'American Idol' Recap: Stuck In the Middle - Rolling Stone
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‘American Idol’ Recap: Stuck In the Middle

The ‘Idol’ wannabes are in awkward limbo between unpolished kids-next-door and fully hatched ‘performers’

Casey Abrams

Michael Becker / FOX

Last night the judges had nothing but praise for the makeovers the tykes all underwent. Apparently these makeovers were superior to the first makeovers or something? Dunno. Only Naima looked at all different – bridled maybe? Less of a wild grin pulling at her lips. The biggest change was in the way they sang, and that too, the judges loved. Jennifer praised the new level of nakedness in everyone’s delivery, but what with the photo shoots and the handlers, it felt like an orchestrated nakedness. As clumsy as their earlier efforts to impersonate professionals have been, these new identities weren’t wholly feigned or spontaneous. They were something weird and in-between, like stars pretending to be the kids who’d started out.

Everyone had to pick an Elton John number to sing. Naima went with “I’m Still Standing,” which suited her ulterior reggae motives. The judges didn’t love what she came up with, but the only other Elton song that could have done as well or better with the reggae synth beats is “Benny and the Jets,” and that was snatched rightfully up by Haley Reinhart as a perfect backdrop for all her growls. James Durbin screamsang “Saturday Night’s All Right for Fighting.” The piano caught on fake fire, and he wailed on his knees, one of which poked through a carefully administered hole in his jeans. It was all very James Durbin, but again, too James Durbin. As if a bunch of executives got together and said, “So this James Durbin kid. What’s he all about?” And after seeing some Power Points and a pie chart, here was the “bitchin'” performance they came up with.

The best showing by far was from Casey Abrams, who had something to prove. The chip on his shoulder was last week’s magic save, which the judges all said was the best thing they’ve done since having babies, it sounded like. He sang “Your Song,” and it was sweet and sincere and not too growly. Aside from “Georgia On My Mind,” it may have been his best belt of the season. Lauren Alaina also turned out a pretty convincing “Candle In The Wind,” though there’s still only a shadow of the spontaneity she had in tryouts. The ones who look poised to go are: Thia, who’s still not projecting enough of a full human soul to really be compelling; Jacob Lusk, who can’t seem to move his powerful voice quite where he wants it to go; Paul McDonald, whose “Rocket Man” was wispy and unmemorable; Stefano Langone, still with the weird enunciations and trilly voice; and Naima, a strange character who insists on honoring her Rasta roots first and foremost every time, even to the detriment of her performance. For now though, let’s focus on the only one who’s bound to stay: Casey Abrams, so nearly taken from us.

Last Episode: Casey at Bat

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