Casey Abrams made American Idol history last night by bringing Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” to the stage. He had to perform a song from the year he was born, and the fact that he would choose the one he thinks not only defines 1991, but an entire generation, is one of the reasons the judges and fans love him. It’s about the music itself to him, not just the 90 seconds he’ll be performing it. He knew he was taking a risk, screaming at the Idol voters to show the intensity that separates him from the other contestants. The judges praised him for going there, even if, as Jennifer Lopez pointed out, his screeching wasn’t as pleasant as Kurt Cobain’s. It was above karaoke, but still below Abrams’ best. I’d pay to see him sing “I Put a Spell On You,” I wouldn’t pay to see him perform this. He just didn’t make it his own. (Maybe if he would have stripped it down and brought out his upright bass instead? Crazy?) Watch it below.
So now the question becomes, how does Abrams continue to be the season’s top risk taker — the person who keeps us from taking bathroom breaks — going forward? Song selection is key on this show. We all know it. For the average Idol contestant, that means picking a song most of the audience knows because they don’t always have the talent to keep us interested if we can’t at least have some fun comparing their rendition to the original. But I think Casey should be choosing lesser known songs. His talent is great enough to come through, and by singing songs that aren’t already branded on to our subconscious, we’ll see him as his own artist. What’s your unsolicited advice?