It was a little awkward, but I suppose something needs to be said before an event as inconsequential and trivial in the Big Scheme of Things as American Idol gets underway tonight. Ryan stands on the darkened stage, he sends out “thoughts and prayers” to all who were affected by the Virginia Tech tragedy.
Indeed, the hype, hysteria and attention all seems a little silly, put into perspective, doesn’t it?
On the other hand, I’m grateful for trivial diversions like American Idol that can take us out of a sometimes sad reality for a bit. Yes?
On with the recap
Disclaimer: *waves hand* Not a country music fan here. Not at all. In fact, I can’t say I’ve heard any of the original songs here. Except for Bonnie Raitt (who ain’t country) and Carrie Underwood (of course). So, I really don’t have the normal frame of reference I usually have for judging the performances. I’ll try not to be like Simon and allow my country-hatin’ to get in the way of my judgement…
Martina McBride is the guest mentor this week. She tells the kids that country music is all about “storytelling” and that the singer has to “connect to the lyric” and forget about everything except “telling that story.” That’s essentially the advice she gives to each of the contestants.
Phil Stacey – “Where the Blacktop Ends” by Keith Urban – Whoa, I think Phil has found his gendre (heh heh) in country music. While his Leanne Rimes performance was a bust back in the semis, he seems comfortable and assured for the first time tonight. The typical vocal problems that have marred his prior performances–weak lower register, bad phrasing, over-reliance on the glory note–are gone this week. In fact, he finishes his song with a “big” note, but it serves as a nice highlight for a good performance, rather than a diversionary tactic. Phil seems totally in his element tonight. And it’s a good thing, cause he really, really needs a good performance this week to stay in the game. He’s been on the cusp of elimination for a few weeks now. Tonight’s performance should earn him at least another week. The judges all give him high marks tonight. When Randy says, “You could have a career in country music, brother” Phil says, “That’s what I want brother!” Looks like Season 6 DOES have a country music contestant…
Jordin Sparks– “Broken Wing” by Martina McGraw – Jordin sings a Martina song and wisely says, “Martina gave me some great advice, and I’m really going to take it to heart…” Ah, finally a contestant who listens. Jordin starts off beautifully. She taps right into the emotion of the song and tells the story, just like Martina tells her. The first 2/3rds of the song are chill-inducing. Unfortunately, she oversings the last bit, and goes all pitchy on an unnecessary run–keeping the performance from being the home run it could have been. The judges don’t call her out on the pitchyness. Probably because, as one of the more marketable contestants this year, they are anxious to see her advance. Simon, in fact, says that he believes she could win American Idol. That’s some might big pimping, right there.
OMG, it’s Constantine Maroulis in the audience! I have a really good Constantine story. You guys would get a kick out of it, I think. *evil grin*
Sanjaya Malakar– “Something to Talk About” by Bonnie Raitt – Tonight, Sanjaya is wearing a bandanna, with his hair sticking straight up behind it. Channelling Corey Clark are we? Not a smart thing. Sanjie answers an at-home audience question this week. If he had to pick a song for one of the judges to sing? He’d make Simon sing “Shiny Happy People” so he could show his true personality. From one Shiny Happy dude to another… Sanjaya is now unselfconsciously and blatantly playing off his own hype. He explains that he chose “Something to Talk About” because he often “gives people something to talk about.” Hardy har har. If he hasn’t already, he just jumped the shark. Martina tells Sanjaya to “sing out” more, but to no avail. Sanjaya sings the song lazily, is flat throughout, hits many off key notes, and is just terrible in general. The last note is especially excruciating. Animals are howling across America. Simon says it’s “utterly horrendous.” When Simon attempts to critique Sanjaya some more, Ryan interrupts to stickup for Sanjaya, starting what sounds like a totally scripted argument with Simon. Lame, lame lame. While this week’s performance is neither fun nor funny, and Sanjaya seems to be developing an almost arrogant attitude–I swear he isn’t even trying out there–could tonight’s performance spell the end of the road for him? I don’t want to answer that.
