'American Idol' Recap: The Kids Are All Right - Rolling Stone
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‘American Idol’ Recap: The Kids Are All Right

The judges were soft, the performances mostly just okay

Paul McDonald performs on 'American Idol'

Ray Mickshaw/Fox

Last night J. Lo admitted she’d never heard of Ryan Adams, proving that Paul McDonald, who chose to sing Adams’ “Come Pick Me Up,” really is as “quirky” by Idol standards as the judges keep insisting. Paul got the gist of the song across, but the warm reaction lavished on him no doubt had something to do with the new horizons he opened. Idol‘s youngest contestant, Thia Megia sang an ultra-loungey “Smile,” by Charlie Chaplin, a man she’d never heard of, who she mistakenly rechristened “Charlie Chapman.” This is less an indictment of Thia than a reminder that she’s only 15-years-old. The song seemed to break into a different piece halfway through, and as Randy said, it was better at the beginning. Casey Abrams’ problems had nothing to do with music or his knowledge of it. He just keeps harping on how unattractive he is. After listing off his musical affinities with Joe Cocker, he kicked into it. “He doesn’t look that hot either, and I think he inspired that look for me.”

Jacob Lusk’s “I Believe I Can Fly” did not live up to the operatic standard he set with “God Bless the Child.” But the judges still loved it, because that’s what these judges do. Scotty McCreery sang “The River” by Garth Brooks, and it was deep and rumbly and all the qualities he’s probably tried very hard to cultivate in his voice. But maybe as a result, whatever he sings tends to sound like a continuation of the last song he gave us (all of it trending back toward “Baby lock them doors…”). Stefano Langone sang a good-in-parts “Lately,” by Stevie Wonder. But he doesn’t have a compelling enough voice, face, style or personality yet. James Durbin does, even though he no longer wears a scarf as a tail. Scarftails aren’t compelling so much as dumb. Last night James toned it down and did Paul McCartney justice with a musical, unscreamy “Maybe I’m Amazed.”

The girls were less exciting. Lauren Alaina could easily win the competition if she doesn’t spook, which seems to be happening. She sang Shania’s “Any Man of Mine.” It was fine. Good, because Lauren is good. But nothing beyond that. Pia Toscano belted out “All By Myself.” It’s a hard song and Pia nailed all the notes with what sounded like ease. Still, there’s something not not boring about Pia. She’s beautiful, talented, and she sang a Celine Dion song. Dig deeper, Pia! Ashthon Jones’ “When You Tell Me That You Love Me” was mediocre. The judges told her to go for Diana Ross, and she went for it, but the judges should probably stop telling Ashthon to go for things. Haley Rienhart’s yodeling in Leann Rimes’ “Blue,” was quality, though Randy was right to find her too soporific. Karen Rodriguez’s years-in-the-making “I Could Fall in Love” by Selena had a pageant-world sincerity, but is unlikely to carry her too far. And Naima Adedapo’s weirdly complicated dance-rap-reggae-fake-lightning take on “Umbrella,” was actually terrible, even though the judges claimed they loved it.

In the meantime, like J. Lo, we “hope America gets” what Paul McDonald did, pulling out that crazy Ryan Adams tune. As a modern-day variety show, Idol can only benefit from variety of the musical kind.

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