American Idol Top 3: Independent Haley, Part 1
One howling seal pup named Haley Reinhart. One lowlight-addicted teen with a shimmying dependency named Lauren Alaina. One claymation rendering of Clay Aiken named Scotty McCreery. We're down to three, y'all! And Beyonce's here as guest-mentor to trap them in shoulder pads and harem pants. Excellent. So, who will we say "Solange!" -- er, I mean, "So long!" -- to after tomorrow's results show? Join us for the recap of our three survivors and their nine songs.
9. Lauren Alaina, "Wild One"
I have a distinct problem with Lauren Alaina that goes like this: I can never remember what (or if) she sang. WHAT DID SHE SING? I'm racking my brain! Slapping it now! Were they girly country-pop anthems that might crop up during a beach-strolling scene in The Last Song? As Liam Hemsworth drapes his pre-manly arms around our hostile Miley necks? Oh, good, they were. Sigh. It's like I knew all along! My second guess was "skinhead anthems," but she's undoubtedly saving that for next week. "Wild One" was yet another nondescript rendition for Lauren "Silly Struthers" Alaina, and it's time once again to ask the question that apparently bothers nobody in the Idoldrome: What does this girl bring to the table? Besides a coloring book, I mean!
8. Scotty McCreery, "Amazed"
Beyonce, settle down. You have no reason to be obsessed with Scotty other than he once invoked the power of "Lose My Breath" by strangling Miss Clara Jane Whitty in the North Carolina backwoods. (See: Scotty is a backwoods murderer.) "Amazed" exhibited the one side of Scotty we've grown quite tired with: twangy balladeering with a touch of anachronistic, old-man, CMT-in-1990 throwbackery. Which is whackery. Wish he'd ditch the expected and truly stun with us with what I consider a pretty peculiar and almost unsettling voice. Just because you sound like a pullstring-operated George Strait bobblehead doesn't mean you can't choose a Motown song or a Kelly Clarkson staple, McEerie. Let's see "Behind These Hazel Eyes"! Unless there are murders behind those hazel eyes, which I've guessed before, remember.
7. Lauren Alaina, "If I Die Young"
Did Lauren Alaina try to take us on an emotional journey? With her learner's permit? You can't. This is exactly the kind of performance that makes me wish Lauren had waited two years -- or, honestly, five -- to grace the Idol stage. There's no resonance or meaning to a chirpy 16-year-old yapping on about pearls, beds of roses, and mortality. That's like Jacob Lusk singing about subtlety, or Naima Adedapo singing about sanity (<3) -- it's impossible to believe, and worse, I started to get insulted.
6. Haley Reinhart, "You Oughta Know"
Now, now. This is sacred ground at Virtel Manor. First, the beloved and sorely missed Crystal Bowersox powered through this Coulier-castrating jam with the real Alanis Morissette, who brought her signature blend of banshee brio and polite Ottawa realness. Hard to top. Plus, "You Oughta Know" is one of the few perfect pop songs of the past 20 years -- its lyrics conversational and cool and splintering and unpretentious and jaggedly pill-ish. That said: Ugh, Reinhart. You were like rain on this song's wedding day, my good growler. While you nailed the final chorus (as Jennifer Lopez pinpointed, to my shock), you fumbled the bridge and struggled through the verses. The judges should've saddled you with "You Learn" or "Uninvited" if they were going to select an Alanis opus. This? Was a miss.
5. Scotty McCreery, "She Believes in Me"
Kenny Rogers. Thanks, Idol judges. May as well have recommended, "Whatever Muzak is playing at the Morongo Casino right now." This is a classic case of not knowing "when to fold 'em" for Idol's judges, who should've recommended a more dynamic classic for Scotty to tackle before he inevitably vaults to the final two. Or will he? If this season were a Shakespearean play, the finale would be an all-female tete-a-tete, which would avenge the early demises of so many ladies this year (and in past years). Based on the quality of last night's performances, I'd say it might even be feasible.
4. Scotty McCreery, "Are You Gonna Kiss Me or Not"
If you've ever written a song called "Are You Gonna Kiss Me or Not," politely escort yourself to the shed for a suicide. I'll provide the Desert Eagle. It is 2011, and society is trying to make sure human beings don't turn back into skittish zoo creatures. One way we can prevent this is by forsaking painfully cute songs like "Are You Gonna Kiss Me or Not," because they bring out the giggly, senseless chimps in Idol voters. Now, Scotty successfully trilled this Thompson Square ditty, but it's yet another identity-free hootenanny for Idol's sole male contestant. I'm still waiting for a second Idol moment from this guy, who hasn't owned the stage since "You've Got a Friend." (Speaking of which, can we expect James Taylor to accompany him in the finale? That's my vote.)
3. Lauren Alaina, "I Hope You Dance"
Simon Cowell would've called this old-fashioned, expected, traditional, plodding, and self-indulgent, but for once, I don't miss that kind of (correct) observation. "I Hope You Dance" is -- sigh -- right for Lauren. It's cute. It's maternal. It's Taylor Swiftian and Sugarlandian and Lady Antebellumian and your 68-year-old mother wept when Lee Ann Womack sang it on Oprah (and so did I, if we're all friends here). Still, the ballad didn't quite catapult Lauren to the echelons of past country lasses on Idol, but it made her cloying brand of showmanship a legitimate one, if just for this performance.
2. Haley Reinhart, "Rhiannon"
More hallowed ground! Look, Haley Reinhart, I'm Louis Virtel, and I reference Didi Benami every single week. Every single week. You know damn well this was Didi's signature sob! You know it! You know I can't compare your ethereal witchery to her hyperventilating bleat! It's like comparing apples and Didi Benami, who is not apples. But I'll give you this, wee growler of Wheeling, IL: You took the song's latter portion, with its woozy whimsy, and developed it into a beautiful and articulate declaration of womanhood. Look at you, fluttering in the breeze like an emancipated Mimi and staring at the mountaintops, daring the landslide to bring you down! And of course, Randy did. But whatever! You were a shiny shawl of wonderment this time, and I'd gladly wear you to a gypsy-themed eatery in the valley.
1. Haley Reinhart, "What Is and What Should Never Be"
It seems out of line at some points even to suggest Scotty or Lauren venture outside their well-defined boundaries, because those contestants treat the confines of country music like electrified fences. Stay in or let the hounds find you sizzling in the a.m. Reinhart, on the other hand, has gamely embraced more genres than anybody this season, and in her first performance of the evening -- a blistering take on an effing Led Zeppelin song! -- she delivered the most believable hard rock vocal of the year. GoodBYE, James Durbin. I love when Idol performances have distinct sections -- when they jump from slow intros to fast rallies to grungy breakdowns, as Haley staged here. Even if the transitions between such sections are shaky -- and incur an utter faceplant(!), as Haley suffered here -- the gall and chutzpah it takes to sincerely "take the audience on a journey" is staggering. As Haley's father jammed next to her during her raucous Jamaican-dancehall-breakdownery near song's end, I knew she'd clinched her seventh or eighth true Idol moment.