Overall, a pretty impressive night on American Idol tonight. Just about everyone seemed to bring their “A game” tonight, and the competition is still wide open–yeah, I know there seems to be some kind of Chris Daughtry bandwagon starting up, but I’m not part of that. By my count, there are at least a good half-dozen people who could still win this thing (and even a couple more who could win and may not be deserving.) Of course, I say that and two of those six will probably get eliminated the next two weeks, so who knows?
Tonight’s guest is Barry Manilow, and I liked how he gave good advice to the singers–to tweak the song enough to make it your own–and helped them do it. It’s obvious he’s a fan of the show. I also never knew that his fans were called “Fanilows” (and was that clip of fans going crazy scary or what?), and I think I actually know a Fanilow. Even stranger, the Fanilow I know is male and married–so he may have his own very small Fanilow club. And I felt really bad for poor Bobby Bennett, a Fanilow so big he actually sang a Barry Manilow song on the show a few weeks ago. He must have been crying his eyes out at home–but he was still in the final 11, viewers would have probably been crying their eyes out, so it all worked out.
My quick Barry Manilow memory is of listening many times at the age of 8 or 9 to his Even Now record, which contained the classics “Can’t Smile Without You” and of course, “Copacabana.” This was despite the fact that I was originally upset with my mom for buying that record and not an album with my then-favorite Manilow song, “It’s A Miracle.” I was a weird kid.
Tonight’s theme was 50's night, which was good because it supplied a vast array of songs for the singers to choose from, and no one had any excuse for picking a song that wasn’t right for them. Even with all those song choices, Chris Daughtry still somehow managed to selected a 2006-era modern rock song. But I’ll get to that later.
By the way, at the top of the show Ryan alluded to Simon’s prediction of a top three last week as a guest on the Howard Stern show. Simon said he thought Chris, Taylor and, to Howard and Robin’s surprise and chagrin, Kellie Pickler would be the top three, claiming that “middle America” are big fans of Kellie. He also spoke sort of highly of Katharine McPhee and promised Howard that Mandisa wouldn’t win (this after Howard said he thought Mandisa was a good singer but too “old-fashioned” and “gospelly” for American Idol). So take all that for what it’s worth.
Mandisa (“I Don’t Hurt Anymore”)–I hesitate to quote anything Paula says approvingly, but when she said that Mandisa “took me back to the 50s,” I kind of knew what she meant. Mandisa did do a good job of capturing the feel of the era in her song and performance, and she sang the song very well. My biggest problem/fear with Mandisa is that she can oversing a song, and other than maybe the last couple of notes, she didn’t do that tonight–she just gave a powerful performance. But there was a big question raised by tonight’s Mandisa appearance–is there some kind of effort to sex up Mandisa? There’s no doubt that Mandisa looked as good as she ever had on Idol tonight–but first Ryan says “she looks hot tonight,” then Simon says she gave a strip-club type performance, and then Ryan talks again about how good she looks. What’s going on? Oh, and the nickname “Man-diva”? Not good. It just makes me think of a man.
Bucky Covington (“Oh Boy”)–So Paula said that when Bucky started singing this song, she nudged Randy and said “Perfect song.” It took you that long to figure that out, Paula? When Bucky said at the beginning of the videotape, “I’m singing ‘Oh, Boy’ by Buddy Holly” and started to sing the beginning, I said to myself, “Sounds like a good song for Bucky.” Unfortunately, it didn’t work out all that great. Simon was right–there was nothing special about the performance. As I think I’ve said before, you kind of think Bucky is going to break out and do something special, but he really doesn’t–he just sings the song with his cool-sounding but not that powerful voice and that’s about it. But if it’s any consolation, Paula did tell Bucky that “people love you.” Oh, and once again we had Ryan sort of putting down Simon by thanking Randy and Paula for their constructive criticism. This was what Ryan considered constructive criticism from Mr. Jackson: “Find the song that’s going to give you the best vocal performance.” Wow, Ryan, you were actually impressed by that? Randy has said more or less the same thing about 460 times over the last five seasons. But maybe Bucky went backstage, slapped his forehead and said, “Wow, I’ve been choosing songs all this time that didn’t give me a good vocal performance–what was I thinking?” (Actually, considering some contestants just this year have picked songs because it was their grandmother’s favorite song or they thought the lyrics reflected being voted into the Top 12, maybe this advice is more needed than I give it credit for.)
