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American Idol Top 8 Performances: Unhappy Birth-Days

Lyndsey Parker
Reality Rocks

So tonight's American Idol theme was all about songs of the contestants' respective birth years, which of course made me feel positively ancient when I realized that someone like 16-year-old Allison Iraheta is too young to even sing Nirvana's "Smell Like Teen Spirit" if she wanted to.

This season's oldest contestant, in fact, is Danny Gokey, who was born way back in the Dark Ages of 1980. Sheesh! At least last year's eldest contender, Michael Johns, actually sang a song from the 1970s when this "birth-year" theme came up in season 7.

Anyway, tonight Ole Man Danny sang first, inexplicably covering a song originally recorded in 1961, "Stand By Me"--guess he found a loophole, because Mickey Gilley recorded the Ben E. King tune for the 1980 movie Urban Cowboy. Man, of all the totally-awesome 1980 songs Danny could have gone with, this was an odd choice, especially considering the weird gospel/jazz arrangement accompanying him tonight. Seriously, I liked this song better when Josiah Leming messed it up last season during Hollywood Week.

I thought Danny's vocals were pretty wishy-washy too, but since he can seem to do no wrong in the judges' eyes (or ears), they all stood by him as usual. Randy Jackson and Kara DioGuardi, despite disliking the arrangement as much as I did, raved about Gokey's vocals, and Simon Cowell thought the performance was "overall, great."

Whatever. Danny so did not wow me tonight. I'm beginning to think the judges would just praise him no matter what he sang or did. They almost always go too easy on him.

Next was Kris Allen, born in 1985. And he decided to perform possibly THE most annoying song of '85, Don Henley's "All She Wants To Do Is Dance." As Simon said, a "stupid, stupid song choice." I suppose it would be difficult to make this song worse than it already was, and at least Kris didn't do that. But his wannabe-John Mayer wankathon arrangement certainly didn't improve the song, either. Kara likened it to "jazz-funk homework from music class," an assessment I agreed wholeheartedly with, although I didn't quite understand Kara's comment that Kris's version made the song "lose its youth," since "youth" has never been a word that's sprung to my mind when thinking of Don Henley. Simon called Kris's cover "indulgent, boring, and forgettable" and told him, "You came over as a guitarist who wanted to sing, rather than a singer who plays guitar."

Darn it. Kris was so good last week, too. Either "Ain't No Sunshine" just a fluke, or it was a strong sign that Kris needs to ditch his guitar and concentrate on the keyboards from now on.

Singing third was 1984-born Lil' Rounds, performing Tina Turner's massive hit "What's Love Got To Do With It?" Finally, I thought--a seriously good song choice! But I thought wrong. I didn't dig Rounds' Tina cover after all, and neither did the judges. I agreed with them that it was a sad copycat performance, right down to Lil's miniskirt and Tina-style rooster walk. Lil' may sing well--she probably wouldn't have made it to the top 8 if she didn't--but week after week she's failed to exhibit what Simon likes to call the "X Factor," and never was that more clear than it was tonight when she tried to fill Tina's mighty big stilettos. "We are not looking for a second- or third-rate version of Tina Turner," Simon groaned. Ouch. What's love got to do with it, indeed. Lil' got NO love from any of the judges, especially Simon, tonight. Whether she'll get any love from voters remains to be seen, but I think she's in trouble this week.

1986 baby Anoop Desai sang fourth, going the sleepy, stool-seated route on an adult-contemporary-ish version of Cyndi Lauper's soft-popper "True Colors." This was an ironic song choice for Anoop, since it's been hard to figure out his true colors over the course of this competition. As Simon phrased it tonight, Anoop's been a "singing yo-yo"--one week acting like an R&B party boy and the next week wearing a Mr. Rogers cardigan and boringly warbling lite-radio pleasantries. It was obviously the latter Anoop--the kinder, gentler, duller Anoop--onstage this week.

Randy, who only two weeks ago was complaining that he missed the "party Anoop," but then complained again last week when Anoop picked up the pace on an Usher song, was a "judging yo-yo" this week--by praising Anoop for "pulling back" tonight. Simon, Kara, and Paula Abdul all agreed with Randy that it was a "very nice vocal." And I suppose it was, albeit a somewhat dull one. But unfortunately the judges' positive feedback this week means Anoop will probably sing more blah balladry in future weeks. And then it's only a matter of time before the judges flip-flop/yo-yo again, and they start whining that they want Anoop to cut loose. The guy just can't win. Literally. He's NOT going to win American Idol. But he did a'ight tonight.

