This was the night I'd been waiting for, kids: The night that Adam Lambert and Norman Gentle (aka Nick Mitchell) went head-to-head. Seriously, has there ever been an American Idol showdown as nail-bitingly, toe-curlingly awesome as this? Clay versus Roooben, Soul Patrol versus the Kat Pack, David versus David....sure, those battles were exciting and all, but the prospect of guylinered god Adam and shiny-shirted comic genius Norman vying for the Idol title had me sitting on the edge of my sofa seat all week long.
Could it be possible that BOTH would make the top three, ensuring that at least one-sixth of the final top 12 would be the best one-sixth ever? Could an Adam/Norman finale even be within the realm of possibility? The very joyous thought of it made my head nearly explode and my already-preprogrammed DVR overheat.
But then the schmucks at Fox moved this week's broadcast by a WHOLE DAY, making me wait even longer for the showdown to end all showdowns. Oh, the agony. Why, Fox, why? Why did you torture me so?
Oh...so the reason last night's show was pre-empted was because of President Obama's live televised speech. Well, I suppose that's a valid reason. If there's one man on the planet more powerful than Simon Cowell, after all, it's Barack Obama. But you know, Obama's speech was broadcast at 6pm Pacific time, here in California where I live, when the only program that would have been pre-empted would've been a Family Guy rerun. So really, I blame the East Coast for this week's maddening Idol delay. Darn you, East Coasters, with your stupid Eastern Standard Time!
Anyway, it was worth the wait. The second set of 12 (that is, Adam, Norman, my girls Megan Joy Corkrey and Jasmine Murray, and eight other also-rans, whoever they are/were) sang tonight, and I was just bummed that boring Michael Sarver from last week's top three couldn't be sent home so that all four of those contestants could get through tonight. Who divides up these contestants by the dozen, anyway? Is it done by straw-drawing/coin-flipping/ro-sham-bowing, or is the decision-making process much more sinister (read: rigged) than that? Because it seemed like the competition was a lot stiffer this week than it was for last week's round, and that meant at least one of my favorites would be left out, with only the hope of a wild-card comeback to ease his/her post-elimination pain.
But as long as Adam and Norman got through, I'd be happy. (Oh, by the way--have I mentioned that I love me some Adam and Norman? Just making sure...)
So the aforementioned Jasmine Murray went first tonight, singing Sara Bareilles's "Love Song," the youthful ditty Kara DioGuardi wished out loud last week that ousted Anne-Marie Boskovich would have sung instead of "Natural Woman." You know what? Ironically, I think Jasmine would have been better off singing "Natural Woman." This Sara song just didn't seem right for her. Randy Jackson, who described Jasmine's performance right off the bat as "pitchy" (wasting no time in whipping out his favorite overused adjective) actually wanted Jasmine to sing some Rihanna. I did appreciate some of Jasmine's runs and scatting and improvs, as well as the anger and verve she brought to the song compared to Sara's original sugary version...but the beginning of the tune was in too low a register, and her scatting got a little out of control and resulted in (yes) some pitchiness, dawg. None of the judges were impressed (though I think Simon was overly harsh when he told her she doesn't have a great voice--she does, when she sings the right song). I feared this might be the premature end for poor Jas. But hey, if that cleared the way for Megan to snag this week's mandatory girl's spot, I guess could live with that. Up until this point, I'd believed that Jasmine was Megan's biggest rival.
(Oh, and by the way...after Jasmine's so-so performance there was no painful pow-wow with her frowning parents waiting in the wings. Thank you, Fox, for not having all those family meetings like you did last week. That's almost enough to make me forgive you for last night's show cancellation.)
Next was dueling pianist Matt Giraud, who wowed everyone when he stepped it up during Hollywood Week with his soulful rendition of "Georgia On My Mind" (an experience he declared "out-of-body" and one of the coolest of his life). This time he didn't go for a soul vibe, but chose to sing a risky "white-boy rock song" (his words): Coldplay's "Viva La Vida." Man, this performance was bad enough to make Joe Satriani suddenly deny that this tune bears any similarity to one of his own compositions. Matt seemed lost without his piano (ironic, since Coldplay's Chris Martin often performs at a keyboard), flailing and attempting very unsuccessfully to rock out, white-boy style. Now, Chris Martin does not have a big Michael Bolton/Josh Groban-style voice (thank gawd), but he has a way of overcoming any vocal shortcomings with interesting inflections and oodles of charisma. But Matt does not--at least not when singing Coldplay songs, obviously. He had this weird, nervous, goatlike vibrato and definitely hit a few wonky notes that'd make even Casey Carlson cringe. Simon Cowell declared the performance "verging on horrible" and the shoddy work of a "wannabe pop star," and I must say I agreed. The lyrics of the song proved sadly prophetic: One minute Matt held the key, next the world had closed in on him.
