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“Memories” sang a ragged old cat, so forgive this confessed couch potato for being just a tad sentimental. How I wish I had been in the audience for the Motown ® performance show. It was electric! I did what I could with singing along, swaying and dancing on the rug (not out in the street) even a squee or two, but it wasn’t the same as feeling the vibe first hand; lucky people.
The cast didn’t travel to Detroit this season so a film montage played giving the history of Hitsville, USA founded in 1959 by Barry Gordy with $800 borrowed from family. The small startup in a residence morphed into Motown (Motor City) Records. The recording giants showed up in clips and photos and one, Otis Williams, founding member of the Temptations, was in the audience. A session bass guitar man, Bob Babbitt, from those days was the featured representative from that era.
Okay – back to the start of the show when I didn’t know how this would play out. First to find his Motown ® groove is….but, wait…it looks like they solved the singer’s hearing the band problem by bringing some instruments closer to them on stage as well as providing ear pieces for those who wanted them. The musicians become the Easter eggs for this show.
CASEY ABRAMS: “Heard It Through the Grapevine” (Marvin Gaye)
Casey’s goal this week is to dial back the screech and growl as the over singing is too harsh.
Ryan: Let’s unleash the beast.
With slicked back hair and wearing a black suit over a raspberry shirt and with backup singers providing the smooth Motown ® vocals, he growls at the beginning adding a screech, but both do seem more contained. Then he calms it down and takes a finger snapping trip into the audience stopping to acknowledge some friends before leaving the violinists on the back apron and mounting the stage steps for a grand finish.
Steven: I think you are the perfect entertainer; perfect pitch and perfect mix of crazy-a** out of control ego; and that’s what makes an artist today. You’re beautiful, man, I loved it.
JLo: I’m listening to you and you are so specific to who you are. People already know who Casey is, what he sounds like, what you’re going to do. That is such an incredible thing. I don’t think there is anybody like you out there. You can really carve out a niche for yourself.
Randy: Jennifer is right, man, you are definitely a true original. You know what I love – you take chances. You can only do you and that you is great.
THIA MEGIA: “Heatwave” (Martha and the Vandellas)
She hopes to cure her boring ballad syndrome with the upbeat “Heatwave.” Wearing a cute dress with flounces she has the audience bouncing in their seats from the first note.
JLo: I feel we’re scratching the surface a little bit with you right there. It was great to see you let loose like that. Wow, who knew you had that in you? Now that we’re going there, I need you to dig even deeper each week. I don’t expect you to have all the life experience, but part of performing is acting.
Randy: I gotta say it’s about taking chances and you took the chance tonight; although I think you can dig deeper and do more with it. You can really sing and I’m happy to see you move up a notch tonight with something different. Congrats on that.
Steven: Thia, I agree. You take it a step out. I love it; just great; I’m good; I’m good with it.
JACOB LUSK: “You’re All I Need (To Get By) (Marvin Gaye and Tammy Terrell)
Jacob is in his element with soul and he says that with his gospel background he needs to sing songs with meaning. Like Casey, he is cautioned to tone down parts of his style – the runs and the screaming high notes – but he says it has been hard to do when he can’t hear himself onstage and he just goes for it.
Jimmy Iovine: If he gets nervous up there and puts his gas on too early, I think he is going to miss an opportunity to really show people what he can do.
Bass guitarist Bob Babbitt joins Jacob and the backup singers onstage and dedicates his performance to honor the late, great James Jamerson.
The backup singers start off and Jacob comes in after a few bars in a soft and low voice. Standing at the microphone, he builds to the upper register then uses the ladder down and up all the while staying out of runs and screech range until the last note. An overcome Steven rushes the stage and hugs Jacob with a Hallelujah!
Randy: The late Barry Gordy is somewhere saying, “Oh My God.” This is your other best performance on this stage in the entire history of the show. Why…because you took your time in the verses; you were like a true professional, dude. You know what was wrong with that performance? Absolutely Nothing!
Steven: When you did, “I Believe I Can Fly,” you were all over the place. With this one, man, you milked it and at the very end it was beautiful. You did it.
JLo: You make us beg for more. You move me, you move us. It’s amazing. You took your time with it.
At Ryan’s pointing out his grandmother standing near the stage, Jacob goes down to her and envelopes her in a huge hug. Ryan then invites the entire front row up on stage for a Jacob hug. He cuts it off when a man approaches and time has run out.
LAUREN ALAINA: “You Keep Me Hangin’ On" (The Supremes)
This youngster wasn’t sure what to sing for Motown ® week, but fell in love with her producer’s suggestion. She relates to this relationship story by being in the spotlight and hearing others put her down. She realizes that she is who she is and to be strong with it.