Scott MacIntyre went next, bizarrely and ill-advisedly singing Survivor's 1985 power ballad "The Search Is Over." But the search is NOT over, people--not if we're still searching for the next American Idol. Because Scott is so not that. I've admittedly always had a mushy soft spot for this maudlin mellow-gold rock song--it's cheesy-good, in a mid-period Chicago sort of way--but Scott's version of "The Search Is Over" just made my ears turn to mush. The song requires a big, belty voice that Scott simply does not possess. So his performance was just awful tonight. Kara tried to be nicey-nice, admitting that the Survivor song was an "overambitious" attempt but saying, "There were parts I liked." (Which part, Kara? The part when Scott  stopped?) Additionally, Scott's unexpected and unnecessary electric-guitar playing certainly was not up to par with his piano work of past weeks. (Simon called it "horrible and atrocious" and pointed out that Paula had been wrong, wrong, wrong in advising Scott to get out from behind his keyboard.)

Scott, whose biggest strength at this point in the competition is his sense of humor, jokingly defended his decision to play a six-string as his "punk side coming out" (um, Survivor is punk? okaaay...), but I don't think Scott's going to get the last laugh here--he's very likely going home after this. And as for Scott's other, more serious defense--that he was trying to show how versatile he is--well, I don't think it's going to help him that he's now proven he can suck in several different ways.

So it looks like last week's more-than-decent "Just The Way You Are" performance was just a fluke. I didn't like Scott just the way he was tonight. And I have a feeling neither did millions of viewers.

Next was this season's only "'90s baby," Allison Iraheta. I'm still annoyed that she was in the bottom three last week--so undeserved!--but I think it might help that the age gap between Allison and her opponents was so clearly delineated this week. I mean, she's almost half Danny Gokey's age, yet she is holding her own on this show and, in my opinion, singing circles around Danny and pretty much everyone else in the top 8 aside from Adam Lambert. The birth-year song she picked tonight was Bonnie Raitt's "I Can't Make You Love Me," and while I would have preferred her doing something ever-so-slightly more rockin' (a cursory glance of a top-songs-of-1992 list brought to my mind such suggestions as the Red Hot Chili Peppers' "Under The Bridge," GNR's "November Rain," Temple Of The Dog's "Hunger Strike," Tori Amos's "Crucify," and U2's "One"), Allison still made me love her nonetheless. All the judges praised her performance (particularly Randy, who told her, "You can sing your face off," compared Allison to Kelly Clarkson, and said it was one of the best vocals of the night). But Simon, in light of Allison's near-brush with elimination last week, advised her: "We just have to make you a bit more likable. I don't think your personality is coming through. You need to talk more."

I'm not so sure Simon was right in this instance. Remember Allison's totally weirdo Ryan Seacrest interview back in the top 36 semi-finals? About her schoolwork on set? It was one of the more awkward Idol moments in recent memory. Allison just doesn't interview well. She might be better off keeping her mouth shut--except when she's singing her face off, of course.

Next, rebounding from his dud Fray-copycat performance last week was Matt Giraud, who took a big risk by doing a song by the almighty Stevie Wonder--an even tougher legend to live up to than Tina Turner. But he actually was wondrous and wonderful on a slinky, Timberlake-ish rendition of 1985's "Part-Time Lover." It was full-time awesome! Paula was on her feet (and sometimes practically in Simon's lap) throughout the performance, later critiquing Matt with: "Two words...STANDING O!" Randy called Matt's performance "one of best of night"; Kara declared it "incredible on every level"; and Simon said it was "millions times better than last week." I was just delighted to see Matt do so well after backtracking last week and unjustly being in the bottom three the week before that.

Singing last, in the "pimp spot," was a contestant so great he really didn't need any pimping: yes, Adam Lambert. After a humorous retrospective of his hammy past (all contestants tonight had their incriminating baby photos put on display, but I most enjoyed the ones of Adam "playing dressup" in capes and three-piece suits), he sang THE most perfect song: Tears For Fears' 1982 hit, "Mad World." A Cold War classic from the broodingly gothic '80s, chillingly remade a few years ago by Gary Jules for the Donnie Darko soundtrack...now here was the ideal example of a well-matched singer and song. Adam sang it more in the Gary Jules semi-acoustic style...but unlike Anoop, he was never boring, even though he performed most of the song while seated. It was a goosebumpy rendition, all blue-backlit and melancholy and supercool, so much so that Simon was actually RENDERED SPEECHLESS, saying, "Words are unnecessary," and HE GAVE ADAM A STANDING OVATION.

Wow. Has Simon ever given anyone a standing O? I'm not sure, but my mouth was certainly O-shaped tonight, agape with shock.

So now it is prediction time. I think Adam, Matt, and hopefully Allison will be safe this week, as they were far and away the best three of the night. Kris and Danny personally did nothing for me, but their fanbases are strong enough to vote them through to next week, and they weren't the worst. Which leaves the obvious bottom three: Lil' Rounds, Anoop Desai, and Scott MacIntyre. And if viewers vote with their EARS this time--not their hearts or consciences--they will send Scott home. Sure, he's overcome a lot of adversity in his life, and that is commendable...but he shouldn't be allowed to overcome tonight's bad performance and stay in this competition.

Tune in tomorrow night to see if I'm right! And log on tomorrow (Wednesday) morning at 9:30am Pacific for Yahoo!'s 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-elite-8-perform-birth-year-songs--230 and come say hi!

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