American Idol’s First Nirvana Song: Was It Worth It?

Written by March 17th, 2011 at 11:09 am

Last night, the remaining American Idol contestants were tasked with singing a song from their birth year, which in a few cases, was 1995. Bearded Joe Cocker growl-alike Casey Abrams chose Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” marking the first time a Nirvana song was performed on the show in its 10 year history.

Also, it was potentially the last time. The song, which launched the alt-rock revolution in the early 90s, stood in stark contrast to the Whitney Houston and Pocahontas tunes that made up the menu last night, and even pop rock songs like Elton John’s “I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues” and Melissa Etheridge’s “I’m The Only One.”

Abrams screeched and grimaced through the performance, thumping his bass and making scary faces for the camera, and it only served to illustrate the fact that Kurt Cobain could never, ever win American Idol. He might give the most moving performance of the night, and make everyone else look like hopeless posers, but his brand of soul singing could never match the technical prowess displayed by contestants like Stefano or Jacob Lusk. Cobains’ version of emoting was not about pitch or vocal runs; it was about connecting with pain and genuine emotion.

There is at least one similarity between Abrams and Cobain: Abrams was forced to miss an episode due to colitis, while Cobain suffered from an undiagnosed stomach ailment. But that shared connection didn’t do much for Abrams’ performance, which was praised for its riskiness, but not its delivery. “Smells Like Teen Spirit” does not pair well with melisma, or a flashy stage smile. It’s a song that exists in its own universe, one divorced from pageantry and pomp and circumstance, and the need for J. Lo or Randy Jackson’s approval.

More from the “Is Nothing Sacred” department: Courtney Love, who authorized the song’s usage, reportedly wanted to snort Cobain’s ashes with journalist Neil Strauss. Oh well, whatever, never mind.

What did you make of Abrams’ “Smells Like Teen Spirit?” What was your favorite performance of the night? Let us know in the comments.

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