"I am very tempted to say to 23 people book your plane tickets home." -- Simon Cowell, speaking after LaKisha Jones performed "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going"
Oh, yes, we agreed. In what was the only true show-stopping performance of the competition so far, LaKisha Jones, who we already liked, became our hero. We even relistened to Jennifer Hudson's version of the song afterwards, and it paled next to LaKisha's, whose lush vocals, emotion and power blew us away. Awesome, just awesome. And we were also bowled over by LaKisha's incredible humility. We really don't think that she yet understands what an amazing national treasure her voice is.
And LaKisha wasn't the only great performance. The girls definitely rule after Wednesday night. Their song choices as well as their performances were better. Instead of just standing on the stage singing, most of the women truly connected with their audience. As Randy rightly put it, if the 12 finalists didn't have to be an equal number of males and females, at this point he would select 8 women and 4 men, just about the numbers we came up with.
But once again, it appears VotefortheWorst.com's insidious plans will affect tonight's elimination. Not surprisingly, they selected Antonella Barba as their female counterpart to Sundance Head. This girl really needs to go home. Vocally, she is a lightweight compared to most of the other ladies, and if not the worst performer of the night, she was definitely in the bottom two. Yet, according to DialIdol.com, she placed second in number of votes received. If true, it's not funny anymore. We realize that VFTW is skewing the results more dramatically now because, compared with the finale, fewer people vote in the early rounds (although we actually had a lot of trouble getting through to LaKisha's line last night). Long-term, the true fans will wrest back control of the results. But it is disheartening to see failure on the stage being rewarded because of nefarious forces. Plus, we really don't want to be subjected to another week of singing by the worst.
The evening started and ended with strong performances, with many others sprinkled in between. First up was Stephanie Edwards, who gave us chills as she belted out "How Come You Don't Call Me Anymore." "How could this be?" we thought. Already the first lady was better than all of the men had been the night before. Randy noted that the performance was pitchy, but that Stephanie sang it with conviction, while Paula called her a star and a wonderful performer. Simon said the song choice was good, the performance was terrific and a million times better than anything the boys did the night before, adding that Stephanie looked like she came out and said she wanted to win "American Idol."
Stephanie was followed by two of the evening's more forgettable performances. Amy Krebs didn't do justice to Bonnie Raitt's "I Can't Make You Love Me," and the arrangement had a really bad ending. The phrasing has to be done just right to make this song work, whether sung by a man or woman; i.e. George Michael has done a great version of it. Randy termed it a medium middle-of-the-road performance that was a little too safe and Paula agreed. Simon cut deeper, telling Amy, "When you sing you have the personality of a candle" and that unless she did something to stand out, "two singers later I'm going to forget you" (he was right). Perhaps he went a bit overboard when he said even her hair and outfit were forgettable. She looked fine, it was totally a singing issue.
Dog-walker Leslie Hunt didn't fare much better with Aretha Franklin's "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman." Hunt has an interesting voice but is not a powerhouse singer, but you don't need to be Aretha to make this song work. Carole King, who wrote the song, does a great version, but invests it with a lot of feeling, and Leslie didn't. Again, it all comes down to phrasing. Randy thought the song was too big for Leslie, but Paula thought she did a great job. Simon said it wasn't great and that Leslie looked embarrassed and ungainly when she performed. When booing ensued, Ryan, saying he understood what Simon meant (is that a first?), clarified that Simon felt Leslie appeared to be out of her comfort zone.
Sabrina Sloan was a nice surprise with Aretha Franklin's "I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You)," in a performance that built strength as the song progressed. Never mind Amy and Leslie, was Sabrina already making us forget Stephanie Edwards? (Sadly, Sabrina is third from last on DialIdol's talley and is definitely in danger of being eliminated tonight). Randy excitedly told her "That's the way to sing, that's the one to beat. That was hot," as Paula gave her a standing ovation. Simon declared the performance the best one so far.
And then disaster struck. Antonella Barba offered a weak, pitchy version of Aerosmith's "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing." Forget Aerosmith, Barba's no Lindsey Cardinale, the Season 4 finalist whose smoky voice did this song so much more justice. We don't even think Barba knew how bad she was until Randy asked her what she thought he was going to say. You could almost she the light bulb go on over her head as she realized she was in trouble and said, "You felt my nerves?" In what is becoming his trademark Season 6 gesture -- as if it pains him to criticize the contestants -- Randy sighed, then head in hands leaned down toward the desk, before straightening up again and telling her, "It just wasn't good" and that it was pitchy and bland. Paula, sensing Antonella was about to start crying, tried to shore her up with "It wasn't bad, you had some pitch problems," then went into her "you're an amazingly beautiful girl" routine (ahem, who can't sing worth a crap).
Never afraid to step on feelings, Simon jumped in with: "The good news is you're attractive" (uh-oh). "The bad news is it didn't work. It was way, way, way too big for you." Antonella's smile was beginning to waver now and we saw a shot of her parents in the audience. Her father, who didn't seem to get what was about to happen, had an idiot smile on his face, while the pasted-on smile on her mother (who is even better looking than Antonella and looks like her sister) was beginning to melt and droop, as Simon told Antonella "You've seriously damaged your chance of staying here another week." Antonella looked shocked and incredulous, with saucer-sized eyes. Incredible! She never saw it coming. But, fortunately, it looks like VFTW will prove Simon wrong. And, if she does survive, we're sure Antonella won't realize it's because she's become a national joke.
