I don't know about you, but I was extremely excited when I found out Quentin Tarantino would be the special-guest mentor on this week's American Idol Movie Night. Some people might have thought Quentin was an odd choice--well, he's just an odd guy, period--but those naysayers didn't realize that a) Quentin is a pop-culture vulture who's always demonstrated an unabashed passion for the trashier/flashier side of entertainment, and b) he was once guested on AmIdol season 3 and was one of the awesome-est celeb judges EVER. He was as wonderfully cheesy as a Le Royale With Cheese and, most importantly, he was really, REALLY enthusiastic. Quentin is basically living proof that a person can be hip and edgy and indie AND still love American Idol. And I love him for that. So I couldn't wait to see him work his magic with the seven Idol finalists this week, the way he once made over other performers in need of some career guidance, such as John Travolta or Pam Grier.
So singing first was Allison Iraheta, who didn't really need any guidance because, well, she's just about perfect as she is. And she picked THE perfect movie theme for her husky voice, Aerosmith's "I Don't Wanna Miss A Thing" from Armageddon. (Rock power-ballads suit her raw rasp so well--I'd actually suggested she sing an Aerosmith song in my blog last week!) Allison was her usual awkward teenage self when pow-wowing with Quentin during her mentor session, but she was 100 percent confident once she hit the stage, very ready for her movie closeup. She killed it, and the judges were understandably impressed. Speaking in judging pairs this week (so as not to run overlong like last week, and have the final performance cut off on DVRs or annoy Fringe fans), Paula Abdul praised Allison's "authenticity" and Simon told Allison, "You are the girls' only hope left in this competition." (I agreed with him, since it's only down to Allison and underachieving Lil Rounds at this point.) "I've never heard a girl, let alone someone your age, sing that song so well."
On a side note: Since Simon is usually the harshest judge, and also the judge the public listens to the most, I wondered if it was an advantage to be one of the contestants tonight who didn't get critiqued by Simon. (Alternating singers would be critiqued by either Paula and Simon, or by Randy Jackson and Kara DioGuardi--but never by all four, due to time constraints.) My guess was the contestants who drew the non-Simon straws this evening and escaped his wrath were pretty relieved.
Anyway, singing second was bottom-three regular Anoop Desai, hoping to redeem himself this make-or-break week. And I was kind of hoping he'd go all-out cheesy with, say, "Coming To America" from The Jazz Singer or even "Ghostbusters." (Come on, he could have shouted, "Who ya gonna call?" and then sang his voting dial number! Genius!) But instead he decided to warble yet another MOR ballad, Bryan Adams' "Everything I Do (I Do It For You)" from Robin Hood. Quentin expressed concern over Anoop's adult-contemporary choice, and therefore coached Anoop on how to "rough it up," even demonstrating himself by growling on cue. That was a great TV moment, for sure. I too had my reservations about Anoop doing this weepy, chick-flicky tune, but Quentin sure had some power over Anoop: I haven't seen Tarantino revive an artist's career so masterfully since he hired Travolta for Pulp Fiction! Quentin's growling brought out the best in Anoop Dogg, as this was possibly Anoop's best performance of the season. The judge pair that critiqued Anoop was Randy (probably Anoop's most supportive judge, so that was advantageous for him) and Kara. Randy told him, "You have found your zone," and Kara said it was "one of his best vocals." So Quentin did good work here. Maybe he'll get an honorary Emmy to put on his mantle alongside his Oscar.
Shaking things up and picking up the pace considerably next was this season's resident rocker--and the most rockin' Idol rocker um, EVER--Adam Lambert. Over the last few weeks Adam has proven he can go super-over-the-top ("Ring Of Fire," "Satisfaction") or bring it down and do the mellow, semi-acoustic thing ("Tracks Of My Tears," "Mad World"), both with equal success. So I was interested to see which type of movie theme he'd pick this week. Would he be flamboyant to the max and do some brash '80s anthem like "Fame" or "Xanadu" (how RAD would that have been???), or something tasteful like "Falling Slowly" from the indie hit Once? Sadly, Adam didn't break out the Flashdance legwarmers and Nick Mitchell-esque headband for the former selections, but he did rock it on "Born To Be Wild" from the '70s biker classic Easy Rider. He pranced/prowled out in black leather and moussed/mussed hair, screeched his way Axl-style through about 18 octaves, and the crowd went wild indeed. As Quentin put it, "If you're looking for a rock star, Adam's the real deal." Yep.
Paula seemed to agree with Quentin, giving Adam another standing ovation and then seemingly reading her Confucius-ish critique off a fortune cookie: "The reason you're shaking up this whole competition is you dare to dance in the path of greatness. Fortune rewards the brave, and you're one of the bravest contestants I've ever witnessed." Simon was more to-the-point, calling Adam's performance "vocally, incredible," although he did say it was a little too Rocky Horror for his taste. (As if that's a BAD thing!)
Mellowing the show out again was Matt Giraud, who also chose a Bryan Adams ballad, "Have You Ever Loved A Woman" from Don Juan De Marco. I dug his serenely soulful performance, as I'm sure did many women watching. It was kinda sexy, OK? But Kara wasn't loving Matt's performance, for some reason, and Randy agreed it was "not one of his best." Sigh. It almost seems like the judges just want Matt to go home no matter what he sings, or how well he sings it. They're really gunning for him now. At this point I wished Paula and Simon had been allowed to speak; I was curious to see if they were similarly underwhelmed. Because I really enjoyed Matt this week, as I do most weeks.
