Wednesday, March 23rd 2011
The Return of Motown
by The AI Insider
It's back! The ever-popular Motown week of Seasons 1, 2, 3, and 8 was back to challenge the Top 11 of Season 10. Who would sing "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" (Spoiler Alert: No one!) and "Ain't Too Proud To Beg (Again, no one!)?" The show started in black and white as Ryan introduced a brief history of Motown. Steven Tyler described Motown as "the rhythm of the kiss." His daughter, Liv Tyler, was in the audience.
The night began with Casey Abrams who chose to sing Marvin Gaye's "I Heard It Through The Grapevine." I actually think "Let's Get It On" would suit his growly vocals better, but I'm still bothered by Jared Cotter's choice to dedicate his Season 6 performance of that song to his parents. Kuk Harrell advised Casey to not lose control while singing "I'm just about to lose my mind." With his hair slicked back and looking good in a suit, Casey interacted with the audience. Forget the Seth Rogen, Fraggle Rock, Nolan Gould, and Matisyahu comparisons...Casey looks like Zach Galifianakis. Steven said Casey's the perfect mix of "Crazy-ass out-of-control ego." I’m not sure what we’re mixing there. Jennifer Lopez doesn't think there's anyone else out there right now like Casey (assuming Zach doesn't have a great, soulful voice). Randy called Casey a true original and said, "You can only do you, and that you is great!"
Ryan pointed out that Brad Whitford was in the audience. I was expecting to see the guy from The West Wing, FOX's The Good Guys, and--my favorite--Billy Madison. But it was Brad Whitford from Aerosmith. Between Liv and Brad, this is turning into an episode of "Steven Tyler, This is Your Life!"
Thia Megia chose to sing "(Love Is Like A) Heat Wave" by Martha & The Vandellas. This was a good fit for Thia's vocals and it's not a ballad! In the studio, Jimmy Iovine said, "I'm pleasantly shocked." Thia took the stage in a shorter dress and I really liked her back-up singers' dresses. She had Jennifer Lopez dancing in her seat (Dancing In Her Seat #LesserKnownMotownSongs) and the crowd was clapping along with their hands up high. There were a few times the music seemed to overpower Thia's voice. Both Jennifer and Randy liked seeing Thia take a chance, but now they want her to dig even deeper. Steven loved that she took a step out of her comfort zone.
When Jacob Lusk met with Jimmy Iovine, the executive said that there's no one more natural to sing Motown than Jacob. The church singer picked Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell's "You're All I Need To Get By." This song reminds me of the early years of American Idol; Kelly Clarkson and Jasmine Trias each sang this song during their Motown week in Seasons 1 and 3. The Interscope producers suggested that Jacob relaxed off the high notes, and when he took the stage and did just that, he created a moment. To top it off he jammed with Funk Brothers bassist Bob Babbitt to honor James Jamerson. I wonder if bassist Casey got to meet Bob. No one was as moved as Steven Tyler, who jumped out of his chair and got up on stage to hug Jacob. Jennifer and Randy gave Jacob a standing ovation, and Jacob's mom couldn't believe it. I believe I even saw Kirsten Dunst standing up in the audience. Bring it on, girl! Randy said, "The great Berry Gordy is somewhere saying, 'Oh my God.'" Why isn't Berry here? He was in the audience two weeks ago. Steven said Jacob milked it, and Jennifer was begging for more. Jacob's nana was in the audience and wanted a hug. Adorable nanas help win votes. Then, Ryan invited up the entire front section of the audience to hug Jacob--and they did--and I laughed until I had tears.
