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American Idol Grand Ole Opry Week Performances Recap

March 18, 2009

Due to my busy schedule I have not been following the  current season of American Idol to closely. Luckily, I managed to score a break for country week as the 11 remaining contestants took their shot at material from members of the Grand Ole Opry. For me country week is a make or break point of the show where artists not only need to impress vocally, but performance wise as well being able to not only tell a story, but convey a message and entertain to the best of their ability.

After watching the show I decided to rank them from 11 to 1, of course 1 being the best and 11 being the worst, and explain my take on how the contestants did with legend Randy Travis leading the way to help them along:

  11: Lil Rounds singing “Independence Day” by Martina McBride

Now with a stage name like that it was hard to believe that Lil Rounds would be able to pull off a country song. Aware of her own handicap here, being a dominant R&B singer, Rounds decided to try and impress the crowd by keeping the song she chose true to its country roots. Martina’s “Independence Day” is not only a risky choice, but a risky song to play with and Rounds sadly did not deliver. Of course it is understood this is not her genre, but the judges had suggested some more pop oriented classics like “How Do I Live” which definitely would have worked much better for her. In the end this was by far the most forgettable performance, in fact I had forgotten all about it until the recap.


  10: Michael Sarver singing “Ain’t Goin’ Down ‘Till The Sun Comes Up” by Garth Brooks

I saw Michael’s audition in the early stages of the show just by chance and believed that him and Brent Keith had the best chances of showing American Idol what country is all about. With former Nashville Star Keith out from the top 36, I had hoped Sarver would deliver and I was half wrong. Sarver’s performance was by far one of the most entertaining showing of the night, but one of the worst I’ve heard on country night as long as I’ve watched the show. Sarver deserves some respect for his reaction to the judges saying “Country music is about having fun”, however it’s also about having a great vocal performance to match up to that entertainment quality and I’m pretty sure Sarver has better to offer than this as the closest thing to country this season of AI has.


  9: Danny Gokey singing “Jesus Take The Wheel” by Carrie Underwood

Danny really does have a good voice and I don’t think this performance will hurt his chances in this show, but it certainly doesn’t help them. Gokey chose to sing former idol winner Carrie Underwoods breakthrough hit and attempt to add his own brand of emotional intensity into the mix for some flavor. When he hit the high note for the chorus i guess it was alright, but when he took on the verse it was pretty bland. In a way it worked in building towards the intensity of the chorus, but instead of blending the two Gokey’s performance came off as a split presentation of two different ranges and qualities that made the verse a little to boring and the chorus a little to over the top. Basically, the whole thing didn’t blend very well at all.


  8: Alexis grace singing “Jolene” by Dolly Parton

Alexis has the pipes to pull this song off and has a great talent for story telling, but I think it was a case of a good song choice on a bad day. Her vocals were not spot on at all, in fact they gave Randy the opportunity to use his favorite criticism of “pitchy”. The little vocal tricks that Grace added in in an attempt to make it  more original didn’t exactly work either. Combining these tricks with her patchiness it sounded very karaoke as Simon would say, but Grace stuck true to the story and kept it well centered which is an important quality in this genre. I personally believe this was just a bad case of nervousness or something that took what could have been a decent performance and degraded it a little.


  7: Scott Macintyre singing “Wild Angels” by Martina McBride

I thought this might be a little risky for a male to try and pull off, but Scott tackled it with a whole new idea in mind. He took a fast paced and entertaining tune and considered its inspirational message, then changed it to a more ballad-like arrangement to bring out the feeling and power behind the lyric. That’s fine and all, but it ended up being kinda bland in the end. Macintyre provided an exceptional blow your mind presentation of the true meaning behind the song, but somewhere between the piano driven introduction and the over-dramatic shift to a more mid-tempo intensity the song lost some of it’s luster which is to bad because Macintyre seems to have a great ear for arrangements. Now he needs a more attractive and memorable performance to hold his arrangements up and make them unforgettable.


  6: Megan Joy singing “Walking After Midnight” by Patsy Cline

I think without the flu Joy could have had a much better week in country music. She has the country girl image going on, which actually puts her a little bit at a disadvantage with the only real defining physical factor separating her from Underwood and Kristy Lee Cook being her right arm tattoo. She needed a performance all her own and I think she provided that this week. Unfortunately her rendition of one of the most approached covers in the genre was stained by her sickness and had its flawed points vocally. At the same time her sickness might have helped her a little because she made the song her own and took control even though she had the flu, providing a performance that helped her stand out a little over her competitors. It was impressive for what it was and I believe she can really sing country when she’s in the best of conditions.



  5: Adam Lambert singing “Rign of Fire” by Johnny Cash

This was a very stranger performance that in the end had me saying “what was that?”, but in a good way. The longer this performance lasted the more I actually started to enjoy it. Lambert, who is very openly not into country or planning on recording in Nashville, took a classic country song and made a risky shift to a more middle eastern style sound which made it both unique and gripping in a way. This version was in no way a real country song, but it was an interesting variation to a huge country classic. I think the intensity might have been a little over the top, but it was actually pretty good all things considered and left me confused as to why I liked it, I just did.


  4: Alison Iraheta singing “Blame It On Your Heart” by Patty Loveless

This girl has some pipes. For only 16 this was an impressive performance indeed. She took a classic Loveless song and made it her own in every sense of the phrase. Her performance wasn’t flawless, but her vocals were miles above what would be expected of someone her age. Opposed to Miley and Taylor, this young ladies pipes added a rigid and very mature feel to her country performance and her strange presence was demanding and in your face. Given the opportunity in pop or country I wouldn’t be surprised to see Iraheta give Cyrus and Swift a huge run for their money. To take on a Patty Loveless song and make it shine as much as she did shows a lot of potential at a young age.


  3: Matt Giraud singing “So Small” by Carrie Underwood

It’s hard enough to take a song by a woman and make it sound good from a man’s voice, and even harder to take a former Idol winner and make an effective and legitimate performance out of it. Giraud may not be the biggest stand out right now, but he has the potential to be judging by his take of Underwood’s massive hit “So Small”. He slowed the song down and provided an almost solid piano accompaniment that only added to the performance. In the end I found myself agreeing with the judges in comparing him to Michael Buble and Justin Timberlake in both style and quality.


  2: Kris Allen singing “To Make You Feel My Love” by Garth Broks

I suppose it’s just my personal opinions getting in the way, but I’m a sucker for contemporary sounds like this. Allen is truly gifted as a balladeer, taking Garth’s ballad and making it his own with a rather attractive and memorable pop/country mix to go along with it. Performance wise, Allen also kept it simple and let his movements and facial reactions conform to that of the song quote well. It really wasn’t that hard to imagine this rendition becoming a country hit in its own right.


  1: Anoop Desai singing “You’re Always On My Mind” by Johnny Cash

Just to clear this up this was a Willie Nelson based rendition, but Johnny is the Opry member credited with it. No one could have been as on the spot and perfect with such a tender and risky song choice and Desai was. I had never heard him sing before and after hearing how he did last week I was skeptical about how he would ever be able to take such a classic and make it work. Well he did. The arrangement was great, providing a modernized pop/country twist that brought out the best in the song, and Anoop’s vocals were spot on, sincere, believable, and just all around perfect. This is the image of a confident and talented singer and it was certainly the best performance of the night by far.


Last notes:I found it interesting that much of the night consisted of repeated artists. Martina, Cash, Garth and Underwood all had multiple songs done on the show which left for a little bit of disappointment in the variety department for country fans. Overall though I believe this night brought out some of the best, and worst, of the 11 remaining contestants and has set the stage for the rest of the competition to come.

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