American Idol 2010: R&B Week, the top ten compete

Argh, it’s R&B week on [[American Idol (2010 Series)|American Idol]], an opportunity to drag classic songs out of the closet and murder them in an orgy of cliches and pitchiness. Dawg. Still, we’ve gotta keep the faith, don’t we? Let’s be hopeless optimists, readers and see if the Season 9 finalists will do R&B justice…

First – what’s with Simon Cowell’s rampant Americanisms? “We’re making out…” he playfully – yes, playfully – quips with Ryan. Hey, in the UK we call it snogging mate. Don’t forget your roots, Cowell!

Tonight’s mentor is the loathsome Usher. I cannot put in words how much (or even why) I detest this dude. He’s a peddler of over-slick, over-produced R&B that’s truly devoid of soul. Seriously. Cannot stand him. Not even a little bit. And to claim that he’s been a contributor to ‘soul’? That’s laughable.

Right, let’s skip the part where Usher pimps his new album and get straight to the performances:

Siobhan Magnus

Cape Cod’s [[Siobhan Magnus]] is opening the show tonight, singing Chaka Khan’s Through The Fire. Is she getting prettier? Could be. The vocals were far weaker than her previous efforts, and that “screaming is my big thing” is so three weeks ago. Jesus, Siobhan, get a new gimmick. Not her best effort, sad to say, because I do like her style and individuality. But these themed weeks are more about conforming to a genre than giving a singer the best opportunity to be individual.

[[Randy Jackson]]: Big song. You definitely got a big voice. I don’t know if it definitely caught on pitch wise. It was a little all over the place for me. I don’t know if it was one of your shining moments, but I still love the couragiousness and the conviction. I mean, only you would have taken on that song. [[Ellen DeGeneres]]: I have to agree with that. I could see you looking at us when you went off a bit. It’s kind of like when you’re hiking and you’ve went off the trail a little bit. With you it was kind of the dessert before the meal. I love you, but it was not your best performance. [[Kara DioGuardi]]: I think you got a little nervous up there tonight too. It should have worked for you, parts of it did – the screaming part. But other parts just weren’t there. Your lower register, it wasn’t strong enough. You have delivered pretty much every week. Every performer has an off night, and you’re entitled to one. [[Simon Cowell]]: I tell you what it sounded like to me, Siobhan. It sounded like you’d run a marathon and you were singing while you were running out of breath. It was so all over the place. You look all over the place tonight. You’re kidding yourself if you think that was a good performance. It was by far your weakest performance so far, and the song didn’t suit you. And I am getting bored of the screaming at the end.

Casey James

[[Casey James]] is singing the old Sam & Dave mainstay Hold On, I’m Coming. Usher talks about Casey’s wonderful tool. Takes one to know one. Lookin’ good tonight, Casey’s got the right sort of voice for this. A little bit less guitar playing tonight, but he steps away from the mic stand for a brief lead break. This is the point where I realise I’m kind of a fan of Casey. Yes, I would buy his record.

Randy: I’m gonna make this short and sweet. This was another hot night for you. You stayed in your element, I love the song, you showed a lot of vocal range. I thought it was the perfect selection and choice for you. Nice job. Ellen: The thing about you is you’re consistent. You’re always good. You have a great voice, you have a great tone. I know everybody loved it, but it felt a little generic. I wish I’d seen another song from you. You sang it great, but that’s a safe song for you. You have a great voice, there’s nothing wrong with that performance. Kara: You’ve been using this part of your range. You only go top by the very end. I think you have more range in you. And these songs where you’re playing the guitar and you’re limited by the chords and the many notes, they’re not showing us how much more you can do. I’d like to see you go back to an acoustic guitar and just sing. Show me everything you’ve got, because I think you’ve got more. Simon: Casey, you know I’ve always wanted to be honest with you like I am with all the other contestants. This week, in my opinion, it was your strongest week you’ve had so far. I like the fact that you didn’t do what you did before, a soundalike. I think the fact that you took on an R&B song has shown a completely different side of you as an artist. I thought it sounded authentic. I’m really really really impressed with you this week Casey.

Michael Lynche

In danger of turning into the Mister Lover Lover of American Idol, [[Michael Lynche]] gives us Ready For Love by India Arie. He’s back to playing guitar tonight, which I love. This is when you see Big Mike as the consumate professional. Effortlessly picking arpeggios on his guitar while giving a husky, dry vocal. The biggest problem is that no record company in the world right now know how to market an artist like Mike. He sings “tell me what is enough to prove I am ready”. Dude, Mike’s been ready since week 1. Give him a record deal! Beautiful performance.

