First things first, I realize Glee took on Michael Jackson songs and that not everyone in the world is thrilled about it, but I look at it like this: It’s a tribute episode. The show utilized its talented cast and gave a handful of MJ’s classics a go. It’s completely ballsy on the show’s part, but I respect it.
Darren Criss (Blaine) took on “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’.” The upbeat track is a perfect fit for his voice. I enjoyed the arrangement of the song. It really didn’t stray at all from the original, but Glee just made it much more grandiose. The song was definitely a highlight.
The New Directions sparred head-to-head with the Dalton Academy Warblers on “Bad.” Kevin McHale (Artie), Criss and Naya Rivera (Santana) took the lead on this one, as the Warblers harmonized the beat. Let’s be real: McHale should always sing lead on MJ songs. Last season, he tackled both “P.Y.T.” and “Thriller.” He has an exemplary mix of pop and R&B vocal style. That said, Criss and Rivera were the most ideal voices to complement McHale as their styles are quite similar.
McHale also reigned supreme on “Scream,” in which he was paired up with Harry Shum Jr. (Mike). Glee did a great job with amping up the song’s arrangement. The track had more of a high-energy vibe than the original, and I must say as someone who was obsessed with the hit back in 1995, it worked.
Dianna Agron (Quinn) finally received her due in the spotlight on the Jackson 5’s “Never Can Say Goodbye.” This was a spot-on choice for her. Agron has more of a subtle kind of voice, but with the right song she’s able to make quite the impact.
The dynamic trio of Chris Colfer (Kurt), Lea Michele (Rachel), and Cory Monteith (Finn) took on “Ben.” Yes, the song about the rat. In context of the episode, I thought the song worked; all three singers sounded great, but in the end it’s still the song about a rat.
Michele and Monteith teamed up for “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You,” a predictable choice for this duo. I’ve always said that I think these two complement each other vocally quite nicely, and this track proved no different.
One of my favorite duets from the “Michael” episode was between Chord Overstreet (Sam) and Amber Riley (Mercedes) on “Human Nature.” I really liked the guitar-based arrangement. Overstreet’s tone and phrasing fit on this one like a sequined glove. I also enjoyed the subtle side of Riley’s vocals. I know she’s capable of hitting those big, crazy notes and runs, but I’ve always felt when she reins in her voice is when she truly shines. This duet really showcased the best of both singers.
The New Directions came together on “Black or White.” Led appropriately by McHale, this track’s arrangement probably most resembled that of the original. Also highlighted on the track were Michele, Riley, and Colfer. I’ve always liked the message of this song, and I’m glad Glee was able to utilize it during their MJ tribute.
Grant Gustin (Sebastian) handled the lead on The Warblers take on the J5’s “I Want You Back.” I have to give it up for Gustin, he’s got a great pop tone to his voice, which worked great for this classic tune.
Hands down, though, the showstopper of the MJ tribute was the “duel” between Gustin and Rivera on “Smooth Criminal.” Featuring the 2Cellos, Glee combined their inspired instrumentation with the pairing of two of the show’s most magnetic characters for one overwhelming vocal performance. Gustin infused the necessary attitude into his performance, whereas Rivera hit one of the most spot-on glory notes, proving she more than deserves the spotlight this season.
Music from Glee’s “Michael” is available on iTunes now.
Photo credit: Justin Lubin/FOX