Paris Bennett (“Fever”)–I’m not a huge fan of this song–you hear it a lot and so many people have covered it, but is it really that great a song?–but I really liked Paris doing it tonight. She has quite a powerful voice, and can really put on a performance. As I’ve said before, she may be little, but she commands the stage. I hope she’s around for a while.
Then we saw Constantine Maroulis and Ryan Cabrera sitting together for some reason, which got me thinking–who is more famous of those two? I believe Ryan Cabrera had a number one record, and he dated Ashlee Simpson for a while (kind of lost its cachet after the lip-syncing incident), but Constantine finished in sixth place on American Idol. It took me a while to think of the name of Ryan Cabrera’s hit single (“All The Way Down” and it’s terrible), while I could name four or five songs Constantine sang on American Idol right off the top of my head. And my parents know who Constantine is, but wouldn’t know Ryan Cabrera if he walked into their kitchen (I might not either.) So I think the answer is Constantine. Oh, and was it alumni night tonight at Idol? We saw Jasmine Trias and Lindsay Cardinale (which was really about as low on the Idol food chain as you could go), and Carmen Rasmussen was even there (I was flipping the channels about 10:30 and saw her appear on an MSNBC talk show talking about Idol, and she said she had just come from the show.) Sorry, back to the singers.
Chris Daughtry (“Walk the Line”)–So Chris’s singing was very good, and he took charge of the stage as well. But does he have to turn everything, even a Johnny Cash song, into a Staind song? (For my older readers, Staind is a current rock group that, in my opinion, sings slow, ponderous and often boring rock songs.) Isn’t the whole point of these theme weeks to make the singers stretch and show that they can do different things–and make it more interesting for the audience at home so that the singers aren’t singing exactly the same thing every week? But we have Chris, who takes a song from whatever theme they’re doing that week and fits it into his “modern rock” theme.Maybe I’m being a little inconsistent, since I am a fan of the singers doing something to make a song their own, but there’s making a song your own and twisting a song so much that it’s not even really the song you started with. Of course, the judges seemed to love it–you “refused to compromise,” said Simon. “You know who you are,” said Randy. But here’s a lesson for Chris from Johnny Cash. About ten years ago, Johnny Cash recorded a bunch of other people’s songs–from classics like Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge over Troubled Water” to then-current songs like “Hurt” by Nine Inch Nails. And you know what? He just sang the songs, pretty much the way they were (with some slight changes in the arrangements) and they were great. He didn’t have to make wholesale changes so that they were unrecognizable in order to make them Johnny Cash songs, he made them Johnny Cash songs just by singing them. Now, of course, Chris Daughtry doesn’t have a voice like Johnny Cash (and who does?), but I just think what he’s doing is kind of a copout, kind of cheating. One last thing: Why was Paula pantomiming swinging a lasso at the end of Chris’s song? (BREAKING NEWS: Right after I posted this item, I was reading an American Idol message board and learned that Chris' version of "Walk the Line" was not original, as was implied, but was actually a cover of a version recorded by the rock band Live a few years ago. Make of this what you will, but it's not a positive thing in my book.)
Katharine McPhee (“Come Rain or Come Shine”)–So Katharine finally wore a dress that didn’t make her look pregnant, she’s starting to resemble, facially, Jessica Alba (and that’s a very good thing), and she sang very well. So that’s a pretty good night for Katharine in my book. I guess I’m gettting a slight McPheever. Call a doctor. But seriously, Simon was right–she’s becoming a star. In the last two weeks, particularly tonight, she’s shown she knows how to move around a stage and take control of it, and she’s got a lot of vocal ability. I’m also looking forward to seeing her around for a while.
