Wednesday, March 18, 2009

American Idol Season 8
Top 11 Grand Ole Opry Week

Watching Season 8's Grand Ole Opry Week, mentored by country great Randy Travis, was an exercise in futility and mediocrity. Frankly, we saw better performances on the just concluded Season 3 of CMT's "Gone Country," wherein such unlikely contestants as 62-year-old former Monkee Mickey Dolenz, master of funk George Clinton, former Miss USA Tara Conner and actor-turned-singer Richard Grieco attempted to "go country." Even Season 1 Idol Justin Guarini shined in comparison to the current crop of Idols. We hope "Idol's" producers aren't relying too heavily on that iTunes income, 'cause there wasn't a single performance we'd consider shelling out 99 cents for.

No doubt, the most talked about performances will be those of Anoop Desai, who rose like a phoenix from the ashes with one of the best numbers of the night, and Adam Lambert, whose bizarre Middle Eastern take on a Johnny Cash classic was simultaneously mesmerizing and repellent.

Also worth discussing: Paula Abdul's inability to complete a coherent sentence all evening. Yet, she wouldn't shut up and babbled on incessantly. Almost as unbearable was the bickering among the judges. But worst of all is this trend of the contestants to talk back when they are being judged. Last season Brooke White turned her critiques into discussions and, much to our distaste, the idea seems to have taken wing. On Tuesday, nearly every singer felt the need to explain themselves or make a wisecrack. Lil Rounds might have spoken even more than the judges during her critiquing period. As Judge Judy would say, "This is not a give and take." So contestants, shut up and listen. You're there to sing, the judges are there to evaluate. And speaking of the judges, can we lose their la-de-dah entrance from behind a curtain at the top of the show? That, as well as Ryan Seacrest descending the grand staircase as if he was a god descending from the heavens, is way too precious and pretentious.

Opening the show was Texas oil-rig worker Michael Sarver. We were betting that he would do great with this genre, but his song choice -- Garth Brooks' "Ain't Goin' Down Til the Sun Comes Up" -- baffled us. Instead of showcasing Sarver's voice or range, it demonstrated that he has a great ability to memorize lyrics, as the song contains perhaps a thousand words sung at rapid speed. There was very very little melody involved. Bleh. Randy Jackson thinks it is a fun song but doesn't bring out Michael's vocal capabilities. Kara DioGuardi likes that we got to see Michael's personality but misses his big notes. At that point, Michael's smile goes flat. He decides to jump in and answer back, saying, among other things, that "country music is about fun." Well, Michael we didn't have much, and your remarks make it even less so. Paula combines about 42 half-thoughts into one sentence, concluding with "this is the genre that suits you well." Simon Cowell says he couldn't understand a single word Michael was singing (Michael interjects again here) and that he could have been singing in Norwegian. Another interjection. Simon continues, "I thought it was a bit clumsy ... and this could have been karaoke night at a country-western club." Michael retorts, "If we were all perfect, we wouldn't need this show." The audience goes wild and Randy says, "Good one," while we're thinking, SHUT UP Michael. Ryan asks Simon, "Did you like it or not?" Simon answers, "On a scale of 1-10, I'd give it 1.2." Michael feels compelled to open his mouth one final time. He turns to Ryan and says laughing, "It wasn't zero." Whoa, way harsh, Simon. We'd give it at least a 2.2. Though, considering Sarver's back talk, perhaps Cowell was being generous.

