The theme for Tuesday (March 27) night’s American Idol performance episode was announced as Pop Music. Then producer Nigel Lythgoe narrowed it down to any music that influenced the night’s guest mentor, Gwen Stefani. But at least three of the performers opted to sing No Doubt songs, which implies that Stefani’s biggest influence is herself, with a little Donna Summer and Police on the side. It made for an oddly limited night of songs.
Singer: LaKisha Jones
Song: "Last Dance"
My Take: LaKisha has mostly stuck to a simple formula this season — walk to center stage, clutch the mic, belt. Part of the reason for that is that she has a difficult time maintaining her breathing when she moves too much, a problem that strikes the second the song picks up. Eventually, she finds control and her performance is solid, albeit not nearly as exciting as the Spider-Man 3 trailer that immediately follows.
Dusty Bottoms, Lucky Day and Simon Say: Randy declares that LaKisha was like a fly diva. Paula thought she did well with the tough Donna Summer material. Simon loved LaKisha’s boots and announces that she’s 30 years younger this week.
Singer: Chris Sligh
Song: "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic"
My Take: Who knew that Chris Sligh had a so-so Sting impression in his back pocket? He starts sharp and nasally, which isn’t pleasant. It gets worse. Stefani warned that the tempo would be Chris’ problem and she proves a wise soothsayer. Initially it’s the brutal reverb that throws Chris off, less than 10 seconds in. Then the background singers chime in, but they’re singing with the band and not with Chris. He’s not even close and it becomes uncomfortable to listen to. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen an Idol contestant get so lost and do so little to try to correct the problems.
Dusty Bottoms, Lucky Day and Simon Say: Randy liked the song choice, but calls Chris on the tempo problems. [It can’t be a good song choice if it’s a song he couldn’t sing, Randy.] Paula compares it to an auditory eyesore. Simon calls it a mess. Three people boo, all probably related to Chris. The curly-haired clown goes, "My bad."
Singer: Gina Glocksen
Song: "I’ll Stand By You"
My Take: Gina’s lucky to be following Chris. Still reeling from the Police brutality, I’m on edge, but Gina sets me right by being completely competent. She’s reassuringly on-beat and the notes are in tune. She looks great in a short skirt and high boots and though this is far from her most performatively dynamic turn, it’s her most vocally assured. The crowd roars in appreciation and relief.
Dusty Bottoms, Lucky Day and Simon Say: "This must be boot night," Randy announces before calling it one of her best performances ever. Paula says that Gina is improving each week (a blatant falsehood) and calls it her best to date. Simon’s all "Gina, it wasn’t one of your best performances," everybody boos, "It was your best performance." Oh Simon, you wily prankster! He adds that the comparison between Gina a few weeks ago is literally "chalk to cheese."
Singer: Sanjaya Malakar
My Take: I am loving Stefani. She basically rolls her eyes and says that the song will probably be too hard for Sanjaya, but it was his choice. Also his choice? A faux-hawk comprised of a long row of individual ponytails. Sanjaya’s demeanor suggests that he’s trying to have fun tonight, but his vocals are flat and inexpressive. Because we have low standards for Sanjaya, I’d say this was among his best moments, but that may have something to do with the fact that I keep needing to repress what came before. I’d planned to make Ashley the Crying Fan into a running joke, but she’s already become an overexposed little tweener.
Dusty Bottoms, Lucky Day and Simon Say: Randy calls the hairdo interesting and admits that he’s speechless. Paula thinks Sanjaya didn’t quite go for it enough. "Well, I presume there was no mirror in your dressing room tonight," Simon begins. Sanjaya responds, "You’re just jealous you couldn’t pull it off." Simon throws up his arms and says that there’s nothing he can say that will make any difference with "If people like you, good luck."
Singer: Haley Scarnato
Song: "True Colors"
My Take: Haley starts by sitting on the edge of the stage, with the cameraman noticeably creeping towards her, equipment aimed low to check if he could see up her short skirt. That’s another public service from the network that brought you The Littlest Groom. The answer? No. But enough objectification. Time to look away from the screen and just listen. It turns out that Haley’s voice is very thin, but she sounds nice enough. She also seems to have taken Stefani’s advice to mostly just sing the song. Sight unseen, I would describe her performance as simple, not unpleasant and inoffensive, defined mostly in the absence of glaring negatives.
