The top five American Idol finalists tackled standards from the Rat Pack era. While it might not be the type of music they'll eventually perform, this week gave them an opportunity to show a different side of themselves.
This week, their mentor was kept a mystery until the last moment. It was Jamie Foxx, the Oscar-award winning actor and Grammy-nominated singer. Jamie Foxx is a classically trained musician who won the Oscar for his portrayal of soul singer Ray Charles.
The Top Five American Idol Finalists
First up was Kris Allen, who did "The Way You Look Tonight." When meeting with him, Jamie told him, "You're already the artist. You're my No. 1." He even told him he'd do a record with him. Everyone got dressed up tonight, and Kris wore a gray suit with a blue tie. His rendition of the song was very mellow and controlled. He reminded me a little of the modern crooner, Jamie Cullum, who takes a hip approach to jazz. The song changed up halfway through, becoming a little syncopated. Overall, I found it was very nice and highly listenable.
Judge Randy Jackson noted this is one of his favorite songs. "This is your best performance to date," he told Kris, enthusiastically. He praised him for taking the time to tell a story, and for the "R&B stylings." Fourth wheel Kara DioGuardi said that he set the technical standard incredibly high, with his impeccable phrasing, diction, rhythms, and timing. She called him a dark horse in the competition. Nice judge Paula Abdul said he'd made an amazing transition from the "adorable boy next door into the ever so handsome sophisticated gentlemen." She called him a contemporary crooner and found his performance "near impeccable." Tough judge Simon Cowell thought it was good but was not as enthusiastic as the other three. He said, "It was a little bit wet," and said Kris is like "taking a very well-trained spaniel for a walk." He said he didn't get the feeling from Kris that he can win.
Host Ryan Seacrest asked him, "What do you mean by wet?" to which Simon responded, "Not dry." Right. I'm guessing he probably meant it was a little naive ("wet behind the ears") or that it was a little cheesy. The context of the sentence doesn't seem to fit any of the slang definitions I could discover.
Next up was Allison, who had just celebrated her birthday. Let's hope she avoids the birthday curse (on almost any elimination show, contestants seem to be in danger on their birthdays; perhaps because they temporarily lose focus)! She chose "Someone to Watch Over Me." Jamie found her performance "absolutely innocent," saying "She's leaps and bounds ahead of her time." Since she's too young to have had much experience in love, he told her to "imagine how much love flows from your family into you." She must have listened, because she found the emotional heart of the song. Dressed in a cute dress with a fitted bodice and full, black-and-white patterned skirt, she sang a ballad for the first time in the competition. If this performance was any indication, she ought to do sing ballads more often. She built to a powerful ending, never losing the unique, raw power of her vocals.
Randy said he'd thought the genre would be hard on her, but she'd "come out looking like Brittany Murphy, looking dope. You sing like Pink but with 9,000 more octaves." He gave her his highest praise: "That was the bomb." He liked that she did it in her "rough, kind of gruff kind of style." Kara said, "I was starting to think somebody did need to watch over you" but she was not nervous for her any more. She predicted Allison had converted some new fans tonight with her "gut-wrenching, deep emotional, way-beyond-your-years rendition." Furthermore, she added, "If that doesn't land you in the finals, I don't know what will." Paula said she had been waiting to see how Allison would approach a ballad. She praised the "innocent sensibility that was both alluring and tender." Simon put Allison on the spot, asking her if she thought she could win. Allison, perhaps worried about seeming to be overconfident, said, "I think I can; I think all of us have that chance." Simon said that he didn't feel that belief in her, still, saying she might have been overshadowed by some of the other personalities in the competition. He added that he had "a horrible feeling you could be in trouble tonight." Responding to this, Kara told Simon, "I love you, but you are crazy."
Matt Giraud, who studied jazz in college, went with "My Funny Valentine." Jamie called it a big song, saying each part has to be sung. He advised him to change the key to the song and sing it with his full voice. Matt was sitting on a stool, wearing a dark suit with a blue shirt and a brimmed hat. His opening phrase started off OK but then wavered when he tried to add a riff. He also suffered some pitch problems in the bridge. Basically, every time he altered the phrasing or added a riff, he went off pitch.
Randy said it was just a little bit pitchy. He noted that some of the runs came together; some didn't. Overall, he gave it a 6 out of 10. Kara appreciated the different runs but didn't feel he was emotionally connected to it. Paula loved what he did and loved that he lowered the key. Unlike Kara, she did feel the emotional connection. She said she liked hearing a different side of Matt. Simon said he'd have to disagree with Randy, saying, "It was the only believable, authentic song I've heard tonight." He added, "I could tell that you love the music." What's more, he found it to be "almost Nat King Cole phrasing." I wonder if he'll change his mind when he reviews the recording.
For his selection, Danny Gokey went with "Come Rain Come Shine." During rehearsal Jamie got right in his face, making him a bit uncomfortable, but also reminding him to sing authentically. Listening to Jamie seems to have helped. I thought that for once, Danny dropped the facade that irritates so many of his detractors. He simply sang, as if he was singing to one person. He wore a dapper blue suit. This week, his arm gestures were more subdued, and it seemed like he was really feeling it. Following up a very nice opening, he made an impressive key change, injecting a little bit of a blues feel into the song. He really tore it up on the ending, evoking a standing ovation, which he hadn't seen for weeks.
Randy said that he was "the only one who could have an album of songs like that." Kara told him that she'd wanted to see him show more swagger and "you have swag tonight." (Something We All Get?) She said the end of the performance "was the most creative you've ever been with a melody." She liked the tone. Paula found the performance stellar. .Simon agreed with Kara, saying, "You had a swagger and a confidence." He said it was his "best vocals in weeks." He also thanked band leader Ricky Minor for the arrangement and Jamie Foxx for his outstanding advice to the finalists.
In the pimp spot was Adam Lambert with "Feeling Good." After hearing him, Jamie predicted, "He's going to knock everybody's head off." He added, "He can sing with the best of them." Though he'd retained his composure during rehearsal, Adam admitted he was freaking out about being so close to Jamie. Wearing a white suit with a dark shirt, Adam sang on pink glowing stairs, awash in blue light. Then he strutted down them as the tempo picked up. The arrangement was kind of naughty, almost stripper music (perfect for the pimp spot). I half expected Adam to do a fan dance, but he remained clothed. He sang his face off, and handled the key change well. His rendition was very reminiscent of Queen, I thought. His last phrase was superb: demonstrating power, and then pulling back.
Randy found it "a little theatrical, a little too Broadway." But he said that Adam is in the zone consistently and that it was another good performance. Kara called him "shocking in a good way." She labeled the performance "confusing and shocking and sleazy and superb." Paula said, "You make me feel better than good." She said every performance is "like watching the Olympics and you're our Michael Phelps." Simon said that "talking about you being theatrical is like complaining that a cow moos." He liked Adam's drive to win. "You want to prove a point every week and entertain." He also called it the "best entrance we've had of the year so far" and told Ryan, "you're no longer using that staircase." Why? Because Ryan could never do it as well as Adam, I guess.
Ryan joked, "I'm not walking down quite like that."
Kudos to Kris, Danny, and Adam with a nod to Allison. If they select a bottom two, I predict Allison will join Matt in the bottom two. If they select a bottom three, Kris might find himself, for the first time, in the bottom. But by any rights, Matt should be the one going home.
All video clips come from mjsbigblog.
It's possible to make even old standards seem new again.