Watch video of Michael Sarver singing "Ain't Goin' Down Til the Sun Comes Up"

Allison Iraheta is like an uncut, unpolished gem. She has great vocals, but the voters can't see through to them because her song selections tend to be obscure and her appearance needs refining. For example, we loved her version of Patty Loveless' "Blame It on Your Heart," but her score is second to last and she stands a strong chance of being eliminated tonight. It's a shame, as there are few females left and her distinctive, rock-tinged voice alone makes a compelling argument for her to remain in the competition. Kara says she is beginning to think that Allison could sing the alphabet and sing it well. It's a stupid twist on the phone book analogy when you think about it, Kara, 'cause every child sings the alphabet. She adds, "You bring your own spin to everything and you really made that song your own." Paula, in a lucid moment, calls it "Another rock solid performance by Allison," but encourages her to experiment with other sides of her vocals that make her more vulnerable. Simon calls it good but a little tuneless in parts, and thinks it looked as if Allison was struggling to remember the words. He asks, "Were you?" Allison tells him, no, that she's known the song since she was 8 years old. He concludes by calling her "rock solid verging on precocious," whatever that means. Randy says, "I didn't think it was precocious at all. I thought it was dope!"

Watch video of Allison Iraheta singing "Blame It on Your Heart"

Kris Allen left his guitar behind to sing Garth Brooks "To Make You Feel My Love," a ballad which made good use of his sweet tender vocals. Yet, it left us wanting something more. Truth be told, we were a bit bored by the end of his performance. The judges however were more enthusiastic. Paula calls it an honest, pure and vulnerable performance. Simon says it was terrific, that it was a great choice of song and that Kris was completely in control of the song. But Cowell saves his highest praise for last: That for the first time he thinks Kris has a really good shot at doing well in the competition. Randy likes that Kris showcased his vocals, calling it "tender moments from my dawg Kris." Simon seems amused by this, changing it to "tender dawg" and later to "tender puppy." Kara says, "I didn't even know it was Opryland when I was hearing that. It wasn't even country, it was just beautiful." What is wrong with Kara? Does she not know that country is comprised of many sounds, not just twangin' geetars? Ugh!

Watch video of Kris Allen singing "To Make You Feel My Love"

Lil Rounds wants to show everyone that she's more than just an R&B artist, she wants to prove she can go country. We just wish she hadn't chosen to do it with Martina McBride's "Independence Day." It's one of Carrie Underwood's great performances that is etched into our head. So though Lil soared on the second half of the song with its power notes, the first half left a lot to be desired. Randy felt the same way, saying he found himself struggling with the front part but that it got a little bit better when she hit the power zone, concluding with, "It didn't feel comfortable for me on you." Lil interjects to explain her choice of song. Randy answers her, and Lil turns it into a discussion. Kara says, "You did what you felt and that's part about being an artist -- standing your ground." Well maybe it is, but it didn't work too well for Kelly Clarkson with "My December," and she's well-established and a far better singer than Lil. Kara ends with, "So I give you props for that. Is it the best performance? Not your best. But good for standing your ground." Tell Lil that when she stands her ground and her first LP sells 10,000 copies. Paula says everything's going right for Lil tonight, that her vocals are spot-on (not even close) and that the hair, makeup and clothing are beautiful (agreed). She then contradicts herself by saying that Lil should have sung only one verse instead of two (which is so wrong, 'cause this is a story song), so that she could have hit the soaring vocals earlier. So, then, perhaps everything wasn't going right for Lil tonight, Paula? Then Simon totally stuns us by calling Lil "Little." Paula stops him and says, "Little?" He answers, "Lil, Little, it's the same thing." Er, no it's not, Simon. He then starts with Little again, Kara says "Lil," he says "Little, Lil, which is short for Little." No, it's not. Her name isn't Lil', or Li'l it's Lil, which is most likely short for Lillian, if it's short for anything. She's not Li'l Abner, or Lil' Kim or Lil Wayne. Ugh! What is wrong with Simon? He then compares her to a wedding singer who has to sing a song request she's not comfortable with, saying what they originally liked about her was her Mary J. Blige rawness. Kara starts to respond to this and then Lil jumps in again, too. Enough! Can each judge not state an opinion without being argued with by the other judges and the contestant? We had to smirk, though, when Simon raised his hand during Lil's unending remarks (and his critique time) with, "May I talk, Little?" He went on to say "I thought that just wasn't you."

