As an avid viewer of “American Idol,” one can see where it could be difficult at times to pick a performance that stands out as an overwhelming best performance during a typical round or episode of the popular show. But that wasn’t a problem on Wednesday evening after the Top 12 presented their “Songs From Your Birth Year” renditions. By night’s end, Stefano Langone proved he was a force to be reckoned within Season 10’s competition with his amazing cover of Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes’ “If You Don’t Know Me By Now.” And although a few of the contestants did rather well, none came close to Langone’s plaintive ballad.
The night began on a somber note when the judges and host Ryan Seacrest acknowledged the horrible disasters that have struck Japan in recent days. They announced that a portion of the proceeds from downloads of the iTunes songs of the Top 12 would go to ongoing relief efforts, distributed through the Red Cross.
Although the evening had its memorable performances (and its memorable baby pictures and parental quotes), it also presented a few not-so-memorable moments, including the very first performance. Naima Adedapo continued to sing outside of where her voice seems more adept (jazz and blues-oriented styles) rendering Tina Turner’s “What’s Love Got To Do With It?” Although modernized, Adedapo’s version was a poor, pitchy copy and the judges let her know about it, especially Jennifer Lopez and Randy Jackson.
The second performance didn’t get much better, although it was an interesting twist to hear Elton John’s “That’s Why They Call It The Blues” in a scratchy, effeminate, Rod Stewart-esque voice. Paul McDonald had a cold (as did many of the contestants), but he pushed the vocals out there in his quirky way. His puppet-like dancing and his vocal stylings have garnered him the go-to guy at “Vote For The Worst,” so at least he’s got that going for him (but he’s probably safe due to his likability and Adedapo’s continuing poor performances). However, the judges praised him for rising above his cold and putting his unique spin on the classic.
Thia Megia then performed a sedate but competent version of Vanessa Williams’ “Colors of the Wind.” Understated ballads seem to be her style and she proved again that she can certainly sing with the best, but the judges have begun to notice. Jackson told her it was “so safe and so boring.” Steven Tyler agreed. Lopez doubted she has the fortitude to take risks.
James Durbin hit the stage with a Bon Jovi tune. He seemed to be still sick and a couple of his notes came out flat but his energy and his ability to sing the song, “I’ll Be There For You,” like a pro was a winner with the audience. It had J-Lo swaying and clapping in her seat. Tyler warned him not to get too “pop-y,” but James told Steven that he was waiting to do an Aerosmith song for the finale. Tyler bit, and said he would sing with him. They shook on it. Lopez said she loved it. Randy Jackson said he made the song his own and hit the notes without overdoing it (obviously referring to James’ ability to reach for that Adam Lambert-like scream).
Haley Reinhart was next, singing Whitney Houston’s “I’m Your Baby Tonight.” There’s a sexy sultriness to her voice that Tyler would later characterize as sounding a bit like Janis Joplin, although Randy doesn’t hear it. Still, she put her own spin on the tune and it sounded like a good move — until the judges start critiquing. While Ryan Seacrest attempted to help Haley with her lipstick (which appeared to have migrated to her chin and cheek in what the cheerful blond called a “red lipstick massacre”), Lopez told her that she seemed stiff and needed to not force her performance. Randy said he believes she doesn’t know what kind of artist she wants to be and Tyler followed by somewhat disagreeing, but said he wanted to hear more blues from her.
Stefano Langone’s performance was set up for a fall as the producers showed a clip of legendary record producer Jimmy Iovine telling him during rehearsals that knowing the lyrics would help him connect with the song. Langone took the advice to heart, because he certainly connected with the Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes’ classic “If You Don’t Know Me By Now” when he got on stage. And he delivered a flawless performance. The crowd went wild. The judges loved it. Randy Jackson said he took a difficult song and “slayed” it, saying it was the “best performance” of the night.