Randy: Mike, I like the guitar, I like you coming back to that. Very sensitive song, beautiful kind of ballad. I’m telling you what, dude you are in the zone. I’m loving every performance dude. It wasn’t as exciting. But it’s good to pull back every now and then and show your sensitive side. Me and you we got that whole sensitive thing. Ellen: I don’t like when people talk behind my back and I don’t like when people sing behind my back. But that was beautiful. I loved it. Kara: I hate to admit that I’d never heard that song until you chose it and I went and listened to it. And I have to say, you did an incredible job, you really did. You mastered the intention behind it. Even though you’re far from that in your personal life, you got to the true emotion of the song. It was tasteful, it was lovely and one of my favourite performances. Simon: Michael, this is probably the first time since you’ve entered the live shows where I can actually take you seriously as an artist. Even though it’s a little bit gloomy, the song, and not one of my favourite songs in the world, what you demonstrated tonight is the difference between being original, having a moment or being a silly little karaoke singer. And that’s what you managed to prove tonight. And most importantly, I actually believed that performance. I thought it was terrific.

Didi Benami

Here comes my Idol crush. [[Didi Benami]] takes the stage next with What Becomes Of The Brokenhearted by Jimmy Ruffin. We British laugh inwardly because of the Robson & Jerome/Simon Cowell connection. Look it up, American readers!

Gorgeous dress tonight, and an understated rendition of this song. I seem to remember it being slightly more dramatic than this. But that’s Didi’s thing I suppose. Still, I wish she’d injected it with more emotion. Oooh, and that ending? Painful to listen to. And I like Didi, but that hurt.

Randy: For me, it wasn’t even about the song, I love this song. But the whole performance kind of flatlined for me and never really moved from here. It just stayed right there. It just wasn’t great. I was waiting for any kind of moment. You hit the big note at the end, and then that was a little sharp. It just never quite caught man. Ellen: It was dramatic, and you know I love your voice. I’m a fan of yours. I thought that was way dramatic and not your best performance. Kara: It’s overdone girl. I’m just so confused, because when you first came to us in Hollywood week and you sang Terrified and you did that singer/songwriter thing…you’ve changed, you’ve lost your way. Your vision is not what it was. And I don’t know who you are anymore. It leaves me puzzled. Simon: And me. It was like swimming in jelly. It should be something easy to get through. It was so over the top, so old fashioned, so off-melody. As Randy said, that song is an incredible song, and it has a great climax at the end. It just didn’t do it. I think Kara’s right, you’ve completely and utterly lost your way. You’ve no longer made yourself contemporary, everything’s too old fashioned. And if you’ve listened to one of those dancing shows, they always have a singer murdering a song on it…

Tim Urban

Recovering from the bottom two last week, [[Tim Urban]] sings Sweet Love by Anita Baker. And they’re calling him Teflon Tim in reference to how much abuse he takes from the judges. When Tim sings this song, I can hear the whispered vocals of other, better vocalists who’ve sung it before. Christ, there’s no romance in this at all, and precious little musicality to this vocal. It was crooned in the worst possible way.

Randy: Dawg. There’s some pluses and minuses for me with this performance. When you first started I thought you had this singing waiter thing going on. Somebody’s in a restaurant, sing a song. It just felt so pedestrian and not like American Idol’s searching for the next superstar, the best we can find. The plus part – at least you sang in tune. It was mostly in tune, but there was no vibe to it, no swagger. It mostly just laid flat, didn’t even have vibrato in the “love”. You can put a little grease on it, show a little something. Ellen: I heard there’s a drinking game going on at home every time I call you adorable. So I’m going to call you adorable right now, because those people may never drink again. I feel like I can’t just keep riding on that. Man, I kept going why did you choose that song? That is a tough song to sing, and it mostly was in key, but the way you were walking like you were sneaking into a bedroom. Good for you for taking that on, but oh boy why? Kara: Tim! It was like Broadway at times, Vegas at times. You took the soul out of the song and you made yourself so uncommercial and current, which is why these people love you, they see that in you. I just don’t understand why you keep doing this. Simon: He’s laughing because I don’t think it makes any difference whatsoever what we say. Completely innappropriate song, like a mouse picking a fight with an elephant. You’re not going to win. Doesn’t matter, because you’re not going to win. It doesn’t matter, because you’re gonna smile, the audience is gonna vote for you. You’ll be here next week, so well done.

Andrew Garcia

Popularity taking a nosedive, [[Andrew Garcia]] has a lot riding on this next performance. He’s singing Forever by Chris Brown. Andrew’s doing the silver suit thing again. Though this song choice is working for him. Doesn’t feel as derivative or forced as his previous efforts have. A big improvement on the last few weeks, this is more assured and tuneful. Will the judges respond kindly?

Randy: Here’s what I love. American, Andrew’s back! I love the outfit. I think it’s dope that you took a Chris Brown song that was almost like a slow dancey kind of record and you turned it into your own. I think that this is your best performance for me in a long time. Ellen: Every single week we’ve been saying you’ve been trying to compete with that other song and you finally all of a sudden, that was just on its own, a really amazing strong performance. And when you smile, I love when you smile. Kara: Andrew. Nothing makes me happier than to say that is one giant leap in the right direction. Simon: I think it was miles miles better than what we’ve heard from you in the past couple of weeks. The only problem I have with you right now is that as a person – and don’t take this the wrong way – you come over as very very boring. If you compare Andrew to the guy before, what I’m trying to say is that you’ve got to show some personality, that you care, because I know nothing about you as a person.

