"American Idol" has presented us with some head-scratching television this year. A Rock and Roll Night nearly devoid of rock and roll. Judges who all too often laud the commonplace and dismiss the extraordinary. An entire episode devoted to Carole King's songbook — a fine singer and writer, to be sure — but one that hardly compares to past thematic artists like John Lennon and Paul McCartney.
If anything, this season's overarching theme has been straight-up weirdness. Wednesday's (May 11) show, then, will continue in this vein, and perhaps raise the bar. None other than Lady Gaga is the mentor for the top four contestants, as they take on the songbook of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller.
"Who?" you might ask. Well, these two gentlemen have written songs for Elvis Presley and Ben E. King, among others, and their music has since been covered by likes of the Beatles and Jimi Hendrix and sampled by everyone from Warren G to Sean Kingston. Of course, that still doesn't explain why the woman behind "Judas" is the perfect fit for this week's show.
Nonetheless, it should make for some very entertaining TV. If only Jacob Lusk were around to enjoy it! Here's what we'll be looking for from the remaining "Idol" hopefuls.
Haley Reinhart aside, Lauren was the real stunner last week, both because she finally, firmly regained her swagger and belted out two top-notch performances and because she ended up in the bottom two. It's interesting how Haley seems to have chipped away at Lauren's fanbase. No complaints from us! But the pressure is seriously on Lauren, and we wonder how her near-dismissal will affect her confidence during two songs on Wednesday. "Kansas City," perhaps best known as a Beatles tune, is a bluesy track that's well suited to be deep-fried in country flavor. We just fear the refrain, "Bye bye, bye bye!"
James might not have landed in the bottom two, but last week was easily his worst combined performance of the season. Not that the judges seemed to notice, as they competed with each other to see who could offer the most superlative critique. Here's the thing: James is in it to win it, as silly as that is to say. He's consistently displayed the most creativity and passion of anyone on the show; what he's got to offer this week is a vocal performance to match. Dion's "Ruby Baby" would be a nice soft-rock fit. But with Gaga in the picture, we have a feeling James is going to go over the top. He's already lit a piano on fire and entered the stage with a marching band, so it's anybody's guess what the kid has lined up for Wednesday.
Scotty has already taken on Elvis twice this season, the last time to rather underwhelming results. So we're going to say the King is off-limits this week, even for an "Idol" singer who isn't exactly the most creative artist in the world. Perhaps, however, Gaga will draw out a little creativity from the country kid. An inspired choice would be "Stand by Me." Scotty can give the familiar tune a twangy makeover while incorporating some of the soulful emotion inherent in the tune. And for his second performance, "Lucky Lips" would be nothing short of genius.
Is Haley's "Idol" arc the greatest resurrection story in the show's history? Let's wait to see how far she truly goes. For now, we can applaud her for finding her form in the midst of the reality-show pressure cooker. And voters can applaud themselves for recognizing her late-blooming mojo and supporting her week after week.
Haley was able to tease out Gaga's bluesy essence during a cover of "You and I" last week, even if the judges slammed her for it. We hope Gaga comes to Haley's defense this time around and makes the key point that simply singing a Gaga tune does not mean you're trying to be Gaga. Leiber and Stoller's songbook offers Haley a gift in Peggy Lee's "I'm a Woman." She just shouldn't overly rely on her growls. But if she gets it right — and we have a felling she will — Haley just might find herself hanging around on the final night of "Idol."
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