Well, maybe a number of things to talk about after last night's show:
1. "Heartfelt" shoutouts to the folks grieving in Virginia and around the country
2. Sanjaya taking giant steps backwards towards elimination
3. Phil taking giant steps forward toward staying in the competition
4. Chris Richardson mouthing off to Simon, defending nasally as a type of singing
It was a weird night filled with a mix of performances, a few disastrous, a couple remarkable and some just good. At this point in the competition, there should be more in the middle category.
The show started out with what felt like the first gratuitous remark about the tragedy at Virginia Tech. A somber, dark-suited Ryan Seacrest spent about 5 seconds sending the thoughts and prayers of everyone at Idol to those affected by the tragedy, jumping right into "This Is American Idol." It must have been a tough call for the producers. Do we mention the massacre? Will it bring down the show? For us, it was not the right time or place for a token remark when so many lives have been lost. The brief mention felt like an uncomfortably PC gesture, insincere and perhaps even a tad disrespectful: As in now that we've paid our dues, we can all have some fun.
Country great Martina McBride mentored the seven remaining finalists, and seems to have had great rapport with each one. In fact, she seemed more in awe of them than they were of her. McBride was more petite than we would've imagined, slender and not much taller than LaKisha. She also looked remarkably youthful for her 41 years, more as if she was perhaps 30.
First up was Phil Stacey, as the spoilers predicted. Would they be right? No. Only the performance order was correct. Everything else was dead wrong, including our prediction that country would be the cause of Stacey's Idol journey ending. In fact, after his rousing rendition of Keith Urban's "Where the Blacktop Ends," the judges decided that country comfort was perhaps what Phil needed all along, and he agreed! For the first time since the competition began, Phil was animated and really seemed to enjoy himself, walking through and working the audience, as well as the judges' table. He carried the song beginning to end, another rarity for Stacey. As Simon Cowell told him, "It's only taken 10 weeks, Phil." Randy seemed stunned. He told Phil that he would never have thought he would sound so good singing country and that it was hot, with Paula saying it was good from beginning to end. Simon added it was the first time that Phil had picked a good song, that the style of music suited him and that he had even showed some personality. But, Cowell also cautioned, he didn't know whether it was enough to save Phil. Well, not that it's been the most reliable source this season, but according to DialIdol, Phil came in No. 1 (even we don't believe that, but we'd happy to have him safe another week).
"Sparks Fly" read one of the audience signs and we couldn't agree more, especially after Jordin Sparks' beautifully crafted performance of Martina McBride's "Broken Wing." In rehearsal, even McBride held her breath as Jordin sang, then erupted with joy as she finished. It was a brave song choice, but the right one. Of course, it's a song the Sparks probably feels comfortable with, as she's been singing it since at least age 14, as this video of her warbling it during the America's Most Talented Kid competition in 2004 attests. Looking gorgeous in a slimming salmon-colored gown with gold adornment, gold strappy sandals and jewelry, Jordin let the song grow slowly and with expression to a dynamic ending. Randy, once again blown away by the fact that she's only 17, told her that it was a difficult song to take on because the original was so strong, but that she was da bomb. Paula, said she loved Jordin too, after an audience member shouted out to Sparks, that she looked gorgeous (she did) and that she did a great job building the song. Simon stunned Jordin when he told her "For the first time ... I actually believe that you could win American Idol."
After panning to a shot of Constantine Maroulis in the audience, Sanjaya Malakar started off the evening sassy, wearing a red bandana over a headful of curls (we couldn't decide whether he was trying to look like a gang member or was planning to work in the fields after the show) and slyly answered the viewer question, "If you could make one judge sing, what judge and what song would you pick," with he would make Simon sing "Shiny Happy People," so he could show his true personality. Even Cowell nodded and smiled at the clever retort. (Or was it actually too quick and clever -- perhaps prepared in advance?) Then Sanjaya became the evening's bona fide train wreck, and it was a real disappointment after the improvement he had shown over the past couple of weeks. He said he chose Bonnie Raitt's "Something to Talk About" because he knows people are always talking about him. Well, he certainly gave us something to talk about this week -- how he got himself eliminated for reverting back to horrible pitchy and flat singing after proving that he knows how to do better. Bad move Malakar. Randy told him it was karaoke, bland and boring, while Paula, giggling, said, "You really thrive on adversity," then added the vocals weren't so great (they were laughably awful). Simon called it "utterly horrendous," and said it was as bad as anything they see at the beginning of the season (in fact we don't believe he'd have gotten through the auditions with this performance). With the audience booing, Ryan decided to jump in Sanjaya's defense with, "Was it the song, or you just don't like Sanjaya?" Simon hissed, "Excuse me, who rattled your cage?" Fed up, Cowell added, "I know this has been funny for awhile, but based on the fact that we are supposed to be finding an 'American Idol,' it was hideous." Determined not to give up, Ryan badgered Randy with, "If Sanjaya nailed it, would Simon really ever like it from him?" Simon shot back, "I liked him last week, Big Mouth." Can you feel the love?
