Oh, Nashville Star, why would you do such a thing so early in the competition? It’s "Pop Goes Country" night and I don’t think Jewel can save my soul. (Hey, at least I waited three weeks to make that kind of joke.)


The 10 finalists start out with a cover of Madonna’s "Like A Prayer." I feel a wave of dread overcome me. Oh look. A Gospel choir. This hurts my feelings. It’s just so…awkward.

To work on the songs this week, Jeffrey Steele takes the groups to his studio, John Rich takes the ladies to his bar (PLUG!), and Jewel flies the guys out to LA with her because she’s doing a Tonight Show with Jay Leno performance.

1. Gabe Garcia
Song: "Livin’ La Vida Loca" by Ricky Martin

His take on the song makes me think of a Robert Rodriguez movie the way guitar work  in the background has a Flamenco quality to it. Oh. And there’s backup dancers. Wow. Anyway, I thought he did a good job. This is the first week he hasn’t sounded nervous. While he doesn’t have the most…electrifying of stage presences, there’s still a charm to him. All the judges liked it, though Jewel and Jeffrey notes he still needs to loosen it up a little.

2. Pearl Heart
Song: "Love Shack" by The B-52’s

This could be pretty cool…or it could go down in flames. And, thankfully, it ended up being cool. The girls put a Bluegrass spin to it, which I dug, and the harmonies were really great. And they decided to use backup dancers too. The lead (the youngest sister) seems far less nervous, though it may be because the twins are kind of standing in front of her. Jewel gave good advice saying the lead doesn’t have to act like someone else, she just has to be herself. Aside from the now standard stage presence issues, all the judges dug the number.

3. Alyson Gilbert
Song: "I Think We’re Alone Now" by Tiffany

After a solid showing last week, she took a step backwards with a mediocre take on the tune. She had pitch problems at times (which Jewel pointed out) and it just wasn’t that engaging a performance. Both Jeffrey and John also said she didn’t Countrify it enough, though John was the only one to really rip into her.

4. Ashlee Hewitt
Song: "You Drive Me Crazy" by Britney Spears

Risky, risky, risky but it turned out pretty good. Mini-Jewel had solid vocals and pulled it off, though there was a lilt or two I found unnecessary. All the judges liked it, with John adding that she’s really on an upswing.

5. Coffey
Song: "Umbrella" by Rihanna

He’s dedicating the song to his daughter. I think he did a decent job transposing it but the shout-outs at the beginning of the song were…off-putting. Eh. It wasn’t bad but I didn’t love it. Neither did Jeffrey – not enough Country in it for him. John called him a Country-Soul singer, which is accurate, and liked it. Jewel, who tends to be the only person consistently giving constructive criticism, advised to watch where and how many "gimmicky" bits he puts in a song. He explains after that he was saying the lines to help bridge the generation gap between the older fans and their kids so they can both have fun. I appreciate the sentiment but still, eh.

6. Laura & Sophie
Song: "P.Y.T." by Michael Jackson

So, when Jeffrey plays the song, they’re looking along at the lyrics sheet like they don’t recognize it. That’s so sad. But maybe it’s just because they don’t know how it’s going to work. The stage presence is better, though still a bit mellow. It’s a good arrangement and they sing it well, but there was a touchy spot at the unison line (they weren’t entirely in unison). The judges be pleased.

Before we go on with the show, we get a performance from Danity Kane with their hit "Damaged." Huh? But it’s Pop night so okay. What I find interesting is that there is always at least two girls in the group who’s outfits make them look like superheroes. The must not be able to really hear because they’re a little sharp here and there. But they were enjoyable all things considered.

7. Shawn Mayer
Song: "Bye Bye Bye" by N’SYNC

Speaking of risky…geez. She even dances a bit in the last half with two backup dancers. Big stones on this one. Surprisingly, not only do I think it worked, I liked it. Jewel felt the same way but it wasn’t Country enough for Jeffrey (the music did have a lot of Rock to it, but her vocals didn’t). And John commended her for taking such big risks.

8. Melissa Lawson
Song: "True Colors" by Cyndi Lauper

I don’t care what genre it is, this woman can sang. With an "a" not an "i." Her vocals weren’t overworked nor did they smack of desperation, it was just right and very pretty. Should she get the opportunity, she should do a Martina McBride or Wynonna song. Nothing but happy thoughts from the judges.

The Bottom Two:

1. Justin Gaston
Song: "Girls Just Want To Have Fun" by Cyndi Lauper

Really? This song? Wow. But I do appreciate the comedy that he’s singing a chick song the week after John called him sweet. Jewel’s a genius because this dude is 400 times better than the first episode. He cracked on an octave jump and there was a flat note here or there, but still way better. It was definitely a Countrified version. He also had backup dancers. All the judges commend him on his improvement and hope that it’s not too late for him. Jeffrey even said that he wrote down a bunch of mean things to say, but promptely chewed on the paper (you know, to eat his words).

2. Tommy Stanley
Song: "Maniac" by Michael Sembello

Another big risk song. With backup dancers. It wasn’t quite Country but I liked what he did with it. I dig Tommy and I think he’s got a great voice. It’s almost like he’s too versatile for the show. The judges told him that Justin "out Countryed him."

And, after a lot of to-do and dead air, the viewers have decided to send Justin home. Anyone surprised? But I must congratulate him on improving so much and not sucking today. Billy Ray says that Justin’s going to be "a big, big movie star" which I completely agree with.

The show wasn’t at all as bad as I feared it was going to be. Hazzuh! Does anyone anywhere think Tommy should’ve went home instead? I think I liked Pearl Heart the best tonight. What were your favorite numbers? Any other thoughts?

Posted by:Tamara Brooks