American Idol: Rating the Top 8's iTunes Recordings from Movie Week

We’ve still got more than 24 hours before the American Idol season 10 finalists tackle the controversial “Songs from the 21st Century” theme — hopefully the House That Kelly Clarkson Built won’t collapse upon experiencing an entire evening’s worth of modern music — but in the interim, I thought it would be a worthwhile exercise to rate the iPod worthiness of the Top 8’s Movie Night studio recordings. Without further ado…

Paul McDonald: Bob Seger’s “Old Time Rock and Roll”
Without a doubt, Paul is one of the season’s more artistically capable finalists — when I interviewed him yesterday, he whipped out his guitar and played a remarkably catchy ballad called “Just Lettin’ You Know” (which, alas, reps from Fox and 19 wouldn’t let me record) — but this particular track sounds like pure karaoke-bar drek. Paul’s only real contributions here are changing the pronunciation of old-time to “old-timey” and shouting random sentiments like “feel good! yes I do!” as the whole sad affair comes to an end. If you’re jonesin’ for his vocals, download his prior works with the Grand Magnolias instead. Grade: D+

Casey Abrams: Nat King Cole’s “Nature Boy”
Casey benefits from the audio-only iTunes medium, where his tendencies to pull faces and achieve “sexy moments” don’t get in the way of what’s actually a sweet, restrained vocal. Better still, Casey also dials back on the affected exhalations and peculiar pronunciations for this brief (2:22) recording, which features a stripped-down arrangement of piano, bass, and percussion. Grade: A-

Scotty McCreery: George Strait’s ” I Cross My Heart”
The ham and cheese sandwich of this week’s Idol recordings: It’s plain and square and decidedly hokey — but satisfying to those with an appetite for unabashed sentimentality and twang. Grade: B-

James Durbin: Sammy Hagar’s “Heavy Metal”
If you rocked out to Top 40 metal back in the day, then James’ latest recording will tickle your fancy. The vocal is robust and playful, and unlike a lot of Idol-studio rock tracks, the guitars here actually have some oomph. Grade: B+

Stefano Langone: Boyz II Men’s “End of the Road”
I know the Idols are allegedly working with name-brand producers on their tracks this year, but “End of the Road” sounds like it was cut in one of those shopping-mall recording kiosks which were popular for a minute back in the ’80s. Brace yourselves to either laugh or cry when Stefano makes a misguided attempt at a spoken-word interlude at the 2:55 mark. To quote the singer himself, “Yes, I feel pain too!” Grade: Sadness

Lauren Alaina: Miley Cyrus’ “The Climb”
To all three people who balked when Jimmy Iovine talked about how Lauren can sing circles around Miley, the proof is in the recording. Lauren’s live version had a few pitch problems and felt a little light in the passion department, but this rendition is all kinds of gorgeous, with some pumped-up guitar and drum action to add to the overall sense of drama. Grade: A-

Haley Reinhart: Blondie’s “Call Me”
As an increasingly enthusiastic member of Team Haley, it pained me that the spunky underdog fell a little flat last week tackling a stylized Blondie track on the Idol stage. Her studio version, on the other hand, benefits from an aggressive synth line that propels Haley’s distinctively raspy vocal to repeat-worthy heights. Seriously, Haley doubters, this woman sounds pretty stellar coming through one’s headphones. Grade: A-

Jacob Lusk: Simon & Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water”
If you always felt like Simon & Garfunkel’s sublime original didn’t have enough “on the brink of tears” vibrato, here’s what you’ve been waiting for. One question, though: How come Jacob pronounces “sail on, silver girl” pronounced “salon, serble”? Uff da. Grade: C

What were your favorite and least favorite Idol iTunes recordings from Top 8 week? Did any of them end up on your iPod? Sound off below, and for all my Idol coverage, follow me on Twitter @MichaelSlezakTV!

Comments are monitored, so don’t go off topic, don’t frakkin’ curse and don’t bore us with how much your coworker’s sister-in-law makes per hour. Talk smart about TV!

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  1. Teena says:

    Mostly, in season’s past, I have preferred the live version be it audio or video. This stuff is so “Studio” that it is going to take a few listens before I can decide if I like it.

  2. Tahoe Mike says:

    Apple makes enough money, they will not get a cent from me.
    Where oh where is this weeks Idoloonies??

  3. Davey says:

    Favorites? None of the above.

  4. agrimesy says:

    I think next season the contestants’ placement should be determined by three factors:

    1) total votes from viewers
    2) judges score
    3) iTunes sales overnight

    Let the voters put their money where their mouth is. If you like your guy as much as 2 hours of power voting, buy his single or shut up! None of the male Idol winners have sold anywhere close to the amount of iTunes singles the girls have. Voters DO NOT equal sales. It’s time the Idol team understood that and did something about it.

    • karen Anderson says:

      Great idea about the iTune sales!!! Yes!

    • DS says:

      That iTunes idea is kind of brilliant.