Lakisha Jones– “Jesus Take the Wheel” by Carrie Underwood – Picking a hit song by a beloved and popular Idol winner? Probably not a great idea. Lakisha tells Martina that she picked the tune because she relates to the lyrics. She sings the verse beautifully–it’s obvious she does connect to the lyric–but when she hits the chorus, her voice becomes really shrill and shouty. It’s the first time I’ve heard Lakisha sound like she’s really pushing out her voice, and it isn’t pleasant. The judges nail her. Randy doesn’t like the song choice for her. Paula agrees with Randy. Simon says it’s like “eating a hamburger for breakfast, it doesn’t go together.” What? Uh, in other words he didn’t like the song choice. Lakisha looks really disappointed. The judges are minimizing her performance–it wasn’t terrible–at this point it’s obvious she’s no longer a favorite. She may not last into the Top 5.
Chris Richardson– “Mayberry” by Rascal Flatts – Chris says he’s comfortable with country. Martina thinks he could be a country singer. And indeed, Chris looks comfortable singing this song, but he’s nasally and flat throughout, especially towards the end. Randy said he didn’t feel a sense of “connection” as he sang the song. Paula misses the “joy and the love, ” which makes Simon start laughing at her. Simon says, “What I heard was a very nondescript, nasally, tinny vocal, which had no impact on me at all.” Ouch. Unwisely, Chris chooses to talk back to Simon. Incredibly. He says, “Nasally is a form of singing…I don’t know if you knew that.” WHAT? OMG. “Oh, so, it’s intentional?” asks Simon. “Yeah, ” says Chris, looking visibly pissed. Oh please Chris. Just. Stop. Then he shifts gears and says, “my heart and prayers go out to VA Tech.” Whoa. The sudden shift makes his shout-out seem like pandering, although I believe he was sincere. “I have a lot of friends over there…be strong.” The camera cuts back to Simon, who rolls his eyes in response. Eep. No one is looking good here. Chris is another contestant who has been on shaky ground. He could be in trouble tomorrow.
Melinda Doolittle – “Trouble is a Woman” by Julie Reeves – Melinda gets to answer a question, “Have you ever run into any crazy fans on the street?” In her typical self-effacing manner, she makes herself the crazy person in the story. Melinda, Melinda, Melinda… Martina had never heard this song before, which surprised me. (more about Julie Reeves here). It’s a great song–perfect for Melinda. She finally steps out of her box, and the risk pays off, handsomely. The only issue–the song is wordy and she rushes her phrasing a bit. But other than that? Another masterful performance from Melinda. She can sing anything. Randy calls her “the resident pro.” Simon asks her to lose the surprise when he compliments her, “great choice of song…I saw a little bit of Tina Turner going on there.” Melinda manages to keep the surprised look off her face when she smiles and says, “Thank you.”
Blake Lewis – “When the Stars Go Blue” by Tim McGraw – Blake wears plaid this week! Martina says she was talking to Tim the other day, and he was hoping one of the contestants would sing this song. I have no idea how country sounding the original is. The song was written by alt-country artist Ryan Adams, who writes tunes with cross-over appeal. Blake’s version is “Country goes Keane” (thnx beesims!). Not that there’s anything wrong with that. When I download the mp3 recording of this song from americanidol.com, I have no doubt I’ll play it eleventy-billion times in a row. It’s a great song choice for Blake, and a great arrangement. However, while Blake’s performance here is sweet, it’s real, real pitchy. More weirdness. When it’s Simon’s turn to critique, he gives Blake some lukewarm props, then abruptly addresses the VA Tech tragedy, “on behalf of the three of us, we’d like to offer our heartfelt best wishes and support to the families as well…it’s been a tricky week for you guys.” Huh? Damage control for that eye roll during Chris’s critique. Awkward!
Tonight’s eliminations? I think Melinda, Blake and Jordin are safe tonight. Beyond that, I am not going to attempt a guess. Can this season get any weirder? It probably can.