Singing fifth was Danny Gokey, doing "Endless Love" from the Brooke Shields obsessive-teen-romance flick of the same name. I had a feeling this would be a "moment" for him, given the song's lyrics and his personal backstory. During his mentor session, Quentin advised Danny to stick his hands in his pockets, so that his expressiveness would come out not via showy hand gestures but through his eyes. Perhaps that's why Danny didn't wear his trademark spectacles tonight, all the better to flaunt his puppy-dog peepers. And I soon expected there to be not a dry eye in the house.
However, it was not quite as stunning a performance as I'd expected from Danny, given the reasons I just mentioned. Still, he sang the song well and from the heart. It was one of his seemingly less mannered and calculated performances, for sure. But Paula had mixed feelings about it, saying the song started off slowly but then Danny "pulled it together" midway through; Simon just complained that he was "bored" and that Danny stuck too close to the original version. Simon also took issue with the addition of a harpist on the song's arrangement, although I'm not so sure that was Danny's doing so much as it was Ricky Minor's. Simon did manage to say something nice, however: "I think this song means a lot to you personally, and I can see that you're emotional and this was a hard thing to do. So I congratulate you for that."
Hmmm. Was Danny playing the "widower card" again? Or was Simon playing it? Either way, I think a comment like that ensures Danny's safety for yet another week. I'm just sayin'.
Up next was Kris Allen, crooning the aforementioned Once song I thought might've worked for Adam Lambert, "Falling Slowly." Well, it worked for Kris, too. It worked wonderfully, in fact. It's just a gorgeous, gorgeous song, and it would be gorgeous even if Bikini Girl sang it, despite Kara calling it "obscure." (Um...it won a BEST SONG OSCAR, and that doesn't equal "obscure" in my book.) I adored this choice for Kris, and Quentin said Kris "lived up to sprit of the competition most, picking a movie that meant something to him." With "Falling Slowly"'s semi-acoustic vibe, I expected Kris would play guitar on this one, but perhaps he wanted to set the axe aside for an episode after last week's "All She Wants To Do Is Dance" guitar-wank blunder that had Dialdol predicting his early demise. So Kris just belted it out guitar-less, and yes, I thought he had a "moment." Kara agreed, saying it was one of Kris's best vocals yet, but oddly and insanely, Randy said it was "pitchy from note one" and "never quite on for me." Huh? I hope the voters don't listen to Randy tonight. And I don't think, at least, that the female voters will listen, since they've falling slowly for Kris for weeks now.
Singing last was Lil Rounds, hoping to wrap it up before the show's one-hour deadline and not get cut off on viewers' DVRs. (Although Lil has been losing so much momentum lately, some disgruntled viewers probably wouldn't mind if she DID get cut off.) Rounds sang Bette Midler's "The Rose," and do have to say it was one of her better performances. She at least added some nice gospel flavor to her interpretation--it was not copycat like last week's embarrassing Tina Turner impersonation--and she sang well enough to distract attention from the latest stupid wig the Idol stylists stuck her in. It was her most original performance yet, but it was probaably too little too late. Simon--unlike Quentin, who declared himself a real Rounds fan and seemed excited to mentor her this week--was still extremely irritated with Lil. "I think you're getting it completely wrong," he griped. "The song was too soft for you, it was too middle-of-the-road. You had some nice moments in there, but there's no excuses. You're not the artist we met weeks ago."
Rounds attempted to defend herself, saying she HAD put her own spin on the Bette ballad (and Paula cheered on Lil's bravado, hooting, "Don't ever be afraid to say what you feel!"). But before Simon could rebut Lil, a panicked Ryan Seacrest broke it up, as the show was nearly over and Fringe was about to begin. Whether Rounds taking a stand would work in her favor and viewers would be impressed by her true grit, or whether viewers would see her as a bad sport with a bad attitude, was uncertain. Obviously tomorrow night's results show will make that clear. But anyway, while I don't think Rounds was amazing tonight, I do think she tried to take the judges' advice to be more original and make the song her own, and I do think she should have been given more credit for that. Not TOO much credit, but, you know, some.
So now it is prediction time. Almost all of the contestants delivered solid performances tonight, so this is a tough call. But I definitely think Lil Rounds is going to be in the bottom three again. The harsh criticism she received from Simon right at the end of the show--criticism that will therefore remain fresh in viewers' minds when they pick up the phone and dial--will certainly hurt her, as will her cumulative weeks of so-so performances all season long. And I personally thought Matt was great, but he's been in trouble before and the judges were pretty hard on him this week again, so he'll probably do poorly in the voting too. And Anoop will probably be in the bottom again too, not because he gave a bad performance just because someone has to be in the bottom, and he's been there many times already, which does not bode well for him. Plus, his unsportsmanlike behavior last week--when Kris tried to buddy up to him on the results show, and he gave Kris the cold shoulder--might not have ingratiated Anoop with voters who've so far just kept him on because he is "likable." Anoop's likability factor took a major nosedive last week.
But ultimately, I think it's the increasingly unlikable Lil Rounds who will go tomorrow. Simon was right: Allison really is the only Great Female Hope this season.
Tune in tomorrow night to see if I'm right! And log on tomorrow (Wednesday) morning at 9:30am Pacific for Yahoo!'s weekly live Idol chat, where you can dish with AmIdol fanatics (including me) about tonight's show and tomorrow night's predicted results. Just log on tomorrow at http://tv.yahoo.com/blog/yahoo-tv-water-cooler-idols-lucky-7-go-to-the-movies--240 and come say hi!