    • Tahoe Mike says:

      I think they ought to charge $.25 per vote, and donate the money to Idol Gives back. That way they could spare us the telethon episode. We would be voting by putting our money where our mouth is, an idea I really like, but not supporting Apple. If you want to vote a hundred times for Stefanjaya that will be $25. Oh you only want to vote $1 worth, ok fine.
      I just don’t see extorting us to support Apple as being cool. What would be next, buying specially marked 12 packs of Coke? How many votes do I get for buying a special edition Ford?

      • huh says:

        I see your point about consumerism, but it’s a little different since this is a MUSIC show and we’d be buying MP3’s of songs we actually liked. Sure, Apple gets a cut and whatnot, but it’s very direct and reasonable to say “If you like Scotty, buy his song on iTunes and listen to him on your computer.” That sounds a lot better than “If you like Scotty, by a can of Coke for no reason.”

        • Tahoe Mike says:

          By all means, buy them if you want to! I just wish they said “Buy your copy wherever downloads are sold.”
          It bugs me just as much that only ATT customers can text vote.

          • haba says:

            iTunes is ubuquitous enough, in terms of music purchases (I’m no Apple fanboy, but I have an iPod like most others and have only ever purchased music through the iTunes store) that that doesn’t really bother me as much as the AT&T or Coke plugs.

    • ladyhelix says:

      That would be terrific (counting iTunes sales toward votes)! I buying music instead of voting early in the season, which means I’m partially to blame for the lack of female contestants now.

      I don’t have a lot of time – or a lot of money, but given the choice I’d rather have something on my iPod when it’s over with!

    • Wendy says:

      Okay…that is just freaky. I swear on all that’s holy I actually emailed Slezak last week that there should be “iTunes Immunity” factored into the voting process. I disagree about giving the judges a say outside of their comments and the judges save, but I think the popular vote (current standard) should determine the bottom 3 and then the singer in the bottom 3 with the lowest iTunes sales should be the one sent home.

      That way, America still ‘decides’ (no producer/judges bias) but you correct for the teenage girl voting effect and narrow down the contestant pool to people who are viable recording artists. If people object to the consumerism of the iTunes portion, they can compensate by voting/dialing/texting for no fee since that will still determine the bottom 3. But I wholeheartedly agree that the measure of a true American Idol should be someone who’s voice and talent is so powerful it would actually inspire me to buy their album (or download their song). I’m 32, I don’t have time to dial a 1000 times, but if someone is really good, I will go to iTunes and download the song and that should count for something…hell, that should count for MORE!

  5. Enrique says:

    LOL! I love the grade for Stefano! From now on all contestants should be graded with the emotion scale.

    • Lunakit (still waiting for Idoloonies) says:

      …and to kick it off, here is my grade for Idoloonies this week: sorrow. :(

  6. blingedup.susan says:

    Well, I really just checked here to see if a new Idoloonies was up. :)
    But since we’re talking about itunes sales, I bought my first of the season. Purchased Casey’s Nature Boy because I wanted to support his decision to go against Jimmy Iovine’s advice.

  7. Georgia says:

    I downloaded Casey’s “Nature Boy” and went back to pick up Pia’s “All In Love Is Fair”. I’ll give another listen to Haley’s “Call Me”. I loved the movie and the original version, but on first listen wasn’t impressed or offended by Haley’s studio version. I never visit the American Idol web site anymore, and this question may have been answered there: Why are the duets not available in audio downloads, and why no videos so far this season?

  8. Karen Anderson says:

    Agree with you about Haley, and I almost didn’t want to listen to her studio track after the missteps that took place live. But dang, if she doesn’t totally nail it on the recording, in addition to having the Idol producers serve her well with the production. One of my favorite live performances of Haley’s was “You Really Got a Hold on Me,” but sadly, through NO fault of her own, the producers inexplicably created music for the studio version that sounded thin, dated and was absolutely an insult to the great vocal talents of Haley. Boo on them, because I wanted to add it to my growing list of Haley tracks. Now that Slezak has deemed Haley’s duet one of the top 5 performances of the season, it joins his list that also includes her performance of Bennie and the Jets! Two Haley performances in your top-five, Slezak. I say the duet ranks at number one, followed by Bennie at number two.

    • B.Rich says:

      I agree 100% with everything you said.

      My personal top 5:
      1. Moanin’ – Haley and Casey
      2. Bennie and the Jets – Haley
      3. Why Don’t You Do Right – Casey
      4. Georgia On My Mind – Casey
      5. Georgia On My Mind – Kendra

    • agrimesy says:

      I’ve got a top five!
      1) Bennie and the Jets by Haley
      2) Moanin’ by Haley and Casey “coughs-a-lot” Abrams
      3) Blackbird by Kendra and Paul
      4) You’re All I Need to Get By by Jacob
      5) Georgia On My Mind by Kendra

      *special guests winner: Adam Lambert with a VERY close second Kelly Clarkson

  9. Rebecca says:

    Spot on Michael! And I especially love what you said about Jacob. LOL Too funny, but true.