Watch video of Lil Rounds singing "Independence Day"

The night's most bizarre performance award goes to Adam Lambert, who, as we noted above, did a Middle Eastern sitar-driven turn on Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire." Randy Travis had good reason to have trepidations about this. When Adam told Travis he had found a different take (Dilana's from "Rock Star Supernova") on the song he wanted to do, we immediately thought of Chris Daughtry's wonderful transformation of Cash's "I Walk the Line." But, no. Even something like Dilana's version (and we love everything Dilana does) was way too pedestrian for showman Lambert. Way before Simon got the chance to say "self-indulgent" we were thinking it, along with over-the-top theatrical and WTF. The high notes were ridiculous. Yet as we sat there mesmerized, we couldn't decide whether we liked it or hated it. It certainly held our attention. Kara *shock* finds it all a little strange and got so flustered trying to critique it she finally just gave up, saying it left her confused but kind of happy. Paula calls Adam true to himself as an artist, and says she loves the Middle Eastern sitar sounds. Simon brings things back down to earth with "I think there are a lot of people throwing their television sets out their windows at this point," then calls it "absolute indulgent rubbish" and "really really horrific." But Randy jumps in to defend Adams and says if Nine Inch Nails did a country song this is what it would sound like. He deems it current, young, fresh and hot. Well, alrighty, then.

Watch video of Adam Lambert singing "Ring of Fire"

What are the chances that Scott MacIntyre can go just one week without singing about faith or angels? Our guess? Zero. Every week, it feels like the same saccharine-sweet inspirational song and we weren't loving it the first time we heard it. It makes us hope that they'll have a Satan theme week, just to put an end to it. This time round it was Martina McBride's "Wild Angels" (whoa, is Scott getting reckless, LOL). Even Randy Travis seems to think it's an ill-advised choice. We tuned out through it, but Paula calls it a lovely performance and tells Scott that he's one of the hardest-working performers on that stage (patronizing). However, she's concerned that the piano is becoming a bit of a crutch now, and that it separates Scott from the audience. Scott retorts, "We can move it closer." Paula's remark was not meant to be insensitive to Scott's sight problems with working the stage, but Simon seems to take it that way, telling Paula, "What do you expect him to do?" and then "It was a stupid thing to say." They then call each other disrespectful and get into an annoyingly protracted argument. Simon tells Scott that his song last week and this week are very similar and that he's not choosing good-enough songs. Scott interjects(!) "I've also lost a lot of hat picks" (hmmm, so the performances are based on song choices picked from a hat? That kinda sucks, doesn't it?). Simon continues saying that Scott is picking songs "that just do a little bit of that [making a hand motion over his head], going over my head and I forget them afterwards." Paula jumps in with "That's disrespectful," apparently referring to the hand gesture Simon made and that Scott couldn't see. Simon misunderstands and says, "That's not disrespectful" and their argument begins anew. But what has truly gone over Simon's head is the fact that Scott is saying he doesn't have a lot of freedom in choosing his songs. Randy says it's not the song choices that bother him, he's missing the hot crazy vocals that he hasn't seen from Scott the past two weeks because "this is a singing competition," to which Simon chimes in, "thank you." Well bust my buttons and call me shorty. When did it become a singing competition again for Simon? Two weeks ago, during the Wild Card round, he told us it wasn't just a singing competition. Kara tells Scott, "What everyone is saying is that we want you to up your game a little bit" but that "you bring class and poise to that stage" (patronizing) as Paula yells out, "Yes, you do!" (patronizing). Oy!

