American Idol “Rock Week” performance night got off to a bit of a “rocky” start this week with a vocal coach taking a tumble down a set of stairs and a set piece crashing that caused a temporary evacuation of the theatre. But everything was ready to go when Ryan Seacrest opened the show and introduced the “Rock Week” mentor, guitar virtuoso Slash (Guns ‘n Roses, Slash’s Snakepit, Velvet Revolver), who took the Final Four American Idol finalists to Los Angeles’ famed Roxy club to learn their rock chops.
Adam Lambert, usually the guy that holds the anchor position, started the night off. Considering his next-to-last position last week, perhaps the producers figured he deserved the lead-off position for his weak showing. But it didn’t seem to phase him. He chose the hard-charging “Whole Lotta Love” from the Led Zeppelin catalog. When Slash heard him sing, he commented that Adam had “pipes.” Slash, who happens to be friends with Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page, seemed to be impressed. He advised Adam Lambert to use his lower register when he sang.
Adam belted “Whole Lotta Love” with force, all Elvis sultry and leathered up, looking better than Robert Plant did in his day (and the women loved Robert Plant in his bare chest and bell bottoms). Striding out in a studded leather jacket, Adam simply owned the stage, as has generally been the way of things this season. He rocked a powerful performance, ending with his patented scream.
American Idol judge Randy Jackson told him that he wants him to do some classic rock from the 70’s, some glam rock from the 80’s, and a record with Slash. And you know Slash is into it, because he’s worked with Guns ‘n Roses founder Axl Rose (notorious hothead) and Velvet Revolver’s Scott Weiland (unpredictable, with a heroin past) as his lead vocalists. Adam Lambert would no doubt be a walk through the park compared to those guys.
Kara DioGuardi called Adam a “rock god.” Paula Abdul said he was a “whole lotta perfect.” Simon Cowell joked that the performance was “understated,” but then said that it was one of Adam Lambert’s best performances to date and that it would likely overshadow the rest of the evening.
Second up was Allison Iraheta. She chose “Cry Baby” by Janice Joplin. After listening to her, Slash tells her she needs to get past her fear. Apparently, Slash believes that the 17-year-old has potential and is holding back. The American Idol audience already knows that the girl can rock, so…
She starts in low and sultry and winds into the chorus with some enthusiasm, keeping it enough Joplin-esque to give tribute to the great blues rocker but also giving it enough of her own sultry growl to make it her own. Solid and strong, Allison Iraheta showed the power she has in her voice. As with all her performances, she seemed to be totally at ease while on stage. And, as with all the Final Four finalists, you can tell they enjoy what they are doing so much that they lose themselves in the songs.
Randy Jackson said he thought the song was a bad choice, that it was too repetitive. Kara DioGuardi said the song choice was okay, but she would have preferred “Piece of My Heart” for more melody. Paula Abdul called her “fearless” and that Allison should get the role of Janis Joplin in a biographical movie. Then Simon and Allison have a bit of a verbal duel.
After complimenting Allison’s vocals (“terrific”), he said he could used a bit more originality. He thinks she should have done “Somebody to Love,” thinks she thinks he means the Queen song, but Allison corrects him that she meant the Jefferson Airplane tune, and when Allison talks of how “Piece of My Heart” has been done numerous times on the show, Simon gets obnoxious and tells her she should “beg” at this point to remain on the show. Allison told him she had started talking more because of his advice and thought that it might be the reason she’d come so far, so Simon compliments her for standing up for herself.
The producers decided that “Rock Week” would also feature duets. They paired up Danny Gokey and Kris Allen for the first duet and they chose the Styx classic “Renegade.” Kris and Danny both sang the acapella part, which was nicely done, although Kris seemed to have the better sound. During the rock part, which the two traded off on, Danny Gokey overpowered Kris Allen with his growly sound. When they came together at the end, Gokey was still in overpower mode, which means that, being a vocal coach and all, one would think that Danny Gokey would understand the basics of harmonizing with a partner. Overall, it wasn’t a bad performance, but it wasn’t a good one, either.
Randy Jackson liked the harmonies. Kara then used a nonsensical metaphor about guys helping “little women cross the street.” She said there was a disconnect (which was true, especially with Danny Gokey going into his shouty phase). Paula, who never says anything even remotely bad abut Danny Gokey, says that the performance was powerful and compelling. Simon says that Danny was better than Kris. In that he dominated the vocals, he most assuredly was, but not because Kris couldn’t sing the song, which, in this writer’s opinion, shows that Gokey missed the entire point of having a duet to begin with.
Kris Allen, after hearing that he was not as good as Danny Gokey, had to come right back out and sing. He chose “Come Together,” an old Beatles standard that was given a bit more kick and electricity in the late 70’s by Aerosmith, and in rehearsal with Slash sounded good. He played Slash’s guitar, which the guitarist insisted he give back at the end of the session, to which Kris’ said, “Awww, man.”
