Since this was the week the American Idol finalists sang songs from the year of their birth, we also got to see their baby pictures. (And hey, look, it's the mysterious bald guy from Fringe in the audience.)
Host Ryan Seacrest kicked off the evening by showing baby pictures of the judges. The only one who's picture wasn't cute was the one of big surprise fourth wheel Kara DioGuardi, who was making an unpleasant face (did the producers do that on purpose?). Ryan commented, "Looks like you just made a poopie." Kara corrected him:"Looks like Simon was babysitting me." No one laughed.
The first performance of the evening was by Danny Gokey. From the year 1980, he chose to perform Mickey Gilley's version of "Stand By Me," in a clear effort to subvert the theme. Wearing a purple button-down shirt and a black jacket, his version of the song started very slow in the beginning and then kicked in with a beat. He did a lot of scatting and riffing, which I thought was too much, even if I do like his voice. Interestingly, if you listen to Mickey Gilley's version, it's actually considerably more country than Danny's version, without the tempo change, which reinforces the idea that Danny was dancing around the theme (though no goofy dancing this week).
Randy Jackson did not love the arrangement but added, "You're an amazing singer. You made me love it even though I didn't love the arrangement." Kara also didn't like the arrangement, but said, "At the end, you just killed it." She meant that in a good way. Nice judge Paula Abdul loved it, saying, "You've set the bar so high that everyone's going to have to run as fast as they can to catch up." Ah, Paula, we love you and your mixed metaphors. Simon Cowell called the beginning good, the middle lazy, and the end terrific. Overall, he thought it was great.
Next up was Kris Allen, born in 1985. He chose the Don Henley song, "All She Wants to Do Is Dance." Wearing a khaki military-style jacket, he performed in the audience with his guitar, starting off the song by blowing extra air into his mike as he adjusted it. Fortunately, he recovered from that and had no further mike issues. His version of the song was funky, which paired with his smooth voice, made it feel more contemporary. The one thing I'd fault him on, though, was that he wasn't really interacting with the audience, even though he was right in the midst of them.
Kara said she'd been excited that he picked an up-tempo song tonight but said, "That felt like jazz funk homework." While everyone in the audience was saying, "What?" she explained: "Like a music class told you to reinterpret it that way." (Of course, everybody who DIDN'T change the song that night was told they were copycats, so there's just no pleasing some people.) Paula said, "What's wonderful about you is you're heartfelt and genuine." She liked the arrangement, because he'd made it his own. She also called him "One of most likeable contestants we've had." Simon called it indulgent, boring, and forgettable. He also said that Kris came over "as a guitarist who wanted to sing rather than a singer," whatever that means. Randy agreed that the arrangement was a little self-indulgent. He reminded Kris that the competition is about the singer, not the song.
Ryan got a cheap laugh by telling Simon that his criticism was "indulgent and predictable."
Lil Rounds, a 1984 baby, explained in her video that her name really is Lil, after her grandmother, Lily. There had been some confusion, with people assuming that her name was simply a stage name (notably Simon, who thought it was short for "Little.") She went with the Tina Turner song "What's Love Got to Do with It?" She came out dancing in a tight mini dress with a leather jacket, with her hair straightened once again (is there a rule that at some point, Idol contestants have to mess with their hair?). She also had rhinestones on her shoes. Oh, shiny. They almost distracted me from the performance, which was a good thing. At first, I thought the song was a better choice for her than last week, but her version of it paled to the original. Listening to it again without the video, it just sounds like a karaoke version.
Paula started off, "You look very hot tonight," which meant wait for it! the slam was coming. "This was the week to go outside of the box and prove you know exactly who you are as an artist. You're a brilliant vocalist, but that gets you only so far," Paula said. She added that Lil needed to lead Ricky and the band into "creating her own niche." She summed up the performance as a "beautiful karaoke rendition." Simon didn't parse words: "We're not looking for a second- or third-rate version of Tina Turner, because that's what it was: a copycat performance." He said that she's not making the impact she should be making, and she's got to become original. Randy said, "We all love you," but "it's almost like you're not listening to us." By this he means that she keeps turning up her nose at doing a Mary J. Blige song, even though the judges have been hammering at her for weeks. She's kind of like a cat that refuses to eat its prescription food, gobbling up the cheap store-brand kibble instead. Randy said that Tina Turner is just not her. Kara said it's about "making that leap from a singer to an artist." She also said that Lil's lower range really suffers, and she has to "find her power down there," which was the first useful singing tip they've given her. Why no one ever tells her to stop shouting all her songs, I have no idea.
Then came Anoop Desai, who was born in 1986. He did "True Colors" by Cyndi Lauper, dressed in a lime- and white-striped cardigan with a pale blue button-down shirt and a pink tie. Apparently, the producers are trying to make pink the next hot thing for guys. Before he sang, Ryan allowed him to provide an explanation for why he talked back to the judges the previous week. Anoop agreed it had been a bad idea and apologized. This, by the way, is one reason the show ran over. The way that Anoop sang "True Colors," it could have been just about any song, since he strayed so far from the melody. This time, though, at least he stayed put and therefore didn't have the breath control problems that have plagued him.