Dusty Bottoms, Lucky Day and Simon Say: Randy wasn’t jumping up and down. It was just aight for him. Paula wanted a younger performance, rather than adult contemporary. Simon calls it "sweet, but forgettable." Haley gives a big smile and bats her eyelashes.
Singer: Phil Stacey
Song: "Every Breath You Take"
My Take: Oh look! Phil has a Sting impression too! The difference is that Phil’s impression is a good one. It’s sad how much better Phil is than Chris. He sticks to the rhythm and sounds good. My only reservation is that a dude as borderline-creepy as Phil can sometimes be ought to think twice about singing stalking songs.
Dusty Bottoms, Lucky Day and Simon Say: Randy thought it was solid. Paula thinks Phil lives in the Magical Land of the Chorus (populated by dwarves and goblins). Simon says it was very good and the first time he’s believed Phil was trying.
Singer: Melinda Doolittle
Song: "Heaven Knows"
My Take: The not-quite-theme has yielded a night of dueling performances. First, Phil thumped Chris on The Police. Now Melinda takes LaKisha behind the woodshed on Donna Summer. We call that throwing down the gauntlet. She’s engaging from the first word to the last. My worry is that the Idol makeover specialists haven’t cracked Melinda’s look. If somebody has no neck, do you dress them in outfits that don’t have a neckline or do you find other ways of covering? I don’t have an answer, but I guess the Idol stylists have to keep on trying.
Dusty Bottoms, Lucky Day and Simon Say: Randy raves that Melinda is living the words and that she was the bomb again. Paula adds that she had charisma from the word "Go." Simon didn’t like the outfit and says that this won’t be Melinda’s defining performance. He reluctantly admits that she sounded outstanding.
Singer: Blake Lewis
My Take: It’s such a peppy version on this not-so-peppy Cure song. Blake may not come close to the depth of emotion the song deserves, but after hating him last week, I’m going to credit him for just singing the melody and keeping it relatively simple.
Dusty Bottoms, Lucky Day and Simon Say: Randy wasn’t jumping up and down. Paula wants to see Blake in the finale, calling him the dark-horse, making the competition hip and contemporary. Simon says Blake is the strongest guy in the competition, but that he may be entering the Chris Daughtry Zone of getting indulgent and boring. I don’t see Blake entering that other Chris Daughtry Zone — you know, the multi-platinum one — but that’s just me.
Singer: Jordin Sparks
Song: "Hey Baby"
My Take: I like Stefani admitting with Jordin, as with Melinda, that we’re dealing with people who may sing better than she does. But Stefani’s great gift is combining her strong voice with boundless enthusiasm. Jordin’s in a pickle on this song, because the verses are a bit lower than where she’s comfortable and the tempo’s a bit rough. In addition, the background singers do most of the chorus. That means that Jordin, like Stefani, has to let her personality carry her. [She sounds better on a second listen.]
Dusty Bottoms, Lucky Day and Simon Say: Randy says that she can sing anything. Paula calls her adorable, hip and young. Jordin gets Simon’s Most Improved award, presumably for the competition as a whole, since she was better last week.
Singer: Chris Richardson
Song: "Don’t Speak"
My Take: I guess Melinda can’t get the anchor slot every week, but I don’t know why they thought Chris was worthy for this. Has anybody ever said "You know, I like ‘Don’t Speak,’ but isn’t quite cutesy enough’? Chris approaches the song with a high, breathless whisper. With the help of the band, he’s drained this song of any funky edge that it may once have had and it’s just been diluted in pure one-man boy band fashion. I could have done without his squinting, finger-waving on the chorus.
Dusty Bottoms, Lucky Day and Simon Say: Randy liked his flava on the song, as well as his twist. Paula calls him good several times. Simon liked the arrangement, but wasn’t crazy about the vocals.
TONIGHT’S BEST: I’m going with Melinda, followed by Phil, LaKisha and Gina.
IN DANGER: Sure, Sanjaya was Sanjaya, but Chris Sligh was the night’s worst. He was bad enough to make the Bottom Three, but I wonder if Haley — immediately forgettable — will be eliminated instead.
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