Wednesday, April 25, 2007

An Evening of Inspiration

Sometimes the world spins smoothly on its axis, the way it should, and other times it seems to go wildly out of control. When we last checked DialIdol before going to bed, the results may not have been exactly as we would have chosen them, but they made sense:

1. Jordin Sparks
2. Melinda Doolittle
3. Blake Lewis
4. LaKisha Jones
5. Phil Stacey
6. Chris Richardson

While at the time Jordin ran far ahead of the pack, the percentages between Melinda, Blake, LaKisha and Phil were very close. Chris Richardson was trailing the other finalists so significantly, he seemed doomed to elimination. At least (thankfully) the last still holds true this morning. Voting has just concluded in Hawaii (last night's voting window was four hours and there is a six hour difference between here and there), and the list has changed significantly so that it now reads:

1. Jordin Sparks
2. Phil Stacey
3. LaKisha Jones
4. Blake Lewis
5. Melinda Doolittle (!!!)
6. Chris Richardson

Jordin had a great night last night (though not her best in our opinion), but the fact that Melinda could even be in danger of being eliminated just blows us away. We have to believe that her fans (ourselves included) have become so complacent that she'd definitely be in the Top 3, most probably in the finale and probably this year's winner has made us lazy about supporting her this week (it happened to Chris Daughtry last year). Her performance last night, if not the out-and-out best, was at least tied for best. We don't think she could give a bad performance if her life depended on it. It's just not in her. So what happened?

The conspiracy theorist in us keeps wondering what 19 Entertainment will do with Melinda if she wins. (If she loses there is no question she will get a record contract and work.) She could be a worse marketing nightmare for them than Taylor Hicks. At last he has the twentysomething female groupies (and if you don't believe us, go to one of his concerts) screaming for him. But Melinda? You tell us. After all, the producers are looking for a pop artist, and clearly Melinda is anything but. Could you picture her singing Avril Lavigne's "Girlfriend"? Uh, not. She is a brilliant vocalist, but we don't see her capturing the 15-35-year-old market. However, Jordin could do that, probably Blake as well. Just saying ...

Anyway, we're fervently praying that even if Melinda winds up in the Bottom 3 (where, certainly, Chris, LaKisha, Phil or Blake deserve to be ahead of her), that she won't be eliminated tonight. What kind of bummer would that be at the climax of IdolGivesBackPalooza? Bet they'd lose a lot of viewers if it happens.

There were plugs and film clips all evening for tonight's two-hour Idol Gives Back show. Ryan Seacrest said that this week the finalists were mentored by U2's Bono, though we didn't see any film clips with him and the contestants. The theme was songs of hope and inspiration.

Now to last night's performances ( videos of all of last night's performances included in the critiques. Click the song titles to view them) ...

Opening the night was Chris Richardson, whose top half was dressed collegiate (jacket, tie, pin-striped shirt) and whose bottom half was casual (cargo pants and sneakers). But the colors matched and it wasn't jarring. Wish we could say the same of his rendition of Eric Clapton's "If I Could Change The World." Right sentiment, wrong voice. Yes, pitchy and nasally all over again, but tonight the judges, including Simon, chose once again to be deaf to it. Were they trying to sidestep another confrontation with Chris, in fear of wreaking the spirit of Idol Gives Back? Or were they hoping if they praised him he'd wind up in the Bottom 3 again as he did two weeks ago? Though we've heard worse from Chris, this was clearly the evening's weakest performance. Randy Jackson, who has total tone deafness when it comes to Chris and who has been championing him all season, sickened us with "Tonight dawg, for the first time in a long time for me, you're in it to win it." Paula Abdul reverted to her "I'm really proud of you" platitude from seasons past, while Simon Cowell surprised us with "It was a good vocal, it kind of had much more soul in it, it was a kind of a more sexy performance, I think you did really well." But Simon has admitted in the past that he lies when it serves his purposes, so who knows what he really thought. Hopefully, not that.

Melinda Doolittle has never looked more beautiful on the show than she did last night. She was absolutely glowing with a new quiet confidence. Dressed in a soft gray belted wrap dress with asymmetrical hem layered over a ribbed gray halter top, she was accessorized with multiple choker-length rhinestone necklaces (four or five by our count), that actually accentuated her neck and made it look longer. She beautifully sang Faith Hill's "There Will Come a Day," never needing to go for loud power notes to get it across. Her phrasing and expression always say it all and make you feel it. The judges always love her and you could feel a mighty love last night. "You have arrived, Melinda is here," said Randy, while she was declared magical by Paula. "What I loved about that performance was it wasn't a copycat performance. You took a song, you absolutely made me believe that you had recorded it originally," extolled Simon, adding that it was a vocal master class.

