Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Bon Jovi Rocks Out Idol Finalists

This season, Idol is batting 100 on the mentors they've selected. The latest, and perhaps greatest to date, is Jon Bon Jovi (there was a little self-promotion going on, with part-owner Bon Jovi touting his Philly Soul arena football team on his T-shirt). He and his keyboardist, David Bryan, worked with the Top 6 to great effect. It was one of the strongest performance nights of the season -- four home runs and a couple of base hits.

Surprisingly, the weakest at bat were Jordin Sparks, who can almost taste the finals at this point, and Chris Richardson, who should have been well within his comfort zone. The strongest, also surprisingly, were Blake Lewis and Melinda Doolittle, both of whom totally rocked us, and the house. Coming in right behind them, leaving little slack, were LaKisha Jones and Phil Stacey.

Ryan Seacrest opened by announcing that Idol Gives Back had collected just under $70 million to date, quite an impressive number. That number should guarantee that the charity effort becomes an annual event. A scan of the audience revealed Gina Glocksen, whom Ryan later introduced, and, gasp, semi-finalist Antonella Barba, who, fortunately, was not introduced. A glimpse of her was more than enough to give us an earache flashback.

First up was Phil Stacey singing "Blaze of Glory," which he said he grew up singing, practicing in front of a mirror. Stacey seems to have had a performing and personality transplant over the past three weeks. Starting the song from the audience, his performance was, once again, solid from the get-go -- on pitch and strong. He interacted with audience members and Randy Jackson at the judges' table. One thing is for sure: If by chance Phil gets eliminated this week, he will, as he sang, be "going down in a blaze of glory." Randy said, "I think other than country week, this is your best performance ever on this show." We disagree. This was Phil's best performance so far. Country was the genre that brought Phil to life and he had great fun with it, but his voice has never been better than last night. Paula Abdul enthusiastically added, "This is the best opening I think we've had all season long." But Simon Cowell, who predicted that Phil and Chris Richardson would be eliminated this week when he appeared on Ellen DeGeneres' show, put a damper on the praise with, "I didn't hear any authenticity. I thought in the middle you were like a bad actor playing a role."

Bull. Phil could go anyway this week, since the votes will be added to last week's totals and the bottom 2 vote-getters will be eliminated, but it really felt as if Simon was pushing his "I predicted Phil and Chris will go" agenda. Watch video below:

With the show starting this well, we couldn't wait to hear Jordin Sparks, who we had heard was the first to jump on a Bon Jovi song title and who we expected to be one of the strongest singers this week. Not. Looking like she had been coiffed by Gina Glocksen into the Bride of Frankenstein (all she needed were for those red streaks in her hair to turn white) or had stuck her finger in a socket, she had her worst performance with "Livin' on a Prayer." She couldn't hit the low notes in the verses, only slightly redeeming herself with the higher notes of the chorus, which she occasionally screamed. It came close to a train wreck ... and she freely admitted it to the judges.

But even if she places last this week (unlikely because of her fan base), she is virtually safe from elimination because of her strong performance last week, which, more than likely, placed her at or near the top on a night when 70 million votes were cast. Randy, normally all over Jordin with praise, went easy on her with, "It wasn't your best." Duh, ya think? Paula, also not wanting to dump on her adorable golden girl, turned the frown upside down with, "I give credit, because you went for it even knowing it was a little bit out of your range." Simon, telling the audience to cue the booing in advance, this time called it like it was (instead of how he wanted it to be), saying, "First of all, the look, it was like something out of the Addams family, the hair. As for the singing, Jordin, it was just out of control, it was verging on shrieking at times." True that. Watch video below:

The train wreck that we did anticipate was LaKisha Jones, but Kiki kept her locomotive firmly on the track. She shocked us and, we think, the judges with her incredible rendition of "This Ain't a Love Song," which Bon Jovi said he was glad she found because it was a soul singer's song. Before singing, she did one of those viewer qnas, first telling Ryan that she didn't want to sit because she "wanted the camera to get her slim side." After laughing, we realized she does look a lot slimmer this week, wearing black jeans with a black sleeveless top cut through the center with a band of red satin and lace that actually emphasized that she had a waist instead of making her look heavier. She then told Seacrest she was ready to bring a little sumpn' sumpn' -- and boy did she.

