Last night we had the chance to see what real coaching can do for an Idol hopeful. Lady Gaga was on hand, decked in an enormous beauty mark and a leotard to deliver useful advice intermixed with hilariously strange asides. In the first half, the kids performed songs of their own choosing with no help at all, but for the second, Gaga stepped in, helping them refine a collection of Leiber and Stoller numbers. As far as before-and-after commercials go, this one was mesmerizing.
The first-half songs had to fall under the category of "inspirational . . . to you," which meant when Jennifer and Randy criticized Haley for shout-singing a song no one in the audience has ever heard of (Michael Jackson's "Earth Song"), she acted like a teenager whose parents just discovered the belly button ring she snuck off to get. She pouted and rolled her eyes and probably lost some of the crucial mom contingent, only to lose it some more when Steven butted in like the bad-influence boyfriend to say those two were all wrong and what she'd just done was perfect.
By the second half, Gaga had worked on Haley's "love of theater," telling her to take in a killer breath before hitting the phrase "I love you" to get "just a laugh away from a tear." Done, and done. The song was yet another one no one's heard of, "I (Who Have Nothing)," but since this assignment implies songs no one's heard of (sorry, Leiber and Stoller), Jennifer and Randy had to skip that criticism. "This is why we can't take it easy on you, baby. Look what you're capable of!" Jennifer gushed. Randy widened his eyes in agreement, Steven coined the phrase "Reinharted her way into the middle of next week," and Gaga's influence fixed all.
Next up was Scotty, who Ryan is relentlessly pushing the nickname "the Body" on. His first-half showing was a classic Scotty rendition of Alan Jackson's "Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)." There was plenty of reference to Jesus and God and, by extension, in Scotty's mind, to America, which the judges praised as a sign of Scotty's character. But after Gaga introduced him to microphone innuendos, Scotty was like a man possessed. He took the stage for the Coasters' "Young Blood" with every weird Scotty indulgence in full tilt – prancing, flute-microphoning, wiggling his butt while he gaped at the camera, all with a renewed post-Gaga vigor. Visually, it could have been less creepy, but Scotty's voice sounded more natural and fun than he's ever managed. Ryan thanked him for his "activity." "Dude, you made Gaga's yaya go lala," Steven said. Or she, his, Steven. Or she, his.
Lauren dedicated her choice of Martina McBride's "Anyway" to Southerners rebuilding from the recent storms. It's always obvious when Lauren loves the song she's singing, and this was another clear-voiced slam dunk. But she sang it like she does, in her version of a fetal position: stock-still, middle of the stage. After a Gaga session spent convincing Lauren that singing the phrase "I'm evil" doesn't make a person actually evil, and that 16 is old enough to be weird if she wants, Lauren strutted the stage during Elvis' "Trouble" looking confident, maybe for the first time ever.
The last transformation came via James, who kicked the night off with Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'" in typical James fashion. There were screams and then there weren't. Never one to miss a promotional reference, Randy fondly remembered his days with Journey. Yes, for a few days, Randy was with Journey. Later, in the Gaga training session, James sang distractedly while Gaga looked off in the distance and muttered something about Ginger Rogers. "James is being casual about it, which Gaga doesn't like," Jimmy Iovine informed us. Her method of dealing with it was to approach James from behind while his eyes were closed and dance suggestively at his waist. Unorthodox! James ended up with a version of "Love Potion No. 9" that managed to be over-the-top and yet careful. There were screams and then there weren't, sure, but nowhere was the laissez-scream 'tude of before. He seemed to control how high and how long his wails went . . . like a real singer. Will.i.am, take note: This is how mentorship's done, son.
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