Monday, May 16, 2011

American Idol: Haley and the Rest

Here are words I never thought I'd type: Season 10, the first without Simon Cowell as judge, is the best season of American Idol ever.

Take a moment to spit out your arguments. "The judges suck," "The contestants aren't that good," "They're being a bitch to poor Haley Reinhart," etc.

Well, the judges may be inaccurate, but they most certainly do not suck. They're strong enough personalities to sell whatever crap they're offering well--and it's honestly not their mission to provide criticism, it's to be entertaining. Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler have been and continue to be truly entertaining. (We'll forget Randy Jackson exists.)

And yes, they are probably really screwing with poor Haley, but they've also (intentionally or unintentionally) given her the chance of a lifetime, as all the manipulation has led to a final three finish for the Illinois songbird.

But let's talk about those contestants and how "not good" they are. Because let me tell you--they're actually the best bunch this show has seen since Season 5 and possibly the best bunch ever. (Yes, they even beat Season 8!)

Haley, go ahead and put us in the mood:


This is a season that, despite popular opinion, has been both consistent AND good. (Most Idol seasons are one or the other.) Contestants like Pia Toscano and James Durbin who have been knocked off early provided us with great performances before they departed--from Toscano, we got "I'll Stand By You" and "All in Love is Fair," and from Durbin, we got "Will You Love Me Tomorrow" and "Living for the City." Even from the so-called "bad" contestants we got gems: Naima Adedapo's "Dancing in the Streets," Thia Megia's "Out Here On My Own," and Jacob Lusk's "A House is Not a Home." And with a couple exceptions (Adedapo's "What's Love Got to Do With It" and Lusk's "No Air"), there really haven't been any disasters all season long.

Now we're left with three really fascinating contestants, two of whom will move on to compete in next week's finale. Let's take a look at the two "frontrunners" before we get to my personal favorite, Miss Reinhart.

Scotty McCreery

Scotty is a fascinating breed of Idol contestant from the "Danny Gokey/Taylor Hicks" mold--he's massively popular without really delivering one AMAZING performance. He's definitely the most fun contestant left, though--just look at his performance of Montgomery Gentry's "Gone"! He's having so much fun!

He can even be touching and heartfelt when he needs to be, like on his cover of James Taylor's "You've Got a Friend". He's also seen as the most viable winner--an assumption I think is just plain wrong. Scotty is a strong singer, but there's no male Taylor Swift for a reason--country music requires an "I've seen it all" kind of feeling in order to be authentic and Scotty is all of 17 years old. He's not ready just yet despite his killer voice. Still, he's tons better than the haters make him out to be.

Lauren Alaina

I strongly debated whether to put this performance of Martina McBride's "Anyway" or her fun rendition of Carrie Underwood's "Flat On the Floor" up, but the breath control problems on the latter led me to the former. But that's the way with Lauren, isn't it? She's always got a caveat or two with every performance.

There's no unconditionally great performance in her repertoire. She's being sold as the clear frontrunner but just hasn't lived up to her early promise. I'm hoping we get a real moment with her this week, but frankly, she's just disappointed me despite some enjoyable performances. Her big shot was replicating a Jordin Sparks moment on "I (Who Have Nothing)" this week, but she let Haley have that song. I'm betting she's regretting that choice now.

Haley Reinhart

There is a girl on American Idol
They call the Underdog
And she's been the butt of many a critique
But God, I think she can win

Haley Reinhart's journey on American Idol is absolutely fascinating. Frankly, she wasn't very good at first (I myself wanted to see her go sooner rather than later), but her Top 11 Redux performance of "Bennie and the Jets" finally got her some praise. She didn't really inherit the critical favorite mantle until she covered "Rolling In the Deep," however--still lamenting over the loss of Pia Toscano, most critics were in a position of just not caring. Then there was Haley.

Truly, she's a wonder--her voice is kinda weird but she's got perfect pitch. She looks super-commercial but sings some odd selections. She can do the fun stuff and the dark, dramatic ballads. She's responsible for the most critically acclaimed performance of the season, the above "House of the Rising Sun," and she's showing no signs of slowing down.

Assuming the two country kids split votes this week (a good assumption) and her fanbase keeps voting (a shaky assumption), she'll make her way into the finale to square off with either Scotty or Lauren. While I'd say whichever crooner fights her likely has the upper hand, I wouldn't put anything past Haley at this point. She's truly astounding, a new kind of Idol contestant for a new era: it's not the prepackaged talents that matter, it's the ones who grow as an artist and simultaneously grow on you.

Well done, Lady Reinhart. Keep on trucking through this week. And Idol? Don't change anything just yet. You're doing just fine.

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