Lauren Alaina worked with Rock Mafia this week, which was a perfect match for this young, fun singer. Rock Mafia works with all the young singers out there, from Miley Cyrus to Justin Bieber. I also liked Idol stylist Soyon's magic this week--Lauren was looking her best in a long, zebra print dress with pink accents and long straight hair. For Motown week, Lauren performed The Supremes' "You Keep Me Hangin' On." From the very beginning when the song was slow to the up-beat part when she got sassy with Randy, we saw the old Lauren from auditions was back! The judges agreed and Steven stated, "You ripped that song a new beauty mark." Jennifer thought Lauren was looking her best and appreciated the attitude she gave to the song. Randy was excited that the girl that blew the judges away in Nashville was back! Meanwhile, Lauren's cousin Holly who we met in Nashville was in the audience for this performance. Bring Holly to every show, Lauren!
Stefano Langone's mom cooked some pasta for the finalists this week. Aww, that's sweet. Stefano grew up on music, but he's never heard Lionel Richie's "Hello" before! This is the same kid who was unfamiliar with The Beatles during Vegas week. He must've missed Season 7 on American Idol because David Cook had a moment with the song. When Stefano took the stage to sing the Lionel hit, he did a fine job, but as an avid American Idol fan, I couldn't stop thinking about David's haunting performance. Jennifer encouraged Stefano to open up his phrasing and she wants him to start looking at each lyric. Randy said Stefano was one of the better singers, but he lacks emotion. Steven told Stefano that if he just pulled back a little he'd get it. For the sake of the finalists, hopefully Stefano will stick around for more home-cooked meals.
This must've been "Take Your Celebrity to American Idol Day!" Otis Williams of The Temptations, Adam Shankman from So You Think You Can Dance, and Julianne Hough from Dancing with the Stars (and Ryan's personal life) were in the house. Chef Gordon Ramsay was there too, and he tried some of Mama Langone's pasta and stated in his acerbic way, "Good thing her son can sing." Sad! At least he didn't call her a donkey like he calls the Hell's Kitchen contestants.
When Haley Reinhart worked on her performance of "You've Really Got A Hold On Me" by The Miracles with Jimmy Iovine and Rodney Jerkins, Jimmy told her, "If you walk the confidence that you sing, you win!" Haley was confident enough to wear lipstick again after last week's "Lipstick Massacre," but it's a lighter shade. She's also taking a page from the Haley book of Idol--Haley Scarnato that is--and she's wearing tiny shorts. This song was a great match for Haley's voice, and even though she's been in the bottom the last two weeks, I believe this is exactly what she needed to do at the exact right time. Randy thought that "by the middle of the song, the Haley we fell in love with came roaring back." Steven told Haley, "You don't look a day over fabulous." And Jennifer commented that Haley has the most soulful voice of any of the girls.
Scotty McCreery is a baseball pitcher, but he was standing on the mansion balcony in the rain and launched a basketball into the air, and it landed in the basketball hoop downstairs. Is there anything this kid isn't good at?! He must be glad the cameras were turned on at that time. He didn't listen to Motown much as a kid, but he was into Jackson 5. So what does he sing? A Stevie Wonder song. With the help of Jim Jonsin and Jimmy Iovine, Scotty performed a country version of Stevie's "For Once In My Life," and I liked what they did with the song. Steven loved that Scotty took a big chance and "really ripped it." Jennifer thought this was a great version of the song and she prefers Scotty when he hits his low notes. Randy stated, "By the end when you hit the low note, you're the young lady-killer!" Ryan asked Scotty if the voice inside his head was that deep as well!
Pia Toscano selected a Stevie Wonder song that I don't consider to be as popular as the other songs we've heard so far this evening. She felt confident because she performs a lot of Motown songs with her cover band. Music Producer Harvey Mason Jr. worked with Pia this week and said there aren't singers like her any more. Jimmy wants to focus now on taking all of the influences she has and turning it into her own voice. I understand what Jimmy means; when Pia sings I often hear Celine Dion. They told Pia to not over-think the song and just live in the moment. Pia walked up to the microphone with a commanding performance and sang really well, which we expect from her now in week three of the finals. Jennifer gave a checklist of items that Pia nailed, and then encouraged Pia to own the stage a little more. Randy called Pia phenomenal, beautiful, and talented, but he wants something more up-tempo. Hey, her performance last week was up-tempo. Steven said, "Right now you are the closest star in this American Idol universe." I think the sexy black dress won't hurt her in the vote-getting category!
