Top 9 Performance

The Top 9 sing the standards….with Tony Bennett as their coach.

Tony  Bennett has charted hits in every decade since the 1950’s.   Now that’s impressive.   I grew up with my parents spinning Tony  Bennett records  in our  living room, and  today I can turn on the radio and hear him duetting with Bono and Elvis Costello.   That’s quite a career.

The kids always shine on standards night–not because the era they come from is so superior, but because the pool of songs they have to choose from are the best of the best of the song’s era.  

Blake Lewis – “Mack the Knife” – Tony says that he hopes Blake slows down the tempo a little to give each line more impact.      Tony says he needs to understand the lyrics of the song.   And at first, Blake seems to be all Blake-style over substance–his vocal in the first part of the song lacks verve.   But, midway through the song, Blake starts singing the song like he actually understands the lyrics, and it turns into a performance that would make Kurt Weill proud–a performance more modern than standard.   As always, Blake is easy and natural as he performs up on the Idol stage.  Simon likes the band more than Blake, but generally good marks from the judges all around.

After the break, Ryan has more details to share about the big charity broadcast April 24-25. Keira Knightly, Hugh Grant,  Helena Bonham Carter, Forrest Whitiker, Pink, Gwen Stefani, Rowan Atkinson, and Daniel Radcliffe are all confirmed for the special. The broadcast will be split between the CBS studios where American Idol is filmed and the Walt Disney Concert Hall. Kelly Clarkson will also sing live.

Phil Stacey – “Night and Day” – Phil says that Tony Bennett is his hero. Tony thinks Phil is a “real good singer.”   Tony tells Phil to put “a little beat behind it.”   The judges are hard on Phil.   Randy says he didn’t feel any “real connection or passion.”   Paula tells Phil he reminds her of a “young Frank Sinatra.”   She doesn’t elaborate on that, but adds that he needs to   “warm up his vocals.” Simon says, “it had all the joy of someone singing in a funeral parlor.”   I think the judges are hard on Phil.   His vocals are  good, he sings with feeling, but maybe a little too studiously–like he  is concentrating too hard.  Also, he didn’t quite take Tony’s advice to put  a “little beat behind it.”  A little bit  of  jazz phrasing would have improved the performance.   But still, a very  strong vocal from Phil.

Melinda Doolittle – “I Got Rhythm” – Ya. What’s not to love about Melinda?   She’s got an incredible voice, presence and phrasing, and this Gershwin classic is tailor-made for her. Tony tells her she’s the best singer all day, and of course we get what’s now become the patented Melinda Doolittle wide-eyed look. These days, Melinda catches herself and stops.   I’m waiting for the day when she finally takes a compliment like she believes it. Simon finally criticizes her…a little.   He says, “I didn’t like the first half of the song, I thought it was a bit cabaret…”   Yikes! Simon uses the “C” word.   He goes on to say, “I thought the last half was great, personality fun…”   It hardly comes off as criticism.   Melinda is dependable, she delivers one good performance after another, week after week.

Chris Richardson – “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore” – Chris gets a “viewer question.” What do you consider most when you choose a song?   His answer is very politically correct–he considers himself, the audience and then the judges.   Whoa.   Chris is good tonight.   He keeps the goatie vibrato and unnecessary runs at bay, he’s got some cool moves that don’t look cliched.   He’s relaxed and smooth.   I agree with the judges, he modernizes the song quite nicely.   This Duke Ellington classic is a perfect fit for Chris.   I have to say, Chris seems to be in this to win.   He pays  attention to good advice and then acts on it.   Improving on his performance week by week will keep him going in this competition.

Jordin Sparks – “On a Clear Day” – Jordin says she is excited to sing “On a Clear Day” because it’s “cute.”   Cute?   Despite describing the song like it was a stuffed animal or a puppy, Jordin still brings a lot of feeling and energy to her performance.   Tony approved of her embellishments and improvisations.   Indeed, Jordin seems to have an innate sense of how to sing a song, despite her young age and lack of experience. Tonight, she is sensational.   This young girl has great stage presence and style.  Plus, she’s adorable.  Simon says she didn’t make the song “young and current.” But, so what?   Jordin did just fine.

Gina Glocksen – “Smile” –   I got chills.   Not when Gina sang, but when Tony chokes up when he  says that when he sings it, he thinks of 9/11 and the soldiers in Iraq right now, “praying that they come home.”   Me too Tony.  Not to take away from Gina’s performance, however–she delivers a nice, simple well controlled vocal.   I like Gina much better when she isn’t posturing or trying to please the judges.   Her biggest problem is that she hasn’t quite found her identity yet, which can be a problem in this competition and beyond.   Gina has talent, she just needs to figure out who she is.   Randy and Paula compliment Gina.   Simon, rather pointlessly compares her to Jordin and Melinda, rather than judging her on her own merits.   He says, “I can’t rave about the vocals because two girls came on before you and completely outsang you.” Stupid, Simon.

Sanjaya Malakar – “Cheek to Cheek” – OMG.   When Tony meets Sanjaya he says, “I’m a big fan of yours.” Tony says, “Sanjaya shows up and comes up with something every week. It makes him interesting…he dares to be different.”   Sanjaya says his goal this week is to show America that he actually can sing. Sanjaya at least remembers all the words this week, but he’s still flat, off the beat,  and lacking stage presence.   Sanjaya performs exactly the same way (except for his wig-out performance of “You Really Got Me”  British Invasion week) every single week.   And it does not matter.   Sanjaya is an unstoppable force for now.   The judges have all but given up critiquing him at this point.   Simon actually didn’t even bother to comment, except for a sarcastic “incredible.”   I think Sanjaya, while he won’t win the competition, has a least a few more weeks to ride this crazy merry-go-round. Beyond that, I have nothing more to say.  The media circus around Sanjaya has become really boring.

Haley Scarnato – “Ain’t Misbehavin'” – Haley answers a viewer question.   Is she more nervous singing before the crowd or receiving the judges comments?   She all but says that Simon’s comments are the only ones that matter.   Tony calls her out on singing the song without comprehending the lyrics at all.   This is one of Haley’s problems–she smiles and shakes her booty and winks at the front row, but her interpretation is ultimately empty.   “pageanty” is what the judges called it.   At this point, Haley is relying on her “assets” (not the vocal ones) to propel her through this competition, and you can’t really blame her, ’cause it’s working.   Randy and Paula seem a little miffed at her brush off.   They immediately defer to Simon, who says she has nice legs, and then follows it up with the pageant remark.   Randy agrees.

LaKisha Jones – “Stormy Weather” – Why are people not listening to Tony’s advice?   He tells LaKisha not to tag “…ain’t no sunshine when he’s gone” to the end of her performance, and she does it anyway.   Tony was right, the tag adds nothing, she should have stuck with the big ending. This is not a great performance in my opinion.   LaKisha’s phrasing is strange, and she seems disconnected from the lyrics.   She doesn’t bring anything special to the song. The judges disagree…with me.   Simon calls it a “sassy, great performance.” I think that Melinda and Jordin are out-singing her.

a big big thanks to pj for helping me out last night.   I appreciate it!