Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Disappointments and Surprises

Latin Music Week sounded like a great idea ... on paper. We thought it would be a fun night, but it was rife with major disappointments, and major surprises. Should we blame guess mentor Jennifer Lopez for the bad performances, or perhaps give her credit for the good ones? Whatever, the thing we didn't expect was for the normally strong players to have weak showings, while the worst (yes, Sanjaya) had one of the best. Yes, you read right. We rank Mr. Malakar a solid No. 2 and wouldn't be surprised if others ranked him the best of the night. Even the producers gave him the pimp spot and it wasn't a mistake.

From the short mentoring moments we were shown, Lopez seemed less than impressive with the advice she was doling out. In fact -- not that we want to give Chris Richardson any excuses for being the worst of the night as we don't care for him anyway -- but we couldn't help but wonder if Lopez advising him to raise the key a whole note was partially responsible for the cats screaming in the alley while he sang. Yet, if we blame her for that, do we then credit her for the advice she gave Sanjaya with his Spanish phrasing, which was not only effective but made us think that he should probably focus on a career as a Spanish singer -- the only weak spots in his performance were the few lines he sang in English.

First up was Melinda Doolittle, looking the best she has ever looked in what should be an essential in every woman's closet -- a fitted, but not tight -- little black dress. It was accessorized by a triple-strand rhinestone necklace and a slew of matching bracelets. The look rocked. Unfortunately, Melinda gave perhaps her weakest performance to date with "Sway." For anyone else that comment would indicate disaster, but Melinda has raised the bar so high, for her it merely meant good, not great. At this point, we expect her to knock our socks off with each performance, so just singing pleasantly is actually a disappointment. To paraphrase Randy Jackson, it lacked the "yo" factor. This song should be hot; sexy and sultry (think Michael Buble on a good night, not last week) and Melinda barely brought the room beyond lukewarm. In fact, Randy called it another solid performance, but not necessarily her best and we agreed (one of the few times we would agree with Randy -- or the rest of the judges for that matter -- all night). Paula Abdul found Melinda very, very sultry (uh-uh) and very smooth. Simon Cowell said, “Well, it had to happen, Melinda, I didn't like it. I'll tell you why, because that song is all about personality, and you appeared much, much older than you are." He added that it sounded lounge-cabaret, was lazy and wooden. Whoa! So how did Melinda feel about Simon's comment, Ryan Seacrest asked? Melinda smiled lazily and gave the perfect retort: "I'm happy, because I think he really wanted to say something bad, and I'm glad he got the chance." Even Simon had to smile at that. Ryan added, "Simon, you've come home."

It was back-to-back diva night, with LaKisha Jones taking the stage next. We winced when we heard her tell Lopez that she was going to sing "Conga," especially when she couldn't pronounce it correctly. Our signficant other predicted that LaKisha would bottom out this week -- and was right. The song selection was terrible for her, the wording so fast, that in her attempts to move about a bit by starting out on the catwalk, she was winded trying to walk and sing heading back to the stage. And though her face and hair looked great, not only was her dress once again low-cut in the front (is there a law against covering her breasts?), but it was so low-cut and tightly fit in the back that the camera caught an unappetizing overhanging roll of flesh as she walked from catwalk to stage. She also tried to sexily flip the dress' lacy double ruffled shirt, but it came off looking staged and clumsily unnatural. The singing was not horrible, merely medicore and so much less than LaKisha is capable of. It didn't feel Latin, it didn't feel sexy, it didn't feel hot. We were bored. So when Randy said that LaKisha was having the best time, having fun and made made it her own, we thought her own what? Her own bad performance? Paula, not normally the voice of reason, started with "First, you look lovely," so we knew she was actually listening, especially when the expected criticism followed. She felt the performance was too safe. Simon asked LaKisha if she agreed with Paula. LaKisha hedged until he finally said, "So you don't." He then added that she was having fun, but he wasn't sure how much fun everyone at home was having. Snarky Ryan told Simon, "What I wouldn't pay to see you try to do that though," but was outsassed when Cowell shot back, "I'm sure you would pay a lot."

Little did we expect that those two performances would appear masterful after we saw the train wreck that was named Chris Richardson. It's no secret that we don't understand Richardson's great allure to the judges. His singing is frequently pitchy and nasal and his voice is, well, not the least bit impressive. But tonight he just out-and-out sucked. He raised the bar on pitchiness to new heights, not hitting a right note until halfway through his rendition of "Smooth," done so beautifully by Rob Thomas and Santana. And his attire didn't say "Latin," it said middle-class suburbia mall meets wannabe street. Finally, we thought, the judges would see that he's little better than the male equivalent of Antonella Barba. So, the smelling salts had to be brought out for us as soon as Randy opined, "You did a really good job," with Paula saying "It was a hot, hot performance" and Simon adding "I'm not going to say it was the best vocal I ever heard, because it wasn't, but I actually preferred it to the first two, because it felt more contemporary." As in contemporary crap? Is Richardson using voodoo on the judges?

