'American Idol' Recap: I Love the Nineties - Rolling Stone
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‘American Idol’ Recap: I Love the Nineties

Ray Mickshaw / FOX

The kids took us on a ride through a time they are too young to know anything about.

For pretty much anyone older than the era of New Kids On The Block, last night was a haze of disorienting nostalgia (Hello, “Where Do Broken Hearts Go”! What have you been doing with yourself all these years?). The contestants had to pick songs from the year of their birth, and for the most part the exercise highlighted the fact that a bunch of babies are currently singing for their lives on national TV.

Thia Megia, for example, was born the year Pocahontas came out. Remember Pocahontas? That Disney movie no one saw, because old school Disney was pretty much dead by then? Thia happens to look like a Disney princess, which gave her song choice the same weird kind of logic that pervaded the evening. It was like watching an alternate version of the episode if we all suddenly shifted back 15 years.

The one exception was Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” as re-envisioned by the mysteriously healthy Casey Abrams and the American Idol lighting team. This wouldn’t have been an American Idol song years ago, and it wasn’t one now. In front of a yellow screensaver built for a giant, Casey tried really really hard to channel Nineties angst. He growled and squinted, and didn’t exactly succeed (although it was pretty Nineties grungy of him to insist on singing Nineties grunge at a nationally-televised singing contest). The judges dug the riskiness of it – even Randy, who is on strict orders not to dig anything.

Stefano Langone probably gave himself the biggest leg up with a totally sincere, “If You Don’t Know Me by Now,” by Simply Red. So far Stefano’s been the Rorschach blottiest of the group, or in America’s Next Top Model terms, he “has no personality.” He’d be lucky if this performance sets the tone for his run. Pia Toscano was strong as usual, with the Whitney “Broken Hearts” gem. Seriously, that song is so good. None of the rest seemed to have found their groove yet, and Naima Adedapo and Karen Rodriguez are most likely to lose the chance.

As for the judges, Steven continued his reign of saying things that don’t make any sense. The guy must have a stellar songwriting editor. Among his bon mots: “That’s the goop that great stuff is made from;” You’re going to make Jimmy Iovine more famouser, if that’s possible;” “I love it when you break into your ethnic what-it-isness;” “the Gospel had a baby and they named it Jacob Lusk.”

Basically, risks were taken with the fundamental properties of the English language as well as with a single birth-year choice last night. Neither sounded great. But they are the goop that great stuff is made from.

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