Final 3 Performance

Final 3 – The Recap

Clive’s Choice

Watching Clive’s video package, it’s hard not to be awed by his starmaking ability.  He started and restarted the careers of many great ones–Janis Joplin, Bruce Springsteen, Patti Smith,  Aretha Franklin, Whitney, P. Diddy, Alisha Keys… Very impressive.

Too bad the records he’s made with Idols are mostly crap.

A picture named Top3Elliott1a.jpegElliott Yamin – “Open Arms” by Journey – Ok, this cracked me up from Clive, “Elliott hasn’t done too many rock songs…”  I guess I shouldn’t question the dude who discovered Bruce and Patti, but, “Open Arms” is a schlocky 80s power ballad.  It ain’t a rock song.  Considering the cheese factor here–Elliott did a nice job, but it wasn’t enough.  Not at this stage of the competition.  While his performance was refreshingly free of bombast, he failed to bring it on during the chorus.  For some reason, Elliott held back where he needed to ramp it up.  In Idol land no glory notes = no glory.  It’s unfortunate, because I think he could have had a moment here.  I loved the first verse–understated, emotional, sweet–but when Elliott hit the chorus he stayed flat when he should have punched it up.  The political slogan for ALL Idol contestants should be, “It’s the Glory Note, Stupid.”  It’s true.  Randy said, “Feel free to take chances when you do your thing.”  Simon said, “You are a little stiff…you have got to loosen up and start believing you can make the finals next week.”  They’re both right.

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Katharine McPhee – “I Believe I Can Fly” by R. Kelley –  Clive said he chose this song for Katharine so she could “soar along with the lyric and the melody.”  He chose this song so she could have a “Katharine McPhee moment.”  Hasn’t he been watching her this season?  The only kind of moments she has with these big ballads are really really bad ones.  It felt like Groundhog’s Day watching her–great start in her mid-range, but as soon as she tried to belt, she started ornamenting the notes and went out of tune.  The arrangement did her no favors, either.  Having Katharine drop out so the background singers could take the lead almost made it seem like she forgot the lyrics. Both Randy and Paula started out their critiques complimenting her look (uh oh) and then rightfully criticized her performance.  Then Katharine whined, “You guys have been hard on me the last couple of weeks” Pssst Katharine….that’s because your performances haven’t been very good.  When Randy said her problem was song choice–well,  admittedly that was a dumb thing to say, ’cause she didn’t pick it–she still should have just smiled.  Instead she snotted, “I didn’t pick it!” She came off like an entitled brat.  Afterward, Simon stepped in like an indulgent parent and said,   “I think you’re actually being a bit unfair…Randy…she didn’t choose the song…and I think apart from a couple of bum notes (a couple?) at the end, you kind of created a bit of a moment for yourself”  Wow, he really wants her in the Final Two–unless he meant a really horrid moment.  Cut to Katharine and she had a look on her face like,  “Yay! Daddy loves me! Stuff it Mommy!”  Just.  UGH.  Don’t EVEN get me started on the shots of her parents in the audience…

A picture named Top3Taylor1a.jpegTaylor Hicks – “Dancing in the Dark” by Bruce Springsteen – In Clive’s clip, a big deal was made of Bruce allowing one of his hits to finally be performed on the Idol stage. In the past, he’s always declined.  I’ll bet Clive sent him a few clips of Taylor, and I can imagine Bruce impressed enough to change his mind.  A friend of mine noted that “Dancing in the Dark” is not a singer’s song, and I have to agree.  The melody is very repetitive.  Come to think of it, are any of Bruce’s songs singer’s songs?  At any rate, Taylor managed to infuse the lyric with some passion, particularly at the beginning of the tune.  The gun-shot motion he did with his hand cracked me up.  Then the sax came in for a solo.  Back to Taylor for a few more heartfelt lines, and it felt like the song was over.  When Taylor moved into the audience to dance with Paula,  it was a cute, cute moment–shades of Bruce and an 18 year-old Courtney Cox from the classic 80’s video.  But it was distracting and a little awkward.  He moved back on to the stage, and suddenly the song really was over.  The arrangement felt really choppy.  Simon said, “That was OK, a bit pale by comparison to the original…it was ok.”

