American Idol Recap: The Top 9 Wanna Rock and Roll All Night

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...But all they got was 90 minutes.

This week's theme for the Top 9 was to sing a song recorded by someone inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. This was going to make it harder on the women, given the relative dearth of women inductees vs. men, but they all soldiered on. I am more curious about why the producers seem determined to not let them be modern. You can have Gwen Stefani help dress them. (BTW: How random was that, and how little airtime did she get, am I right???) You can have will.i.am there to "coach" them, but most of them still sang songs that were 20, 30, 40 years old.

Note to producers and artists: It's actually really really hard to bring something new, fresh and mind-blowing to songs we all grew up with. And have heard covered on American Idol (and in bars) all our lives. Just sayin'

But they tried. So let's dig in, shall we?

1. Jacob sang Michael Jackson's "Man in the Mirror"

Jacob kicked off the night ... and some controversy. See, originally, he was going to sing Marvin Gaye's "Let's Get It On," but decided to change songs 'cause it was too sexy. And then he said something that basically wasn't really about standing by his own convictions or being true to himself as an artist -- no, he basically shared that he believed that if we don't like his performance, it will be because there's something wrong with us! Here's the quote:

"If I end up in the bottom three, it won’t be because I sang the song bad. It won’t be because I sang the song wrong. It’ll be because everybody in America wasn’t ready to look at themselves in the mirror."

And cue the angry reactions from people who say, "No, maybe it means I'm just not that into you, Jacob!"

Now, none of this is really about his performance. Which started out relatively strong, but, as usual with Jacob, veered off into off-key screaming and overly affected mannerisms. I also didn't get why he was singing in unison with the backup singer on the chorus, thus kind of obscuring his contribution through a big portion of the song. Of course, it turns out that back-up singer was Siedah Garrett, who co-wrote the song. So thank you STy for honoring the songwriter!

Bottom line: That was a stupid, stupid comment, Jacob. You might just pay for it tonight. We like our Idols charmingly humble. Not full of 'tude.

2. Haley sang Janis Joplin's "Piece of My Heart"

American Idol Haley
Image courtesy FOX

I have one question: Why is she SO happy about having her heart broken? Seriously, did she even watch one video of Janis's heartrending performance style? Good performing does not always require a winning smile. Vocally she indeed sounded pretty good, although I could've stood a little less gravel, a little more smooth. It was just a little too raspy too much of the time. The other thing Haley needs to work on is her arms. She flings them about and ends up making it look like she's kind of lackadaisical about the whole thing. That and the goofy smile while singing about heartbreak.

Bottom line: She seems to have recovered from her early trouble gaining fans. Tough to say, but I think she'll be OK.

3. Casey sang CCR's "Have You Ever Seen the Rain" (and played the bass)

I have one question: Why is he SO happy about the rain? More inappropriate smiling. but worse than that: This bored me. I'm not a huge CCR fan to begin with, I confess, and this was kind of a sleepy-jazz, Norah Jones take on it. It was all pretty "meh" for me. Although I do like it when he plays stand-up bass :)

Bottom line: I think he's at risk.

4. Lauren sang Aretha Franklin's "Natural Woman" (written by Carole King, BTW)

I don't think Gwen liked Lauren. That was not a good styling job, from the hair to the shorts that were riding up (and didn't have that far to go). She sounded only fine. It took until about 30 seconds from the end for her to even seem emotionally engaged at all. She had no internal story or soul at all. Again: Neither did Carrie Underwood, ever, during her entire run on the show. But they both have vocals of steel. And maybe that's enough.

Bottom line: But I don't think so: I think she might be at risk.

5. James sang George Harrison's "While My Guitar Gently Weeps"

Another boring performance. This made me sooo sleepzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. What? What happened? He definitely sounded absolutely fine through most of it, though frankly, I would have left off the screaming. Most of it was off-key until the end. It didn't add anything, and it reminded me why sometimes don't like James. More meh. But then again: Dare I confess I'm also not a George Harrison fan? Maybe Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Night just wasn't made for me.

Bottom line: Hmm. have to think he'll still be safe.

6. Scotty sang Elvis Presley's "That's All Right"

This was Scotty's best vocal yet. He had been trying to show us more range, but this time he also showed more vocal personality. I don't just mean that he moved around a lot and smiled. I mean that his voice had more colors to it. Speaking of all that moving around: Scotty has such a mature voice and persona, but there are times he is still clearly a gawky teenager. He could stand to work on loosening up without becoming the Scarecrow from Wizard of Oz.

Bottom line: Nice job, and definitely safe.

7. Pia sang Tina Turner's "River Deep, Mountain High"

Once again, Gwen Stefani managed to make this supermodel look like an 80s reject. Hmm. Maybe I just don't like Ms. Stefani's style on anyone but her? Pia does have a great voice. It is undeniable. I'm not sure she really connects with people...she might seem a bit too impervious, a bit too perfect. This was an uptempo, but she still didn't seem to be letting loose.

Bottom line: As odd as it sounds, given her solid vocals, I don't see why she wouldn't be at risk. People might not relate to someone who seems so much to have it all.

8. Stefano sang Percy Sledge's "When a Man Loves a Woman"

I didn't think this would go well, so it probably went better than I expected. But still, poor adorable little Stefano just doesn't live up to his unbearable cuteness enough. He has a really nice falsetto, which he should use a lot. He also has a lot of vocal facility. But he's just not always 100% spot on. And when he goes off, he goes more cringingly off than most of the contestants. I think it's telling that when I asked our Facebook folks what they thought of last night's performances, the favorites were all over the map...but no one picked Stefano.

Bottom line: It might be his time to finally go. Sigh.

9. Paul sang Johnny Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues" (And played guitar)

I have one question: Why is he SO happy about being in prison? While I cannot sanction the toothy smiling approach to this blues song, I did think this was his strongest vocal performance. Keep him with a guitar strapped on and behind a mic. That'll save us all from the most random uncomfortable dance moves since, well, Ryan Seacrest. (Seriously, do we think that is really the way Ryan dances...really?) I love a rock song with a good shuffle beat, so I enjoyed this.

The show ended with a lot of dancing that made sure you wouldn't confuse this show with So You Think You Can Dance. And I have to say: For a guy who didn't want to sing a song about sex, Jacob sure was working it at the end of the show.

So, here's the conundrum: They really were all pretty good. Even the weakest ones were miles better than many a prior AI contestant. None of them, however, is really breaking out from the pack. It might be that none ever will. And part of that might be because these judges aren't really pushing them to improve. STy likes everything and is basically useless. RJack mostly repeats whatever JLo says. JLo has the most constructive take on things, but viewed through a very loving lens. I'm not saying I want Simon and his pompous hyperbole about "worst performance EVER in HISTORY" back, but to use a research wonk's terminology: His feedback was usually directionally accurate. I'm still waiting for anyone to break away from the pack. In the meantime, many pleasant performances.

Bottom line for the Bottom Three

Should be: Lauren, Jacob, Stefano with Stefano going home (sniff sniff).

Will be: Stefano, Casey, Paul with Stefano going home.

But what do you think?

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