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Comfort Zones

james_durbinYo, yo, yo, Randy Jackson said it, not me. Last night on Amerian Idol, the veteran judge told James Durbin, “I think you just might win it!,” after James’ sylish, inventive rendition of the old Ronettes tune, “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?” It was Carole King Night, and while everyone else in the Final 6 were trying to step it up a notch and move out of their comfort zones, James proved once again that he doesn’t have just one comfort zone—he’s comfortable anywhere, all tempos, all musical genres. The King songbook includes not only her solo work, but a decade of hit songs written for early Motown artists like The Shirells and The Drifters. James sang the first verse of “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” practically a capella, just himself onstage, strumming chords on a guitar. The rhythm section kicked in on the second verse, and he shepherded the ballad through a steady, relaxed build over some marvelous high notes to a thrilling conclusion—all without breaking a sweat. No flaming pianos, no marching bands; this week it was all about his voice. But you know what? It’s always been about James’ voice.

The judges were delighted. “James has had a strong week every single week,” Jennifer Lopez pointed out. “One of the performances of the last couple of months!” raved Jackson who then went on to make his fearless prediction. (Although, in the next breath, Jackson made the odd observation, “We know you’re a rock singer; tonight you proved you’re a singer.” What, was he taking a nap when James sang “Maybe I’m Amazed” and “While My Guitar Gently Weeps?”) Even the notorious Jimmy Iovine and guest music producer Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds were blown away in the backstage rehearsal clips. “This sound, this feel, is why I got into music,” said Iovine.
Meanwhile, Scotty McCreery, reckoned James’ fiercest competiton at this point, was praised for moving out of his comfort zone for sitting on the edge of the stage to croon a yodel-y “You’ve Got A Friend.” How this was substantially different than any other tune Scotty has cradled with his deep country voice, I don’t know, but that’s just me. Jacob Lusk, on the other hand, wins my unofficial “Most Improved” award for his uptempo, “Oh, No, Not My Baby,” which actually saw him moving around the stage and smiling while launching that big voice of his. Maybe he learned a little showmanship from James while rehearsing the duet they sang last night to close the show, a fun and playful “I’m Into Something Good.”

Lauren Alaina, another fan favorite, sang a bouncy version of “Where You Lead” (in cowgirl boots and accompanied by a slide guitar, natch). There was nothing wrong with it, but nothing much to it, either. Haley Reinhart sang “Beautiful” with some pizzazz; she has a lot of color to her voice, but she hasn’t really staked out her own identity yet. (Plus, Iovine keeps having to coach her on what her song lyrics mean.) Casey Abrams donned a suit and fedora for another jazz-tinged number, “Hi De Ho,” orginally performed by Blood, Sweat and Tears, accompanied onstage by harmonica and a brass section. But while the judges keep praising him for trying differernt things, he’s having a bit of an identity crisis too. (And he’s falling back a little too often on his tic of grunting into the mic between lines.)
But now it’s all in the hands of the American voting public. Will they still love James tomorrow? Stay tuned…

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