Judges’ Choice

For the Judges round, a video clip featured each contestant being presented their judges’ choice song by a local/state official.  Elliott and Kat got their respective mayors.  Taylor got the governor of Alabama.  At three, I think they got this down pat down in Birmingham…

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Elliott Yamin – (Paula Abdul) “What You Won’t Do For Love” by Bobby Caldwell – Paula went on some rambling, unintelligible explanation of why she chose this song for Elliott.  Something about soul and rhythm and love and being funky.  Ryan had to ask her again, and she said, “It was in his vocal range.” Ok.  Despite Paula’s incoherent babbling, I do have to give her props for picking a great song for Elliott.  I can imagine him recording a record like this.  It’s obvious he loved the song.  He came alive singing it.  No flash here…just some really warm, smooth, soulful vocals.  My only criticism is one I had last week–he should have moved around the stage just a little bit more.  Other than that?  Gorgeous.  Randy thought it was sharp (I didn’t hear that).  Paula babbled about something, and then Simon said, “I thought you sang that pretty good.”  Faint praise, but praise all the same.

Loved the shot of Fuel (yeah,  freaking Fuel was in the audience) glowering after Elliott’s performance.  Hey dudes!  Thought Idol wasn’t your “thing”?  Famewhoring asshats…

A picture named Top3Katharine2a.jpegKatharine McPhee – (Simon Cowell) “Over the Rainbow” by Judy Garland and many others – Simon explains, “I knew from the very first day, I met Katharine that this song was probably the most perfect song in the world for her.  And tonight, she could have the moment we’ve been waiting for…”  As far as Katharine having a moment?  Her rendition was lovely, but not quite a moment.  She starts singing sitting on the floor (shades of Fantasia’s “Summertime”, which actually was a moment), and though she performs a sweet, tuneful version of the song, she doesn’t quite connect emotionally.  She didn’t convey the bittersweet yearning of the lyrics, but her performance was very pretty.  She wisely kept it simple–except for a couple of bars where she strained on the high notes.  I can’t blame her for the high notes–there are no good reviews from the judges without a glory note.   Randy and Paula praised her for not oversinging–and they had a point.  Randy said it was her best performance all season.  Simon said, “that was the single best performance of the competition to date.”  Overall–it was very good, but best of the competition?  Not by a long shot.  I’d have to go back and review, but I don’t think that was even her best performance of the competition. Simon and Co. want a “moment” so bad this season, they’ve decided to manufacture one.

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Taylor Hicks – (Randy Jackson) “You are So Beautiful” by Joe Cocker –  Randy mentioned that the song was sung by Joe Cocker, but written by Billy Preston.  Randy said Taylor “always gives me a Joe Cocker, Ray Charles kind of vibe…I know he’s going to sing it like an old soul”  Indeed, Taylor is a throwback to an earlier time, but I wish Randy had picked a song that was less overplayed.  The song itself is so slight, there really isn’t much to be done with it except repeat the same lyric over and over again–changing the dynamics here and there so it isn’t boring.  Oddly, Taylor’s vocal limitations were revealed here,  particularly at the beginning of the song, but he belted it out in the right spots and did a nice job with a well worn song.  Badly done, this tune would have certainly gotten him the label of wedding singer, ’cause this tune has certainly been sung at many a wedding over the years.  Taylor’s superb interpretive skills kept it from sounding hackneyed.  Even Simon was impressed.  He said,  “…That was so far and away, your best performance so far.”  Not really.  And it wasn’t a moment either.  It was nice to see Simon clapping and smiling after one of Taylor’s performances for a change.  He has no choice.  Taylor’s the new Chozen 1!! But I can live with that.