  10. Karrah says:

    I got Lauren’s “The Climb” and I love it. I always liked that song but I was never much on Miley’s voice, so I like it a lot. I also went back and got Haley’s “Piece of My Heart” this week and it’s pretty good too.

  11. betsy says:

    I went to purchase Casey’s “Nature Boy” and my only option was to buy all the performances for $5.99. No, thanks. I also wanted to buy Casey and Haley’s duet, but it wasn’t available. Boo.

  12. darclyte says:

    Thanks for this Mr. Slezak. This makes for a great “stop gap” while waiting for the latest Idoloonies. Would it be possible for you to do this every week, especially on Monday?

    I had wondered how these songs would translate. I’ll have to send a link to The Climb to a lady friend of mine who doubts Lauren could surpass Miley. I am a big Sammy fan, but Heavy Metal was never one of my favs of his. I thought James performed it well, and I’m STILL amazed that in one season of Idol we’ve had Judas Priest and Hagar from one contestant and Nirvana from another, but I can’t see that the MP3 would be worth getting. I’ll give it a listen though.

    In the meanwhile, I heard a song today that would be interesting for James to do this week. “Calling” by Taproot.

    • JayK says:

      I agree! Not to be too demanding, but we can we get your studio recordings reviews on Monday?? It’s a long, cold weekend waiting for Idoloonies on Tuesday. It would give us a reason to get out of bed on Mondays!

  13. Lizbeth says:

    Casey’s version of Nature Boy was really wonderful. I think Don Was produced that track. That is probably why it wasn’t over produced.

    I think Scotty pulls way more weird faces and other weird mannerisms (or whatever they are) than Casey does.

  14. sharona says:

    I am not nor have I ever been at all impressed by Iovine. Kudos to both James and Casey for knowing who they are as artists and doing their own thing with the songs they chose during movie theme week. It’s also annoying to see how p*ssed he gets when an Idol DARES to not listen to him. Can we say ego? That being said, I would absolutely love to have a studio MP3 of Haley and Casey singing Moanin’. If only…..

    • RTW says:

      Agreed sharona. Between the panel of cheerleaders providing nothing constructive and Iovine loathing on a contestant’s own song choice, geez, who’s left for guidance, Seacrest? Actually, I was really glad Ryan had the panel provide “feedback” on their duet because he realized the impact the performance had on the audience and panel. Like you, I too really want a Casey and Haley moanin’ MP3 (*sigh*) but I do love their individual MP3s.

  15. Molly says:

    I was so hoping that Idol producers would make an exception and release Haley’s and Casey’s duet. Or at least give a reasonable reason for not doing so. Though I am thinking my definition of reasonable may not align with theirs!

  16. InLoveWithSlezak says:

    Oh, who care?!~

    I need my Idoloonies!

  17. sorry, casey says:

    Not agreeing with Sleezak’s A- for Casey. The production & instrumentals were fab, worthy of A-, but Casey didn’t match up to that quality. The middle, with his affected way of singing, was especially cringeworthy.

    Lauren, very good, A-/B+.

    Haley, much better than expected, A/A-.
    The A- for the tinny music, not for Haley.

  18. Dani C says:

    A Haiku:
    Where Idoloonies
    Why have you forsaken me
    Please post soon Slezak
    On another note, i have downloaded everything from Haley-love that girl!

  19. James says:

    Nobody cares about that crap Slezak! Give us Idoloonies or there will be a revolt at tvline headquarters!

  20. Shari says:

    If they all don’t step up their game the most exciting thing about Wed and Thurs shows will be David Cook’s new single. Hopefully they paid attention to Kelly and are going to up their game. With Pia gone the rest of them need to prove they are really special and not just because the judges keep telling them all they are dong great I am still waiting for that one performance that really stands out.

  21. Can't Sleep says:

    The iTunes versions are only a side trip on the Idol journey. Only performance that counts is the one during the live show. I haven’t purchased an iTune download during an AI saeason since season 6. Don’t have any of the downloads now. That’s how much they mattered to me.
    For anyone suggesting they use iTunes downloads to determine the bottom 3, just how much time is TPTB going to give you to make that purchase? 2 hours? 4 hours? 12 hours? Or do they move the results show back 7 days to allow everyone a chance to purchase them?
    Just cap the votes, and keep the flow of the show going.
    Anyone gonna give NBC’s The Voice a look next week?

  22. idontreallyhaveahorseinthisracethisyear says:

    Still no Idoloonies? C’mon, Michael! :p

  23. idoladdict says:

    Must. Have. Idoloonies. Dying. Seriously.

  24. Guy says:

    Lauren’s version of The Climb is amazing. I wasn’t expecting it to be that good. She is really a star in my eyes and i hope she takes idol 2011.