It is sometimes difficult to follow such an amazing performance, but if anyone could have done it, the girl who has dominated the competition since the Top 24 performances, Pia Toscano, probably could. She didn’t, but not because she didn’t do well. Far from it. Toscano nailed Whitney Houston’s “Where Do Broken Hearts Go?” It just paled in comparison to Langone’s “If You Don’t Know Me By Now.” Tyler told her, “You are why this show is called ‘American Idol.'” J-Lo said she was glad Toscano picked an uptempo song. Randy said she was “in it to win it.”
Scotty McCreery, who apparently is this year’s David Archuleta, tried to pull off an uptempo “Can I Trust You With My Heart?,” a heartfelt country ballad. It didn’t work because the lyrics belie the way he performed the song, although he sang it well. Lopez said she thinks he should keep pushing. Randy said he’s worked with Travis Tritt, and Scotty did the artist proud.
Karen Rodriguez followed, hoping to redeem herself from her lackluster Top 13 performance. She did. Dressed like a futuristic hottie from a ’60s science fiction movie (complete with quasi-beehive), Rodriguez belted out Taylor Dayne’s “Love Will Lead You Back.” Randy noted that it was better than the previous week, but he was still not too excited. Steven Tyler said he liked it when she “breaks out of your ethnic what-it-is-ness.” Jennifer Lopez agreed, applauding Karen for attacking her fear.
Casey Abrams then hit the stage, back from his second stint in the hospital (it was learned he has stress-related ulcers), electric bass in hand. He attempted Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” a song that defined a generation and changed the direction of modern pop music. Although he didn’t quite do the song justice, he was fun to watch. The judges concentrated on his fun-ness and ignored how bad it sounded, although J-Lo pointed out that there were times where he was screeching. Tyler loved his combination of crazy and talent. Randy told him he admired his willingness to put art ahead of everything else.
Lauren Alaina, the Georgia girl who has remained one of the show’s frontrunners, came out before her number and shared surgical masks with Ryan Seacrest (a not-so-clever ploy to let the audience know she was sick). She performed Melissa’s Etheridge’s “I’m The Only One” and did a decent job with it, although she seemed to take her high notes just a bit far (incongruous when one considers Etheridge’s original). But country-ing it up worked. The judges thought so as well. Randy said she should have a cold every week. Steven Tyler agreed, calling her a “shining star.”
Jacob Lusk pulled the “pimp spot” (anchor position) for the Top 12. Normally, with someone of Jacob’s caliber performing, it would have been a clincher for the night to end on an high note. And it did, just not a good one. Lusk performed Heart’s “Alone.” He’s a great singer with operatic power behind his vocals but he let the song get the better of him on the high notes. He ended the song well, though, and, lucky for him, the producers showed the end of his performance for the voting prompt playback at show’s end. Randy noted that Jacob was “sharp” in places but noted that the way he ended the song was “genius.” Tyler said he was “on fire” (compliment or literal interpretation of the high note?). Jennifer commended him for giving his all in his performances.
So who should go home? Without a doubt Naima Adedapo. However, Bodog.com has Haley Reinhart as the least likely to win (which could easily be translated into being voted off the show) at 75/1 odds. Those two and Thia Megia will probably make up the Bottom 3, even though Megia and Reinhart do not deserve to be there. Although they are a couple of my favorite artists, Paul McDonald and Casey Abrams deserve to be in the Bottom 3 this week — along with Adedapo.
And if it is Adedapo who is voted off, it should not be expected that the judges attempt to save her. She was a Wild Card choice (Steven Tyler) and, like Ashthon Jones during the Top 13 results, she will likely not be saved from elimination twice.
It should be noted that Langone’s “If You Don’t Know Me By Now” placed him as a true frontrunner on the show. With Lauren Alaina seemingly fading each week and Casey Abrams’ willingness to continue to experiment (which could prove ultimately detrimental), he may have placed himself alongside Pia Toscano.
The Top 12 results show, with special guests Season 9 winner Lee DeWyze and the Black Eyed Peas, will reveal this week’s eliminated contestant Thursday, March 17.
“American Idol,” Fox Television
“Top 12 Performances,” AmericanIdol.com