The “American Idol” kids have gotten very spoiled in these final weeks of the competition.
After being mentored by Lady Gaga last week, the Top Three got advice from another platnium-heeled diva: Beyoncé.
Before the singer premiered the video to her new single, “Run the World (Girls),” she doled out advice for the three remaining contestants.
Always the consummate performer, Beyoncé, much like Gaga, has become known for her live shows. So, it was a bit surprising to see the singer focus solely on the technical workings of contestants' vocals.
She praised Haley Reinhart’s "warm tone" and "risky" song choices, told young 'un Scotty McCreery that she was interested in seeing him reach into the higher notes of his baritone, and reminded Lauren Alaina that she created alter-ego Sasha Fierce strictly to help her nerves and help her believe that she’s “strong … fearless … and ... a diva.”
Maybe she didn’t want to give them all her secrets, but with only two divas-in-training left (and a reminder that a female hasn’t won since 2007), here are five things we wished Bey would have taught the finalists, especially the girls:
“American Idol” is coming closer to the finish line and this is the moment –- as the judges continue to remind the contestants –- that matters the most, and when you truly compete.
Jennifer Lopez for the last few weeks has offered a piece of advice that can be taken a few different ways: It's not just about hitting those big-money notes, it's about selecting songs that people at home can really connect with (i.e. hits).
Taking this approach is the textbook way of earning votes, unless you're James Durbin.
Wednesday was another double theme night (songs that inspire you, and selections from the Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller songbook). When it came to selecting an inspirational song, no one seemed to understand Lopez’s advice better than young Scotty McCreery.
McCreery, perched with his guitar, took on Alan Jackson’s “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning).”
“Did you stand there in shock at the sight of that black smoke,” he sang. “Risin' against that blue sky / Did you shout out in anger, in fear for your neighbor / Or did you just sit down and cry?”
Lady Gaga took center stage on Wednesday’s “American Idol,” even though she didn’t make an appearance in the flesh.
With a theme of “Now and Then,” contestants were given the broad task of selecting a contemporary tune to showcase, as well as an older song. And while two past “Idol” winners were selected (Jordin Sparks and Carrie Underwood), the hype was built around 20-year-old Haley Reinhart, who decided to cover one of the most contemporary artists out there: Gaga.
Tackling Gaga shouldn’t have come as a shock to anyone watching at home, given that the singer is one of the most successful artists in today’s pop market. It was Reinhart’s decision -- OK, really, it was Jimmy Iovine’s -- to cover an unreleased song, “You And I,” that had the judges -- and now the Net -- talking.
James Durbin stood frozen Wednesday amid thunderous applause after his performance of Carole King’s “Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” before judge Randy Jackson gave the 22-year-old the co-sign of the season.
“This guy just might win the whole thing,” Jackson yelled and leapt onstage to hug “Idol’s” resident rocker.
The proclamation, while bold, only further put the nail in the coffin of a female taking the crown in the show’s 10th season. A female hasn’t won since Jordin Sparks in Season 6, leaving guitar-strumming, singer-songwriter boys with scruffy hair and coffeehouse-friendly tunes to walk away with it all. Although the folksy Crystal Bowersox came in second last year, the way things have been going this season it’s statistically less likely that one of the last two women standing -- the twangy Lauren Alaina and the bluesy Hayley Reinhart -- will be able to win it all. Not even judge favorite Pia Toscano, a frontrunner, was able to hang in there.
And everyone has their own theories as to why.
Some “Idol” pundits think it’s the show's strong teenage female fanbase that's picked off the ladies -- though Casey Abrams got an early save and Stefano Langone and Paul McDonald have both been eliminated. Others think Durbin and Abrams simply have an edge over the rest.
A quick survey around the audience inside CBS Studios, where “Idol” is taped, showed a mass of glittery signs for Durbin, Abrams, country boy Scotty McCreery and Jacob Lusk -- though one tween girl, who spent the entire evening screeching for the boys, showed Alaina some love on a two-sided sign; the front read “I Love Scotty,” but it saluted the country girl on the back.
As the show whittles down the contestants -- after Thursday, only five will remain -- the finalists seem more comfortable letting their guard down and opening up about the pressures of the competition.
'American Idol': Songs from the 21st century? With help from the Billboard Hot 100, we offer our picks
However, for a show so slanted toward youth -– the age of hopefuls has been lowered, and the oldest contestant will be turning 24 this year -– it continues to deliver tracks from deep within the American songbook.
The contestants were allowed to pick tracks from the 21st century, and considering that none of the finalists was a preteen at the start of the new century, it left too much room to turn back the hands of time.
So, after another week of high praise from the judges (with the exception of minor notes of the proverbial "pitchiness), Pop & Hiss opted to create a challenge.
Each week, no doubt there is someone, somewhere in America yelling at the television set about the contestant's choice (usually it's one of us). We thought it might prove instructive to take a stab at song selection. How hard can it be? The theme? Songs curated exclusively from this week’s Billboard Hot 100.
Much has been written about the transformations of the show, notably Iovine adding marquee music producers to help the finalists dress up theme nights.
Iovine enlisted his own dream team of soundsmiths to rotate duties, including Polow Da Don, Rock Mafia, Rodney Jerkins, Don Was, Jim Jonsin, Ron Fair and “Tricky” Stewart, Timbaland and Alex Da Kid. The hitmakers all have a hand in arranging and producing contestant tracks, all under the watchful guise -- and, often, criticism -- of the chairman.
But Wednesday, the contestants appeared to have had enough of Iovine’s heavy hand during the season's tribute to songs that have appeared in movies.
After last week’s “shocking” elimination of Pia Toscano (cue tears, mostly from judge Jennifer Lopez), the contestants were clearly feeling the threat of uncertainty when it came to voters at home -- it certainly didn’t help their confidence that the judges reminded them Wednesday how unfair Toscano’s exit was.