It was one of best performances, second only perhaps to her opening week salvo, "And I Am Telling You, I'm Not Going." Or maybe even better! It was a thrilling performance and the judges gave her love for the first time in weeks. Randy said "You proved you can sing tonight." while Paula gushed, "You did give everyone a little sumpn', sumpn' " and that her voice's low and bottom tones were money in her pocket. But when Simon enthused, "Lakisha, I actually could kiss you after that," she motioned c'mon and Ryan walked her right down to the judges' table so he could prove it, and he happily did, saying "on the lips" (though he was wiping lipstick off his mouth for the next few minutes). He then told her that he loved that she rose to the challenge and absolutely nailed it, trailing off with, "And nice lips, nice lips, I love them." Watch video below:

This was turning into a great evening, and it was about to become a whole lot better when Blake Lewis demonstrated that beatboxing can remake a great song into a different, but just as great song. Coming out looking like a bad boy with black-dyed hair, it's almost impossible to describe what he did with "You Give Love a Bad Name." This is one where if you didn't see it, you need to watch the video right now:

Bon Jovi said there was great charm in the rendition, but knew that Blake was rolling the dice and taking a huge risk by so altering a beloved song and turning it into something new. But Blake said, "If you don't take risks in life, you'll never see anything new." And boy it was a risk worth taking. It was probably THE performance of the season for the show. Randy said, "I will give you the award for the most original version of a song ever on American Idol, and you took a leap of faith, and guess what dawg, you won." Paula, after telling Blake that Simon's mom, who was in the audience, had been rocking to the song, added, "This was amazing, this was your night." Simon probably correctly pronounced that half the audience will absolutely hate it, while the other half will love it, then added that "I think that was absolutely the right thing to do. I think you're a very brave young man, and you took a massive risk, and this is what is going to keep you in the competition next week." You go, Blake.

Unfortunately for Chris Richardson, his performance of "Wanted Dead or Alive" not only became the bland margarine in the middle of a tasty Blake Lewis-Melinda Doolittle sandwich (anyone appearing between those two last night was doomed by comparison), it also had to stand comparison with Chris Daughtry's rendition last year -- and no one wants to be compared to Daughtry (Chris said he knew Daughtry did the song last season, but that you can't have a Bon Jovi night and not do that song). So, in what otherwise might have been deemed one of Richardson's better performances, in which he sounded neither nasally or pitchy, it received a moderate reception from the audience and only mild praise from the judges.

Things started off poorly when Bon Jovi noted that Chris was having trouble remembering the words and needed to find the blues element to the song. Moving into the Coca-Cola qna area, things continued to slide downhill, after Ryan asked Richardson what he tells himself before coming out onstage. Chris said he tells himself "Just have fun. Make it like it's the last ... [Chris catches what he's about to say, and switches gears] Just have fun ..." Randy, who usually gives Chris a tongue bath, said, "That was nice, baby, I liked that." Paula generalized with, "This has turned out to be a great night [but not for you, Chris]," while Simon put it right out there: "I think you did as much as you could possibly do with that song, because Chris, this is not your style of music." Well, it could be his type of music, but the competition killed him. Watch video below:

But then, who the hell would have thought that Melinda Doolittle -- MELINDA DOLITTLE? -- could rock the house with, well, rock? And rock it she did in the pimp spot, turning all her class into sass and attitude with "Have a Nice Day." Surprised? We shouldn't be by now with Melinda, who's proving that there's no genre she can't carry off. Randy said "I don't know if it was your best performance, but it's definitely a great performance again," with Paula adding, "You're a rock star." Simon said "I thought it was like a young Tina Turner. I don’t know the song that well, but I thought vocally in a different league than everyone else tonight." Well, almost as good as Blake, who definitely was in a different league tonight. Watch video below:

Before we go into this week's rankings, it should be said that if Chris Richardson had been eliminated last week (as he deserved to be), we think the second person booted tonight might be in question. But because LaKisha's performance was lacking last week, and because those votes will be added to this week's total (which will include far less total votes), even though she was great this week, the combining of the two-week vote totals will push her out of contention. Phil's continued stronger performances, plus his backing from, should keep him in it until next week. Our only question at this point: Will it be an all-girl finale, or will Blake be facing off against either Melinda or Jordin?

Our Top 2 in descending order: Blake Lewis, Melinda Doolittle

Our Bottom 2 in descending order: Jordin Sparks, Chris Richardson

Our Middle, in descending order: Phil Stacey and LaKisha Jones (tie)

America's Bottom 3: Chris Richardson, LaKisha Jones, Phil Stacey

Voted off: Chris Richardson, LaKisha Jones

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