Back on the premiere episode of this year's Nashville Star, the judges got their one shot of the season to eliminate the weak-link contestant of their choice. They narrowed it down to hokey but likable rodeo cowboy Charley Jenkins and Marty-Feldman-eyed pageant girl Alyson Gilbert. And then--much to the dismay and confusion of many viewers--they opted to send Charley home.
Well, last night those dismayed and confused viewers got the chance to avenge Charley, and they finally gave Alyson the (cowboy) boot.
It seems like the judges agreed with this long-overdue ousting: Last night, after Alyson oversang and jazz-handed her way through an unnecessarily fussy and showboaty rendition of Trisha Yearwood's "She's In Love With The Boy," Jewel sternly told her, "Your eyeballs are back!" (scolding Alyson's uncontrollable tendency to bug her eyes out like a cracked-out Looney Tunes character) and remarked, "I need you to go away for a while and find some soul."
Yikes. Even John Rich isn't usually that harsh. That was Simon Cowell-style harshness, right there.
Also in the bottom two last night were teen-girl duo Laura & Sophie. This surprised me, because I thought their twangy take on Michael Jackson's "PYT" on last week's "Pop Goes Country" night was actually kind of a thriller. But I was not so thrilled with these PYTs last night. Their cover of Katrina & The Waves' '80s hit "Walking On Sunshine" started off sunnily enough, but at some point it went cloudy and turned into a clunky mess that'd be mercilessly booed and buzzered right off the America's Got Talent audition stage. And the girls' overly shrill and straining version of Kelly Clarkson & Reba McEntire's "Because Of You" was just as painful. By the end it, L&S looked defeated. They blew it, and they knew it. Sadly, these two will have trouble staying out of the bottom two next week, after that disaster.
Coffey Anderson was another lowlight last night, and I also predict he'll be on next week's chopping block. He started off the season as one of my favorites, but now the once-hot Coffey is getting a little lukewarm. His performances of "Hey Good Lookin'" and "Take Me Home, Country Roads" last night didn't do his soulful voice any justice, and I'm getting pretty tired of all his desperate "come on, sing it with me, people!" adlibs. (NOTE TO COFFEY: You're the one on the show. You're the one competing for a record deal. You sing it, a'ight?)
I did think John Rich was way too hard on Coffey, though. He lambasted Coffey for being too "pop' and flat-out told him he was more suited for American Idol...and this was coming from the man who a) launched the career of "blackneck" country rapper Cowboy Troy, b) seemed perfectly fine with having Danity Kane perform on Nashville Star last week, and c) controversially picked Julio Iglesias Jr. as the winner of Gone Country. So John just seemed a little contradictory to me. But I did agree with John that Coffey was far from the best of the night.
No, the best of the night, hands down, was Gabe Garcia, the strongest male singer in this competition by far. He performed a Bon Jovi song--and not even one from Bon Jovi's recent coldly calculated country-crossover album, but a Bon Jovi classic, "Wanted Dead Or Alive." It was awesome--so much so, I can already imagine Gabe releasing this song as a single, accompanied by an on-the-road music video featuring plenty of grainy black-and-white footage of him staring wistfully out of rain-streaked tour bus windows, signing female fans' bosoms with indelible ink pens, and sharing backstage group hugs before rocking out in front of sold-out stadium crowds of hooting, beer-swilling country fans. He was on fire for "The Fireman," too, full of all the swagger his previous "watching-paint-dry" performances (John's words, not mine) have lacked.
Also stepping up their game last night were sister trio Pearl Heart, who showcased like-buttah harmonies on "I'll Still Be Loving You" (a meaningful song for their mentor Jeffrey Steele, as it reminded him of his recently deceased son). They had a lot of pressure on them given Steele's sentimentality here, but for once they actually seemed calm, not fidgety and goofy and girly. Singing in unison really worked in their favor this time--ironic, since not having one defined lead singer once led to the downfall of multi-vocal finalists Third Town. But Pearl Heart's rich, layered harmonies worked on "One Way Ticket" as well. They seemed confident, mature, in control--like women, not girls. It was like seeing Pearl Heart grow up right before our eyes--which, given that this was Family Week, was fitting.
One little aside regarding Family Week--it really annoyed me when the finalists' relatives in the audience were on-the-spot asked how they thought their respective competing family members performed last night. I mean, did we expect Coffey's daughter Savannah was going to answer, "Daddy sucked"? Or that Ashlee Hewitt's father was going to point out that his little girl completely missed all three stratospheric Steve Perry notes in "Don't Stop Believin'"? Or that anyone in the Mayer clan was going to tell Shawn to stay they hell away from Randy Travis tunes in the future? Or that Tommy Stanley's fellow Navy men were going to say, "Yo, bro, you looked kind of dorky singing 'Tiny Dancer'"? Of course not. That was just filler and a manipulative opportunity to parade a bunch of sympathy-garnering cute toddlers and uniformed officers in front of the camera. Puh-leeze.
Okay, moving on. The final big highlight of last night was sure-thing shoo-in and bigtime family woman Melissa Lawson, whose decision to sing Martina McBride's everywoman anthem "This One's For The Girls" was pure genius. I also hypothetically loved that she did Fleetwood Mac's "Landslide," the SADDEST SONG EVER. Seriously, every time I hear that song, I cry. Except last night I was kind of crying because Melissa's rendition was so damn short. It was scaled back to what seemed like 45 seconds, and all the verses and choruses were sliced and diced and rearranged in an awkward way, and Melissa had to rush through the song like she had to a plane to catch or something.
Attention, NStar producers: Next time, let Melissa take her time when she's singing a classic like that, okay?
So it's now prediction time. With Justin Gaston and Alyson Gilbert thankfully out of the way, the competition is stiffer now, but that just makes the so-so performances that much easier to suss out. And this week, Coffey and Laura & Sophie were definitely the so-so-iest. I predict they'll be in the bottom two, and sadly, it'll probably be Coffey who gets poured down the drain.
Tune in next week to see if I'm right!