Elton Obsessed With an Idolist (me, too)

When Sir Elton John is calling something “probably one of the most seminal records I’ve heard in the last 10 years”, to me, that makes listening a moral obligation. And after I recovered from being gobsmacked like Sir Elton, I did some research. In that research, I found that the lead singer of the band in question, Gabriels, was Jacob Lusk.

Hol’up waidaminit. I KNOW that name. Could it be?

More research confirmed that it is indeed the Jacob Lusk who finished fifth on American Idol in 2011 – the year of the country teenagers Scotty McCreery (winner) and My Girl Lauren Alaina (runner-up[1]).

This had me doing research on myself to see what I had written in my erstwhile Idol Musings blog. I clearly recalled before the research that I liked Jacob, but I had some issues, and I thought it would be fun to see in those moments after each Idol performance ten years ago what I said specifically. This project was made even more fun by watching YouTube videos of performances while revisiting my previous reviews.

The synopsis of Idolist Jacob was this: mega-pipes with all kinds of vocal acrobatics that were too often unrestrained, leaving the songs buried under an avalanche of note-filled excess.

When he was good, like on A House Is Not a Home – Luther Vandross’ signature song – he gave “one of the best performances I have EVER heard on Idol.”

But except for an exceptional, You’re All I Need to Get By, during Motown Week, after a number of weeks, I also wrote this: “[Jacob’s] starting to bore me. Everything is sounding the same which is bad when you have as much vocal range and dynamism as he has. But his style range is stuck on autopilot.”

The week before he was voted off, in a blog summating[2] my thoughts on the Final Five, I wrote:

“[Jacob] has the best overall voice of the season and has all the unrestrained joy of singing typical of great gospel singers. However, two of the greatest gospel-to-pop stars (and two of the best-ever, anywhere, anytime) – Sam Cooke and Marvin Gaye – had that same joy but with restraint. Sam Cooke smoothed out and toned down the gospel runs such that they enhanced the singular natural sweetness in his voice. Marvin used many, many more gospel flourishes but as accessories. He’d hit something and get out of it quickly, sometimes using his entire repertoire of vocal skills in a single song but without ever losing sight of the melody. Jacob’s flaw is that he gets caught up in the flourishes, and they hijack the songs.”

And now? Gabriel’s catalog is just five songs since 2018, but they all demonstrate a restrained Jacob. The style of music could be dictating that with what Rolling Stone calls “a mix of haunting gospel, brittle electronics, and harmony-drenched doo-wop.”

Here is the song that blew Elton – and me – away, about which Rolling Stone says, “melds chamber pop, the reverence of Sunday’s sermon, a stiff Motown march, and a synthesizer like an erupting tea kettle.”

It’s so righteous.

[1] And winning nicely in the real-world business of music and by the business I mean the industry.

[2] I love this word.

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