American Idol Top 7 Performance Night Recap: For Those Who Managed to Rock, We Salute You!
I can’t get no satisfaction — not when it comes to American Idol‘s Season 12 theme nights, anyway.
I know, I know: A couple weeks back I put together a gallery of potential alternatives to the usual “Songs That Inspire” and “Songs From the Year You Were Born” — and I’d actually included “’80s Rock” and “No Ballads Allowed” among my 22 suggestions. So you think that Fox’s official announcement of “Classic Rock, No Ballads” for Top 7 night would’ve been cause for nothing but a joyful Headbangers Ball up in Casa Slezak.
Alas, the problem this week wasn’t as much concept as it was execution. First of all, Burnell’s post-performance chat with Ryan Seacrest hinted what most of us know too well: Idol persists in foisting a limited list of pre-cleared songs on its finalists, thereby stifling their creativity and imagination and ensuring we’re doomed to hear the umpteenth version of “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” or “You Give Love a Bad Name” or “The Letter.” Plus, Nigel Lythgoe’s borderline phobic treatment of songs written after the Year 2000 is becoming almost comical in its absurdity.
And don’t even get me started about the fact that Amber essentially sang a ballad. Or the fact that, in the interest of a “redemption edit,” Angie somehow got away with a 2003 Evanescence hit which prompted the producers to drop the modifier “Classic” and turn it into the much more expansive-sounding “Rock Night.” Is it any wonder they had the final two performance slots this week? (Subtlety has never been Nigel’s strong suit.)
Thankfully, a handful of performances managed to cut through the “been here, done this” aura that swept across the stage like so much dry ice. And hey, as my Twitter follower @mjdipaolo pointed out, at least the show seems to have put the SwayBots back in the quarantine barn down on the farm (if you’ll excuse a Walking Dead Season 2 reference). With that said, let’s jump to tonight’s set list and letter grades for every performance.
Burnell Taylor: Bon Jovi’s “You Give Love A Bad Name” | Look, I understand rock ‘n roll isn’t in Burnell’s “wheelhouse,” but he performed his Bon Jovi cover with such an absence of enthusiasm you might’ve mistakenly thought he was on the Martha Stewart show and learning how to correctly fold a fitted sheet. At best, the performance was a kid waving a white flag with embarrassment and begging for a free pass into next week, when he can get back to performing a ballad at the mic stand while moving nothing but his hands. At worst, though, it was an 18-year-old already so stubbornly attached to a narrow idea of who he is (or wants to be) as an artist, that he can’t be bothered to get creative, find a fresh approach to a new song or give us anything other than depressing karaoke. (For my money, the most honest feedback from the judges was Keith’s howl of laughter as the cameras cut away from the performance and to the judges’ table.) Sure, based on overall body of work, Burnell deserves to outlast Lazaro, but with non-efforts like this, it’ll be hard to muster up outrage if he doesn’t. Grade: D+
Angie Miller & Lazaro Arbos: Queen’s “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” | For the second consecutive week, Lazaro proved his inability to handle learning the lyrics to more than one song per episode. Angie tried gamely to cover her partner’s missed cues and mumbled delivery, but by the midway point, it seemed as though the volume on her mic had been turned down, transforming the number into a showcase for the show’s background singers. That’s when my internal Siri tried to call up a memory of Joshua Ledet and/or Fantasia’s awesome “Crazy Little Thing” covers from prior seasons — heck, I’d have settled for Tim Freakin’ Urban’s — but like Clarice Starling hearing the screaming of the lambs, some horrors can’t be drown out. Grade: D
Kree Harrison: Janis Joplin’s “Piece of My Heart” | Let me preface this by saying that I think Kree Harrison has an absolutely beautiful voice. But contrary to Mariah Carey’s critique, I’m really starting to feel like Kree doesn’t always understand which songs are best suited to her instrument. I mean, “Piece of My Heart” is essentially The Giving Tree in human form: It’s about a protagonist who’s offered her man “everything a woman possibly can” — and you can hear that well of desperation in every tremble and croak of Janis Joplin’s raggedly warble. Kree’s version had none of those rough edges, and alas, none of its gut-level emotion, either. I want to give her a pass, considering she was dealing with a pinched nerve (and as Keith reiterated, another absurd pair of heels), but I’m not certain that Kree would’ve ever possessed the wild abandon needed for “Piece of My Heart” — even if she’d been in perfect health (and not saddled with movement-constricting footwear). I don’t want this to be a case of me loving the idea of a contestant more than the contestant’s actual musical output, but it’s starting to feel that way. Grade: B