American Idol has been promising the "most talent yet" and we've heard that claim so often every season we've stopped believing. But given the performances tonight from Scotty McReery, Casey Abrams, James Durbin and Jacob Lusk, I've become a believer. And we haven't even seen the girls yet.
Idol hasn't had four talented people in its cast since Season 5. Last year there wasn't even one talented artist. It's hard to believe this is the same show that has crowned drips like Lee DeWyze and Kris Allen recently.
Perhaps that's because Idol finally has three judges who seem to care about finding talent to showcase as oppose to calling attention to themselves with forced, tiresome quips (Simon Cowell, I'm talking to you) or looney tunes from C-list '80s pop singers (Paula Abdul). Steven Tyler and JLo, I applaud you on this first live show of the season. Even Randy has never been so astute and on the game. The judges' constructive criticism, engaging banter and professionalism was a breath of fresh air. Best panel in years.
Top of the class:
Casey Abrams. Could well be the most purely gifted, most naturally voiced and musically accomplished contestant Idol has found in 10 years. Though he went just a touch over the top on Screaming Jay Hawkins' I Put a Spell on You, the growls served the blues tune. No one has ever looked like Casey, 19, on Idol and no one has had this broad appeal. Win or lose, he's the real find the judges have promised. Unlike Season 8's gifted Adam Lambert, he's not polarizing or overly full of himself, either.
Scotty McReery is the heir apparent to country legend Randy Travis. And he's only 17. In fact, in terms of vocal range, style and the kind of voice one can listen to for hours on end in a swank country club, this solid country baritone is better than country star and one-time Travis heir, Josh Turner. McReery sang John Michael Montgomery's Letters From Home and made it sound like a new country standard -- a true country standard, not the kind of bland country-pop or contrived cornpone country radio favors these days. This kid is the real deal. Nashville should sign him up no matter his fortune on this program. With once-great country stars like Alan Jackson and Tim McGraw coasting on past glories with one bland, formulaic release after another, and overhyped, offkey stars like Miranda Lambert collecting the awards, the country music industry needs a voice and persona like Scotty's right now.
James Durbin has gone from the most annoying to the show's most convincing rock star. For once, James reigned in the misplaced screeching and used his high range to good effect on a Judas Priest classic, You've Got Another Thing Coming. I'd give him points for introducing the routinely bland Idol to the almighty Priest in the first place. But he wowed me with his natural flair for performance and personality on this British steel classic. He followed a handful of generic performances from some Idol hopefuls who were dwarfed by the big, live stage (Clint, Jovanny, Jordan) and proves he's got some more weeks coming to him.
Jacob Lusk was my fourth standout. He's always had a velvet smooth, beautiful voice. But his manic, over the top, nutso performances during the auditions have always made me dread his appearance on this show. Tonight, he sang the overdone A House Is Not a Home and did it as well as Luther Vandross ever did. If he can continue to sing like this without over ornamenting, he's going to become another favorite.
By comparison, everyone else can go home. Boca Raton's Brett Loewenstern is an original, but his Light My Fire was mostly a fizzle. Considerably worse, Robbie Rosen and his limp Sarah McLachlan ballad, Jordan Dorsey's ill-advised Usher cover, Jovanny Barreto's boring, seen-it-all-before Idol cliche, I'll Be (he won't), Tim Halperin's overproduced and vocally anemic Rob Thomas tune, Stefano Langone's lame Bruno Mars mauling, Paul McDonald's soulless (but curiously likable) take on Rod Stewart's Maggie Mae, and Clint Jun Gamboa's generic, passe and nerve-rattled Stevie Wonder oldie.
In any other season, Brett and
Paul and even Clint would be worth another look, that's how strong this season seems to be. If the girls have an equal amount of talent Wednesday night, we're going to be in for a fine season.
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