Do I sound grumpy tonight?

Personal Choice

A picture named Top3Elliott3.jpegElliott Yamin – “I Believe to My Soul” by Ray Charles and Donny Hathaway – Elliott did the Donny Hathaway version of this tune.  Elliott does these upbeat bluesy songs really well.  He injected his typically soulful vibe into his performance and he sounded terrific.  But, considering Elliott was competing against two contestants who work the stage really well, he needed to move around more–or at least be a little more animated.  Unfortunately he stayed rooted to the floor, clutching the mic during most of the song.  Visually, compared to Katharine and Taylor’s stage moves–Elliott’s paled by comparison.  It’s too bad, because the vocal really was very very good.  At this stage of the competition, everything counts, and I’m afraid his lack of stage presence may cost him tonight.  I think strictly on vocals,  he was better than both Katharine and Taylor.  But on showmanship–not so much.  Randy and Paula criticized him for picking an unfamiliar tune.  I suppose from a competitive point of view that makes sense–the audience is more likely to be wowed by something they’ve heard before.  But putting aside familiarity–the song was really perfect for Elliott’s vocal talents.  Simon gave him the Great Big Goodbye and Thanks For Playing Kiss Off–“Your songs are not going to carry you through to next week.  That’s the problem.  However,  you are a great guy, you are a great singer, and whatever happens, you will make your mum proud for what you achieved in this competition.”

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Katharine McPhee –  “I Ain’t Got Nothin’ But the Blues” a blues standard by Ella Fitzgerald and others – Katharine decided to go old skewl for her last tune.  Oddly, while the judges praised her in the past when she performed these old classics, they seemed less than thrilled tonight.  Were they disappointed that she sang an unfamiliar tune?  It was a little novelty–and again, she had a bit of trouble when she tried to belt the top notes.  But otherwise, she sounded great and it was fun watching her vamp it up. I can totally imagine Katharine on the theater stage or performing in a cabaret.  And I don’t mean that in a bad way.  She brought “the girls” out for this last number.  Smart move.  And I don’t mean that in a bad way either.  Work it if you’ve got it, baby.  “Over the Rainbow” was her best performance of the night, but this song was leaps and leaps and bounds better than “I Believe I Can Fly”.  It deserved more than the “meh” it got from the judges.  Randy’s comments bordered on Pauler-like incoherence.  Simon babbled too.  The consensus seemed to be that “Rainbow” should have been last. 

A picture named Top3Taylor3a.jpegTaylor Hicks – “Try a Little Tenderness” by Otis Redding –  At last, we get to hear this song.  And maybe it was better saved for Top 3 crunch time.  It’s no wonder his personal choice was his best.  Taylor is very good at choosing songs that show off his vocal and performance skills.  This was a perfect show closer.  TATL is one of the great, classic soul songs.  The AI cut was a little short, but Taylor made the most of what he had.  This was my favorite performance of the night.  Taylor brought it like it could be his very last chance on the idol stage–and that kind of effort is what wins competitions.  His wild performance incorporated the Taylorisms we’ve come to know–the passionate vocals and funky white-boy dance moves.   For 90 seconds he went just a little mad, and it was awesome.  Randy was so excited he made up a dopey name for him, “Have a good time funky Taylor.”  Simon said, “Smart choice of song, good performance, hideous ending, I’ll see you next week.”  I imagine we will.

Tomorrows boot:  Taylor’s a shoe-in for the Top 2.  No, really, he is.   It’s between Katharine and Elliott for elimination tomorrow night.  If I was a betting chick, I’d give the edge to Katharine to advance.  She performed well tonight.  Elliott performed well, but not enough to overcome his underdog status.  Me?  Besides the fact that I love an underdog, I think Elliott is the most talented vocalist out of the three–while Taylor is the best all-around performer.  I’d love to see Elliott and Taylor duke it out in the finale.