From James Durbin’s militaristic take on Muse’s “Uprising” to Jacob Lusk’s shaky start with Luther Vandross’ “Dance with My Father,” once again, American Idol vocal coach and arranger Debra Byrd and associate music director and arranger Michael Orland are here to give their peerless insights into the Idol Top 7’s attempt at 21st century music. For a decade, Byrd and Orland have been on the front lines with the contestants, from Hollywood Week to the grand finale in May. The two work with the contestants on their respective songs, helping them shine on the Idol stage and in front of a national TV audience. Check out their thoughts on Wednesday night’s performance show below:
SCOTTY McCREERY — “Swingin'” (LeAnn Rimes)
MICHAEL ORLAND: I think that maybe he could have explored some other song choices this week. There were a lot to pick from from 2000 to 2011, especially on the country charts. We did look at some others, but when he saw this one, he responded to it a lot. I guess there was another version of this song that was out a while back, but he just redid it again, so it was all available. This is my thing: It’s a double-edged sword, the way they do the show now in that they want you to be who you are every week. Now we’re not going to see Scotty singing disco one week and folk one week and theater one week. He’s singing who he is every single week, so it’s like, how much can he change it up?
JAMES DURBIN — “Uprising” (Muse)
MO: It was his idea from the beginning. When we went to Interscope [on] Friday, he was on his laptop waiting to go in. He pulled me over and was like, “Michael, you have to see these outfits. This is how I want to dress.” He was already finding this clothing on the Internet. He’s like a producer too! He knows what he wants. He envisioned the whole thing, with the drummers coming out.
I guess [Muse lead singer] Matthew Bellamy was at the show [a few weeks ago], and James is a big huge fan of his. He dared James to sing that last chorus up an octave. When [James] did it the first time, he sang the whole chorus up an octave, and Rock Mafia, who produced his track, they had the idea of doing one line up the octave and then come back down an octave, and then do the up-the-octave again and then come back down. It gives it more power when he does [go up high]; he’s not just laying up there.
HALEY REINHART — “Rolling in the Deep” (Adele)
DEBRA BYRD: After she made her decision to sing [this song], she was very positive that that’s what she wanted to do. It’s a risky choice. It sounded very good on her. She wore the song well. It was a bit of a process for her to bring a strength to it. We had conversations about the strength of the song; not her vocal, because she’s got a strong vocal. She proved that on “Bennie and the Jets.” But I wanted to talk with her about the strength of being a woman. Her approach to it was a little too nice. I said, “That’s because you’ve got Adele’s video [for the song] stuck in your consciousness.” Adele just sits in profile and sings. I said, “I want you to dump Adele’s video and bring some fire into the first line.” And she got there.
[Singing it behind the judges] was a staging decision. She said, [shrugs a bit] “Okay.” It’s a different look, and we’re always looking for different looks on the show, between the executive producers and Debbie Williams [the stage manage], and the director. It becomes how to make the show more interesting.
JACOB LUSK — “Dance with My Father” (Luther Vandross)
DB: I don’t know what happened [at the opening]. The only thing I can say is there was a technical mishap. I was looking at a monitor, just off to the side [of the stage]. So I can’t see on the stage. Whatever technically that happened that threw him off, threw [the string players] off as well. It was quite an evening for Jacob! And I think he handled it well, because I thought he was going to stop, and he didn’t. I’m glad he didn’t; I’m glad he soldiered on, because stuff happens. I believe Brooke White [from season 7] is the only contestant to have ever stopped. I’m glad he kept singing, took his earpiece out, and was really adjusting to what was going on. While that whole thing was going on, I was not breathing. When it was over, I had this whole release. I just didn’t know what the outcome was going to be. I’m glad he didn’t stop, but it freaked me out.
CASEY ABRAMS — “Harder to Breathe” (Maroon 5)
MO: I love that the boy is a great performer even with his instrument. I love that he just moved the strap and moved the guitar away and took the mic off the stand. I know a lot of singers that cannot do that; once they’re playing their guitar, they’re just stuck there at the mic stand.
I definitely think he brings a lot of humor to everything he does. He’s such a funny guy. I know he planned to sing that [final] line to [Jennifer Lopez]. He did not do it during dress rehearsal because he didn’t want anyone to see it. But that kiss I think was all ad-libbed. I thought it made the evening.
STEFANO LANGONE — “Closer” (Ne-Yo)
DB: When Jimmy said to him [he needs to stop begging as he performs], I became an interpreter of that [for Stefano]. It’s about body language. He will tend to close his body off when he sings [brings arms tightly into her torso], as opposed to singing this way [brings arms out to her sides]. That’s a vulnerability that a lot of singers aren’t comfortable with. It’s process to get that comfortable. This is also because Stefano boxes — so as you put up your dukes, you tend to do that [brings arms in to chest again] to cover your face. If you open up, it’s not a begging thing; you’re confident, and that’s what Jimmy was saying.
It’s also the short-sleeve shirt. He’s got nice things, his biceps and chesticles, what are they? Pecs? [Laughing] He’s got nice pecs! He’s always been buff like that. I said, “What are you going to wear [this week]?” He said, “I’m going to wear a black shirt.” I said, “Is it a short sleeve shirt?” He said yes. I said, “You’ve got to give them your biceps.” [Laughs]
LAUREN ALAINA — “Born to Fly” (Sara Evans)
MO: I know the song really well. When we were going through [the songs], she definitely had a tough time picking what she wanted to do. As soon as I mentioned Sara, she was like, “Oh my god, ‘Born to Fly’!” I happen to love that song, so I encouraged her about it. I love the lyric for this show and what it says. Rock Mafia did the track for that one; I think she’s really comfortable with them, and I think they just get her. At one point, she was questioning, “Is this the right song?” We ended up singing through a bunch of songs that day, and [we chose “Born to Fly”] just by process of elimination. She knew for sure she wanted to do something up tempo. So that helped, and then, you know, have some attractive boys on the stage with her, and she’s a happy girl.