Friday, April 15, 2011


Justice was served on American Idol last night. James Durbin survives to sing another day after his raucous performance of "Heavy Metal" with the wild guitar of legendary axeman Zakk Wylde the night before, which makes James one of the few remaining contestants who has never ended up in the bottom three after a round of voting.

However, the Curse of the X Chromosome was finally broken; for the first time since the field was narrowed down to the Final 13, a man, not a woman, was sent home. That would be Paul McDonald, and I have to say, I think it was a good call. Not that Paul isn't adorable in his own oddball way: that big grin, those goofy little dance steps. But we're moving into the big leagues now, and a contestant has to back up a pleasing personality with something more than Paul's raspy, somewhat limited voice.

I actually thought his good-timey version of Bob Seger's "Old-Time Rock 'n' Roll" on Movie Song night this week was one of his better efforts, but perhaps the voting was cumulative. Who can forget his failing to hit any of the high notes on two Elton John songs in weeks past, "I Guess That's Why They Call It The Blues," and "Rocket Man?"

Not every single contestant has to be a throbbing power singer. Look at Casey Abrams, or Haley Reinhart. (Who, btw, gave the best out-of-competition performance last night, a jazzy scat duet of "Moanin'" that was way more fun than anything served up by guest performers Kelly Clarkson or Rhianna, let alone their fellow competitors.) But Idol contestants hoping to turn pro have to at least know what their strengths are and play up to them, not consistently choose material that's just out of their reach.

In the penalty box with Paul last night were perennial also-ran, Stefano Langone, and (surprise!) Haley. Stefano has the opposite problem from Paul; he knows exactly what's right for his voice—big, emotional ballads—but he just keeps singing them over and over again. He needs to change it up, do something a little more daring or at least different (maybe something, you know, jaunty) once in awhile, to show he has range.

With the possible exception of Casey, who's not afraid to try all kinds of weird stuff onstage, you can't imagine anyone else in the Final 7 stepping out of their comfort zone to the degree that James does—a sensitive ballad one week, heavy metal the next, with the chops to nail it every time. Which may be the edge that takes James all the way. Stay tuned...

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