Tonight's performances of Elton John/Bernie Taupin songs were, as a whole, more consistently good than any other season. In other years actually singing ability started to fall off, weaknesses revealed that weren't brought out by the audition process, only now on the big, live TV stage. This year it's mainly about preference, who you find more or less boring. However, I found that this night actually crystallized some things for me.
The best singers, most interesting, most imaginable as recording artists after the show, are, in the order that I think they'll finish:
1. Pia Toscana: Young, gorgeous Howard Beach woman with arguably the best instrument of all the singers, real conviction and wow moments while still seeming so humble, radio-ready version of Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me tonight. At the moment, the one to beat, especially if she comes back and rocks convincingly, brings Howard Beach soul to River Deep Mountain High as she promises for next week.
2. Scott McCreery: Solid country skills, showing growth this week nailing Elton in a pure country vein. However this turns out, he will have a career.
3. James Durban: Brings the rock and roll sorely asking everywhere else but needs to do another controlled performance after two fun but not 100% consistent performances. But I think he's a top three, if there's any justice, and if he can show some real growth over the next two weeks, he could set himself on a trajectory to win it all.
4. Casey Abrams: Finally got musical again this week, and had my second favorite performance on Your Song. Casey can change it up more than anybody else without bending the songs out of recognition, and tonight he dug so deep post-save to show it was justified. And that last note was, per Randy, a Major Ninth. Could usurp James' position in the top three -- a month and a half from now.
5. Haley Reinhart: Best performance of the night, and a new classic version of Bennie and the Jets that bears rewatching more than any of the others tonight:
She could be the Lauren Alaina smoter, a nice girl who may have a country career in her future, but is not the second coming of Carrie Underwood. I'm sure the producers want to keep her around as long as possible for the country audience, maybe even scoring a top three position for herself, but I don't see the depth. She has a huskiness that makes her and Haley somewhat duplicates, especially as the weeks weave on. Top six and then duplicate elimination round.
Haley is the wild card. Can she keep growing, bringing her tone, moves and style without falling into Broadway? Could she be a top three or even win? I don't see that yet, but I like the Chicago vibe and the bluesiness. If she gets the chance to do a Janis Joplin song that hasn't been overdone or done better (i.e. by Crystal Bowersox last year) and makes an all-time great idol version of it, she could set a killer trajectory. She commits more than Lauren, but the smokiness can sometimes get overpowering.
Tonight it worked.
Tomorrow night, results night, is all about justice. While they are all good, the rest are cannon fodder. Thia (great voice with an interesting, almost adult character, but ultimately too young for the show, missing some essential life experience), Stefano (charming and talented but ultimately Vegas), Jacob (talented, remarkable instrument and energy, missing some depth), Paul (interesting voice but now the weakest singer remaining) and, finally, Naima, whom I love the best of this bunch and better than some of the others, but who needs an Idol Moment and has not had one yet. I'm hoping she survives at least a couple more weeks to see.
So if you're an Idol hater you probably haven't read this far, but if you've ever been a fan, now's the time to tune in again. So much of the goodness has to do with the new judge line-up as well, with Jennifer Lopez making a real name for herself anchoring the panel from the middle. You'd have expected Randy, moved over the top the far right Simon Cowell position, but while he's brought a little of the veteran harshness, it's Lopez who really feels for the singers and gives them the consistently smart, useful, professional feedback.
Steven Tyler was better in the audition rounds when he was more honest and willing to cut, now he's Mr. Affirmation, the old Paula role, with some crazy sayings that are either funny-brilliant or funny-Paula crazy. Occasionally he says something positive but professionally helpful, but I think everyone would like to see him step up his game.
Change is good. Interesting real people recently discovered and playing out their future week-by-week on the national stage of the highest rated show on U.S. television, and all the social media being generated and swirling around it.
And Ryan Seacrest, the other survivor of all 10 seasons including the Producer, cements his dominance as the best host-repreneur in the business since his idol, Dick Clark.