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American Idol: Three Dawg Night

Lyndsey Parker
Reality Rocks

Tonight on a very special American Idol, the judges got to pick a song for each of the final three, which--if you believe in Idol conspiracy theories, which I admittedly sometimes do--meant the judges could really fix this competition by cruelly foisting truly mismatched tunes upon the hapless contestants. (Remember, bad song selection felled many an Idol contender this season, from Kasey Carlson's "Every Little Thing She Does Is Tragic" Police travesty to Megan Corkrey's snoozy "Turn Your Volume Down Low" Bob Marley cover.

The final three's fate rested squarely in the judges' grubby little hands.

Well, judging by the song Paula Abdul picked for Danny Gokey tonight, she must dislike him as much as I do. Why else would she force him to perform Terence Trent D'Arby's "Dance Little Sister," when Danny himself has frequently pointed out that he CAN NOT DANCE? A funky number like this needed some of the James Brownish fancy footwork that Terence used to so expertly execute back in the day...and let's face it, Danny had already had enough trouble with those simple step/touch/step/touch group-singalong routines he'd struggled through all season.

Actually, Danny's voice was pretty strong on this track tonight--the song brought out the best qualities of his smoky vocals, I grudgingly admit. Unfortunately, it also brought out some truly regrettable funky-chicken dance moves that would make even Taylor Hicks at his purple-jacketed goofiest cringe. Man, I know Terence needed a career comeback...but not like this. I sincerely doubt that Danny's performance will do for "Dance Little Sister" what, say, Jason Castro did for "Hallelujah" last season.

Paula, not wanting to admit she'd made a foolish choice while possibly under the influence of back pills, said of Danny's hokey hoofing: "I'm a choreographer, and I think you did really good!" Well, of course she'd say that. Kara DioGuardi was not as kind, saying, "The dancing was a little too gyrating for me," and Simon Cowell described Danny's moves as "a bit desperate." But then again, Simon also pointed out that Idol is a SINGING show and "not that funny little dance competition next door." (FYI, Simon meant So You Think You Can Dance, a series I love as much or even more than AmIdol, which starts next week to fill the-post-Idol void in my heart and DVR!)

Randy Jackson thought Danny was "dope," but I just thought Danny looked like a big dope. But yeah, singing-wise, Danny was a'ight, dawg.

Next up was Kris Allen, whose song choice came courtesy of Randy and Kara, who as the panel's two most expendable judges apparently have to share one brain now. Anyway, Karandy, as I will now call them, went with OneRepublic's "Apologize," which I thought was a much more sensible selection for this particular contestant, very much in Kris's comfort zone. I mean, muppetboy David Archuleta even did a good job with this song last season (it was the only Archie performance I actually enjoyed last year), so I knew Kris could pull it off, no problem.

Kris indeed performed "Apologize" quite well, showcasing his quiet strengths (unfortunately, his one bum note was not quiet at all, and in fact was loud enough to possibly cost him a place in next week's finale), although Kara inexplicably later lambasted Kris for interpreting it too literally by playing it on piano. Um, what was he SUPPOSED to play it on, the kazoo? This confusing comment angered Simon, enough to have him direct his usual biting criticism not at Kris but at Kara (and, by association, Randy), blaming Karandy for the tune's uninspired arrangement. And then Randy, Kara, and Simon proceeded to bicker like an old bigamist married trio, with poor Paula caught in the middle and probably wishing she could toss back a handful of back pills and make the pain all go bye-bye.

Performing third, in the well-deserved "pimp spot," was Adam Lambert. Adam wasn't just at an advantage by singing last--or, frankly, singing BEST--but also because his song was selected by the Idol judge with the best business sense and artistic instincts, Simon Cowell. And Simon sure got this one right: He went with U2's "One," and he made a specific point of saying that he'd had to personally ring up Bono to get permission for Adam to sing this great ballad of the ages. (Just like the almighty Led Zeppelin had to grant the go-ahead for Adam to do "Whole Lotta Love" last week.)

Please note that Simon mentioned that he got permission from Bono for ADAM LAMBERT to sing "One"--not for just any old Idol hopeful to sing it. I do believe Simon (who, much like me, hasn't been shy about his bias toward Adam, even predicting on Oprah this week that Adam will win) was subtly trying to say, "Bono would not have let Danny or Kris do 'One.'" (But then again, maybe that's just wishful thinking on my part.)

Anyway, this was another slam-dunk Lambert victory. In fact, when he nailed the big goosebumpy note at the end (with none of the difficulty Kris had on "Apologize"), I literally burst into applause. At my desk. By myself. Yes, I am a geek. But I couldn't help but clap! It was, as Simon somewhat self-servingly but still correctly put it, a "brilliant, brilliant performance," and even Paula had to admit Simon had picked the right song for the right singer. It was "One," for The One.