Taylor Hicks (“Not Fade Away”)–I liked it, but I didn’t love it. And I think the reason I liked it was more because I like Taylor, not because I thought the performance was anything special. The whole performance seemed to be more about Taylor moving around the stage and the audience than it was about Taylor actually singing. The song was kind of simplistic for him, but I hope he realizes. The dancing is the fun, amusing part of Taylor that complements the singing. But people like Taylor because of the singing and the special voice, not because he’s a spaz. As for Paula and Simon’s little spat, who do you think I’ll side with? What does Simon’s dance prowess (or lack thereof) have to do with him not liking Taylor’s performance? And why did she keep talking about it like it did? Does she really think that has anything to do with Simon’s critique? Does she really think the audience thinks that has something to do with Simon’s critique–that he allegedly can’t dance? What goes on in that head of Paula’s?
Lisa Tucker (“Why Do Fools Fall in Love?”)–At least Lisa looked cute and young, her age of 16, Vocally, she sounded solid, but both the arrangement and the way she sang the song didn’t give me a pop music feel–to quote both Simon and a former co-worker referring to Clay Aiken, it all came across as “too Broadway” to me. Simon said he felt like he was “trapped in a high school muscial,” and that’s a good way to put it too. (By the way, speaking of Clay, on the Stern show last week, Simon said that when Clay came back to the show to perform a couple years ago, he went into Simon’s dressing room and said that Simon’s comments the night he wore the red leather jacket and sang “Grease”–no, sorry, I don’t recall what the comments were–“still hurt.” Wow, Clay, get over yourself.)
Kevin Covais (“When I Fall In Love”)–So Simon laid off Kevin tonight–maybe strategizing that ripping on him makes him more popular to some people-- by only saying that those who like him would like this performance. Well, I don’t like him, and I didn’t really like this performance, although it probably wasn’t his worst. Paula, of course, praised him for something completely irrelevant, his moxie–what does that have to do with singing “When I Fall In Love”?–but what do you expect from her? Also, Kevin dressed tonight like a guy who was asking to be thrown into a locker in junior high school. That’s the best the stylists could come up with? Can’t they give him a blazer to wear?
Elliott Yamin (“Teach Me Tonight”)–Elliott seems to pick really complex songs, and he did again tonight. I’m not sure I really liked the song all that much, but the second half of the song he really kicked it up a notch and was impressive. I really like Elliott’s voice, but I worry he just hasn’t shown enough charisma to keep him around for a while. And what was going on with that outfit tonight? I’m thinking of wearing that into work tomorrow morning, a tie with an untucked shirt, and see how many people say, “Tuck in your shirt” or “Do you know your shirt is untucked?” before someone says, “Hey, you got the Yamin look going?” (I think I’ll be waiting awhile.) But seriously, is that a look now in style? Anyone know?
Oh, and one last thing about Elliott’s segment. Hope everyone saw Simon mockingly mouth the words “I got goosebumps” after Paula said it about Elliott’s performance. Paula must have to go to the dermatologist after the show most weeks, because it does seem she’s always talking about the way her skin feels during the show.
Kellie Pickler (“Walking After Midnight”)–That was a much improved performance from last week and I think clearly Kellie’s best vocal performance of the competition. She was sexy, confident and interesting. One thing, though: Does Ryan have to treat her each week after her song as one of the Beverly Hillbillies? He seemed to almost say tonight, “So Kellie, can you give us the latest adventures of ‘The Hick in the Big City’?”Is that really necessary? Then again, when Kellie says she thought Simon called her a coat when he referred to her as a minx (and she heard mink), and when she’s so amused that people made signs of her inside a pickle, maybe she brings it upon herself.
Ace Young (“In the Still of the Night”)–The many American Idol conspiracy theorists, as I’ve mentioned before, believe the final spot of the night is used by the producers to feature contestants they want to do well–since it’s the last person voters see before the phone lines open--and call it the “pimp spot.” So it really wasn’t surprising that after a couple weeks as an apparent favorite, and then his surprising appearance in the bottom three, that Ace would end up in the “pimp spot” tonight. The producers don’t want to lose him yet. And Ace took advantage of it tonight–he was better than I thought he’d be on this song. While I still don’t think his voice is all that special, he used it to maximum effect and, combined with his fans rallying to his side this week, should stick around.
So who is the bottom three? Let’s hope Kevin Covais, I think Bucky Covington should end up there, and probably Lisa Tucker. And I’ll predict Bucky will go home, although I really have no idea.