Thankfully, Jordin Sparks was up next. We just adore this 17-year-old from Seattle with a big old voice and bigger, bubbly personality. In the past Simon has criticized her for being too sugary, and, before singing, she told Ryan that maybe there will be one or two less lumps tonight. She was so spirited and fun we wanted her to succeed and she didn't disappoint with Tracy Chapman's "Give Me One Reason," an interesting song selection. Randy wanted her to challenge herself more, telling her that her voice is so big that there is probably no song that is too big for her. Paula thought the song selection was great and that Jordin should "Go for it, go for it, go for it." Simon said she has a very good voice and advised her to "Push yourself and you may surprise a few people in this competition."
Nicole Tranquillo, who has had very little face time, was an unknown quantity coming into this round and might remain so if she goes home tonight. She has a powerful voice, but her version of Chaka Khan's "Stay" was a nasally mumble that didn't work. Now and then her voice would poke through the mess she was singing -- or screaming -- but it was not enough to redeem the performance. Randy told her it just wasn't working and was too rough for him (and us, and the world), but Paula felt she could really sing and had great range and control. Simon said "It was indulgent, it was aggressive, it looked unnatural, it looked fake," adding "It looked like you'd been over-reheasing it" and telling her that song choice was very important and "that wasn't you."
Next up was Haley Scarnato, who we've had doubts about since she got her Golden Ticket in San Antonio. She sang Celine Dion's "All Coming Back to Me Now," and it was far too vibrato for our taste, although Haley looked great (oh god, we're beginning to sound like Paula). It was "just OK" for Randy, who said it was a good song choice for her because she had a Broadwayish voice, but added that he had wanted to be wowed a little bit more. Paula thought Haley did a nice job but was disappointed that she chose to sing the same song she sang during the Hollywood rounds. Simon asked her age (24), then told her she "sounded 40" and that "Everything about you tonight is old. It was a little boring, I thought." And forgettable, too, we'd add.
Melinda Doolittle, who will never have to go back to being a backup singer after Idol, should make it to the final five. In fact, we think she and LaKisha could be battling it out for the top spot (why is it that the two best singers in this competition are also the two most humble?). But there was no shyness when Melinda sang Aretha Franklin's "Since You've Been Gone." Hello, did anyone sing earlier in the evening? We can't seem to recall anyone prior to Melinda! She did an AMAZING job. Randy said she blew it out of the box and that she was da bomb, while Paula called her a front-runner and firecracker. In what might have been a shot meant for Chris Sligh, Simon said "It's interesting that over the last two nights we have seen some people with little talent and a huge amount of arrogance, and you are the opposite." Cowell, who has been taken with her (as he is with LaKisha) since her audition, added, "You are an incredible singer, you have a fantastic story, you're a fantastic person. I really hope you do well."
For the woman who weeps all the time because she's "emotional and passionate," Alaina Alexander 's performance was a crying shame. It would have been the perfect time to take a bathroom break. It's never a good idea to be boring, bland and occasionally pitchy, but to do that to The Pretenders' "Brass in Pocket (I'm Special)" following someone as good as Melinda Doolittle will probably prove lethal. Randy said Alaina really wasn't great and a little pitchy, while Paula said she didn't feel it and thought that Alaina really didn't make the song her own. And Simon, bless his soul, pointed out to Alaina that "You kept singing that line 'I'm special' and it wasn't. I think you lost it halfway through." In an odd turn, when Ryan asked what Alaina could do to get better, Simon asked Ryan if he was trying to date Alaina. As Alaina stood there looking stunned and confused, Ryan answered that it didn't deserve a comment, which Simon said meant "Yes." Hello, what was going on there? It certainly was more interesting than Alaina's performance.
Gina Glocksen was next with "All by Myself," which started a bit weak, but ended strongly. Gina told Ryan that before her performance she would have rated her confidence as a "6" out of 10, but afterwards it was "12," because she hit the final note that she had been having trouble with in rehearsal. Randy said "Big girl, big voice, big song," adding that it had a nice quality, and Paula said she chose the right song to sing. Simon said he didn't "think you hit that big note though, but we'll see."
In the pimp spot, and deservedly so, was the wonderful LaKisha Jones, who you already know was great. Interestingly, Ryan, going into a commercial break prior to her performance, said "We'll be right back with a show-stopper from LaKisha Jones." A little editorializing prior to the performance? Hmmm, have the producers already picked the winner? And, thank you LaKisha, finally someone had the lyrics right. We kept hearing LaKisha sing "You're gonna love me." And we did.
Best of the Evening (in descending order): LaKisha Jones, Melinda Doolittle, Sabrina Sloan, Stephanie Edwards, Jordin Sparks
Worst of the Evening (in descending order): Alaina Alexander, Antonella Barba, Amy Krebs, Nicole Tranquillo
Mediocre and Forgettable (in any order): Gina Glocksen, Leslie Hunt, Haley Scarnato
Should Go: Alaina Alexander, Antonella Barba
Will Go: Alaina Alexander, Amy Krebs
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