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…music: Rein-hearted.

May 20, 2011

I have resisted posting banal American Idol banter thus far, for fear of sullying the literary reputation I’m attempting to cultivate.

But to hell with it. Haley’s worth it. I think this season’s third-place contestant deserves a bit of a tribute, with a little bit of a conspiracy theory thrown in.

Haley Reinhart, for the uninitiated, was the little contestant that could this season. After a rough and unpopular start, she rallied to become the most vocally dynamic finalist, only to come one week short of the finale, where two excellent teenage country superstars in-the-making will compete next week.

But neither of them is as exciting and eclectic as Haley. Not even Adam Lambert matches the depth and breadth of Haley’s musical reach. Anyone who can tackle Led Zeppelin, Adele, Stevie Nicks, and LeAnn Rimes, and sing them well AND remain faithful to the original vibe (no David Cook hat tricks doing “Billie Jean” as an angsty grunge song) is a force to be reckoned with.

The nasty rumor that’s been bandied about, however, is that the judges wanted Haley out of the competition, judging her disproportionately harshly while giving the two “chosen ones” who ended up in the finale a free pass to make as many mistakes as they wanted. I’ve resisted this line of thinking…

…up until this week. I haven’t done my due diligence in trolling the websites for corroboration of my theory, but I have yet to hear this chapter in my personal version of the conspiracy I suspect may be afoot.

As long as the judges were mean(er) to Haley, she kept advancing. This week, they took it way easier on her, because they had a card up their sleeves. The judges’ pick. The criticism wasn’t working anyway. Not only did the judges get to pick a song, but Jimmy Iovine, the record exec and permanent mentor in a new role this season, got to pick one. And boy, were their picks fishy.

Jimmy got to go first, and after advising contestants to pick songs with a wow factor all season long, he picks the party anthem “Rhiannon.” By Fleetwood Mac. Seriously. The labyrinthine lyrics provide almost no room for vocal runs and flourishes, or jazzy improvisations. The very qualities, incidentally, that Haley specializes in. She absolutely slayed the song, actually pulling off the impossible feat of channelling Stevie Nicks without coming off karaoke. But slaying a spooky mid-tempo sleeper from the ’70s is still not all that exciting. I think it was the second best performance of the evening (behind her own Led Zeppelin cover), but it probably went way over the heads of the younger set who power-text those votes in.

Then the judges had their turn to kick Haley, with “You Oughta Know” by Alanis Morrissette. At least this time the song was exciting. However, the verses of the song are half-spoken, and Alanis has an even more idiosyncratic vocal delivery than Stevie Nicks.

Trying to make sense of the verses, something Haley had no business having to wade through when she just needs to show she can sing, was difficult to say the least. I bet the judges were betting the staccato verses would trip up the rather more melodic Haley, and the chorus was way too epic for her to nail. Turns out they were only half-right–the chorus was brilliant, maybe even better than Alanis.

At any rate, the difficulty level was way higher for Haley’s selections. The other two finalists were lobbed up very simple melodies, which they promptly spiked into next week (literally). Haley was given songs from two vocalists who are at the top of the do-not-attempt-at-home list.

And it apparently worked. I try to assuage my resentment by speculating that the other two contestants probably had the advantage of coordination from their respective high schools to power-text and burn up the phone lines. After all, 90 million votes were cast this week, and next to what those kids could do, my 50 votes for Haley were pretty insignificant.

Oops. I didn’t mean to let that slip.

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