And I bet more conservative, traditionalist country fans were less than thrilled with the finalists' show-opening group singalong of "Like A Prayer" by godless, cone-brassiered hussy Madonna (although I think soul stylist Coffey did an okay job of bringing out that pop hit's gospel flava).
And I'm sure many country fans would have preferred to see more boot-scootin' and less booty-shakin' by the evening's Daisy Duke'd backup dancers, all of whom looked like they'd sashayed straight out of a Britney Spears video.
And I'm sure the very prospect of the contestants countrifying songs by *NSYNC, Ricky Martin, Rihanna, Wacko Jacko, and (yes) Britney had many country fans ready to cry in their proverbial beers. However, some of these out-of-the-box performances actually turned out much less trainwrecky than some might've feared. More on those performances later.
...it was when DANITY KANE performed "Damaged." I think this was a shark-jumping moment that, well, quite possibly damaged the credibility of the entire Nashville Star series.
Look, the theme of the night was "Pop Goes Country." I get it. So I would have been fine with it if Danity Kane had performed a country version of a pop hit, or a pop version of a country hit, or collaboration with a famous country act, etc. But instead Danity Kane just pranced out in their black rubber Catwoman fetishwear and did their usual pop/R&B shtick. It was a performance that would have been entirely appropriate on So You Think You Can Dance, American Idol, America's Best Dance Crew, or Dancing With The Stars, but it made no sense whatsoever on a show supposedly dedicated to COUNTRY MUSIC. Because there was simply nothing country about it.
So, was this a blatant bid to grab the mainstream (read: American Idol) audience, now that Nashville Star has moved to major network NBC? Maybe so, but such an attempt might've alienated the entire country audience in the process. The NBC message boards are positively ablaze today, and I haven't seen such angry rants from betrayed country-loving television viewers since Nashville Star judge John Rich chose Julio Iglesias Jr. as the winner of CMT's Gone Country.
And allow me one little angry rant of my own here: I find it somewhat contradictory that judge/mentor Jeffrey Steele vehemently protested when last week's castoffs Third Town wanted to cover Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody," but this week he was enthusiastically rallying for the remaining contestants to cover the B-52's and Michael Jackson. I'm just sayin'.
But whatever. Unlike some irate viewers, I'm no country purist, and I think in the right context, pop and country are two great tastes that can taste great together. So here are last night's highlights. And lowlights, of course:
Gabe Garcia's rendition of Ricky Martin's "Livin' La Vida Loca"--a nod to his Hispanic heritage--worked surprisingly well. Laura & Sophie's "PYT," a Michael Jackson cover, should have been an utter disaster, but these pretty young things pulled it off and turned it into a bona fide country thriller. Melissa Lawson's interpretation of Cyndi Lauper's "True Colors" was another one of her signature show-stoppers. And amateurish underwear model Justin Gaston--although he got voted off last night, and rightfully so based on his horrific past performances--was, believe it or not, shockingly good warbling another Cyndi song, "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun." He showed personality and "countryness" for the first time this season. But unfortunately for Justin, it was too little, too late.
A little iffier was the performance of Rihanna's "Umbrella" by Coffey, usually one of my favorites. Now, I know he can do this song well, because I already wrote a blog about him singing this tune on his MySpace page. And I think of all the contestants last night, Coffey was the one with the best shot of splicing and dicing musical genres--which, I assume, was the whole intention of "Pop Goes Country" night. But Coffey ruined what could have been his big star-making moment by throwing wannabe-Blake Lewis beatboxing all over the thing and shouting out adlibs between every other syllable, yelling to his daughter watching at home. "Savannah! Sing it with me! Savannah!" He took mentor Jewel's advice to "sing it to your daughter" waaaay too literally. Now, I'm sure little Savannah enjoyed this performance, but I sure didn't--and I don't think the judges did, either. Savannah better know how to use a phone. A phone with a speed-dial. Because her daddy needs all the votes he can get, after that.
Coffey once famously quipped, "Everything's better with a little cheese on it," and I must say I agree. But his "Umbrella" cover was totally DROWNING in cheese. It was like the whole song had been dunked into a gooey musical fondue. But I despite Coffey's messy misstep last night, I still like this fella ('ella, 'ella, ay, ay, ay). So hopefully the voters at home didn't mind this cheese whiz, because I'd hate to see him go home so soon.
Coffey was too cheesy, but Pearl Heart were, conversely, not cheesy enough. The teen trio did a bluegrass version of the B-52's partystarter "Love Shack," and although it was musically solid, it had NONE of the sass and spunk and super-silliness of the original. Those Pearl Heart gals ain't got nothin' on beehived divas Cindy Wilson and Kate Pierson.
Moving on...Ashlee Hewitt's take on a slowed-down, twanged-up version of Britney's "You Drive Me Crazy" was respectable. I found it pretty. And boring. Pretty boring, basically. She has a nice voice and I appreciate the fact that she doesn't show off and oversing like some National Anthem belter on a Red Bull bender. I also appreciate the fact that she plays guitar. But I still find it hard to imagine her actually WINNING on this show. The judges loved her, though. No surprise that John Rich did--he's her mentor this season. And no surprise that another judge, pop-goes-country quickchange artist Jewel, did too, give the uncanny resemblance she and Ashlee share both visually and sonically. "I see so much of myself in you." Jewel told Ashlee. Well, we all see that. Ashlee and Jewel are in fact so much alike, Ashlee could serve as Jewel's seatfiller during this show's bathroom breaks. I'm not sure this is a good thing, though.
As for the worst popped-up performances, they were Tommy Stanley's shouty "Maniac" (at least the aforementioned backup dancers didn't run out in legwarmers, jogging in place and massaging their thighs a la Jennifer Beals, but it was still pretty damn bad); Alyson Gilbert's slow 'n' snoozy "I Think We're Alone Now" (Tiffany sang that tune better when she was just 15--and in a mall, yet, not on national TV); and Shawn Mayer doing *NSYNC's "Bye Bye Bye" (I actually would have liked Shawn's performance--for its risk-taking, bird-flipping appeal, if nothing else--had she not started embarrassingly bumping and grinding like one of the members of Danity Kane midway through).
But Shawn has more potential and outlaw edge--and she has John Rich's unabashed support--so I think it'll be Tommy and Alyson in the bottom two next week, with Alyson ultimately going home (like she should have in WEEK ONE, honestly).
Of course, it remains to be seen if anyone--at least real country fans--will even be watching next week, after this whole alienating "Pop Goes Country" experiment. But I'll still be watching (it's my job to watch, after all). So stay tuned...