'American Idol': Elton John songs offer finalists a crash course in showmanship
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.
The history lesson was a way to set up vignettes of the contestants getting glammed up for a photo shoot, and to offer them a glimpse into the potential future of their lives as "pop icons." The shoot was a not-so-subtle attempt at infusing the contestants with a bit of swagger before taking the stage.
During their turn onstage, finalists got bonus points for peppering their performances with rock-star pizzazz: shouting out Grandma, making the crowd do the wave, setting a piano on fire and employing tour-friendly banter such as "How y'all doing tonight?," "Y'all ready?" "This song is dedicated to [insert person or cause here]."
Taking a page from John -– who was a guest judge some year back -– was a no-brainer for a show looking to launch a multi-platinum marquee act. John has sold more than 250 million albums, and his single "Candle in the Wind 1997" (which finalist Lauren Alaina covered and praised for showing her "softer" side) is the best-selling single in Billboard history.
The judges took note of the contestants' ability to ramp up their live showings: Randy Jackson thought Scotty McCreedy, who took on "Country Comforts," has "seasoned so fast," and Jennifer Lopez applauded Hayley Reinhart’s take on "Bennie and the Jets," which she said "all came together," after weeks of criticizing her stage presence -– not her voice.
With John boasting a weighty songbook that includes more than 50 top-40 hits, the last thing on the judges' minds was criticizing song selection, instead making it all about their artistry and their presence (for better or worse) on the live stage.
-- Gerrick D. Kennedy
Twitter.com / gerrickkennedy
Photo: James Durbin sets the honorary piano on fire. Credit: Michael Becker / Fox