Next up was bartendress Jeanine Vailes, probably tonight's most under-the-radar contestant (if lack of searches on Yahoo! are anything to go by). But with seeming frontrunners like Jasmine and Matt dropping the proverbial ball tonight, that gave dark horse Jeanine an unexpected opportunity to surprise everyone with a hot performance and suddenly become a real contender. But um, she did not do that. She looked fabulous, like Naomi Campbell's body double (thick mane of center-parted Cher hair, impossibly muscular thighs shown off in little cutoff shorts), but then she started struggling and oversinging her way through Maroon 5's "This Love" (WHY?) and it was, as Simon aptly put it, "terrible." The only nice comments any of the four judges made had to do with Jeanine's legs--but let's face it, a great pair of Grable-esque gams didn't help season 6's Haley Scarnato, and it wasn't going to be enough to help Jeanine. Jeanine admitted she might have overdone it in an attempt to make a big impression, pointing out that she'd gotten precious little screen time before tonight--but she'd just come across as overcompensating and desperate. And her begging the judges for some tiny bit of praise, and her repeated mentions that she was the oldest person competing this evening (at the positively ancient age of 28), only made her seem more pathetic and desperate. I do not think she's got legs in this competition after this debacle, sorry.
With three dreadful performances so far, Norman/Nick's chances of making it through actually started to seem better and better, regardless of which persona he adopted tonight: normal Nick or nutty Norman. Luckily, it was the latter. Norman Gentle came out in full force and pulled out all the stops for a reprise of "And I Am Telling You." I'm talking stairwell-climbing, floor-crawling, rubbing up against the judges' podiums, flirting with the girls in the front row, adlibbing a shoutout to "Doogie" in the audience, tossing his geek glasses to the ground for dramatic effect. And so on. It was like Norman on steroids. He was camping it up so much, he might as well have set up a tent onstage and roasted some s'mores. I of course loved it, and Simon of course loathed it. Simon looked so worked up, in fact, that the veins in his temples seemed about to burst, and he declared it one of the show's all-time most "atrocious" performances. (Really? More than the time Sanjaya destroyed that Kinks song?) Randy Jackson, on the other hand, said it was one of Idol's "most entertaining" moments (yay!), though he agreed with Simon that Norman should not be in the top 12 (boo!). "At least we remember you," Kara wisely pointed out, adding the faint praise that Norman "is not a terrible singer." Paula Abdul additionally called him "a true performer," and hey, no one could really argue with that.
Dang, I hope Norman/Nick gets through. The season would be so much more interesting if he stuck around. After all, with every night likely to consist of one tiresome Mariah/Celine/Whitney/Luther ballad after another, some comic relief will be sorely needed each week. And the bottom line is--to combine a couple of weak analogies/metaphors/clichés--I'd rather watch a trainwreck than watch paint dry.
Things got serious again after 16-year-old Allison Iraheta got her turn. Her monosyllabic pre-performance interview with Ryan Seacrest was even more boring and brain-dead than watching paint dry--it made a conversation with Jason Castro seem like a particularly gripping episode of Meet The Press--but once she got onstage, things definitely got exciting. She sang "Alone" by Heart, which is always a massive risk--Heart's Ann Wilson is nearly untouchable, and season 4 champ Carrie Underwood's performance of the same song is the stuff of AmIdol legend. But Allison sang her heart out, no pun intended. Randy called it "real singing" (a not-so-subtle extra jab at Norman); Simon called it the best performance of the night so far "by a clear mile." Suddenly someone who'd seemed like just another token pink-haired also-ran (every season has one, from Nikki McKibbin to Amy Adams to Gina Glocksen) had become a true contender, stepping up to the plate in a way Jeanine had not. It looked like there might be TWO pinkies in the top 12--Allison and last week's Alexis Grace--and I started to fear for Megan's safety. Allison was good, dawg!
Speaking of contestants we don't remember, next was Kris Allen. Who? Some dude. He sang "Man In the Mirror" by Michael Jackson, the "I'm asking him to change his ways" song. Well, I'm asking Kris to change his ways...and be less dull! The judges' panel was split: Kara was bored like me, while Paula enjoyed his performance and Simon--wow, this is a surprise--liked Kris as well. "Chicks are going to love you," he told Kris.
Well, I'm a chick and I don't love Kris, so go figure.
Speaking of chicks, and of love, Megan Joy Corkrey (emphasis on "Joy," because she makes me happyhappyhappy) finally got her turn after that, singing Corinne Bailey Rae's "Put Your Records On." And you know, if Megan released a record, I'd definitely put it on. Man, I loved this girl tonight! Even her awkward hip-shaking was endearing. Her uniquely smoky and soulful voice, her little snow-white sundress, her radiant smile, her piles of Goldilocks curls, her sleeve tattoos (she wears them better than Carly Smithson did; hopefully her excessive ink won't alienate middle America, which supposedly was the case with Carly's tatts last season)...wow, she was like a hipper, edgier, much less annoying Brooke White. And unlike most contestants tonight, she PICKED THE RIGHT SONG. Simon sweetly called her a "funny little thing" and said he'd hope she'd get through. (He did, however, think she oversang the song's coda, to which Megan blurted, "I think I rocked it!" And I agreed with Megan's assessment, not Simon's.) Kara's called her a "package artist," meaning she'd be easy to market as a legitimate pop star. Paula declared Megan "interesting, relevant, hip, and cool." Huzzah! Maybe Megan wouldn't be edged out by Allison after all.