Dressed in a long gown with elegant makeup, she stands under a bright, white spot at the microphone, but when the tempo picks up, the lights go red with movement and she moves as well. Making use of the platform that wraps around the judges’ table, she takes it quickly to the audience, then back to center stage where she sings to the judges.
Steven: Well, baby, you ripped that song another beauty mark, didn’t ya. I don’t think you listen to anybody about anything and I like that about you.
JLo: You look amazing tonight. You threw so much attitude into it and that is what that song required. You brought it to life for everybody and it was a really good job.
Randy: Yo, Ryan, she’s now got her swagger on high and she’s ready, she’s ready.
STEFANO LANGONE: “Hello” (Lionel Richie)
Stefano sits in front of the Coke screen to tell about his mom coming to the mansion to cook for them. Ryan tastes the left over penne and discovers the garlic kick; perfect opportunity to reach for a Coke to take down the burn.
When Stefano first heard, “Hello,” he knew he could connect with it, but discovers he doesn’t connect with the audience as the producers tell him to pull back, go for the intimacy and open his eyes. He promises to do so…but…
Ryan: David Cook had a huge moment with this song in Season 7 (Yes, he did) and tonight Stefano tries to do the same.
Piano and guitar join him onstage for an upper register version that comes off tinny, weak and with closed eyes except when he remembers to open them. (No, he didn’t.)
JLo: So, let’s talk a little bit, okay? The audience knows you can sing, so now you need to connect. I don’t want the intensity to come from you wanting to do well; I want the intensity to come because your heart is breaking.
Randy: The only thing you’re missing is that connection. You’ve got the pipes and you bit off a big chunk today, and you had to be perfect emotionally and vocally and pitch-wise. You sounded good, but it’s like there was no real connection.
Steven: I agree, but your voice is so beautiful. Hold back a little, man, and you’ll have it.
JLo: When you start felling it from your heart, watch how your phrasing will change as well.
HALEY REINHART: “You Really Got a Hold on Me” (Smokey Robinson and The Miracles)
Her chief goal is to not be in the bottom 3 this week. She’s been listening to Motown ® her whole life so she thinks this is really cool.
In 4” heels and short shorts, she carefully steps down the stairs to join the backup singers then begins to vamp in some blues with gravel and, by the finish, owns the stage.
Randy: Look…it started a little rough, but by the middle of the song, the Haley with the bluesy, the gravel came roaring back. And I’m so happy. This is exactly the kind of singer that we all thought that you were, and I’m happy to see you return to that form, yo.
Steven: That was beautiful, beautiful. You sang your heart out. You know, you don’t look a day over fabulous.
JLo: You have that effortless control in your voice. You can do anything with your voice, probably more than anybody in the competition. Honestly, I think you may have the most soulful voice – on the girls side, most definitely.
SCOTTY MCCREERY: “For Once In My Life” (Stevie Wonder version)
Scotty sits with Ryan in front of the Coke screen so that mansion footage can be shown of him shooting (almost) nothing but net from a second floor balcony through a hoop set up on the driveway. As with all great sports feats (and defeats) they show it again in slow motion. Ryan thinks that must have been like nine points.
Growing up country, he didn’t hear much Motown ®, but they always had the Jackson 5 singing around the house.
Jimmy Iovine’s biggest fear is that it could come off lounge singer and advises him to keep the intensity.
Part of adding a country vibe is to include a harmonica player who sits on the stage steps and plays throughout the song. Scotty also begins by sitting on some steps – the big staircase. When he moves to the stage, he ratchets up the intensity, drawing the audience into his pain. Then, of course, he takes the final note down, down, down flirting with the ladies and making them sigh. (Well me and JLo, anyway.)
Steven: Scotty that was beautiful, beautiful. Just like Glen Campbell – you know he stepped out and took country music a whole other step and you, Scotty, more than anybody, know you can’t make a 3-point shot from under the net. You took a big chance doing that and I love that you really ripped it. Just remember, when you go down to those low notes, man, you tweak everybody.
JLo: Seriously, this was a great version of this song. You really made it your own. If I’m going to be totally honest, it wasn’t your strongest vocal performance, but I gotta tell ya – every time you hit that low note at the end, you get me all over again.
Randy: I don’t know if it was your strongest performance, but I was smiling the whole time. It’s just that you are taking chances saying this is what I do – I’m going to apply it to Motown ® or whatever. When you hit the low note that is a young lady killer, dude!
PIA TOSCANO: “All in Love is Fair” (Stevie Wonder)
She is excited to perform a Motown ® song because they are so much fun. Jimmy’s advice is to get out of her head and she agrees because it is not about picturing the perfect notes, it is about feeling your performance.