Blake Lewis took a major risk by selecting John Lennon's iconic "Imagine," a song with simple vocals that says so much. To carry it off you have to be sincere and earnest. Though it won't make anyone forget the incredible job Jordis Unga did on "RockStar INXS" a couple of years ago, he did a fine job. His voice is never going to be able to reach a power note, but it was a solid performance and one of Blake's best. Randy was lukewarm, saying "On the performance side dude, it was just kind of alright for me." Paula, who got the performance more, said "it's the first real sensitive, emotional performance from you, Blake, that I've seen, and I think that goes a long way. I really enjoyed it." We were pleased that Simon essentially agreed, with "It felt sincere ... the only problem was that it didn’t go anywhere, it was a little bit like that [making a flat motion with his hand] throughout. I think the most important part, probably, was the fact that you sang it with sincerity, so good." It was an accurate call. BTW, we hated the stringy, raggy denim cuffs and patches attached the sleeves of the wool herringbone jacket. They just looked stupid. Sometimes we can't imagine what the show's stylists are thinking when they do things such as that.

LaKisha Jones looked stunning last night. The Grecian-style black gown was flattering and fit her to a "T." We only wish we could say as much about her song selection. It's well-known that Kiki has a mind of her own and doesn't take to advice well. She bombed last week singing a former Idol winner's song (Carrie Underwood's "Jesus Take the Wheel"). Treading in former Idol winners' territory is laden with land mines. So what does she do this week? She picked Season 3 winner Fantasia's coronation song, "I Believe." That's two strikes, because, as everyone knows, the coronation songs suck. Strike three was sing-shouting it. As bad as the song is, LaKisha is not going to make anyone forget Fantasia's version of it. Probably the only reason LaKisha is not going to beat Chris out the door tonight, is that the judges totally trashed her (again) this week, and she probably got a huge sympathy vote. Randy said he thought it was pitchy and difficult to sing after someone like Fantasia did it. Paula agreed with, "Even though Fantasia hasn't been around a long time ... she is so undeniable and wonderfully and magnificently unique ... I just have a hard time getting past Fantasia." Simon Cowell, cutting to the chase, added "I kind of think I know what Paula was trying to say, which was that she preferred the Fantasia version." He also had an issue with LaKisha shouting the song.

Phil Stacey continues to be the surprise contestant in the competition. Many predicted, ourselves included, that he would have been gone long ago, but he has tenaciously kept hanging on, while others fell. We think it's because he has a decent voice and is a really nice guy. If he weren't quite as odd looking as he is (we can get past the baldness fine, it's the point on the top of his bald head that's distracting), who knows how far he could go? Meanwhile, it's already farther than most everyone thought. And if Dialidol is right, he was No. 1 last week and No. 2 this week, pretty amazing (and a bit unbelievable). Wearing what looked like a fitted black velvet tuxedo jacket, white shirt with black buttons and black jeans, Phil smartly choose Garth Brooks' "The Change," staying the country track with a touching performance that was not quite as powerful as his one last week. Randy called it "Another strong performance on a very nice vocal on a very great song." Paula felt he had really found his comfort zone and that it was his best performance. Simon admitted, "Phil, you know what, I really like you ... and I'm glad that you had a good week last week, and you've come back with spring in your step, confidence." He added it was a good song choice, but advised him to keep more of a country tone in his voice, as he had the previous week.

Looking lovely in a long satiny taupe dress and strappy sandals, and enjoying the pimp spot, was Jordin Sparks singing "You'll Never Walk Alone," from the musical "Carousel," and famously sung by Jerry Lewis during the Muscular Dystrophy telethons. We had heard advance raves about this performance and were psyched. The song choice was brilliant because it's a song that, unless you totally wreck it, is going to give the audience goosebumps. Jordin didn't wreck it by a long shot, but we've heard it sung better and we've heard her sing better (her best to date was "I Who Have Nothing). Plus, she also shouted the song and not one judge noted that. It's not fair to praise Jordin and trash LaKisha for doing the same amount of shouting. In fact, if you listen to the Judy Garland version, it is poignant without pounding you over the head with power notes. Even Jerry Lewis, who is not known as a singer, doesn't power-note it and can give you chills. So we enjoyed it, but wanted more. Randy said "I think that's one of the best vocals by any contestant ever on this show, ever in six seasons." Not even close, my friend. Paula told her, "You sure picked an amazing song to close the night" and Simon kidded "Well, unlike Randy, I thought you were fantastic," adding that even though the song was 60 years old, he thought she could have a hit with it, and he's probably right. This is going to be Jordin's "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" on the finale show.

Our Top 2 in descending order: Melinda Doolittle, Jordin Sparks

Our Bottom 2 in descending order: Chris Richardson, LaKisha Jones

Our Middle, in descending order: Phil Stacey and Blake Lewis (tie)

America's Bottom 3: Chris Richardson, Melinda Doolittle, Blake Lewis (we'll go along with DiaIdol on this as they were spot on last week)
Voted off: Chris Richardson

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