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American Idol: 8 Finalists Compete

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Howdy, Idol watchers and non-watchers alike!  While our beloved Claire is soaking up some sunshine on vacation, it falls to me to do the recaps this week, because I'm still tuning in for some reason.  If this reads a little spotty, it's because I idiotically hit the wrong tab on my browser about five seconds before completing the recap and lost every single thing I'd written.  Bravo, me.

Anyway, after an unsettling advertisement for Jack in the Box mini-sirloin burgers, we get straight to the action.  The theme this week is songs that were popular the year contestants were born, which is always good for a laugh, or a shudder of pointless nostalgia.  Out comes Ryan Toothpaste, dressed like he's got a court date (who's suing him?  show of hands), and makes the unlikely claim that our remaining contestants were "born with the dream of becoming a superstar".  This theme week always includes pictures of the competitors from when they were babies, but Ryan asks "Why just embarrass the contestants?"  Indeed, Ryan, why not embarrass yourself as well?  So he trots out baby pictures of the judges as well, starting out with Randy Jackson, who looks like Li'l' Louis Farrakhan.  He says of Kara DioGuardi that "it looks like you just made a poopy", thus answering the eternal question 'what is the thing you would least like to hear Ryan Seacrest say?'.  Paula Abdul looked as drunk at age 8 as she does now, and Simon Cowell is the dopest in his gun-toting-telegram-boy outfit.  Gay men in the audience begin weeping openly at the sight of baby Ryan.


First up is Danny Gokey.  All aboard the Gokey Express to LensCrafters!  Toot toot!  Little Danny Gokey, in his baby pictures, bears an uncanny resemblance to young Ben Linus.  Although he's dressed like a member of Loverboy, Danny sings Mickey Gilley's 1980 cover of "Stand By Me", a.k.a. the world's wimpiest version of the song.  It's such a pussified arrangement that even when the percussion kicks in, he's gotta sell it entirely with his voice, which is strong enough, but nothing we haven't heard before.  Even when he gospels it up at the end, it leaves me feeling flat.    I'm still not on board the Gokey-Haters Local, but this was pretty mediocre for Danny.  Randy loved the song, but didn't love the arrangement; Kara says he took it to a higher level, which I guess is about 3.  Paula says he set the bar high, no doubt thinking of Danny's high bar.  Simon liked the performance, but says he can't stand Paula, probably because he has to sit next to her.

Kris Allen has actually been getting better as the show goes on, and the judges love people who show improvement.  He tells a strange story in his segment about a gay carny (or, as Kris calls him, the "instructor of the Ferris wheel" who apparently mistook him for Adam Lambert's pimp, and then proceeds to piss away all the goodwill his last few performances have built up by singing "All She Wants to Do is Dance".  It's a truly cretinous song with some of the most embarrassingly predictable lyrics of all time, and Kris sings it adequately, but not interestingly, because it basically only has two notes.  The weird hung-over Miami Sound Machine arrangement (which Kara nails as sounding like homework from jazz-funk class) does him no favors, and his equally strange stage set-up not only makes it look like he's being attacked by zombies, but conceals the fact that he's wielding a guitar but not actually playing a guitar.  Paula likes it because she votes with her vag, but the guys say it's one of the stupidest covers they've ever seen.  That's Don Henley for you.

Next up, we see Lil Rounds' understandably defensive sounding mother, Dolline (!), insisting that yes, Lil Rounds is her real name.  Lil was adorable as a kid, and now, slimmed down, made up, and looking hot, she steps to an appreciative crowd with Tina Turner's "What's Love Got to Do with It?".  I actually like the performance, but it's such a slavishly precise evocation — she even does the Tina Turner "check out these gams" choreography — that I worry instantly that the judges are gonna nail her for being too derivative.  Sure enough, Paula and Simon are both harsh and bitchy to Lil, and Kara gives her some good technical advice which will be ignored.  Randy says there are a lot of other good songs from that year she should have picked, but he's too modest to mention Journey.