So that was round 1. For round 2, the contestants thankfully wrested back control and got to choose their own tunes. And in Danny and Kris's cases, they were definitely better off having some say in the song-selection process.

First Danny intrepidly thumbed his nose at all Taylor Hicks comparisons (which he has understandably garnered all season) by picking a song by one of Taylor's obvious influences, Joe Cocker. But it was a good choice--and not just because he remained seated during his performance instead of trying to awkwardly boogie all over the stage again (though his lack of movement was a plus, as it put the focus back on his decent voice). He crooned the Billy Preston-penned "You Are So Beautiful" backed by a lovely string section, and his female fans predictably melted and swooned. This was definitely more Danny's element, here.

Karandy loved Danny's second attempt, with Randy saying, "You showed you're here because you can really, really, really sing! You have mad vocals," and Kara equally enthusiastically raving, "Everything you didn't do in the first performance for me, you just did now. Stunning! Amazing!" Simon additionally described Danny's second performance as a "vocal master class." I, of course, wasn't quite so impressed...but this performance was indeed much, much better than Gokey's clumsy round 1 attempt.

However, it was Kris that showed the greatest gains in round 2, proving to Kara and other doubters that he really could change up a song and make it his own. See, for his second number he did an acoustic-folk-guitar rendition of Kanye West's "Heartless," and let me tell you, it was about 18 jillion times better than the time Kanye himself sang it on Idol a few weeks ago. (No Auto-Tunes necessary!) Randy actually declared Kris's version better than both the recent Fray cover AND Kanye's original, and Kara (who lamented, "Why didn't you do that with 'Apologize'???") did a 180 and called Kris "brave, bold, and fearless."

Simon worded it best when he in turn said: "After your lame first song, I had written you out of this competition; that, however, has all changed after that performance." And I hope Simon was right here. "Heartless" may have given Kris the edge he needed, as this was one of the most memorable performances of the night and one of Kris's best of the season. Kris did what he needed to do tonight; despite his humble demeanor, he demonstrated that he was in it to win. Obviously I still have all my hopes pinned on Adam for the actual win, but I'd much rather see Kris in the finale than Danny, and his records are the ones I'd be more likely to buy in the future.

Saving the best for last was Adam, who put Danny's eardrum-perforatingly screechy "Dream On" debacle from last week to shame--by taking on an Aerosmith song himself with much more swagger and much more success. I do wish he'd done something a little more out-there and flamboyant--like Queen or Cher, as mentioned by Ryan Seacrest, or maybe even some Scissor Sisters or Mika or Rufus Wainwright or Patrick Wolf. But hey, that "is he gay?" Entertainment Weekly cover story may have freaked out more conservative viewers/voters already, so I guess there was no need for Adam to take a big risk like that. Instead he belted out the testosterock classic that Kara wished Danny had sung last week, "Cryin'," although he of course sang it about 18 jillion times better than Danny would have. After this, I'll be cryin' if Adam is not in the finale next week.

"You are one of the best that we've ever had on this stage!" Randy bellowed. (What did he mean, one of the best? How about THE best?) Paula made some indecipherable comment about frequent flier miles and flying high that made me suspect she was flying high, if you catch my drift...but it was a compliment, I did understand that much. Kara predicted, "We'll see you at the finals!" But Simon still warned people to vote, saying to Adam, "It's very easy to assume that you're going to sail through to the finale. But I want people to vote for you because you deserve it, based on talent."

So now, it's time for my picks and predictions. I do actually think Adam will sail through--although I plan to take Simon's advice and do a lot of speed-dialing tonight, just in case. As for the other spot in next week's finals, it's a toss-up. I believe that Kris deserves it more: He's never been my favorite, and I still would have preferred to have seen Allison Iraheta at the finale, but as I look back on this entire season, Kris has showed more range, versatility, and bravery than Danny. His covers of "Falling Slowly," "Ain't No Sunshine," "She Works Hard For The Money," and "Heartless"--mostly with his own musical accompaniment--have been way more original and have showed infinitely more growth than Danny's samey, sappy performances week after week. So if it were up to me, Kris would make it through tomorrow night.

But...it's NOT up to me, sadly. It's up to all of America, and for some reason America has voted Danny through again and again and again. Danny's never been in the bottom (remember, last week's results were rattled off in random order, so Danny was not necessarily in the bottom two with Allison), and he's a been a frontrunner from the season's kickoff (unlike Kris, who was such a dark horse that it was actually a shock when he made the top 13 at all). So while I'd LIKE Kris to make it, and I think his "Heartless" performance might have made that a possibility, it's still not a probability. I think Danny's probably going to make it instead. Luckily, Adam will be in the finale to keep things interesting--because Danny's shtick has become quite boring by now.

Tune in tomorrow night to see what happens! 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 elimination. Just log on tomorrow at http://tv.yahoo.com/blog/yahoo-tv-water-cooler-idols-top-3-perform-2-songs--317 and come say hi!

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