When I first learned that tonight'sSt. Patrick's Day broadcast of American Idol would be country-themed, I admit I was bummed. I waskind of hoping for a Celtic theme, personally. How about Pub Songs Night? Sea ShantyNight? Thin Lizzy Night (imagine Adam Lambert singing "Jailbreak") orPogues Night (a slurry "Fairytale Of New York" by Megan Corkrey)? Ormaybe bring Bono on to be a mentor or something? At the very least the Idol stylists could have made the top 11 all wear green (orrisk being pinched by Paula Abdul, in the same manner in which she wanted tosquish David Archuleta's head lastseason). Or the producers could have invited back Irish also-ran Carly Smithson(this time, it would have been appropriate and I wouldn'thave protested). But no. There was no St. Paddy'stheme tonight, which was enough to make me cry into my green beer.
Tonight's countrytheme was also odd because this is the first AmIdolseason in a long time that's featured no straight-up country contestants in the finals. Whilepast seasons have boasted singers that would have been just as appropriatecompeting on Nashville Star (Josh Gracin,Kellie Pickler, Bucky Covington, Kristy Lee Cook, and of course CarrieUnderwood), this season has no such clearcut cowboy or -girl. So I knew trying to get Anoop to do Garth, or Meganto do Shania, was gonna make for some good trainwreck TV--maybe even worse thanthe night that season 2 country boy Gracin had to do disco.
This could be a good thing, for sheer entertainment value, of course...but a Pogues Night would have been just as awesome, and probably even more watchably trainwrecky.
Yes, he was out-of-breathin parts (that motormouthed song is like the country equivalent of R.E.M.'s "It'sThe End Of The World As We Know It," with a whole lot of syllables crammedinto not a whole lot of space). And yes, I agree with Simon Cowell that Michael seemed"a bit clumsy" (Simon'snew overused buzzword this season). And I am still not a Sarver fan--I don't think Michael deserved to make the top 13 in the firstplace. But, all that being said, I did agree with Paula Abdul that "this isthe genre that suits him so well." Kara DioGuardi and Randy Jackson criticizedMichael for picking a song that didn'tfully show off his vocal range, but Michael, seemingly empowered by being inhis element tonight, countered with: "Singing well is very important to me,but country music is about having some fun!" (He might as well haveshouted, "Yee-haw!" in a Yosemite Sam accent after that.) Simoncomplained that he didn't understanda single word that rushed out of Michael'smouth, to which Michael replied: "Country fans did!" Simon then gaveMichael a "1.2" on a scale of 1 to 10, which I thought was harsh--Ido, for what it's worth, think thiswas Michael's best performanceyet--to which Michael retorted, "If we were all perfect, we wouldn't needthis show!"
Next up was my girl Allison Iraheta, who in the past coupleweeks has easily replaced Megan Corkrey as my favorite female in thiscompetition. (I loved Megan, but she lost me when she started, um,birdcalling.) Randy Travis was hugely impressed with this 16-year-old pink-hairedpowerhouse's mature vocals, but notso much with her immature hoedown dance (it was kind of an Ashlee Simpson-on-SNL jig, even worse than Megan'sawkward moves), which he advised her not to attempt onstage. Allison took Travis's advice,but still instilled her performance of the Patty Loveless country-rocker "BlameIt On Your Heart" with plenty of feisty tweenage personality. She had attitude,baby, attitude! She owned that stage and was so convincing, she seemed like areal country star (in that rebellious, Gretchen Wilson vein).
Kara praised Allison,saying, "You bring your own spin to everything and you really made thatsong your own. You just keep getting better and better." Paula called it"another rock solid performance," but wanted Allison to be more "vulnerable"(that's Paula'snew buzzword). Simon wrongly told Allison she was a "little bit tunelessin parts" and "verging on precocious," but Randy Jackson onlyhad one, much shorter, much more positive, and much more correct assessment ofAllison tonight: "DOPE!"
Kris took Randy Travis'sadvice not to copy Garth to heart, and I must admit he made the song his own. Paulacalled Kris's version "honest,pure, and [WAIT FOR IT] vulnerable"; Randy Jackson enjoyed the "tendermoments from my dawg Kris"; and Simon made some odd comment about Krisbeing a "tender puppy" in response to Randy'scritique. Simon also called Kris'sperformance "terrific" and said for the first time this season, he could envision Kris havinga real shot in this competition. And that certainly made Kris's big tender-puppy eyes light up...and all around America, girlsswooned. I don't really get Kris's appeal, myself, but at this point I can't deny his effect on viewers/voters of the femalepersuasion.
