American Idol borrows the title of an old Carpenters LP for tonight's theme: Now and Then. Apparently, the remaining Fabulous Five have to sing a song from the '60s (then) and today (now). Why go all the way back to the 60s for kids who were mostly born in the 90s? Wouldn't 80s, or even 90s, be "then" enough?
Now that it's done we find that Jacob Lusk did everything he could to get eliminated Thursday, James Durbin tumbled from front runner status to just above Jacob and Haley Reinhart becomes a contender. Idol also revealed that it is no advertisement for contemporary songwriting, because, one and all, the new songs performed during the first 45 minutes were all tuneless, forgettable nonentities, including an unreleased Lady Gaga song Haley introduced. So far, Gaga is three for three in crummy new stillborn songs from her forthcoming Born This Way album. Time for a backlash?
Scotty McCreery, however, proves the most consistent of the night. Scotty performed the newer Montgomery Gentry tune, Gone, well. It's a formulaic country banality but he, more than anyone, knows exactly who he is and what he's selling as an artist and he was on his game in terms of vocal and performance. His oldie, Always on My Mind, is tired from overexposure but, similarly, he sang it quite well. His rendition will never approach Willie Nelson's definitive 1982 Top 5 pop hit version but it'll do.
Lauren Alaina was also consistent with her overproduced, plastic new tune (Carrie Underwood) and oldie (Righteous Bros.) but that Idol Moment still eludes her. Unchained Melody had some nice moments here and there, she looked great, if retro Mandrell sisters (to quote my pal Lesley), but it wasn't worth a download.
James proved he has the rock star moves and worked the stage quite well for his cover of the generic, hookless and dull 30 Seconds to Mars rocker but his vocal lacked finesse. The only thing that wasn't flat about that performance was his hair which looked like a cabana post hurricane. James overplayed his hand on a weepy cover of the similarly overexposed Without You by crying during rehearsals and barely getting through the live rendition. This overreaction display of vulnerability and tears could net him some votes from the sympathetic but, for the first time during the live shows, I didn't buy him. None of it felt genuine and little of it was listenable.
Jacob was worse. The key was set so high on his No Air rendition there was no air for his vocals to land in tune. Hysterical and painful. The judges made too much of the point that singing both parts of a duet is foolhardy. No Air is not that complex a song and there wasn't much of a difference between Jordin Sparks' and Chris Brown's parts of the original song. Singing both parts was hardly a feat. Diana DeGarmo sang the Barbra Streisand and Donna Summer parts of No More Tears (Enough Is Enough) in the third season and did so masterfully. The Streisand/Summer tune is far more complicated than the bland No Air. Jacob wasn't any better on Nazareth's mid 70s rock ballad Love Hurts. When he sings in his lower register there is some warmth and resonance in his voice. But, once again, he flew into the stratosphere and when Jacob goes high he gets so far offkey not even a locksmith could help him.
Haley was the wild card winner of the night. She earned knocks from the judges for introducing an unreleased Gaga tune, You and I, but I don't think it was a bad artistic move to introduce, to the TV masses, a new song from a currently red hot pop star. Daring move and fresh. The problem is the Gaga song is mediocre, a point that didn't go unnoticed by judge Randy Jackson, and Haley oversold it vocally. But she handily won the oldies portion of the night by tackling the Animals' classic song about a New Orleans whorehouse, House of the Rising Sun, and did some wonderful things once inside it. The best part was her a capella opening, a dramatic and perfect hook. She might have pushed the verses a bit too far into the red but she still comes off with a win for the night's most passionate, committed performance. Haley's known the bottom three but she should avoid the danger zone tomorrow night.
Best of night: Scotty, Haley.
Worst of night: Jacob, James.
Eliminated prediction: Jacob. His time came weeks ago and all the screaming in the world shouldn't save him now.
Look for Twitter commentary and a review here later.