American Idol Top 4: Bored This Way
Lady Gaga is a deserving pop phenomenon, who overcame a pants allergy to become the weirdest and most obvious successor to Madonna. She is undeniable. That's why it was revelatory to watch American Idol's relatively flavorless combatants attempt to reconcile her nutty advice. You can't refute a superstar, McCreery! Christ knows less than she does! We've got four contestants, eight performances, and one under-heralded tigress to love -- let's rack up the rankings!
8. Scotty McCreery, "Young Blood"
Hi guys, it's me, Louis. And I quit. Because this? Is your American Idol winner. And I? Can't be here to see Jesus take the wheel from Haley Reinhart (or anyone with a driver's license). But before I exit through the nearest third-story window, allow me to share a few words with Scotty, whose rendition of "Young Blood" was filled with enough Muppet twitches, googly eyes, and marionette bounces to populate the Children's Television Workshop: Please, kiss your cross a few more times because you'll need a prayer and a few thousand donations to make up for what a disrespectful, holier-than-thou bumpkin you were this week with Lady Gaga. Seriously, the contemptuous sneer that followed Scotty's consultation with the Bad Romantic? Unbearable. The only thing he can do to win me over now is embrace his k.d. lang alterego, sing "Constant Craving" into America's disbelieving faces, and then retreat to a life of duets with Tony Bennett and Anne Murray. Or just retreat to a life elsewhere. Or not murder any more lasses of the prairie. (I refuse to explain my murderer theories about Scotty anymore. The evidence is right there. In the bleak crescents of his pupils.)
7. James Durbin, "Don't Stop Believin'"
An unhelpful television show named Glee tricked 20-year-olds into believing they invented "Don't Stop Believin'," and now we get this performance, a squealy, ham-throated, pitch-repellent dirge that will ensure Steve Perry's hermitage for the next 200 years. Despite his (usually) solid vocals, James manages to be Idol's biggest wannabe thanks to his costuming (which wavers between "Neglected Teen in High School Musical" and "Paula Poundstone magician jacket") and the pandering song choices (which range from obvious crowd-pleasers to strained, persona-enhancing rock anthems). Plus, this song has been covered more effectively in the Simon Cowell arena; do enjoy Joe McElderry's 2009 version of the track on the UK's X-Factor, and try to forget the utterly depressing lyrics. Honestly, is there a grimmer sentiment than the titular phrase? Why is Journey's biggest coup so uplifting to people? "Don't Stop Believin'" may as well be the subtitle of Three Sisters, The Cherry Orchard, and all other Chekhov tributes to the stagnancy of the human condition. Nothing is sadder than sitting around believing. No, Irina, you're never going to make it to Moscow. Or out of South Detroit.
6. Scotty McCreery, "Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)"
Better question: Where was Scotty when the world stopped turning that September day? Curled up in a cocoon of amniotic fluid? Drooling into a Gullah Gullah Island picture book? He's no older than 10. The way the judges praised Scotty for this selection made me dislike the performance more, somehow, because there's simply no way this song -- the most pandering choice of the night, if we're ranking them -- means anything to him. Rule #1, guys: You can't sing 9/11 anthems and be a heartland preteen with a basset hound patois. Throaty balladeering is not the same thing as understanding 9/11. Now, yes, Scotty was actually born in '93, but that's beside the point: This is a flagrantly impersonal, obviously insincere choice for a gentleman who only knows how to pick material from within a single, square-foot subsection of country music. I would kill for a surprise Toscano-style elimination tonight, but that would honestly require the world to stop turning.
5. Lauren Alaina, "Trouble"
The problem with Lauren Alaina is --- hmmm, I can't remember the problem with Lauren Alaina. Ah, wait: The problem with Lauren Alaina is she's forgettable. Hard to understand what Nigel Lythgoe is so determined to sell with her, because she's too young (nay, immature) to be believed and too bland to be indispensable. We're dealing with a performer who is scared to say the word "evil" in song because she thinks she'll be mistaken for the antichrist. I nearly made the mix-up myself. Of course, that begs the question, why choose a song with the word 'evil' prominently featured, but Lauren sang "Trouble" with serviceable flair. Unfortunately, the stage quality that Lauren can never pull off is sass, which made the snappy "Don't mess around" lyrics sound contrived.
4. James Durbin, "Love Potion No. 9"
"The songbook of Leiber and Stoller" is as laughable as an Idol week can be without venturing into reggaeton or skinhead themes. So insanely irrelevant. "Love Potion #9" is perhaps the most ridiculous song choice for the gaping Idol arena -- particularly when re-imagined as glam-rock powerschlock -- but James Durbin seemed to be aware (for once) of the ancient ditty's squareness. His version of the definitive Clovers hit teemed with muscle and verve, even if it's hard to forgive the song's uneasy transformation. I applaud him for not choosing the obvious tearjerker, Leiber and Stoller's "Stand By Me," but I'm still not sure this will rank among his finest or even most respected performances.
3. Haley Reinhart, "Earth Song"
Oh, Haley. They dolled you up like a JonBenet tribute to Debbie Reynolds this week. You looked both 6 and 67. You might've been played by Cheri Oteri in 1998. Worse, you sang "Earth Song." Why, dear? Why the tribute to fairies and forests and Michael Jackson's princess murmur? Why the worst song in HIStory? Why a song that makes pollution seem like such a great idea (to me)? I applaud the utterly growled latter-half of the song, the big-time hand gestures, and the mostly pitch-friendly performance -- but the song choice is such a cardinal sin. Such an affront to taste and nature and me. I'm sorry I had to watch while Randy Jackson invented reasons to hate Haley, but I'm thrilled we got to see Haley's steely resolve in the face of nay-sayers. And of course, she topped this performance with the best showing of the night. Because she's our girl. And you don't toss our girl in the compost pile, Randy.
2. Lauren Alaina, "Anyway"
Undeniable truths: "Anyway" is right for Lauren's voice, her Lisa Frank unicorn notebook earnestness, and her sixth-birthday optimism. I begrudgingly accept that the song represents Lauren's connection to her hometown, which was devastated by tornadoes, and I admit it's the best selection in the "inspirational" portion of the evening. It doesn't register as a legendary Idol moment, but I allow Lauren Alaina to plumb the depths of Martina McBride's catalog in the future. It's believable for her, and I'm glad there are grownup songs that Lauren can sing without sounding like a kindergartener reaching out of her depths at the county fair.
1. Haley Reinhart, "I (Who Have Nothing)"
Still haven't forgiven Jordin Sparks (or Blake Lewis) for stealing season six victory from Melinda Doolittle, who remains the single best vocalist in American Idol history. That said, Jordin Sparks nailed this Shirley Bassey standard in her heyday and qualified the song to be locked in a Fox shrine away from future contestants. It was a little untouchable. But just the way Naima Adedapo re-purposed "Summertime," made it hers with some vaudevillian voodoo, and eschewed comparisons to Fantasia Barrino's world-stopping rendition, Haley Reinhart revived Jordin's triumph and positively dodged any resemblance to her version. Reinhart is so righteous; she goes for gusto, seizes every moment, and believes in her connection to audiences. She refuses to pander with her song selection, finds unusual ways to relate to her songs, and makes unpretentious vocal maneuvers each and every performance. Haley is undeniably the strongest competitor left in the competition. I'd love to see her dropkick the skepticism of Randy and J-Lo into obscurity, but at this point I'll settle for even a Top 3 placement. You growl away, tiny tigress.