Randy seemed surprised: "You can actually sing." He said it was a very nice vocal. Kara praised him for controlling the song and not letting it control him. She said he's showed that he could take a pop song and interpret it with soul. Paula found the choice of song flawless and his phrasing beautiful. She said his voice was truly magical. Simon said he's like a singing yo-yo: "One minute you're down, then you're up." He said that it's good to take a song and make it your version, but he didn't think Anoop's performance was fantastic. He added, though, that Anoop doesn't have to apologize for reacting to what the judges say. That might be true, as far as Simon's concerned: I'm sure he's got a thick skin. It is also true, though, that the voters don't seem to like it when contestants talk back too often.
Next was Scott MacIntyre, a 1985 baby, who stood up and played guitar for his performance of Survivor, "The Search is Over." He was very entertaining in his recorded video, talking about how he loved Halloween as a child. He has definitely demonstrated a lot of personality over the season so far, which is probably one reason viewers like him. In a black button-down with dots and gray pants, he tackled a rock song, which was a bit of a stretch for him. He did rock it out a little, but the key change hit him hard, and he had trouble reaching the high notes.
Kara called it a very difficult song and said she wasn't sure she would have chosen it for him. She said he had some good moments but also some off moments. Paula gave him credit for stepping away from the comfort zone of the piano, although she says she would have picked an acoustic guitar. Scott joked, "It's my punk side coming out." Paula agreed he was reaching for some of the high notes, which "came off a little screeching." Still, overall, she said, "Bravo." Simon suggested he goes back to the piano next week, since that's where he's comfortable. He said the song was horrible, although he clarified that was not a criticism of Scott. His summary: "Awful guitar, really boring song. This was you trying to be someone else." Randy said the performance didn't show him as a star, as one of the best undiscovered talents in America. He told him he needs to "leap off the stage" (I think he meant that as a figure of speech). Scott interjected that this song choice shows he's versatile, while the theme music swelled and mercifully cut him off before he sounded like Anoop last week.
The only '90s baby was Allison Iraheta, born in 1992. She did Bonnie Raitt's "I Can't Make You Love Me." The pre-recorded video was a charming story about how her mother took her to the doctor because she talked so much! With her hair feathered again, wearing a strange combination of a black leather jacket and a black ruffled skirt that was open in the front, she looked very trailer park chic. Her version of the song was nice if not exciting, but for superstitious reasons, I would have avoided a song with lyrics like this: "I can't make you love me if you don't. / You can't make your heart feel something it won't."
Paula loved that she added "some tenderness to a song that's so gut-wrenching." Simon said it was very good but added that she's got to let her personality come over. "Start being talkative. Lighten up," he told her. Randy said that she reminds him of "a girl that won the first season," a.k.a. Kelly Clarkson. "She could sing her face off, and so can you," he said. He urged her to engage the public a little bit more. Kara praised her for taking the adult content of this song and making it "believable and young." Then she added, "Let's go make a record." Of course, that comment could work against Allison if voters feel that don't need to keep her in the competition for her to make a record.
Matt Giraud, born in 1985, made one of the smartest song choices of the night, Stevie Wonder's "Part-time Lover." He was back to his fedora, with a black leather jacket and gray button-down shirt, but at least this time his pants fit properly. He had a little too much vibrato in his voice at points, but overall, the song was a perfect fit for his voice. It was one of the only times I've really liked one of his performances. Even his one high note wasn't too screechy.
By this time, the show was headed on an express train to overtime, so the judges kept their comments brief. Randy said that, vocally, it was one of the best of the night. Kara called it "incredible on every level." Paula said merely, "Two words: standing O." Simon said, "A million times better than last week. Well done."
In the pimp spot was Adam Lambert, doing one of my favorite songs from 1982, "Mad World" by Tears for Fears. This was a quieter song, in direct contrast to what he'd done the previous week. He performed while sitting on a chair, bathed in blue light. This week, his hair was combed forward, and he wore a leather jacket (his hair is beginning to change as often as Danny's glasses). His tone was beautiful, and his performance was very controlled. I found it mesmerizing and intense! That's my boy!
Simon stood up and told him, "Bad news: we're running out of time. I'll be the only one talking." Then he said simply, "Words are unnecessary" and gave him a standing ovation.
Kudos to Adam and Matt. A nod to Allison, Danny and Kris, who all gave good performances. But will it keep them safe?
I predict a bottom three of Lil Rounds, Anoop Desai, and Scott MacIntyre. Since Lil is the only one who doesn't seem to have a strong fan base, she could be the one packing her bags. And no, I don't see the judges saving her. If I'm wrong, it could be Scott's time to go, as even a sweet personality can only take you so far.
All video clips come from mjsbigblog.