It was a tactic that didn't quite work for her, and she seemed to lose herspark by sticking too close to Martina's original. Rounds explained to the judgesthat she wanted to giving something new a try and really embrace the country genre, and that she also picked the song because of its "timely"subject matter (about domestic violence--I can only assume she was referring tothe whole Chris Brown/Rihanna scandal). Kara praised Rounds for standingher ground; she didn't however, praiseRounds for her singing. All of the judges agreed that Rounds should have stayedtrue to her Mary J. Blige-influenced soul style, but how was Lil' supposed to do that? MJB never recorded a countrysong! These critiques were confusing to me.
After that things got moreconfusing as the judges debated the correct pronunciation of "Lil'" (Simon, proper Englishman that he is,insisted on calling her "LITT-le"), an argument that was even more tiresome thanthe constant back-and-forth this season over how to enunciate Kara's first name. Finally Lil'just exclaimed, "Simon, it'sLil'!" That shut Simon up for aminute. But not for long, of course.
There's no pleasing those judges! Ifa singer stays in his/her genre of expertise, he/she gets criticized. And if he/shesings in a different genre, well...he/she gets criticized. So what DO thejudges want? HUH?
Well, I guess some of the judges (who oddly had no issueswith Chris Daughtry's rock versionof Johnny Cash's "Walk The Line" in season 5) don'twant radical reworkings of Cash's"Ring Of Fire," compete with glass-shattering Darkness-style falsettos,slinky Egyptian sitars, and black nail polish--all of which drew the ire ofclosed-minded killjoy Randy Travis. ("I don'tsee myself as a country artist, and apparently neither does Randy," Adamshrugged matter-of-factly.)
A very confused Travis seemed to find Adam's off-center Cash cover akin to blasphemy (I thinkhis bewilderment just made him seem like a grumpy, out-of-touch old man); Simon,normally a big Adam supporter, called this performance "indulgent rubbish";and Kara just found it "a little strange." I personally found it alittle awesome. Actually, I found it a LOT awesome. Thankfully Paula, who this seasonsuddenly seems to have grown a spine and learned to stand up for herself alittle more often, openly admired Adam'seffort, surprisingly astutely comparing his "Ring Of Fire" interpretationto Led Zeppelin's "Kashmir."And Randy Jackson was dead-on when he said Adam'sperformance brought to mind Nine Inch Nails covering the Man In Black. I was personallyproud of Adam (the Boy In Black, as I shall call him for the remainder of this paragraph)for sticking to his guns and doing something original, and I think country bad boyJohnny Cash himself--who in his later years adventurously recorded covers of songsby Beck, Soundgarden, and YES, Nine Inch Nails--would approve of the Boy InBlack's rebellious streak, too.
I'm just hopingthat more conservative voters don'ttake Randy Travis or Simon Cowell'scritiques too much to heart, or misconstrue Adam'srefusal to do a straightahead country cover as a sign of disrespect for the countrygenre and its fans. (I'm sure he didn'tmean it as such; Adam just wisely knew he'dsound ridiculous trying to impersonate, say, Kenny Chesney.) But maybe Ishouldn't worry too much: If forsome reason this performance wrongly lands Adam in the bottom tomorrow night, Ihave a very strong feeling the judges will use their Judges'Save power a little early this season. Simon may not have appreciated what Adamwas trying to do tonight, but there'sno way he'd let him go home so soon.
Anyway,"Wild Angels" was yet another puzzling and underwhelming song choicefrom Scott (true to form, Randy Travis thought it was bad idea but later came aroundand endorsed it, conveniently all within the space of 30-second mentor video). And while I admired the attention and affection Scott paid to the arrangement, Iwish he'd put just as much effortinto his subpar vocal. With Scott it'sall about the musicianship, which is wonderful and deserving of much respect,but unfortunately this is a SINGING COMPETITION, as the judges like to pointout again and again and again. And Scott'ssinging just isn't so great. RandyJackson alluded to this tonight, saying he wants "hot, crazy, unbelievablevocals" from Scott, but I'mafraid Randy will never that wish. Scott is almost as vocally impaired as he isvisually impaired (yes, you heard me, I said it; you knowyou were thinking it), and I'mbeginning to think he can coast on sympathy votes for only so long. I think he'd be better off forming a Fray-style band, forwhich he composes and plays the music but lets someone else sing, than goingthis Idol route.