Watch video of Scott MacIntyre singing "Wild Angels"

Alexis Grace says she wants to show her softer side with Dolly Parton's "Jolene," and we think she did a pretty nice job of it, though we did miss some of those knock-it-out-of-the-park notes. The rest of America apparently missed them a lot more than we did. Alexis surprisingly sits at the bottom of the pile. We can't believe the producers will let her escape the summer tour, so our thinking is if she is the one to be eliminated tonight, the judges' save will be employed and they'll gloatingly ask us, "Now aren't you happy we have a judges' save?" To which we'll reply, "No." If America thinks Alexis isn't worthy of moving on, then she shouldn't, regardless of her talent. Certainly nobody held back from voting last night because they were confident she was safe. If she's in last place it's because America thought she should be. Randy says he wasn't sure if she "hit the notes quick well," noting there were pitch problems and that Alexis tried to bend the song too much in a bluesy way that didn't work. He also says it was a good song choice but not a great performance. Of course, Alexis has to interject an explanation here (shut up, shut up, shut up). Kara says, "I think you lost your edge a bit" and then makes some of her stupid song suggestions that she thinks would have been better. "Before You Cheat"? Give us a break. Kara says she wants something edgy that brings out the angst in Alexis. We repeat: "Before You Cheat"? She ends with, "It was just a little flat for me." Paula thinks it was a good song choice and enjoyed the vulnerable soft side of Alexis. Simon rolls his eyes during her critique. Another interjection by Alexis. Simon says, "I thought it was OK. I thought it was a little bit sound-alike." Alexis asks "What does sound-alike mean?" Duh! What does low IQ mean? What does she think it means? Simon explains, "It means you sound like the person you're trying to sing." She says "Oh, OK." She should have asked for the English translation: It sounds like the same version of the song as the artist who originally performed it. Simon also tells her he thinks it's one of those performances that's going to be forgotten in about 10 minutes. She pleads, "No, please don't. Please don't forget about it." But America did.

Watch video of Alexis Grace singing "Jolene"

We wonder why Danny Gokey tends to select songs popularized by female artists -- Lee Ann Womack's "I Hope You Dance" during Hollywood Week, Mariah Carey's "Hero" during the Top 36 Round 1 and this week's "Jesus Take the Wheel" by Carrie Underwood? Is it so the ladies will love him? Or so he can't easily be compared to the original? Whatever the reason, it seems to work for him. (And yes, we know, Scott sang a Martina McBride song.) We thought he had moments during his rendition, but much prefer the original. For us, it was probably Danny's weakest performance. Yet, the audience went wild and there he is once again on the top of's results. He remains America's No. 1 widower. Kara says, "The front half of that performance for me was not spectacular, but halfway through it was 'Here comes Danny' ... and went straight up. And I wish I had 10 minutes of that and not the first half." Paula disagreed, saying "I love when artists build a story," adding that he was brilliant (not) and that Carrie Underwood would not only approve, she'd go out and buy that record. Paula, reality check. We wouldn't even go out and buy that record. Simon, surprisingly after their earlier tiffs, agrees with Paula, saying, "You can't start a song full on, you've got to have a little bit of light and shade." Simon's only problem is with what Danny is wearing. Danny, as usual with Simon, is self-deprecating, making fun of his own outfit, much as he made fun of his own dancing last week after Simon bashed him for it. Randy splits the panel by agreeing with Kara, saying that the verses were pitchy and that Danny didn't support them enough (we need our Randy-English dictionary for the last), but that he was blazing through the rest of the song.

Watch video of Danny Gokey singing "Jesus Take the Wheel"

Next came the biggest surprise of the evening. Just as we were about to write off Anoop Desai as the mostly likely contestant to be voted off the show, he comes back like gangbusters with a compelling and different interpretation of Willie Nelson's iconic "You Were Always on My Mind." It was the best we've ever heard him sing and he finally convinced us that he was more than just a really likable guy. He actually possesses as good a voice as the rest of the contestants, and better than some. He doesn't need to rely on posturing and gimmicks to survive. He can use his voice. Paula announces, "Anoop is back!" She tells him she is proud of him for picking a song that allowed him to have his own interpretation of it and that it fit him like a glove, adding that his "tender, amazing, sweet vocals" touched her heart. Simon says, "Anoop, you just managed to go from zero to hero. That was a good choice of song. Actually, in a way, that was one of my favorite performances of the whole night. You know what, Anoop? Good for you that you can take a bit of a kicking last week -- which was thoroughly deserved -- By the way I take back what I said, you definitely deserve to be in this show. But you didn't kind of whine about it. You just took the good advice [pointing to his own chest], did something about it, chose a great song, delivered a great vocal. Glad to have you back, Anoop." Randy says Anoop really showed his vocals skills and that he liked the arrangement. Kara calls it the best performance of the night, because it was the biggest surprise.

