Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Sundance Roars Back

Last night was "Dedication Night." What did that mean? Well, mostly nothing. The guys chose their songs then did a film clip dedication to air just prior to the song. Of course, most of the dedications went out to wives and girlfriends, parents and grandparents. It was all kind of mushy stupid -- the kind of thing we think Nigel Lythgoe loves -- and much better suited to a Valentine's Day program. In fact, the contestants who got into the most trouble with the genre -- Brandon Rogers and Sanjaya Malakar -- did so because they were more concerned about doing a dedication and song from the heart than picking a song and singing it in a way that would score contest points with viewers.

And so the surprise of the evening was Sundance Head, performing in the pimp spot, who dedicated "Mustang Sally" to his 2 1/2-month-old son, Levi. More concerned about making a connection with the judges and the viewers than a lyrics connection to his son, he really made that song ride, Sally, ride. It was a rousing, growly, bluesy rendition that suited Head perfectly and finally got us revved for the first time all evening. The judges, especially Randy, were ecstactic and Jackson welcomed Sundance back, while Paula told him she didn't know he had that range and that it was his best vocal yet. Simon was not quite as effusive (no surprise) but said he was glad the Sundance they like was back, that he's a good singer, but that he can do better. In a cute moment, Ryan discussed with Sundance how he missed Levi, then they put up a slide of Levi with a drawn-on beard that looked like Sundance's, telling Sundance, "See what can happen when you don't see him for a month?"

The show opened with Phil Stacey, a consistently pleasing performer who we think will make the finals, but doesn't have a chance to win. We also wish he'd go back to wearing a hat when he performs. Some guys look better with a shaved head than others, and he's not one of them. With his long, gaunt face and large ears, he looks too much like an alien for us. He dedicated John Waite's "Missing You" to his command, Navy Band Southeast. We love this song, and Stacey sang it OK, but it has a v-e-r-y l-o-n-g intro and by the time he got to the chorus -- where the song really starts getting good -- he ran out of time and had to end it, so it sounded just too karaoke for us. We thought he would have benefitted greatly starting the song at the first chorus or even the following stanza and ending it at a much more powerful point. Randy, however, said it was hot and Paula told him she loves the tone of his voice and that she could hear him right now on the radio. Thank goodness for Simon, who said he was a nice guy but that his voice is completely unoriginal and that it was like a good karaoke singer.

Jared Cotter was up next. We're prejudiced because Cotter is our hometown contestant, but we really do like both his looks and pleasing voice. We do think, however, that so far his personality has yet to shine strong enough. He needs to keep turning on that charm if he's going to stick around for the finals. Because of last week's critique, he said he wanted to be more adventurous, and dedicated Marvin Gaye's "Let's Get It On" to his parents. The opening was shockingly strong and very reminiscent of Gaye and the rest was pretty good also. Cotter's sexy style enabled him to carry off the song well, though a weird hand over the face move at the end seemed a bit too contrived. But the judges seemed to be unduly harsh on him. Randy said it was pitchy in spots, then Paula started saying he didn't have to push it, got embarrassed and covered her face, so Simon bulldozed his way in saying it was a family show. He said it reminded him of "The Love Boat," and said "I'm kind of imagining if they had a cabaret singer on 'The Love Boat,' I think we would have seen something similar to that, because it was a bit corny in parts." Smartly, instead of sassing back at Simon, Jared demurred, "Wow, that would have been a great 'Love Boat' episode," which not only defused the criticism, but even made Simon smile.

AJ Tabaldo sang "Feeling Good" and dedicated it to his parents in the audience. Tabaldo is very likable and has nice tonal quality and range to his voice, but to us, it was a strange selection and didn't work. We found his performance last week more satisfying. Here, again, we were at odds with the judges, because Randy thought it was a lot better than the week before and Paula thought it was very nice. Even Simon thought it was "actually nearly very good" and said that he liked that AJ's personality had shown through. For us, it was just bleh.

Up next, the biggest disaster of the evening, and no matter how much we say that, he'll be snug as a bug in a rug if DialIdol's stats are right. Sanjaya Malakar once again proved he's too immature to be in this competition. At times he nearly whispered or talked his rendition of "Steppin' Out With My Baby," dedicated to his deceased grandfather. It was all very touching that he wanted to sing this for his grandfather, but it was a wholly inappropriate song for him, he performed it poorly with a paper-thin voice, and, yet again, seemed on the verge of tears (though less so than last week) when he was critiqued. At least we were in sync with the judges on this one. Randy said it was like a bad high school talent show, was weird and didn't work for him, while Paula mumbled something about old souls to avoid knocking the kid. Simon agreed with Randy, adding "It was like some ghastly lunch, where after lunch your parents have asked the children to dress up and sing." He also mentioned that halfway through Sanjaya was whispering.

