“I know what it is as an artist to have an idea in your head.”
Oh, J.Lo, sometimes you make it too easy!
You could say I’m being unfair by taking the American Idol judge/”Booty” singer’s quote out of context — she did try to make a point of some kind after saying those exact words to contestant Dalton Rapattoni — but if she can’t be bothered to remember the name of this week’s mentor (rock legend Stevie Van Zandt, mmmkay?), doesn’t she deserve a couple zingers thrown in her general direction? #DontBeFooledByTheRocksThatShesGotInHerHead (Badum-bum… I’ll be here all night, folks!)
Still, let’s not make this about She Who Professionally Shakes Her Sequins* in Vegas! (*and other stuff)
After the unceremonious ouster of Sonika Vaid — a talented young woman who, let’s keep it real, wasn’t quite ready for this jelly — the Top 4 threw down like Imperator Furiosa in a Mad Max fight sequence… resulting in the single best episode of the show’s Farewell Season run.
SEE WHAT HAPPENS, EXECUTIVE PRODUCER TRISH KINANE, WHEN YOU BRING IN DEEPLY INVESTED, MUSICALLY INTELLIGENT MENTORS TO GUIDE THESE YOUNG’UNS THROUGH THEIR PACES???!!!
Whoops — I didn’t mean to all-caps that sentiment. It just slipped out. Maybe I’d be less rageful if you’d made this happen four weeks ago?
Seriously, though, with Mr. Van Zandt’s desperately needed advice on American Rock Classics and Sia’s gentle pushing of contestants outside their vocal comfort zones on her own songbook, we finally got the live performance episode promised to us back in the innocent and hopeful days of Hollywood Week (before they eliminated Jessica Cabral and, later, Shelbie Z with no explanation whatsoever, I might add).
Before you make me write “I will not be a bitter recapper” on the blackboard 50 times — there was, after all, the glorious David Cook’s deliciously building “Heartbeat” and an eye-popping rendition of Sia’s “Cheap Thrills” — let me skip to my grades for tonight’s damn fine installment:
American Rock Songs
La’Porsha Renae — Bon Jovi’s “Wanted Dead or Alive” — Grade: A- | I’m not sure why in-house mentor Scott Borchetta was so opposed to La’Porsha choosing a song with an “I’m a cowboy” refrain. Just because La’Porsha is a black woman doesn’t mean she can’t channel her inner John Wayne — or at a minimum, interpret the lyric as a metaphor for her inner outlaw, right? Whatever the case, the Season 15 front-runner very much delivered when it came to the idea of seeing a million faces, and rocking ’em all: Wrapping her vibrato and growl around the familiar melody, La’Porsha made the track sound new and fresh and different than how I’d expected — never missing a note in the process. And isn’t that what the Idol experience is supposed to be all about?
MacKenzie Bourg — Cheap Trick’s “I Want You to Want Me” — Grade: B- | The judges went after MacKenzie’s quirky arrangement with a vengeance, even though the bespectacled contestant’s real struggle wasn’t in the concept, but rather the execution. Granted, the SwayBots’ decision to clap out of time with the beat probably made MacKenzie feel like a band of milky-eyed, teeth-baring zombies were swarming the stage with a mission to maraud. And while that led to a few glaring moments when Mac’s voice got swallowed up like a minnow in a whale’s mouth, there was a sincerity and a connectedness to it all that almost outweighed the flaws.
Trent Harmon — Z.Z. Top’s “Sharp Dressed Man” — Grade: A+ | Stevie’s advice for Trent to take his swampy “ooohs” from the bridge to the opening of his performance was absolutely inspired. Trent brought so much swag to the stage – leaning left, then right, and letting us see every angle of his on-fleek hairdo — that he managed to pull off blues brother, Sinatra-esque crooner and ’80s rocker… all in one 90-second performance. That’s no small task, but as Trent is beginning to prove, there’s not much he can’t handle once he’s got bravery and confidence in his arsenal. The arrangement may have been the season’s biggest risk — but by getting deep into the groove and expertly using every part of his vocal range, Trent got an incredible payoff.
Dalton Rapattoni — The Beach Boys’ “God Only Knows” — Grade: B+ | Thumbs up to Stevie Van Zandt for suggesting Dalton have a backup track in his pocket just in case his first choice of “Seven Nation Army” didn’t work out. And despite Dalton’s slouched walk around the judges’ table and carefully crafted looks of angst into the camera, there was a genuine feel — and a melodic accuracy — to the performance that reminded me why Dalton was an early favorite straight from Hollywood Week ’til the present.
La’Porsha Renae — “Elastic Heart” — Grade: A- | The opening verse, in which La’Porsha built delicious tension with her voice while flanked by two drummers — was sublime, but I wish that she’d kept to the austere arrangement for the entire cover, to be honest. Not to say she didn’t nail every note of the tune once the band kicked in behind her, but a little of the drama got washed away in the mix. Still, the way La’Porsha’s voice swooped and soared over the chorus, I couldn’t help but agree with Sia’s assessment that anyone who tries to change the budding diva deserves a “high karate kick” to the throat.
MacKenzie Bourg — “Titanium” — Grade: B+ | I know Harry’s the “music geek” of the judges’ panel, but his complaint about MacKenzie reducing “Titanium” to a single note wasn’t just stupid, it was mind-numbingly unfair. All mentor Sia asked was for the acoustic troubadour to push the limit of his upper register on the chorus — which allowed MacKenzie to capture a little added magic and emotion in the self-empowerment anthem. Did the audience cheer when he reached up to those notes in his crumbly falsetto? Sure. But that in no way meant the rest of the performance wasn’t gorgeously phrased and lovely. No, Harry, big notes and musical intimacy are not mutually exclusive. Recognize!
Trent Harmon — “Chandelier” — Grade: A+ | I figured Trent and “Chandelier” would be a winning combination, but I’m not sure anything could have prepared me for the rapturous experience of Trent’s mournful, deadly accurate upper register wrapping its way around Sia’s ode to a party girl with a drinking problem. The Mississippi farm boy made every word, every note absolutely ache — and the result was breathtaking. As wrong as Harry was about MacKenzie, he was right about Trent’s vocal scoring 100 out of 100 here.
Dalton Rapattoni — “Bird Set Free” — Grade: B- | I get that Dalton — on the heels of sharing his story last week about struggling with bipolar disorder – was falling deep into the emotion of Sia’s overcoming-obstacles anthem. But part of one’s job as a vocalist is to maintain control of your pitch and phrasing even when the music is consuming you. And whole Dalton pretty much nailed the first verse, his intonation slipped away and the performance got less and less pleasing to the ear as it went on. J.Lo told Dalton she was cheering his bravery, but those words masked the unspoken truth that the actual vocal wasn’t strong enough to earn Dalton a place in the finale.