Watch video of Anoop Desai singing "You Were Always on My Mind"

Megan Joy Corkrey had the flu this week, did, in fact, go to the hospital, and even missed the dress rehearsal. So we must be forgiving in that respect. But she knew what to do to support a flagging voice -- she brought the girls out, big time. Were they really that big every other week, or was it that the halter dress with side embroidery that gave the appearance of hands holding up those boobs made them look so big? Either way, sorry, we still didn't like her rendition of another iconic song, Patsy Cline's "Walking After Midnight." Talk about quirky. For us it was flat, sharp and everything in between. Kellie Pickler's version of the song ran rings around Megan's and Kellie's not that great a singer. The judges, however, thought Megan sounded even better than usual! Maybe it's that sensation where things sound different in the studio than they do on TV. In any event, most of America agreed with us. Megan placed third from last on Randy tells her he thought it would be a trainwreck (it was), but it was actually quite good (it wasn't), that it all really worked (it didn't) and was the perfect choice for her (it wasn't). Kara says, "perfect song, perfect look," then praises her inordinately for performing with the flu. Apparently Kara didn't watch last season when half the contestants performed with the flu. Paula continues with Kara's praise, calling Megan a fighter and a consummate professional. Simon tells her, "You should have flu every week, because you were better this week than you were last week. And you look gorgeous."

Watch video of Megan Joy Corkrey singing "Walking After Midnight"

Matt Giraud captured the pimp spot, and other than Anoop, probably deserved it. His was our second favorite performance of the night. Again, a guy chose to sing a song popularized by a woman, in this case Carrie Underwood's "So Small." Even Randy Travis was a bit disconcerted by the choice, but got with the program after listening to Matt's bluesy version of the song. It wasn't a perfect performance -- Matt doesn't have a perfect voice and there were pitchy parts. Yet, there was something so appealing about the arrangement, the piano playing and, yes, his falsetto, that we really enjoyed it. Kara said, "Matt, there ain't nothing small about you." (Why does everything she says sound so suggestive?) "You're an artist, you're a true talent, your heart pours on that piano, you work the dynamics of that song. Amazing. I love you. I just do." Paula then had trouble trying to spit out the word authenticity. Nevertheless, she applauds the authenticity and honesty Matt brings to his delivery and tells him he has pierced her heart (hope it's not fatal). Simon says, "I don't think you've had enough credit, actually, for your vocals in this competition so far because everyone's been talking about Danny and Adam. I think you're quite similar to Danny. Tonight, I think you outsang him. I genuinely do. It was a great performance. You remind me of Michael Bublé. So I thought that was a terrific performance. One of the best tonight. Well done." Randy calls it his favorite performance of the night because he loves Matt's vocals and says he has mad skillz, ending with, "You got it goin' on, baby."

Watch video of Matt Giraud singing "So Small"

Our Top 3:
Anoop Desai
Matt Giraud
Danny Gokey

Our Bottom 3:
Megan Joy Corkrey
Michael Sarver
Scott MacIntyre

Who should be eliminated: Megan Joy Corkrey
Who will be eliminated: Allison Iraheta

Tonight, Randy Travis and Carrie Underwood sing "I Told You So" (previously a hit for Travis and now a hit single for Underwood), and Brad Paisley performs his new single, "Then."


Want to know where Danny Gokey gets his glasses? Watch this video:

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