I was at an event the other night where they showed us an edited version of last year’s Idol finale and I found myself wondering: Is there a single guy this season on the level of Taylor Hicks, Elliott Yamin or Chris Daughtry?
Short answer — Nope.
Maybe Tuesday (March 6) night’s American Idol performance episode will feature a breakout performance from one of the Top Eight Men…
Singer: Blake Lewis
Song: "All Mixed Up"
My Take: Will Jimmy Walker Blue, Blake’s redneck alter ego cost him votes in the key Southern States? He probably should. This is another entirely unexpected artist selection from Blake, somehow trying to tailor 311 to the Idol format. The vocal turntablism is fun as usual, but it’s just a low-key mimeograph of the original. This is the first time I’ve felt that Blake was basically coming across as the lead singer of the kind of band that plays frat parties and really wants to do its own stuff, but has to whip out a few lackadaisical covers for the drunken masses.
Melchior, Balthasar and Simon Say: Randy, who’s never heard the song, loved how current it is. Paula also didn’t know the song, but liked it. Hmmm… How hip. The song comes off a 1995 album. Simon didn’t understand a word of the song, but says Blake stands out and that it wasn’t karaoke. How would Simon know if it sounded like karaoke if he doesn’t know the song?
Singer: Sanjaya Malakar
Song: "Waiting On the World to Change"
My Take: Sanjaya caters to the all-powerful Hawaiian voting block by showing off his hula skillz. What’s next, a shout-out to Camile Velasco? After mis-rocking the Corey Clark ponytail last week, Sanjaya has ironed his hair tonight. It’s quite straight and well-conditioned. Bravo and well-coiffed, Sanjaya. If I keep talking about his hair can I just not address the performance? He’s now had three straight weeks without showing a second of emotion, without building to a single powerful note and without putting his stamp on a single moment.
Melchior, Balthasar and Simon Say: Randy calls him on his lack of energy and wonders where Sanjaya’s spark went. Paula doesn’t agree completely, but sure agrees mostly. Simon’s good news is that it wasn’t as ghastly as last week and suggests that Sanjaya’s hair might be keeping him in.
Singer: Sundance Head
My Take: Ugh. Is anything more 1993 than an awful Eddie Vedder impression? It’s just a shrieky version of what every guy I knew in high school used to think was a flawless Pearl Jam voice. We were wrong. Sundance doesn’t get any favors from an arrangement that seems to pick up at an arbitrary point mid-verse and the background chorus of red-shirted "Hoot"-ing African-American women is just hilarious.
Melchior, Balthasar and Simon Say: Randy, though, found it kind of hot and appreciated the try. Paula says he pulled into his Sundance groove mid-way through. Simon thought he lost his charm and became a generic bar singer. Sundance argues that the shouting-over-singing style was true to the original. He’s wrong.
Singer: Chris Richardson
Song: "Tonight I Wanna Cry"
My Take: Taking a one-week hiatus from bouncing around like a boy without a boy band was a good choice for Chris. The Keith Urban track isn’t forgiving to Chris’ early pitchiness and there’s a flatness to the entire performance. I’ll try to pretend that that was intentional, since he’s been so animated in the past. I’m still waiting for Chris’ voice to sound as good as it did in the first audition.
Melchior, Balthasar and Simon Say: Randy is loving things about everybody and he throws out the in-it-to-win-it idiocy. Who isn’t in it to win it, exactly? And what, pray tell, are those folks in it for? The chance to be used as cheap labor on future Ford commercials? You’re getting boring, dawg. Paula thought Chris adapted well. Simon criticizes Chris’ voice as timid and nasally, but says he sold it.
Singer: Jared Cotter
Song: "If You Really Love Me"
My Take: Imagine taking a complicated figure skating routine and turning all the triples to singles, but still finding yourself rear-down on the ice and you’d get an idea of the Stevie Wonder arrangement Jared scored. It’s in a lower octave and most of the melodic highs and lows have been smoothed out into something unrecognizable and unremarkable. We’re five singers in and tonight has been dismal.
Melchior, Balthasar and Simon Say: Randy calls it solid. Whoa. Paula goes dark and tells him that Jared needs to learn to color his performances. Simon thinks it wasn’t original enough. He’s slightly disappointed.
Singer: Brandon Rogers
Song: "I Just Want to Celebrate"
My Take: Brandon’s got a fine voice and he may have soul, but he has only a limited amount of funk. What little funk he has, he leaves on the stage tonight. If Chris had to prove that he could go into a coma this week, Brandon had to prove he could break out of his coma. The arrangement is jaunty, the "Hoot" women are singing along, the director is cutting around the stage. It’s here that the former film grad student in me wants to reference the Kuleshov Effect, because I think an illusion of dynamism has been created by forces external to Brandon, by the editing and the music and the photograph. He’s as placid as ever.
Melchior, Balthasar and Simon Say: Randy’s conflicted and it was solid. Paula, though, dubs it phenomenal. Simon had high hopes for Brandon, but doesn’t think he represented well.
Singer: Phil Stacey
Song: "I Need You"
My Take: It’s another "Phil sounds funny and mumbly until he gets to
the chorus and breaks out" performance. Unlike the first week, though, I don’t think his recovery on the chorus is enough. Most of the notes are shrill and blown out of his nose.
Melchior, Balthasar and Simon Say: Randy says the high notes are good, but the lower stuff isn’t and compares him (weirdly) to Steve Perry of Journey. Paula didn’t like the song choice. Simon didn’t get it, finding fault with the hat and his eyes and the song and several other things.
Singer: Chris Sligh
Song: "Wanna Be Loved"
My Take: Did we learn a single interesting fact about the men from their secrets? The fat kids were skinny. The skinny kids used to be fat. The kids with big hair used to be bald. The kids who are bald used to have big hair. Any chance that Antonella Barba discusses her appreciation for Washington’s finer war memorials? That would be fun. Oh and Chris is OK. He shouts over an esoteric track that wasn’t very good in its DC Talk original. He barely sings at all and yet he earned the night’s pimp slot.
Melchior, Balthasar and Simon Say: It wasn’t Randy’s favorite song choice, but he gives Chris the vocal prize of the night. Paula wants Chris to rise above rather than be comfortable in the middle. Simon thought Chris shouted in the middle, but he did enough to make it through.
TONIGHT’S BEST: Oh my. Blake started the night with mediocre 10-year-old karaoke and an hour later, he stands out as the show’s best? Randy, Paula and Simon agree that no more than three or four men deserve to be in the Top 12. That’s being generous.
IN DANGER: This is tough, since we can’t eliminate five people (I’d let both Chrises and Blake stay and start fresh from there). Sanjaya and Sundance deserve to go home, but probably won’t. Instead, my hunch is that Phil and Jared are in trouble, but Brandon should be nervous as well.
Agree? Disagree? Did you find kernels of brilliance in any of tonight’s performances?