Iovine’s the kind of presence that the show hasn’t had in the past. He's not only the in-house mentor who lends a critical voice to the contestants, but he also is the man who will be be signing the winner (and whomever else from the show he good and well pleases -- reports say he has already inked a deal with Toscano).
The chairman has a commitment to cultivating some of the greatest finalists the show has seen -- his words. He has gone on record plenty of times saying he hopes this season will provide longevity for the finalists, and, ultimately, more hits for his imprint. And given the exhaustive resources he has deployed on their development, he will certainly broker most of the contestants' post-"Idol" record deals.
Rock 'n' roll remains one of those tent-pole theme nights on “American Idol,” one that that aging competition would never get rid of -- and for good reason.
Birthed out of a combination of blues, country, jazz, soul, folk and gospel -- rock 'n' roll, for a lack of better phrasing, is arguably the foundation of American music.
When a show like “Idol” takes a page from the ole school of rock textbook, it often relegates the contestants to narrowed focuses like artist-specific nights (Elvis, the Rolling Stones, Neil Diamond) or sub-genres such as classic or country rock where hopefuls get awkward leather and lace makeovers as they attempt to imitate rock royalty like Aerosmith, Queen, Led Zeppelin and Lynyrd Skynyrd.
For a second time, the show leaned on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for source material. This time the contestants sang songs from a list of 500 the institution deemed as records that “shaped rock and roll.”
Based on the permanent exhibit by the same name, the tracks were selected by Rock hall curatorial staff along with rock critics and historians and are pegged as “some of rock and roll’s most popular and influential recordings.”
Zeroing in on a semi-expansive list of songs that shaped the way we know and appreciate rock offered all of the finalists nothing but high praise from the judges.
Getting the treatment was Elton John.
Despite show producers making an effort to promise they wouldn't restrict the theme nights to one musical style or artist, John having his own evening served as a much-needed lesson to the contestants.
Ryan Seacrest feted John as "a man that's about true showmanship. And a true icon."
And showmanship is the lesson that Interscope Records kingpin/Idol mentor Jimmy Iovine and company attempted to instill in the finalists: The stakes have risen in the competition, and two people will be eliminated Thursday, thanks to the dramatics of the judges' save last week.
Viewers were treated to an interview from 1976 in which John is quizzed about his flashy "sequins and glitter" and asked, "What's it all about?” John was never afraid to don kooky shades, fluorescent colors, feathers and eye-popping costumes (feel free to draw parallels to Lady Gaga here, the show certainly did). Cee-Lo Green recently paid tribute to one of John's most famous costumes with his Grammy performance.
"Anyone that's saying it's not showbiz is joking," John said in the interview.
It was only appropriate that on Wednesday night the “American Idol” contestants took on the songs of Motown, a label that rightfully earned its "Hitsville U.S.A." moniker.
Plenty of contestants in the show’s history have dusted off Motown songs over the last decade, hits that, despite being more than four decades old, continue to suggest a contemporary edge, perhaps the main reason “Idol” leans on Motown once a season as a theme night. Producers could be hoping that viewers will catch the similarities the aging competition bears to the historic label.
“Idol” plays out on screen each season like a classic-pop-hit factory: auditions, rehearsals, feedback on songs and selection from musical authorities and fans, both of whom help decide which musicians are best equipped for fame. It mirrors the stories of Motown's 1960s heyday, when a competitive spirit helped bring out the best in the artists and the songs.
The Hitsville studios in Detroit were known to be open for business up to 22 hours a day, and Motown artists would balance touring with recording -- reportedly using tour breaks to pump out more material. Sound familiar? Within days of "Idol" winners being crowned, they are ushered on a national tour (along with the other contestants in the top 10), where they perform for the very audiences who voted them to stardom -- all while recording debut albums.
Viewers at home, treated to mere one-minute clip reels of the contestants crafting the songs they are about to perform, might not grasp the workhorse that is “Idolville U.S.A.”
This season, the studio version of the songs that come out of those weekly sessions are on sale exclusively at iTunes as a compilation -- a first for the show.
Are they striving to present a night of generation-defining tracks, or give those watching at home a refresher course on how far the pop songbook has come in just the last two decades?
Watching a contestant fret over what track to select from 1995 (yes, you’re old) right after a contestant birthed in 1982 won praise for tackling Elton John’s “I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues,” could elicit both frustration and confusion for viewers and the judges.
Hopefuls bred in the late '80s seemed to fare better: Stefano Langone’s "If You Don't Know Me by Now” (Simply Red, 1989), Pia Toscano’s upbeat take on “Where Do Broken Hearts Go” (Whitney Houston, 1988) and Jacob Lusk's “Alone” (Heart, 1987) all won over the judges.
If only more of the '90s babies had gotten the same high marks.
Thia Megia went with Vanessa Williams’ 1995 “Pocahontas” contribution, “Colors of the Wind,” a performance that was promptly called “boring” by "Idol" judge Randy Jackson. And Hayley Reinhart struggled with the Houston track “I’m Your Baby Tonight.”
But the night highlights an "Idol" weak spot: Forcing an age gap on a show where all the contestants are under age 26. Considering the less stringent age requirements on "America's Got Talent" and "The X Factor," it's troubling why a show such as "Idol," which prides itself this season on its teenage talent, only recently lowered contestants' age to 15. Given the narrow range of ages, it seems almost unnecessary to offer up a birth year theme night on "Idol" -- especially if the judges spend the entire night seemingly annoyed at song selection (with Steven Tyler phoning in his critiques: "sorcerer's grasp of melody" and "ethnic what-it-is-ness" were both used).