We always look forward to Chris Sligh's performances and were happy to learn that his band, Half*Past Forever, is about to release their first CD, "Take a Chance on Something Beautiful." You can download it from the band's Web site starting today, or pre-order it on (it drops March 8). Sligh dedicated "Trouble" to his pretty, blonde wife in the audience. It was a good performance, but we thought Taylor Hick's bluesy version was better last season. But it was a still a very respectable effort by Sligh. Randy thought he was better than last week, and Paula told him to watch his pitch. Simon told him, "Chris, the reason we put you through to this round is actually we thought you were a very good singer, and tonight you were a very good singer."

The other bleh moment of the night for us was Nick Pedro singing "Fever" to his pretty girlfriend, Caitlin. He was trying to to return to that "Fly Me to the Moon" vibe that got him his Golden Ticket to Hollywood, but it just didn't work for us at all. This deadly dull rendition gave us fever all right, but not in a good way. We even thought the band was better than Pedro (and, indeed, Simon mentioned the drummer in his critique). Pedro is really too cabaret for a pop competition and seems stuck in the '50s. Although he and Phil Stacey can be compared somewhat in style and type of music they've chosed, Stacey has a much richer voice. We think this will be Nick's final performance. Randy thought it was pitchy but liked that Nick returned to his cool vibe, while Paula loved the tone of his voice. Simon thought it was good, but lacked charisma.

It's amazing how someone can turn you around. We originally disliked beatboxer Blake Lewis from his audition and even the Hollywood rounds. Now we think of him as a breath of fresh air and wait with anticipation to see what he will bring to the competition each week. Again, he did not disappoint with Jamiroquai's "Virtual Insanity," which he dedicated to his parents. There was good singing, a little scatting and some beatboxing to boot, but not so much that it got on our nerves. We're confident that Blake will make it to the finals without a problem. Of course, Randy loved the performance and Paula said the choice was smart. Simon said Blake was terrific, but "Other than the middle section of the song, I actually didn’t see any originally from you this time. I actually saw a copycat performance." When Ryan tried to dissect his review, Simon got defensive with "I'm sorry I have an opinion."

Brandon Rogers may be the biggest disappointment for us in this competition. He's got a great voice, he's easy on the eyes and has a good personality, but has just not been bringing it since the semi-finals began. He got stuck in the same trap as Sanjaya when he dedicated "Time After Time" to his grandmother. His version just laid there and died. This song is not a great competition song to begin with -- it, and her mohawk, killed Nadia Turner in Season 4 -- and was an especially poor choice on a night when Rogers really had to step it up. It was a soft, boring and forgettable performance. Randy thought it was boring as well, but of course Paula felt his heart. Simon said he loves grandmas but it's a singing competition (thank you, Simon), adding "You have got to come out here Brandon when you're as talented as you are and do what four or five of these girls did last week and make a wow impact."

Chris Richardson we don't get at all. The judges seem to love him, while we just find him annoying. We just want to smack him upside his head when he performs; he hyperactive bouncy body makes us seasick. He dedicated Jason Mraz' "Geek in Pink" to his grandmother, and we barely understood a word he sang. Therefore, we nearly keeled over at the unanimous and profuse praise bestowed on him by the judges. Randy said he was better than the original. Paula loved it and loved that he dedicated that song to his grandmother asking, "Does your grandmother know what 'Geek in the Pink' is?" Simon answered with his weak (but funny) attempt at an American country-bumpkin voice "Wat wuz that song?" When it was his turn up, however, Simon said he thought Chris was the best tonight by a mile (?!).

All in all, it was a night when we frequently disagreed with the judges on the bad ... and the good.
Top 5 in descending order: Sundance Head, Blake Lewis, Chris Sligh, Jared Cotter, Phil Stacey

Bottom 5 in descending order: Sanjaya Malakar, Nick Pedro, Brandon Rogers, Chris Richardson, A.J. Tabaldo

Should go: Sanjaya Malakar, Nick Pedro
Will go: Nick Pedro, Brandon Rogers

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