This week, Paul McDonald got to incorporate an instrument during his performance. He worked out his own version of The Miracles' "The Tracks of My Tears." Good thing his voice is unique, otherwise picking that song would bring up comparisons to Adam Lambert's beautiful Season 8 rendition. In his video package, Paul said you have to move around when you sing Motown. Paul moves around no matter what he sings! But this is "The Tracks of My Tears" and even Adam didn't move around to this. When he performed he put his signature sound on the song, and he didn't do his crazy Paul dance moves...probably because his hand was busy strumming. I just noticed that the back-up singers look a lot like Kristy Lee Cook. Randy described the tender moments of Paul's performance as infectious. Steven called the performance "beautiful" twice in one sentence. Jennifer said that Paul is the most well-rounded, seasoned performer of the bunch. Ryan pointed out Paul's pin of a jaguar, and the host said "That'll get you the cougar vote." Paul laughed the entire time Ryan read off his voting number to all the older ladies out there.
Dancer Naima Adedapo aptly selected Martha & The Vandellas' "Dancing in the Street." Of course you can't sing that song without dancing, so Naima choreographed her own African dance to perform at the end, that way she wouldn't have to worry about breath control this time around. This song is free and spirited, just like Naima. Wearing every bracelet from the wardrobe department, Naima appeared to have a blast while performing in her bell-bottom outfit. I was impressed that she was able to swing her arms around like that without dropping the microphone or snapping a bracelet...or a tendon. She made the lyrics her own by singing about her new home, LA, and her old home, Milwaukee. Season 10 Hollywood contestant Matthew Nuss was in the audience supporting her. Never short on phrases, Steven said "it was e to the z ooh tweedly dee." Naima gave Jennifer her "first little goosies of the night." Hmm, I thought it was very good and entertaining, but I typically don't get goosebumps for things that are fun. I get them when things are emotionally raw. Randy said he's been rough on her in the past but that this was a very smart performance with a brilliant song arrangement.
Speaking of dance, Ryan said hi to FOX's own Jennifer Beals in the audience! She received the memo that it's Celebrity Audience Night at Idol.
James Durbin wrapped up the night with what I thought was a brilliant song choice--Stevie Wonder's "Living For The City." To James the song is about hope. Don Was worked with James in the studio, and Bob Babbitt played bass on the track. James took the stage and rocked the mic, the stage, the dance moves, and some facial stubble. Jennifer said "Oh my God" five times before commenting that she's speechless, "And that's not easy to do!" she laughed. Randy thought it started rough, but said that James was unbelievable when he hit the high notes. James' idol (Steven) said, "I think sometimes it takes a little bit of being crazy to make a difference in this world, and that's what you're all about." Takes one to know one! He continued, "The song was perfect for your voice and you nailed it."
What a fabulous night! Randy did not utter the word "pitchy" once! I had no idea who to vote for, so I voted for everybody, which I guess cancels out the votes. But it would alleviate some guilt if a person I liked fell in the bottom. Who did you vote for? Who won't be making the tour?
Top 11 Motown performances song list: Casey Abrams - "Heard It Through The Grapevine" by Marvin Gaye
Thia Megia - "(Love Is Like A) Heat Wave" by Martha & The Vandellas
Jacob Lusk - "You're All I Need To Get By" by Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell
Lauren Alaina - "You Keep Me Hangin' On" by The Supremes
Stefano Langone - "Hello" by Lionel Richie
Haley Reinhart - "You've Really Got A Hold On Me" by The Miracles
Scotty McCreery - "For Once In My Life" by Stevie Wonder
Pia Toscano - "All In Love Is Fair" by Stevie Wonder
Paul McDonald - "The Tracks of My Tears" by The Miracles
Naima Adedapo - "Dancing In The Street" by Martha & The Vandellas
James Durbin - "Living For The City" by Stevie Wonder