We'll give credit where credit is due on the next act. If the judges think that Haley Scarnato's staying power in this competition is due to her body rather than her voice, she has now decided to play it to the hilt. Perhaps her short shorts couldn't get any shorter, but with those legs, no one has more of a right to wear them than her. Her hair styled with bangs off her face, in addition to the heavy makeup and red-lipsticked mouth, perhaps used to imply a more Latina look, actually just made her look hard and less attractive. But that see-though zebra-print top covering a glittery black bustier, accompanied by black satin shorts and high patent-leather pumps rocked the house. Aside from which, her performance was not bad at all, one of her best to date. She might not have turned the judges around with "Turn the Beat Around," but we're betting she turned the voters around just enough to keep her competing at least one more week. Randy said "That was really karaoke for me tonight," with Paula adding the noncommital, "It's not a singer's song, but it's a fun song." As the cameras slowly and lovingly panned Scarnato's body from bottom to top, Simon said, "I think you have a very good tactic at the moment, Haley: Wear the least amount of clothes as possible. ... I’ll be honest with you, you can't do well in this competition based on your voice because there are much better singers." Well, duh, where were your ears when Chris Richardson was singing, Simon?

Phil Stacey was a pleasant surprise this week. He has a really delicious voice, but can never seem to pull a song together from beginning to end, usually faltering at the start and picking up ground as he goes along. Unfortunately, his gaunt bald look never helps. Tonight he got it right, from wardrobe to song choice. Exuding a Latin feel wearing a cap, gray jacket adorned with leather and studs, pink shirt, jeans and black shoes, he tenderly caressed the lyrics of "Maria, Maria" with his voice taking passionate flight at times. It held us enthralled, even if we did not quite get the goosebumps that Lopez did at the final notes. It was Stacey's strongest performance to date, yet the judges equivocated, refusing to give him his due. Randy said, "You didn't quite for me connect with the passion in that song." Paula tried for a compliment with "Vocally, I thought, with the exception of just the end there, it was a real good vocal." (English translation please). Simon found no originality in the performance and said it was all a bit lifeless, a bit flat and that Stacey's voice cracked towards the end, "So there's nothing I can get particularly positive or excited about to be honest with you."

As with Paula and most of America, we find Jordin Sparks adorable and irresistible, and thought she did reasonably well with "The Rhythm is Gonna Get You," even if we weren't quite blown away. She looked terrific this week and should stick to the kind of slacks she wore last night. The entire outfit was both flattering and youthful, from the satiny champagne short-waisted jacket to the black pants. The black top she wore hidden beneath the jacket and over the pants elongated and slimmed her, making her look at least two sizes smaller than in previous weeks. The performance was no more than pedestrian for us, and she got lost at one point in the low register, but it was fun nonetheless. And as much as Phil can't get a compliment on a really good performance, Jordin, by sheer force of her bubbly personality and likability, gets good reviews for merely mediocre ones. Randy told her, "You got it, because you've got it." (Okkkkkkkay.) Paula said, “I love that you're just so authentic, and you're you." (Who else would she be?) Simon, with the most honesty, said "We all know, Jordin, you're a good singer; I haven’t seen a progression though tonight, and that's very frustrating for me."

Our two favorite performances of the night came at the very end. We ranked Blake Lewis' take on Marc Anthony's "I Need to Know" No. 1 for the week. It was a very brave move taking on a song made famous by Lopez's husband and we thought Lewis did it great justice. Lewis' whole act had a Latin vibe to it, from his banded straw fedora and red-ruffled shirt to the performance itself. We've never heard his voice sounding as rich as it did last night, proving, at last, that he can sustain himself as a singer without gimmicks such as beatboxing. For once we were in total agreement with the judges. Randy said it was the best song choice of the night and Paula called it a very smart performance. Simon Cowell said, "Blake, best choice of song for the night, best performance so far." We wouldn't be surprised to hear him singing for the title on the finale.

Sporting tousled shorter locks and newly grown facial hair that added age and charm, Sanjaya Malakar, perhaps in tribute to mentor Jennifer Lopez, channeled his inner Marc Anthony, and, for him, sang the heck out of "Besame Mucho." We don't speak Spanish, but it sounded great to us. He was sexy, he was sizzling, he proved that he deserved to be on that stage more than some of the other contestants that night. Will VotefortheWorst have to switch to Chris Richardson? Will VoteAgainsttheWorst have to switch to Sanjaya Malakar? The world's turning upside-down. Randy told him, "You're one of the smartest contestants I've ever met, dude. That was actually really good," with Paula adding "Really good pitch, smooth, it was nice." Simon first smartassed with "I couldn't understand a word of it," (well, duh, it was in Spanish), then added the uncalled for and wrong, "You sang like a 14-year-old." Then, chagrined, he admitted the truth in the end with, "And I'm going to hate myself for this. It wasn't horrible." Not even close, Simon, not even close. (Here's a video link in case you missed it last night.)

Our Top 3 in descending order: Blake Lewis, Sanjaya Malakar, Phil Stacey

Our Bottom 3 in descending order: Chris Richardson, LaKisha Jones, Haley Scarnato

Our Middle, in no particular order: Melinda Doolittle, Jordin Sparks

America's Bottom 3: Chris Richardson, LaKisha Jones, Haley Scarnato
Voted off: Chris Richardson or LaKisha Jones (too close to call)

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© 2007

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