American Idol: The Top Six Take on Carole King

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Last night brought the Top Six Idol contestants to a celebration of singer/songwriter Carole King. We all know Carole King, don’t we? Likely, most know her for her album Tapestry, which topped the Billboard charts for 15 weeks in 1971. Not only did the album accomplish that feat, but it remained on the charts for over six years and was bested only by Michael Jackson’s Thriller. Now, that’s an album.  Did the Idol contestants do her work justice? As always, you are the judges.

The night began with Jacob’s rendition of “Oh, No, Not My Baby.” Jacob didn’t need Jimmy Iovine’s reminder that he was in bottom three last week, but he used that to channel his best performance to date. First and foremost, Jacob is a singer—period. He spiced it up a bit by moving around the stage for a change, and his ridiculous range was back in full force. Jacob’s scatting near the end of the song also revealed to the audience that he can do more than just sing. Good for Jacob, though I’m not sure his performance will save him this week. Idol hasn’t seen a minority winner since Fantasia Barrino took the title in Season 3, so I doubt Jacob has a chance in hell of winning this thing, but he can, hopefully, remain past lesser talented competitors. The problem for Jacob is that there are few of those left.

One of the most talented competitors left is 16-year-old Lauren, who sang “Where You Lead.” Lauren has such a strong, melodic voice. She works the stage like a pro, and last night, she brought up a young man from the audience to sing the song to. Good move, Lauren. It made her performance more entertaining, and it appeared that the young man enjoyed it as well. It’s funny that the judges kept talking about Lauren’s need to “work on her confidence.” She does such a good job that it’s hard to tell that she has a confidence issue. She is always good, and it’s quite difficult to say much more about her. As the judges critiqued Lauren, she got tears (of joy) in her eyes, which made her come across as so sweet and genuine. How can you not root for this girl? Love her. I want to see her succeed.

Deciding to try something different, the Idol Powers That Be put together duets of the contestants to break up the performances. Personally, I saw it more as them wanting to fill up that hour and a half so that they wouldn’t have to go off at the air at 9:00. The first of the duets saw Haley and Casey take on “I Feel the Earth Move.” They sound better together than apart, which is probably not what Idol producers wanted, but that’s what they got.

Following the Casey/Haley duet, a very subdued Scotty performed “You’ve Got a Friend.” Like the judges, I enjoyed Scotty’s upper register. He really showed off his vocal talent, even if he was a bit too subdued. I want another “That’s All Right Mama” performance from Scotty where he shows off his playful side and sings with more abandon than normal. He bordered on being “sleepy” last night, but he showed that he is no fluke: Scotty is a great vocalist with good control over his vocals. Sleepy or not, Scotty is still adorable, and I doubt he’s in any danger of elimination tonight.

Keeping with the sleepier theme, James performed “Will You Love Me Tomorrow.” Unfortunately for me, our local news station decided to preempt James’ entire performance to talk about tornadoes in Alabama that would eventually reach Georgia. I did, however, get to watch a “snippet” on video this morning. I do like what the judges often refer to as James’ “tender side.” The A Capella intro to the song showed, once again, that James can really sing when he wants to. I’m personally partial to his singing over his screaming (as you’ve all heard me say time and again). James’ performance was good, but what wasn’t good was Randy declaring him the winner. Again, I sometimes think the judges don’t—think, that is. How does such a declaration make the other five feel? I do, however, think this will end up coming down to James and Scotty, but I would never say that in front of the other four. But, that’s just me.

Following James’ performance, Scotty and Lauren gave us a duet, something the two of them do quite well. They performed “Up On The Roof,” made famous for my generation by the Drifters. Their vocals really blend quite well together, and I would like to see them record something together once this competition is over. They’re both naturals.

Another natural in the competition is Casey, who performed “Hi-Di-Ho,” which makes me think of Cab Calloway. (Okay, I’m dating myself. So what?). Casey is good, but Casey is a jazz artist, plain and simple. I don’t say that to put Casey down, but I do say it to intimate that he will likely not win this competition. Very few jazz artists have been able to cross over into popular music. Norah Jones comes to mind as one of the few, but she has yet to repeat the success of “Come Away With Me.” Casey is that type of artist, but there’s not one thing wrong with that. He will very much have a career, and I’m glad to see him remain in his element, where he most shines.

Speaking of being in one’s element, who really knows for sure what is Haley’s element? She changes from week to week as far as the type of singer she wants to be. Again, she has no clue who she is musically. She, once again, is awarded the “pimp spot” of going last, and I found myself hoping that James and Jacob’s duet would ruin that for her. Putting Haley in the pimp spot tells me she was the second lowest vote getter last week, and for some reason, the Powers That Be are trying to save her. Why, I’m not sure. Yes, she can carry a tune, but that’s about it for Haley. She still has no stage presence, and there’s still nothing special about her. The only good thing I can say about Haley this week is that she didn’t growl as much.

Following Haley, James and Jacob dished up some real Kraft macaroni (“the cheesiest”) for us. They performed “I’m Into Something Good,” which, really, from the outset had nowhere else to go but to the skillet. I did enjoy their playfulness with each other, but I was cringing too much to really critique their performance.

All the performances are now “in the can,” and someone must go. Who will it be? I suspect we’ll move to a “bottom two” this week, as Idol normally does when the field narrows. I further suspect that Haley and Jacob will be bottom two. If there’s a bottom three, Casey will likely join them. As with last week, I believe Lauren, Scott, and James will be safe, and they will very likely make up the top three. From a pure talent perspective, this has been one of the best Idol fields in a long time. I don’t think America can “get it wrong” with whomever is eventually crowned the winner (unless they fool me and choose Haley). Ryan has begun “pimping” the tour, which I suspect will sell out fairly quickly. American Idol’s producers did a good job of replacing Simon and bringing back some luster to an otherwise tarnished show.

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