But the live performance wasn’t rocking. The guitars weren’t loud enough to punctuate the vocals. And Kris sang the song in a kind of James Taylor-ish fashion that belied even the in-your-face forcefulness of the original Beatles song (and didn’t even come close to the Aerosmith version).
Randy said he was glad Kris chose a song that he could at least stay true to himself. He also said he wasn’t “blown away.” Kara said it wasn’t great. Paula, always the nice judge, said that she liked his artistic delivery. Simon said Kris’ performance was like “eating ice,” totally forgettable. He said it was “boring.”
Danny Gokey sat in on the anchor position on Tuesday’s solo performances. Danny chose the anthemic “Dream On” by Aerosmith. Slash said that he thought that the last note had to be done just right and that it could go either way.
And it did. It went here and there and Andrea Reiher likened Gokey’s ending scream to him killing a cat. But the overall performance was simply bad. He tried to rock, then he tried to throw in some soul, then a pinch of scat (or something), and then that piercing wail from a “Halloween” movie (or something). He looked as if his retro-clothes might be as painful on him as it is for the viewer to see him wear them. There’s a reason why much of the fashions in the 70’s have never come back around, Mr. Gokey.
Randy said it was a valiant effort. Kara said he took the “swagger” (mentioned last week) too far. (Kara also mentioned that he would have done better by doing “Cryin'” or “Crazy,” earlier Aerosmith. “Dream On” was on the band’s first album, so…) Paula said that she thought it was a difficult genre for him and that he still was a huge fan. Simon said it was like watching a horror movie (see…), but he thought that Danny was still safe.
Then it was time for the second duet. Adam Lambert and Allison Iraheta brought out the jams with “Slow Ride,” an old blues tune revamped by the English rock band Foghat in the 1970’s. And did they rock the stage. They blasted it, prancing around on stage like they owned it, which, given Danny Gokey’s and Kris Allen’s performances (and duet), they did.
Randy Jackson suggest that the two do a duet on their albums, that they seem like “seasoned rock stars.” Kara called them a “rock god and rock goddess” and that they pushed each other to be better in their performance. Paula agrees and Simon says that the two won the battle of the duets and Adam gave Allison a chance to stick around. Adam Lambert mouthed, “I hope so.”
Summary of The American Idol Final Four
So where does that leave us? Right where we should be. Adam Lambert and Allison Iraheta proved their worth in both singing and in the way they performed. They did not attempt to outshine each other on the duet (as Danny seemed to try to do to Kris) and seemed to have a great time performing. Adam Lambert destroyed his competition right out of the gate with his powerful Led Zeppelin cover. Allison did a passably good job with “Cry Baby.” Of the Final Four, Adam Lambert and Allison Iraheta should be the two safest.
But this is American Idol… and the fickleness of the American Idol voting public is legendary, so, truly, anything can happen, so…
Both Danny Gokey and Kris Allen had problems. Kris seemed to lack volume on both his duet and his solo, but still managed to sound alright. Danny Gokey gokey – fied the duet with his shouting growl and nearly totally ruined it. Kris Allen’s performance on “Come Together” was too laid back, not forceful enough, but sung well. Danny Gokey attempted to incorporate a couple genre’s into “Dream On” that fell flat, but that was before he tried to break all the glass in the theatre with that last shriek.
This will undoubtedly be an unfortunate week for someone other than Danny Gokey. Simon Cowell will no doubt be proven right and Danny Gokey will be safe, even though Gokey has only had a couple good weeks in the past half-dozen. He has never been in the bottom three and there’s no reason to believe he’ll be in the bottom three this week…
… except that he was flat-out the worst performer of the night. He oversang instead of harmonizing with his partner in the duet (nearly ruining a great rock song, by the way), and he completely gokeyed-up “Dream On,” which should be punishable in most states (and just might be in Massachusetts, where Aerosmith calls home). Which all means nothing, because, again, someone else will probably lose out other than Danny Gokey.
Who then? With Adam Lambert’s excellent performance, it would be a shame to see him voted off after his Led Zeppelin performance, but at least we’d get to see him perform it one more time. Still, he will probably make it through to the Top 3, no matter where he’s placed on the results show.
Which leaves Allison Iraheta and Kris Allen. Allison seemed vibrant and alive, and she didn’t just stand and meekly let Simon get away with his criticisms, so there are several factors working for her, even though she just might fall into the bottom two. She does not deserve to go home based on her overall performances to date or on her performances last night, but it all depends on the voters. Kris’ problem this week, unlike all the previous weeks, was that his performance was boring. Even Danny Gokey’s performance wasn’t boring. It wasn’t very good, but at least he showed some passion (maybe that’s why he was making those excruciating sounds?).
Final analysis: Danny Gokey should be going home. Period. But Kris Allen will probably get the axe.
The American Idol results show airs Wednesday evening. Paula Abdul will perform, as will No Doubt, and American Idol alum Chris Daughtry.
“American Idol,” Fox Television