Hey, Idol famalam! Your gracious host, Claire Zulkey, is traipsing around Europe on a reality-show fact-finding tour, so she's appointed me to step in and cover everyone's favorite non-Eurovision televised singing competition until she gets back. And it's a great time to do it, because this is my favorite part of AI — the final 24 have been selected and we start getting the individually judged performances. I love this stage, because the performances start to have consequences, and we really get a sense of how good the singers really are. And, to top it all off, we finally know people well enough to hate them!
Tonight, it's time to go girl crazy with the Dictators, er, judges! Yes, it's time to start cutting down on the ladies, who Simon says are a special crop this year. I think he means that none of them are fat. Kara is dressed like 1982-era Toni Basil; Randy gives some stupid advice to the singers; Ellen points out that Randy's advice is stupid and seems to have some trouble finding the camera; and Simon is made the subject of fun in a comedy sketch, which this show should never, ever do again. Still, her Simon-wants-me jokes are funnier than Ryan Toothpaste's. The theme this week is Billboard hits, so I'm looking forward to hearing someone sing "Indiana Wants Me". Let's get to it:
Page Miles, "All Right Now" (Free). Page is exuberant, by which I mean that she is fat. This song is a bit of a rocker for a smooth soulful type like her, but she sells it well enough and doesn't do a bad job despite letting the backup singers do some of the heavy lifting. Simon says she has the best voice of all the girls, but picked a "cheap" song. Kara and Randy disagree, but are both wrong.
Ashley Rodriguez, "Happy" (Leona Lewis). Ashley does that thing were she whispers the hard passages instead of singing them. I don't think much of her and her silver satin baseball-jacket-looking thing; she's one of those first-round performers who isn't terrible, but isn't that great either. Randy says "You did a pretty good job of her, but not really you". I don't know what that means.
(Aside: I'm loving the commercials this time around, including the stoned guy who used to have CDs cluttering up his car until he bought a Ford, and the PSA that urges teenage girls to avoid pregnancy by bouncing on a trampoline. Also, the Coke cups are back!)
Janell Wheeler, "What About Love?" (Heart). I thought Janell was pretty decent in Hollywood, but there's something about her personality that rubs me the wrong way. Maybe it's that she's the boyfriend of Tim Tebow, or maybe that she's wearing an off-the-shoulder purple number that looks like what Kara's wearing. She sings at the same level throughout instead of busting out some volume at the peaks, which is the wrong way to approach the song; the judges agree. Simon says she gave it "100% effort and 65% execution". Ellen likes her, but I suspect Ellen might be thinking with her dick.
Lilly Scott, "Fixing a Hole" (The Beatles). First of all, "Fixing a Hole" was not a Billboard hit. Anyway, Lilly says it's a struggle to support herself, and yeah, I bet it can't be all that profitable busking in downtown Denver. However, she makes a good song choice, and does interesting things with it; I like her a lot, and she's got good stage presence too. Kara says she's "believable", which is an odd compliment.
Katelyn Epperly, "Oh Darling" (The Beatles). Okay, seriously, Idol, the Beatles had like a hundred Billboard hits, and so far you are zero for two in picking them. This is one of McCartney's big Motowny numbers, so it needs a belter, which Katelyn tries to pull off in a sort of sub-Bette-Midler way. It's the kind of performance that makes Ellen bust out the word "interesting". Kara says what we are all thinking, which is that Kara is a bitch.
Haeley Vaughn, "I Want to Hold Your Hand" (The Beatles). Is there a rule that every female competitor in this season has to put some kind of crazy doodad in their hair? Anyway, this was an actual hit for the Beatles, and I actually really dug Haeley's performance; it was all over the place, but she pulled it together big at the end, and her version was actually unpredictable, which is rare for this show. The judges thought it was too messy, though. Simon: "verging on terrible". Audience: "boooooooo".
Lacey Brown, "Landslide" (Fleetwood Mac). Scoring high on the having-a-thing-in-your-hair compulsories, Lacey delivers a pretty mediocre performance; it was competent enough, but didn't move me at all. Randy breaks out his first "pitchy" of the evening for it; Simon calls it depressing, self-indulgent and boring; and Kara recommends that she sing songs by Sixpence None the Richer, marking the first time anyone has mentioned that band since 1998.
Michelle Delamor, "Fallen" (Alicia Keys). Michelle does that Whitney Houston thing of doing a bunch of scaley up-and-down runs, which I super hate, but at least she doesn't have a thing in her hair. She gets mixed reviews from the judges, but I have a feeling she could have some staying power just because there's no one else really filling that diva role this time around.
Didi Benami, "The Way I Am" (Ingrid Michaelson). You may recall Didi singing a Kara DioGuardi song last time out, not at all to suck up. She's a cryer, but vows to keep it together tonight because "America has seen enough of my tears". That's way too much profundity from a woman wearing a knit technicolor-dreamcoat thing on a TV singing contest. There's no there there in this song, but it does mention Rogaine in the lyrics, so, hey, free ad. Kara steals "pitchy" from Randy when criticizing Didi, so he has to fall back on "oomph".
Siobhan Magnus, "Wicked Game" (Chris Isaak). Siobhan is an apprentice glass blower. Let the inappropriate jokes commence, gentlemen! Siobhan comes out all tricked out like Tori Amos with a low voice and a doodad in her hair, and delivers the kind of performance that the judges usually call too old for a singer — she's got a decent voice and a cool approach to the material, but she sounds like she's auditioning to be on adult contemporary radio.
Crystal Bowersox, "Hand in My Pocket" (Alanis Morrisette). Crystal cops to not watching or even liking American Idol, which ought to endear her to the voters. I like her, anyway, and I even dig her take on this terrible song, which she imbues with energy and punch. The judges tend to like her, but they want her to step outside of her white-girl-with-dreadlocks comfort zone. Kara's comments tonight seem calculated to prove that she's the smartest person in the room, but man, she wouldn't be that if she was alone on the stage.
Katie Stevens, "Feeling Good" (Michael Bublé). Katie, at 17, is the youngest contestant on the show, and Crystal, at 24, is the oldest, thus running the gamut from incredibly young to merely astoundingly young. Boy, do I hate Michael Bublé, but Katie's a belter and gives this one all she's got — which may not be enough. Ellen (or "E", as Randy has taken to calling her), in her only perceptive comment of the night, notes that she takes the whole thing too conservatively; Simon says it sounds like something her parents picked out. Kara once again uses "pitchy" as Randy sits there, silently seething GET YOUR OWN CATCH WORD DAWG.
So, overall, I liked this episode quite a bit — it was a pretty quick two hours, since there's still enough contestants that they don't get to dick around, and I'm generally impressed with this year's crop of gals. It's right around now that's the most fun time to be watching Idol, and damned if it doesn't have its hooks in me again. Thanks again, Claire, for letting me take over during a fun stretch of the season!
- My picks for the bottom two: Lacey for being boring and forgettable and Siobhan for being like a minor-league Lacey. Don't take my advice, though, since I am the worst AI picker in the history of guessing.
- This may be the most un-Idol group of girls they've ever picked. Crystal, Sibhan, Haeley, Lacey, and Lilly are all pretty quirky and atypical by the rigid pop-star standards of this show. Who'd have thought at this late stage they'd start making interesting choices?
- So, who did you like, gang — and who did you hate? I'm a bit surprised that they haven't given us a truly unlikable character yet; usually by now there's a contestant you love to loathe.