A wail went up from the audience at the first mention of Steven’s name last night – a distinctly feminine wail. Steven’s daughter and guitarist happened to be sitting amidst the wailers, but they probably opted out. Those lucky dogs get to see Steven, like, every day. Can you imagine seeing Steven every day? (Your cue to wail.) The room quieted down to only a few shouts, screams and fainting noises, and Ryan asked Steven to articulate the appeal of the music our eleven would be singing over the next two hours. It was Motown night, baby. “It just made me want to make out with girls,” Steven said, his bony face split into a grin.
Motown, it was repeated, is all about feeling it. As the singers got down to feeling it, the judges obediently piled on the superlatives. It’s become clear that superlative-piling is their chosen method for judging the season. Only Randy will occasion to complain that a song wasn’t good “at first,” but eventually, he’ll admit it did turn into the best performance of the night, by the best singer in the competition.
Last night, there were exactly 11 best singers. Casey Abrams heard there isn’t anybody like him right now (in the world, was the implication); Thia has something in her no one could have expected; Jacob Lusk gave his best performance of the season; Lauren Alaina “ripped that song another beauty mark”; Stefano is both “the best” and had “no real emotional connection with the audience,” which is a tricky combo to pull off; Haley can make her voice “do more than anyone’s in the competition;” Scotty’s low notes “tweak everybody”; Pia is “the closest star in this American Idol universe” (close is good); Paul McDonald’s “got a tear in his voice” (a tear is also good); Naima is “the whole package”; and James Durbin left J. Lo speechless, “which is a hard thing to do,” she said. It sure is! Look at all that praise she and her friends heaped!
Unfortunately for the contestants, the judges’ glowing opinions don’t really matter anymore. Last night may not even matter, since, despite themselves, the judges were right. Everyone seemed to be feeling it. Big picture-wise, this leaves Haley and Naima in the trickiest spot. Haley sang a strong “You’ve Really Got a Hold On Me” (heavy on the growls), but she’s been in the bottom three twice now, a record no one else holds. Naima has one of the weakest voices, and is a wild-card entrant/ bottom-dweller herself. But her persistence in putting together fully-formed shows for the people could pay off as a distraction. Last night she busted into an African dance in the middle of “Dancing in the Streets.” (Can just anyone request African drummers or is Naima pulling some strings?) It gave J. Lo her first rash of goosebumps, and was fun, if not totally polished. But is it enough to balance Naima against 10 others who all turned out what the judges swear were the best performances … ever? Is anyone’s, for that matter?