However, Paula suggested Scott get out from behind his pianoonce in a while and move around the stage more (if she'dpay closer attention to the group-singalong numbers this season, she'd know that was a bad, bad idea), which Simon saidwas a "stupid thing to say. What do you expect him to do?" I agreedthat Paula's comment was dumb and misguided, but Ithought Simon was being unnecessarily vicious, as he has been to Paula all seasonlong.
Singing next was Alexis Grace with Dolly Parton's "Jolene." That was a song that putBrooke White in the bottom three when she performed it on Dolly Parton Nightlast season, and Alexis didn't domuch better with it tonight, sadly. I initially thought it would be a great choice for Alexis(despite Randy Travis's typicalI-have-doubts-no-never-mind-you're-greatreaction to it), because the song has a lot of grit and angst to it--after all,it's the plea of a desperate womanabout to lose her man. I figured/hoped/assumed Alexis would rock it a la the WhiteStripes' famous down 'n' dirty version. But no. Instead of being bloozy,she was just snoozy. She sang well, and she certainly worked the camera well(she still looked good, despite her lame cabaret-singer outfit and badpolitical-wife hairdo tonight), but she delivered the song with no sense ofurgency or fear whatsoever, which was so disappointing because she usuallybrings so much passion to her performances. Kara lamented that Alexis had"lost her edge," although Paula said she enjoyed seeing Alexis's (YES) "vulnerable" side.
I personally think Adam Lambert could have killed it on thissong. Yes, WITH unaltered lyrics. But I suppose hearing Adam beg, "Please don't take my man!" would have given poor,easily spooked Randy Travis a massive coronary. And Idol is probably not insured for stuff like that.
Redeeming himself next was extra wild card Anoop Desai,who was nearly eliminated for the second time this short season, whenhis somewhat awkward and cheesy cover of Michael Jackson's"Beat It" almost had him moonwalking right off the show for good last week.Tonight he went back to showing his vulnerable side, as Paula might say, choosingto sensitively warble the Willie Nelson tearjerker "Always On My Mind." (And hey,guess what? Randy Travis had his doubts about Anoop doing this song...but then changed his mind! Wow, what are the odds?) Anoopsang the song with class and grace, really showed off his range, and by the endof it Paula was declaring, "ANOOP IS BACK!" She also said somethingrambly like, "That song fit you like a glove, as opposed to last week whenthe glove didn't fit you."
Also looking to redeeming herself tonight was Megan Caw-Caw-Corkrey,whose bizarre birdcalling performance of "Rockin'Robin" last week also almost resulted in her elimination. Megan had a moredifficult time stepping up her game than Anoop did, began she was suffering froma serious bout of the flu that landed her in the hospital earlier this week andkept her from attending today'sdress rehearsal.
Singing last was Matt Giraud, doing another Carrie Underwoodsong, "So Small." I much preferred Matt'sCarrie cover over Danny's, and Iagreed with Simon that Matt "outsang" Danny and delivered one of the bestperformances of the night. He turned the ballad into a Coldplay/Fray-style pianoballad, and I daresay he even outsang Carrie herself tonight.
And so, now it'sprediction time. Who will go home tomorrow? Well, regardless of how well (or unwell)they sang, it's hard to fathomfrontrunning faves like Lil', Danny,Adam, or Alexis getting cutting this soon. Allison and Matt were just too good,Michael probably has the country vote locked up after tonight, Kris still hasthe girly contingent in his corner, and voters will probably rally around comeback kidsAnoop and Megan. (Megan coughed a lot, too, to drive home the point that shewas illin' and gain some sympathyvotes. That tactic will probably work, although all that hacking made me wishRyan would've slipped her a Ricolaalready.)
So that leaves Scott McIntyre. Yes, he'llsurely get sympathy votes too, but someone'sgot to go, and after turning in another nicey-nice soundalike performance, I think he's run his course on this show. But I wish him luck with his future band, per my suggestion.
Tune in tomorrow to see if I'mright...and until then, happy St. Patrick'sDay! Now go hit your local karaoke joint and host your own informal Thin LizzyNight.
To my regular readers: Please note that I amheaded to Austinfor the South By Southwest musicfest tomorrow, so I won'tbe live-blogging about this week'sresults show. But do come back later to get my thoughts on who went home, andyou can getdaily reports on how I'm messingwith Texas this weekend in the Maximum Performance blog!
- Randy Travis
- Paula Abdul
- Adam Lambert
- Simon Cowell