Every Wednesday, our resident Gleek Eric Garneau gives his take on last night’s Glee covers.
In “Asian F,” auditions for West Side Story continue, with Mercedes (Amber Riley) and Rachel (Lea Michele) battling it out for the leading role of Maria. Meanwhile, Mike Chang (Harry Shum, Jr.) starts to falter academically, and Will (Matthew Morrison) tries to get Emma (Jayma Mays) to introduce him to her parents.
Week by week, Glee threatens to make me more culturally literate. Last week we got an education in West Side Story, while this week’s episode takes on something of a Dreamgirls theme — one of its songs comes from that classical musical-turned-film, while two others hail from the film’s stars. Unlike last week’s episode, however, we’ve got three more songs thrown into the mix as well: another from West Side Story, one from the musical Fame, and Coldplay‘s monster ballad “Fix You.” That gives us a bit more musical variety than we’ve seen so far this year, although songs from actual musicals still take up perhaps more than their share of space. Also, with all these songs from West Side Story already performed, do you think we’ll actually get to see the musical? There won’t be anything left to do!
As I guessed last week, this season of Glee seems to be sidelining certain characters’ plots in some episodes in order to throw the spotlight on others. That translates to the songs as well; two of our numbers this week are sung by the quietest kids on the main cast, Brittany (Heather Morris) and Mike, while the usual standbys of Rachel and Kurt (Chris Colfer) mostly take a pass (Rachel gets half a song, Kurt a few lines). I think that’s a fine way for Glee to showcase the talents of their mighty ensemble, and I hope it keeps up; it’s been too long since Quinn (Dianna Agron), Puck (Mark Salling) or Artie (Kevin McHale) has really gotten to do anything.
P.S. Not related to the music, but you guys, Mercedes is totally pregnant, right?
Spotlight (Jennifer Hudson cover)
The music in “Asian F” kicks off with Mercedes’ West Side audition, a 2008 track from R&B singer Jennifer Hudson. Riley’s a strong singer, and it says a lot about her abilities that she can hit a lot of the notes here pretty effortlessly. However, because of that, it’s not really her most powerful performance — often Mercedes’ job is to belt crazy high notes, and her more nuanced delivery here, while nice, doesn’t quite jump out the way other Mercedes songs do.
BONUS: Check out the top YouTube cover for this song, from the 15-year-old Amy Webster. She’s got over 30,000 views and a pretty impressive set of pipes.
Run the World (Girls) (Beyoncé cover)
Wow, Brittany gets to sing one? Yeah, “Run the World (Girls)” is auto-tuned to death, but the novelty of seeing Heather Morris take a lead vocal can wash that complaint away, at least upon first viewing, and when Santana (Naya Rivera) jumps in later to provide some backup for Brittany, we get some real vocal power (I still contend Rivera is the show’s best singer, at least as far as gritty rock vocalists go).
BONUS: YouTube artist Ericka Guitron has a pretty stunning a cappella rendition of the song.
Cool (from West Side Story)
West Side Story‘s “Cool” offers another surprise bit of vocal casting by giving the lead to Mike Chang, whose only previous singing effort (in last season’s “Duets”) was all about how he couldn’t sing. I really enjoyed this performance. Maybe it’s because the actor behind Chang isn’t a trained singer either, but this felt like a performance where you could tell the guy was really working hard to hit the right notes, and it worked for me. Also, probably given both the character and the actor’s background as a dancer, the performance is just so emotive and exuberant that I couldn’t help but enjoy it.
BONUS: If you’re like me, you know this song because of the Gap (I really wanted to link to SNL’s “Gap Fat” commercial, but that doesn’t seem to be online anywhere. Bummer).
It’s All Over (from Dreamgirls)
And here’s another track that’s straight-up fun. I really loved the staging of this song, which features Mercedes as the lead vocalist/defendant and most of the rest of the glee club as her accusers. A lot of different cast members get in on the action here, hamming it up with the corniest of lines and deliveries. There’s an argument to be made that the whimsy of the song undercuts the fairly serious plot development of the scene, but whatever…it’s Glee. This is the kind of ludicrous group vocal number the show does best.
BONUS: Technically the film version of the song is a cover so… here you go.
Out Here on My Own (from Fame)
After the directors of McKinley High’s West Side Story can’t decide whether Rachel or Mercedes is best suited for the part of Maria, they call them both back to re-try out with this emotive number from Fame. With songs like these, viewers are asked to decide which of the two characters/actors fares best, and in my opinion Mercedes is the clear winner; she would’ve been my Maria for sure. One gets the feeling Michele was told to dial it back a bit for this performance, though, since Rachel Berry too knows she’s been beaten here. Of course, knowing the magic of television (or at least teen dramedy), the directors end up casting both girls for the part, though Mercedes relinquishes it, refusing to share the spotlight with anyone.
BONUS: Before funk rocker Nikka Costa was all grown up, she performed this song on Italian television.
Fix You (Coldplay cover)
The episode ends with this number sung by Will, which seems to be meant to put a thematic capper on all of the show’s plotlines, although it only really works for one or two of them. Despite my general dislike of Coldplay, I really like this song, but I don’t think Matthew Morrison’s falsetto does it much justice here. Morrison’s a great singer, but locking him in to those unnaturally high notes for so much of the tune really weakens its impact. By the time the whole glee club kicks in at the end for backing vocals, I wasn’t feeling the song anymore. What did you think?
BONUS: By far the best version of this song I have ever heard… including the original… comes from the movie Young @ Heart. Simply amazing.
Tune in next time for a brand-new set of Glee covers.