDOL airing Wednesday, March 9 (8:00-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. CR: Ray Mickshaw / FOX.

Closing out the show was Naima Adedapo who worked with Tricky Stewart on Rihanna’s huge hit “Umbrella.” Tricky originally produced the track with Rihanna, and he re-worked the track for Naima.

Now this may be an unpopular opinion, but I thought Naima’s performance was pretty good. I thought she started out very strong vocally, and breaking it down reggae twist was just awesome. Now, she did have some pitch problems after the reggae part, due to the dancing, and not balancing her breathing properly. But damn, I thought her performance was all kinds of awesome.

I thought Naima was really kind of limiting herself with the old fashioned performances, and to come out and doing something current was the best thing she could have done last night. She needed to adapt her style to today’s music, last night she did just that.

My biggest issue of the night, other than Karen’s performance, was Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler’s lack of judging. I get that the show is almost live now, and they are probably watching what they are saying, but what happened to the truthful judges from the initial auditions? Jennifer was making me want to throw things when she was telling contestants that it didn’t matter if they were pitchy. Actually, at first I was like, ‘Oh, of course J-Lo doesn’t care about pitch,’ and then I got frustrated, because these kids are supposed to be able to sing on pitch. There is something wrong in the world when I am consistently agreeing with Randy. This has never happened.

Overall, it wasn’t a stellar night of Idol performances, but I think as the contestants get more comfortable on stage and pick songs that work for them, rather than against them, they’ll be putting on quite the show for us.

While you wait to read my thoughts on tonight’s Top 13 results, check out my two-part interview with Idol Top 24 contestant, Tim Halperin.

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About Kirsten Coachman

Kirsten Coachman is a writer and editor from the San Francisco Bay Area. Visit her long-running music blog, Wait...WHAT, at waitwhatmusic.net. Follow Kirsten Coachman on Twitter: @KirsCoachman
  • Butch

    Best of night: Stefano. Reminded me of Elliot Yamin. He picked a tough song to sing, but turned in an incredible effort that sounded great.

    Ashton was so flat, it sounded like she was singing the song a half step lower than the band. Horrible.

    Paul McDonald almost literally made me ill. This guy should be Vote For the Worst’s pick. Yeah, his singing voice is weird but that doesn’t make it good.

    Jacob Lusk should be VFTW’s pick after McDonald is sent packing. This kid has a lot of spirit, but his style is tacky, garish, and entirely lacking in taste.

    Durbin surprised me at how decent he was on the McCartney tune. But the way he directed the crowd’s applause level after his performance? What an arrogant ass.

    Casey Abrams. I’m sorry he’s having health problems. He’s got a lot of talent. But I think he is trying too hard with all the yelling. But his non-yelling voice is not really very distinctive. I hope his health improves.

    Scotty did good, right now I could see him winning the whole thing. But yeah, I agree he needs to try something a little more uptempo.

  • Butch

    Oh yeah – for to mention: it’s Charlie ChapLIN.

  • Kirsten

    Oh, I know. Just caught that myself. I’m waiting for an edit.

  • I correctly predicted the bottom 3 tonight, something I have a rather spotty record doing. The thing is, there were no really bad performances for the most part — just un-thrilling ones.

    Casey and James were the outstanding performers this week. [“In the hospital” sounds serious…what’s up with Casey? He has a better than reasonable chance of winning this year, so it was disturbing news.]

    The new Entertainment Weekly [written before this week’s performances] picked Casey, Lauren and Scotty as the front-runners. I would put James in second place at this point. [And Jacob is still probable Top 5 material. Butch and Kirsten underestimate him, I think.]

    And yes, Scotty’s easy to like, but isn’t he basically just doing a surprisingly deft recreation of deep-voiced country stars twice [or more] his age? Brad Paisley he’s not. Did you notice they couldn’t find a solo spot for him in the Michael Jackson medley tonight? He doesn’t have to be able to do Broadway or Motown, but he does need to show some originality and range and get outside his comfort zone.

    And the females need to kick it up a notch. Still too much competent boringness.

  • Kirsten

    From what I’ve read tonight, when Casey gets stressed, his stomach starts bleeding? Sounds like an ulcer. He tweeted from the hospital a little while ago saying that he was feeling a bit better.

  • Sherry

    Hollywood Reporter is saying Casey has Ulcerative Colitis. Hopefully he can keep it under control for the competition. That’s a tough one to deal with for a lot of people.

  • Wow, ulcerative colitis at age 20. He seems so carefree on the surface….but of course live TV performances could stress out anybody. He had to have blood transfusions! I’m worried.

  • Sherry

    Yes, it is worrisome. His age is common for people with UC. It often strikes people in their 20’s. Not sure how long he’s had it of course.

  • Sherry

    Of even if actually does have I should say. That’s just what I saw reported.