Welder Matt Breitzke--not be confused with this season's other working-class everyman dad, Michael Sarver, who has already inexplicably made the top 12--sang next, choosing a song that apparently only he loves, Tonic's mid-'90s snoozer "If You Could Only See." And for a welder, he had surprisingly little spark. It was like watching Chris Daughtry's fuddy-duddy dad. Voters of America, PLEASE don't vote Matt B. through just because he seems like a nice guy and has kids and a blue-collar job. This world is full of nice guys who have kids and blue-collar jobs. And this competition already has one of 'em: Sarver (who I think robbed Anoop Desai of his rightful spot last week, and I'm still clearly bitter about that). The top 12 does not need another guy-next-door normal dude. It needs ROCK STARS, like Adam Lambert and Megan Corkrey. Matt Breitzke is not a rock star.
Up next was Jesse Langseth, who happens to be--nepotism alert!--Jonny Lang's sister. But unlike Jason Castro's brother Michael, this celebrity sibling actually has some real talent, and I kind of dug her "slinky" (Kara's description) performance of Kim Carnes's "Bette Davis Eyes" tonight. It had a certain gritty bluesiness that bore a family resemblance to her brother's work. But ultimately it was not enough of a show-stopper to really threaten either Megan or Allison, and chances are this was Jesse's last time on the show despite a solid effort.
Kai Kalama, the Guarini-haired folk-soul singer with the heartstring-plucking back story (he's a fulltime care-giver for his ailing mom), went next, and I was pleasantly surprised. My own heartstrings were even plucked a little bit, and not just because his mother was there to root for him. At his first audition he was told he needed to have more confidence, and it seemed like he'd really taken the judges' constructive criticism seriously, becoming "quite the performer!" (Paula's words) during his rendition of the Jimmy Ruffin Motown hit "What Becomes Of The Broken-Hearted." But Simon thought Kai's performance was "corny" and "old-fashioned," something one might hear at a wedding, and advised Kai to become a backup singer instead. Well, at least that means Simon thinks Kai can sing, I guess--backup singers have to have chops! So that's the good news. The bad news, though, is that most viewers listen to what Simon says, so chances are Kai won't be back either.
Mishavonna Henson sang next, which meant that I'd have to wait that much longer for Adam Lambert, who was saved for last. Argh! Mishavonna, a repeat contestant (she made it to Hollywood Week last season), promised she'd take advantage of her second chance and "not let America down." Well, she broke that promise when she decided to sing Train's "Drops Of Jupiter" tonight. It's not that she sang it badly. Mishavonna's voice sounded fine. But "Drops Of Jupiter" is a song that I'd be happy to never hear again in my lifetime--it's possibly the most overplayed song ever, so I don't need to hear other people besides Train doing it. Paula said, "It just didn't excite me." Simon said the tune left him cold, was too serious, and seemed like it was sung by a "50-year-old." Kara and Randy were just plain bored and confused. Mishavonna insisted that she really is young and hip and "crazy," not drab and grandma-like, but I wasn't convinced. And neither were the judges. I don't expect America's voters were convinced, either.
But Adam Lambert--now, HE was convincing. A more convincing ROCK STAR has probably never been on American Idol. (No, Constantine does not count.) Sooty eyeliner, gothy black manicure, perpetual young-Elvis sneer--Adam certainly looked the part of a real rock god. And aurally, he killed it on the Rolling Stones' "Satisfaction." I certainly found it satisfying--I haven't enjoyed a "Satisfaction" cover so much since Devo did it in the early '80s. And his voice was insane. I didn't know such notes existed--was he singing the Eastern musical scale or something? Paula told Adam, "You're in a league of your own" and Randy dubbed him some sort of freakish laboratory hybrid of Steven Tyler, Rob Pattinson, My Chemical Romance, and Fall Out Boy (this was a compliment, by the way). I just dubbed him a freakish laboratory hybrid of awesomeness, radness, coolness, and fabulousness. There is NO way he's not getting through after that performance--and if he doesn't get through, and the judges don't then bring him right back as a wild card, then my regular readers are going to have to get their Idol updates elsewhere. Because I will boycott this entire dang show.
So now it's time, as always, for my picks and predictions. Now, if it were up to me, I'd go for Adam (obviously), Megan, and (don't hate) Norman. But I know Norman is possibly the longest longshot in the history of Idol longshots: He's a polarizing figure, a love-him-or-hate-him kind of fellow, and there might not be enough people who love him to ensure he gets through. (This is one time when I hope Vote For The Worst can move the needle here, since Norman is unsurprisingly their ultimate poster boy.) So my prediction is Adam, Megan, and Allison.
But I do hope Norman Gentle gets his own variety show out of all this...