And then there were nine.
With all due respect to Agatha Christie, while nothing could top last week’s fabled Casey Abrams save in terms of suspense, Thursday night’s “American Idol” offered a poignant farewell to a pair of contestants who will undoubtedly go on to careers of their own.
Just as we had predicted, Milwaukee grounds cleaner and single mom Naima Adedapo and teenage Filipino whiz kid Thia Megia were the twin victims of last week’s Abrams reprieve, meeting their demise a night after the duo’s Elton John tributes, with a record 55 million (for this stage of the show) registering their votes. Still, it wasn’t as if their elimination was unexpected, as both had previously finished in the bottom three. Wednesday night, Naima’s reggae take on “I’m Still Standing” was the one song the judges gave tepid scores, while Thia’s “Daniel” was well-received, though Randy said she played it “safe.”
Surprisingly, Paul McDonald was the week’s other bottom three finisher. He was spared the axe, but it just goes to show you how tough this process is going to be as we begin to cut into bone and marrow.
The other highlight was the introduction of the “AI” super band, a kind of Idol Beatles, if you will, with James Durbin, Casey Abrams on bass, Stefano Langone on keyboards and Paul McDonald, playing Paul, John, George and Paul, respectively. They performed a “Band on the Run” that had Steve Tyler offering them an opening slot on the next Aerosmith tour. Wonder if he’s told Joe Perry yet.
The show offered the finalists pairing up for duets prior to receiving their results, so Lauren Alaina and Scotty McCreery joined together on Carrie Underwood’s “I Told You So,” a song she also performed on “Idol” two years ago with Randy Travis. These two remain strong contenders, with regional followings that can’t be discounted.
Naima and Jacob Lusk paired up on a surprisingly flat version of Ashford & Simpson’s “Solid,” though I admired the fact the two are now accomplished pros. Lusk will be in this competition until the end, but you have to wonder if his eccentricities will outweigh his powerful pipes as the spotlight burns brighter. It’s a lot to ask someone who’s never been through this grind before.
Which brings up an interesting point. These “Idol” finalists provide a lot of relatively inexpensive entertainment for a show that’s raking in millions in advertising, and while the contestants also get a coveted shot at stardom in return, it’s a very interesting brand of mutual exploitation at work.
The newly resuscitated Haley Reinhart, along with Thia and Pia Toscano, went against type with a lively cover of Katy Perry’s “Teenage Dream,” which had me thinking they’d make a splendid multi-culti girl group. And while Haley seems to have gotten a second wind, it is Pia who absolutely drips pop-diva stardom, with a natural glamour to match her chops. Toscano has to be considered a prohibitive favorite at this point.
Season 3 winner Fantasia Barrino was brought on to sing her new song, “Collard Greens and Cornbread,” and I wondered if she would fare as well today. With a high-pitched, squeaky speaking voice, the diva has certainly had more than “collard greens and cornbread” in her diet, but managed to offer the contestants some solid advice. “You have to love the music.” Barrino, though, represents one of the damning things about “Idol” vis a vis the record industry. She’s a performer that’s hard to fit into today’s segmented pop marketplace, the kind of artist “American Idol” has favored in the past, although this year they seem to be casting a wider net.
I’m starting to get the hang of figuring out which way the online and offline winds are blowing as far as the vagaries of “Idol” voting. I correctly forecasted that both Thia and Naima would exit, though I had Stefano Langone next up, and Paul McDonald only after him. I still feel those two will be the next to go. It’s good to see the public get back behind the plucky Abrams. The clip of his ordeal after learning he’d be saved next week, complete with the on-set shrink telling him he shouldn’t feel guilty, showed this guy is something out of the ordinary. He could be one of those Adam Lambert types, sticking around just long enough for America to recognize his idiosyncracies, and then reject him, but he’s an interesting character, and I just hope “American Idol” didn’t manipulate the results to take advantage of his heart-on-the-sleeve nature. Nyaah, they wouldn’t do that… Would they?
1. Pia Toscano: The judges are waiting on an uptempo number. Her performance of “Teenage Dream” shows she’s capable. That might make her unstoppable.
2. Scotty McCreery: Like Andy Griffith in “A Face in the Crowd” (look it up), this deep-voiced, folksy populist lurks just below the radar, ready to bring his horse from behind. Nothing seems to bother this lonesome cowboy.
3. James Durbin: Could he be the first legitimate “American Idol” rock star? That is, if you don’t count Daughtry, and I don’t. How he does will show us if rock and roll still holds a place in our national conversation. Or not, as the case may be. Maybe he can go on the road with Joe Perry and call it Aerosmith, Too.
4. Jacob Lusk: His pipes aren’t in question. His quirky personality is. Tough call as to how the public will respond.
5. Casey Abrams: The kid stays in the picture. We need him to be the cocky, smart-aleck hipster he appears to be. This guy’s now playing with house money.
6. Lauren Alaina: With her Christian voting block and cheerleader-next-door demeanor, she could be closer to her own TBS sitcom than the next “American Idol,” but it wouldn’t be smart to count her out.
7. Haley Reinhart: Coming on strong—and wouldn’t you like to see her and alleged beau Abrams tackle a version of Sonny & Cher’s “I Got You Babe”?—but she’s got some tough competition in front of her.
8. Stefano Langone: He’s got J.Lo in his corner, but the Italian stallion is living on borrowed time, though still capable of a knockout punch.
9. Paul McDonald: Better haul out that good-luck Gram Parsons suit, dude, because you’re gonna need it. His low-key, just-folks approach is a little too relaxed for the high stakes here.