Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Idol Takes on Motown Once Again

American Idol Top 11

American Idol is in the third week of the finals, and once again the producers have the novel idea to make the kids sing selections from the Motown collection. The music is some of the best written in the last 50 years, and was responsible for some of the greatest vocals from the same period. Crusty opens the show with a black and white period piece, with kids dancing around him a la American Bandstand. Soon he his back in living color, and talking about the great history of Berry Gordy and Motown. It is a rich history, indeed. Soon Crusty is introducing the judging panel. Interestingly enough, it was Steven who made the most interesting statement, about the music having the rhythm of a kiss.

American Idol Judges

Casey is up first, singing I Heard It Through The Grapevine. The song was a big hit for Marvin Gaye, and was written by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong. Casey is doing a nice job with it, and is less pitchy than I thought he'd be. The judges are crazy for him, calling him an original. They are way more impressed than I am, but it was a big step up from last week. I think I still prefer to hear the great Marvin sing the song.

After the break, we find out Thia is singing (Love Is Like A) Heatwave, a hit for Martha and the Vandellas. It was written by the incredible team of Lamont Dozier, Brian Holland and Edward Holland, Jr. She wanted to sing an uptempo song, and that is what she plans to do! I am surprised, but I think she is doing a great job, bringing it up to date a bit, yet offering a nod to the great history of the song. There is an unfortunate moment with the lyrics toward the end. The judges are loving it tonight, and ignoring the slip. They like what they are hearing, and it reminds them why they chose her in the first place. Time for the next break.

Crusty tells us that Jacob is up next, singing You're All I Need to Get By. It was sung once again by the great Marvin Gaye, as a duet with the super Tammy Terrell. It was written by Nickolas Ashford & Valerie Simpson, who later had hits of their own on the charts. They keep talking about restraint before the song, and it would be nice to see. However, I don't hear that. His top-end is near screaming, and a bit shrill. However, Steven ran on stage to congratulate him, and the judges are falling over themselves about the performance. Randy tells him it is yet another of the greatest performances on the show ever. I am at a loss. There is a hug-fest, and some slight gay-joke. Cut it out, Crusty! Next up is Lauren, who is singing You Keep Me Hanging On, by the great Diana Ross and the Supremes. It is another classic song written by the team of Holland-Dozier-Holland. Lauren has a nice voice, and does a nice job with the song, but I have to admit I was thinking we'd get more. Again, the judges are loving her, predicting great things for her to come.

After the break, we return to Stefano singing a great song from Lionel Richie, Hello. Lionel wrote the song, and before he starts, Crusty mentions Season 8 winner David Cook having a big moment with is a few seasons ago. Stefano starts at 98%, and goes to 125% on the emotional chart. I would have liked to hear a bit more nuance, a bit more lyrical content. Wow, the judges kinda agree with me, they want more emotional connection. Stefano seems a bit shocked he is getting some negative feedback, even from Steven!

After the commercial, Gordon Ramsey rips on the food prepared by Stefano's mother, and we hear that Otis Williams, a founding member of the Temptations in the audience. We have Haley on stage to sing You've Really Got a Hold on Me, the great song by the Miracles, and written by lead singer Smokey Robinson. She comes walking down the steps as she is singing, and is sounding pretty good. In the chorus, she falls back on the forced growl, which is unfortunate. The judges are liking her very much, and J-Lo even says she has the most soulful voice in the competition, save maybe Jacob. Steven loves her growl, which I, of course, find forced and fake. They are glad she is back on form.

Country teen Scottie is on after the break. There is a clip of him sinking a basketball shot, for some unexplained reason. We discover that he will sing For Once In My Life, with a country spin. It was a hit for many artists, including Stevie Wonder. While he has a nice enough voice, his performance style is just cheese on a stick. It wasn't bad, just rather unexceptional. Steven loved it, and both Jennifer and Randy remark it was good, but not his best. But they love the low note he hits. Guess that forgives the lack of connection to the lyrics.

Pia is up next, singing Stevie Wonder's All In Love Is Fair. Written and recorded by Stevie in 1973, it is a great ballad, also recorded by Barbra Streisand the next year. She starts off rather nicely, but I have a tough time when about in the middle, she seems to confuse volume for emotion. Jennifer loved it, as did Randy, although he did want something other than ballad soon.

Paul is up after the commercial, and takes on Tracks Of My Tears by the great Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, written by Smokey. Paul pulls out the acoustic guitar, and loads the performance with his trademark quirk, looking at taking Motown in the Folk-Rock direction. The majority of the song is a bit sleepy for me, but the end is rather nice. Oddly, I am kinda agreeing with Randy. Steven loves it, as did J-Lo. There are not-so-vieled encouragements for the Cougar vote, I wonder if that will work.

After the break, Naima is due to perform. I am amazed that we are having a commercial break between all the performers in the later half of this show. Naima will be doing Dancing In The Streets by Martha & the Vandellas. I have to say, Naima is nailing it tonight, hitting the notes and performing like a pro, complete with the Dance break. I thought she was fantastic, her best so far. The judges are on board as well, and

After the commercial, James sings Living For The City by Stevie Wonder. His lack of control is painfully obvious from the start, another who is all smoke and no fire for me. The story part of the song at the beginning just laid there like a lead balloon on the stage. the judges loved him, although Randy does mention the slow start. J-Lo disagrees, but then again, it's J-Lo. Steven, of course, loves it.

This was a pretty good night for Idol, with no disasters, so to speak. No real train wreck, and it should make the contestants worry, cause there might just be a battle for the votes. Will this be the first time a guy is in the bottom 3? I think Haley will be in the bottom group, but not sure who will be joining her. I suspect Pia, Lauren, Scottie and Casey are safe, but the rest, well, there has to be a bottom 3, right? Will Naima fight her way out of the quicksand? During the recap, the clip was particularly kind to Stefano, could this mean trouble for him? Will Paul's connection with his guitar keep him safe? Will Casey or Thia be remembered by the voters nearly 2 hours after they opened the show? Guess we will have to wait until tomorrow to know for sure.

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