Anoop Desai joins us wearing some kind of insane lime-green Kanye West concoction, when he really should be wearing the Viceroy Mountbatten outfit we saw him decked out in at age six.  He sings Cyndi Lauper's "True Colors", which I sort of dread; I like Anoop less in sensitive-crooner mode than I do uptempo-soul mode, but given this weeke's theme, that could mean the Jets, and nobody wants that.   Anoop turns in a totally competent performance — there's absolutely nothing wrong with it — but it's likewise a pretty forgettable one.  Still, I think regardless of where he lands in the voting, Noop Dogg has a good career ahead of him.  The judges, who I thought were gonna tear into him, were generally pretty kind; Randy loved him, Kara gave some Sphinx-ish advice ("you controlled the song instead of letting the song control you"), and Simon referred to him as "Anoop the Singing Yo-Yo".


As a young boy, Scott McIntyre wanted to be a train conductor.  NO THANK YOU.  We do get to see a young scott dressed up as Scorpion from Mortal Kombat, which is pretty great.  He decides, for who knows what reason, to sing Survivor's "The Search is Over" — goddamn, these people were born under some bad musical signs.  He also plays, and I used the word loosely, a guitar that's either out of tune or filtered through a really bad Montgomery Ward amp or something.  It's pretty well established that Scott is in way over his head in this competition, and he proves it tonight, botching the high notes and veering wildly between mediocre and awful.  But, on the other hand, he's blind, so the judges keep giving him the weakest possible attaboys for his performances.  To his credit, he seems to have a sense of humor about it, but Christ, he's out of his depth.

As a young girl, Allison Iraheta's crazy mom took her to the doctor because she talked too much.  Child Protective Services, take note.  Performing Bonnie Raitt's "I Can't Make You Love Me", Allison looks pretty fresh, but to use a criticism the judges are usually gaga for, the song seems a bit grown up for her.  Of course, she executes it quite well, because she's one of the three most talented people left in this year's competition, but it just seems off to me.  Still, she's earned enough goodwill these last few months to survive more than a few muddled efforts, and the judges are typically enthusiastic.  Paula loves it, Randy busts out the Kelly Clarkson comparisons and says she can "sing her face off", and Kara says she did a good job selling the song's "adult content".  Gross, Kara.


When we first see Matt Giraud, he is apparently throwing gang signs at his baby picture.  We're then treated to footage of him doing some sort of Sunday school play at his megachurch, which is adorably insufferable.  Once he starts singing Stevie Wonder's "Part Time Love", I wish that he was still wearing the tinsel garland from the play on his head instead of the crappy jazz hat he's actually rocking.  I don't particularly care for his performance, because his blend of blue-eye soul is not my lid of lopsang souchong, but it does seem like he's the only performer tonight who really puts his vocals up front and doesn't back-seat himself to the arrangement.  The judges love him, but their praise is as terse as it is lofty, because cruel taskmaster Ryan Toothpaste has noticed that they're running late and we can't be cutting into Fringe-time.

Oh, Adam Lambert, how I hate you.  We seem him as a child dressed as the Phantom from Phantom of the Opera, OH WHAT A GIVEAWAY, and a mustachioed businessman, DON'T MIND ME GIRLS, WHOOPS, INNUENDO.  Then he goes and sings Tears for Fears' "Mad World", and as much as it pains me to admit it, he absolutely kills it.  For once in his fucking life he doesn't oversell the song and squash the shit out of every note, and it works perfectly.  In a sense, it doesn't matter, because he's Adam, and since this isn't his normal schtick, he'll be back in touring-company-of-Starlight-Express mode by next week, but knowing that he's capable of this forces me to hate him a little bit less.  Ticktock Man Ryan gives the judges only enough time to hand him a standing O, and we're out.


I actually thought, as mid-season Idol goes, this was a pretty good one.  The bad songs were memorably bad, the good songs were interestingly good, and it was short enough not to get boring.  Of course, it helps that, Scott aside, there are no truly bad contestants left; unlike in previous years, no one who flat-out sucks has been allowed to get this far, and that makes a big difference.  It also means that picking the contestant who's gonna get booted is a far dicier proposition.  It's hard to believe, but this show can still be occasionally exciting!  Go figure.

Grade:  B

Stray Observations:

- Did anyone recognize the bald, robotic-looking guy they showed in the audience at the top of the show?  The camera lingered on him long enough to suggest we were supposed to know who he was, but to me, he looked like Moby reprogrammed to be an assassin.


- My picks for the bottom 3 this time out: Lil, Kris, Anoop.  I'm predicting our beloved Noop Dogg gets the boot, because that's just how I roll.  Watch for his first album, a collaboration with King Khan & BBQ, in stores soon.

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