Katie Stevens

Little [[Katie Stevens]] draws the classic Aretha song, Chain Of Fools. We can only hope that Katie can handle such a massive song. Oh wait, I don’t really care. Katie’s on my B list, she’s just waiting in line to be eliminated. Yep, starts out low and tuneful, but quickly gives way to her vocal weaknesses when she aims for the higher notes. Will Simon invoke the “mouse fighting an elephant” metaphor again? A huge mis-step for Miss Katie, sorry to say.

Randy: Couple things. I know you’re like mad young. The performance was a little disconnected vocally, but here’s what I love: to me this was one of the best vocal performances of the night. What you did is you showed that you definitely have the pipes. You’re like a young Christina in a weird sort of way. You gotta own that, embrace it. The song started out a little rough, but just try and find a way to connect it all. Ellen: And you have a little snookie poof going on. I thought the vocals were great. Again, you have a great voice. I wish that this song had been a little more current. You always sound so mature, which is a compliment. But at the same time, I want you to make a song a little younger, a little more current. Kara: You found where you belong, it’s R&B pop. This is one of your best vocal performances, consistency. But, I agree with what she’s saying – you’ve got to go back to making it young and commercial now. But good job on the vocals. Simon: I think for Randy to compare you to Christina is crazy. I thought it was pretty good, it was very robotic. You actually came over as quite cold in that performance. As Ellen said, you’re a young girl, you’ve gotta make it fun. I personally wouldn’t have taken on that song, because it was a little… My problem is, I think the advice Kara has given you is wrong. I don’t believe you are that kind of artist.

Lee DeWyze

One of the middle contenders in my opinion, [[Lee DeWyze]] comes at us with Treat Her Like A Lady. His biggest flaw is performance or personality. Or maybe one feeds into the other. Needs to give us a big show tonight. He starts off with a thumping bass drum and acoustic guitar that builds into a full band effort. Nice arrangement, I really like it. And let’s not forget the consistency of Lee’s vocals and the great tone. One of my favourite performances of the night.

Randy: This is great. Unbelievable! Best I’ve heard you in weeks. Lee, that was a ball baby. Ellen: There ya go. Now the night’s started. Unbelievable performance. Best performance of the night, probably that you’ve done so far. Kara: You brought the song into your world, it could’ve been on your record. It was amazing. Simon: You know Lee, I’ve always believed in you from the beginning of this competition. We’ve had some frustrations with the fact that you don’t believe in yourself. Even when you’re talking, you find it difficult to make eye contact, which means something has happened. I don’t know what. But I want you to go home, watch the show back, and understand this was the night your life may have changed forever.

Crystal Bowersox

Idol frontrunner [[Crystal Bowersox]] is up now with her version of Midnight Train To Georgia by Gladys Knight and The Pips. She’s taking Kara’s advice and leaving the acoustic guitar behind. Usher tells her that he’s used to “seeing you with an instrument in your hand”, and thankfully it’s not a bad chat-up line. So she’s playing piano tonight? Excellent…

She starts it off nice and soft, then leaves the piano behind as the song builds. I like what she’s done with her hair tonight, very pretty. A short, but very tight performance, excellent vocals as always.

Randy: I love the outfit, I love the whole ensemble. I love the stillettoes. I’m working on a record with Gladys Knight right now, and she would say you did that song proud. I liked the way you switched it up. I loved seeing you playing the piano like this, I thought it was another great performance by you. Ellen: You’re never not good, you’re always great and that was another side of you, which means that you really are competing now. You’re in it to win it and that was a really good idea. Kara: I’m so glad you took that risk, I really am. I wanted to see another side of you, and there are so many things about you that I love. I can’t wait to see what you do next, next week. Simon: Your choice of song was sensational, the vocals at times were incredible. The problem I have is that the backing vocalists shouldn’t have been there, because it made it old fashioned. You were uncomfortable with the piano, so you were overthinking it. What I’m most concerned about, regardless of the advice you’ve been given, do not let this process suck the identity out of you. Because what you were doing before was absolutely fantastic. I’ve had no issues with you whatsoever. You’re the kind of artist – rare – who actually knows what they should be doing.

Aaron Kelly

Our youngest contestant [[Aaron Kelly]] takes on the Bill Withers classic Ain’t No Sunshine. Another massive song, but there’s really no doubt that he’ll be able to rock this tune. His vocals are ridiculously good, but his look is all wrong. He looks like a weedy kid – can’t the stylists do something with this? Great performance.

Randy: It started a little rough, but by the time you hit your power zone and your power note spot, it kind of worked itself out. I think you’ve got a little bit more soul flavour than that, so it was just alright for me. Ellen: Well, if I’d had that amount of confidence when I was 11…16…I thought it was a good song choice and a really good job. Kara: I liked it, I wasn’t in love with it. I still think you could’ve gone up higher in your register, a little more energy. But I still liked it. Simon: I think if you compare it to some of the really good performances tonight. If Lee was the main course, that was a little like a cupcake. I’ve heard that song so many times sung brilliantly on this show. It wasn’t as good as last week, because I don’t think you believed it like last week.

And there you have it, folks. Ten performances. Which was your favourite? And were there any surprises this week? Disappointments, amazing performances?

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