Taking the stage in a somewhat matronly brown beaded dress (v-neck, but thankfully with much better support and not exposing her breasts) and hideous high-heeled metallic gold knee boots (maybe they'd look better with the right outfit), we were hoping LaKisha Jones would make us forget the lousy performance we had just witnessed, but she seemed intent on racing Sanjaya over who would be eliminated first. Lakisha said she chose Carrie Underwood's "Jesus Take the Wheel" because as a single mother she related to the lyrics, that she has been through a lot in her life and sometimes you just need to say "Oh Jesus." We really love the way Underwood sings the heck out of this song. Even if the lyrics are manipulative, the emotion she brings to it makes us cry. In other words: She owns it. As soon as we heard LaKisha's choice we knew she was doomed. It was sacrilege to challenge Underwood on her former stamping grounds unless she was going to better her -- and she didn't, not even close. The opening explanatory part of the song was rushed, even mumbled, and the latter part shouted instead of plaintively sung. The crowd goes crazy, but we're numb: No chills, no goosebumps, not a tear shed. Randy automatically got Simon-like boos when he said there were pitch problems, and that considering her gospel background, he was disappointed that she hadn't made the song her own. Paula agreed and said the vocals felt shouted. The boos continued. Simon resorted to a food analogy: "It's like eating a hamburger for breakfast -- it doesn't go together," meaning she and the song weren't a good fit. As the crowd continued to boo (ah, the love continues), Simon shouted, "I'm right!" He also said that LaKisha blew everyone away when she sang the Jennifer Holliday song ("And I Am Telling You I"m Not Going"), and that she needed to find more songs like that. When LaKisha sang that song on Week 1 of the semi-finals, Simon wanted to end the competition and declare her the winner. Bet he's now glad that wasn't possible. Fact: LaKisha has got a great voice. Fact: LaKisha has never followed any of the advice proffered by the mentors (or the judges for that matter). Will her arrogance get her eliminated tonight? Perhaps.
In a reverse of how we felt last week, we didn't think Chris Richardson totally sucked singing Rascal Flatts' "Mayberry." Was he still nasally and pitchy? Yes. But we're not really familiar with the song. However, those who are say he just wrecked it. And the judges agreed. Randy complained about it being nasally, the pitch problems and Richardson's lack of connection to the lyrics. Paula agreed, and added, "The joy and the love that you feel on stage didn't come through." Simon said exactly what we felt about last week's performance, but which the judges were then deaf to: "I heard a very nondescript, nasally, tinny vocal which had no impact on me at all. It was completely and utterly insignificant." Yet, if we had been willing to give Richardson a pass last night, it totally ended when he decided to answer back. His defense? In case Simon didn't know it, "Nasally is a type of singing." So Simon asked whether he was doing it intentionally. Chris said it was not as if he was doing it every week (uh, yeah, you are). Realizing he was losing the argument, Richardson then totally sickened us by changing tactics and trying to garner sympathy by giving a shoutout to the people at Virginia Tech. Coming when it did, it felt like Richardson was pandering for votes. If he was so sincere about those feelings, why didn't he start out by dedicating the song to the folks of his home state? Simon's face registered total digust at what he, too, obviously felt was a gratuitous remark to gain support. Unfortunately, he chose to inappropriately respond to Richardson two contestants later.
How do you spell Melinda Doolittle? P-E-R-F-E-C-T. It is doubtful that anyone else could take a song that no one knew, including Martina McBride, and turn in such an inspired performance. It will probably turn Julie Reeves' "Trouble Is a Woman" into an instant hit. It is the sign of a consummate professional: Doolittle brilliantly picks the right songs nearly every week, tailors them to herself and executes them perfectly. She was just great and is looking better every week. Even though we doubt the hair was her own, the style suited her perfectly and the clothes -- green print cotton dress over bell-cut jeans and jingly bangle bracelets on both wrists -- were just right. Randy said it was "Another solid performance from our resident pro." Paula gushed "Once again a girl who knows how to pick the right song and sing her heart out and perform like there's no tomorrow." Simon, first warning Melinda not to act surprised by his praise, said, "It was fantastic" and that he saw a little Tina Turner attitude.
Up last, in the pimp spot was Blake Lewis. Don't know how to explain this, but we've really grown to like Team Plaid. His performances have been consistent throughout, but he's really grown on us in a way we didn't expect. This, perhaps, was not his best performance, but he did a fine job with Tim McGraw's "When the Stars Go Blue." And there was no pressure, tee-hee. In rehearsal, McBride tells him she has just spoken to McGraw an he was hoping one of the contestants would sing this song. It was a great fit for Blake's voice and we're confident that McGraw was pleased with Lewis' version. Randy said he loved Blake’s sweater, song choice and arrangement and that Blake knows himself very well. Paula tells him that he has the whole package and that it was a great song for him. Simon, not as effusive, says he's not jumping out of his chair -- it was okay -- and that Blake was wise not to do something that doesn't suit him. Suddenly, switching gears, he adds, that, on a serious note, the judges would like to offer their best wishes and support to the families of this tragedy and that he knows it's been a tricky week for you guys [the contestants]. He then finished Blake critique with , "Yeah, it was OK."
Our Top 2 in descending order: Melinda Doolittle and Jordin Sparks (tie)
Our Bottom 3 in descending order: Sanjaya Malakar, Chris Richardson, LaKisha Jones
Our Middle, in descending order: Phil Stacey, Blake Lewis
America's Bottom 3: Sanjaya Malakar, Chris Richardson, LaKisha Jones
Voted off: Sanjaya Malakar
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