Gorgeous Pia, in a café singer’s sophisticated gown, stands at the microphone and shows what she can do surrounded by strings in an intimate setting. She does, however, also show concert range with the last note, which soars and soars and soars. Smiling judges applaud along with the audience.
JLo: Hello, beautiful Pia. So again you kill us with one of your killer ballads; I’m going to give you constructive criticism. You could have a career like Celine Dion, but Celine owns that stage, she walks all over it, she stomps that stage. We’ve seen you sit there three times and do a ballad and honestly just knock us over. Now I need to see you start incorporating that other dynamic into your performance.
Randy: Jennifer is right. You’re phenomenal. You’re beautiful, you’ve got the talent; you hit the notes. My one criticism is ballad, ballad, ballad. Come on…give me a mid-tempo, give me an up-tempo. The next time bring something a little different. You can’t live by ballads alone.
Steven: I think that right now you are the closest star in this American Idol universe. It’s just beautiful.
PAUL MCDONALD: “Tracks of My Tears” (Smokey Robinson and the Miracles)
For Paul, Motown ® is good times. He grew up listening to a lot of it, and it’s the kind of music that makes him move. (Ruh Roh) He can’t sing this song like Smokey, so he worked it so it was more up his alley. Jimmy tells him he has to sing the song like he wrote it.
“What’s up everyone?” Paul takes center stage in front of the microphone strumming his guitar and moves the song into alt. pop. (For me it was an interesting version because he goes soft at the end and only uses one leg to keep the beat rather than his whole body.)
Randy: Yo, Paul, did you have a good time? So what I like, you’re not dancing all around even though you’re doing your thing. You’re so unique; the tone is so unique, and I was a little worried when it started, but you took it to a cool Paul, Rod Stewart-y kind of place. What I loved the most…dude, when you sing tender at the very end, Oh My God. Bring more of that out.
Steven: Like Dylan, like Willie Nelson, your voice is that different and it’s beautiful in that sense. I love what you do with the guitar today – just great.
JLo: You’re the most seasoned performer that it seems like we have. You’re kind of the complete package and all you need is a good producer and there you go. (Paul points out Jimmy Iovine in the audience.)
NAIMA ADEDAPO: “Dancing in the Streets” (Martha and the Vandellas)
She loves to be singing a Motown ® song because she loves to give thanks to those who paved the way for her.
Jimmy: This is a feel good song and your presence has to be contagious.
She is going to add in a little African dance because this is about dancing all over the world.
Backed by horns, singers and a drummer on stage, she starts with an energy her gray two piece jump suit doesn’t state. She moves in a way to emphasize the words and ends with two African drummers coming out of the audience. The singing stops and she lets it all out in dance. (I wasn’t the only one who got goose bumps.)
Steven: Naima, I don’t know what to say. It was E to the Z to the Twiddly-dee. Once again we see the whole package. You were beautiful, great.
JLo: You’re an exciting performer. I love watching you. It was my first little goose bumps of the night. You’re my mover, you’re my shaker; you’re my dancer up there. You’ve got that little something on the stage. It’s just that thing.
Randy: Look, I’ve been a little rough on you the last couple of weeks, but finally, tonight, all of Naima showed up. Everything was very smart tonight. I appreciate that; good looking out.
JAMES DURBIN: “Livin’ for the City” (Stevie Wonder)
To James the song is about hope over poverty and rejection.
Jimmy: This where guys like Robert Plant, Mick Jagger, even Steven Tyler get their soul influence from.
James: Not only is there a live band, but Bob Babbitt, one of the original Funk Brothers played bass on my track.
“Let’s put those hands in the air, c’mon.”
He takes his upper register to an apron side stage where he sings to the camera and adds funky movement to the beat. Taking it back to the main stage, he sings to Bob Babbitt and goes into his first scream, which seemed more under control than usual. He closes on a rock star jump. (I think we finally have this season’s rocker.)
JLo: OMG, OMG, OMG. You are serious business up there. It’s just an incredible thing to watch, honestly. You just…you make me speechless and that is not easy to do. Just WOW!
Randy: It was a little rough for me when it started, but when you hit your pocket, hit your stride, it was unbelievable.
Steven: I think sometimes it takes a little bit of being crazy to make a difference in this world and that’s what you’re all about. You were great; your voice was incredible. You held it in your range. You nailed it.
I’ll echo JLo’s WOW for the whole night. The contestants stepped it up, and sending someone home will be difficult…but not so difficult that MsFroggy won’t give us the scoop about the Results Show.