The top three American Idol each performed two songs last night: one chosen by the judges and one personal choice. This was the 300th episode of American Idol . Next week is the finale.
The Top Three American Idol Finalists
Danny Gokey, who is from Milwaukee, sang nice judge Paula Abdul's choice: "Dance Little Sister" by Terence Trent D'Arby. He admitted right away that he didn't know it. You and most of America! Paula said she chose a TTD song because she felt Danny possesses a similar "magical quality in his voice." Wearing a military jacket, striped gray and black shirt, and jeans and sporting a weird pencil mustache and stubble, Danny and worked the stage as he performed. I'm not sure it was really the best key for him, and the song was very repetitive. In one section of the song, he engaged in an on-stage call and response with the saxophone player, which was the only part of the song I really found interesting.
Judge Randy Jackson praised his energy and said, "That was dope." Fourth wheel Kara DioGuardi liked the song choice, saying it kept him "in his money spot in his tone." She found the dancing "too gyrating" and wondered if she would remember that performance. Well, certainly not as much as last week's scream! Paula spoke to the comment on the dancing: "I'm a choreographer, and I think you did really good." She gushed that Danny, "Let the magic part of your voice carry throughout the rest of the song." Tough judge Simon Cowell reminded his fellow judges it is a singing show. Nevertheless, he found the dancing "a bit desperate." He also said that it was "vocally very, very good." His biggest problem was the "toy saxophone solo". He told Paula she'd picked the wrong song, that he would have had him do "Sign Your Name" or "one of the better songs." Paula answered, "But he's singing a ballad, so I wanted something different."
Then, while Ryan talked to Danny, something happening between Paula and Simon that the camera doesn't show. At one point Simon had her in a headlock. After that, who knows?
Kris Allen, who hails from Arkansas, was next with Kara and Randy's choice: "Apologize" by One Republic. Their reasoning? Randy said, "It's a big song, big range." Kara said it's got a "dark, beautiful melodic line, open for interpretation." Playing the piano, wearing a denim jacket over a button-downed shirt, Kris turned in a very melodic performance, although the song was a little high for him at the chorus. I did like it a lot better than Danny's, and I could listen to it again and again. Which brings me to a point about Danny. I had predicted great things for him at the beginning of the season, but almost all of his song choices have simply bored me to tears. I don't think he's grown, but I think that Kris has grown in leaps and bounds. And I've bought a lot more Kris Allen singles than Danny Gokey ones.
Randy said that "Right now, it's about who's going to win" and that "a song like this could sell millions of records." By which, I think he means it was good. Kara called it a "really competent performance." However, she was disappointed he hadn't done more to interpret it his own way. Paula said, "That song is in the right place in your voice," but she agreed she's "used to you taking artistic license." She noted "a bum note that was loud" but added, "I am so proud of you." Incidentally, I've listened more than once to that song and can't figure out what she's talking about, unless she means in the chorus when he tried to reach for a high note and didn't quite get there. Simon critiqued his fellow judges instead of Kris. To Paula, he said, "How can you say, 'There was a bum note; I'm so proud of you?'" And to Kara, he called her critique "a cop out," saying, "You can't chose a song for him and then blame him for doing the song." Kara took offense and asked Simon, "Have you ever interpreted a song in your life?" Simon wisely ignored her baiting. By this point, though, he'd run out of time to actually critique Kris.
Adam Lambert performed Simon's choice "One" by U2. The song, Simon said, is one of his favorites, and he personally got permission from the band for Adam to sing it. Wearing a denim shirt, washed in the blue light that suits him so well, Adam took liberties with the melody and sang a tender version of the song. When I first heard it, I wasn't sure what I felt, but listening to it again, I really like it. While he did depart from the melody, he kept coming back to it. And his high note near the end is outstanding. I have never heard a male Idol contestant heck, not even a female consistently hit and sustain pitch-perfect notes in the higher register.
Randy said he was "definitely still in the zone," giving props for the "unbelievable vocals." He didn't like Adam departing from the melody but concluded that it was a "great song, and you're really talented." Kara said, "You're an amazing strategist. You can take a song and do it in a completely different way and make it unbelievable." Then, adding, "See what I mean, Simon?" Simon just rolled his eyes. Paula joked, "You don't know how miserable my life is right now, sitting next to him gloating." She had to admit though, that "It was one brilliant song, one superb performance and one American Idol that I'm staring at right now." Simon said that it "may sound biased, but I thought that was a brilliant song choice." He called it a "brilliant performance" and added, "If you're not in the final, it will be one of the biggest upsets."
In an interlude between the two sets of songs, we watched video of Africa, where season four Idol winner Carrie Underwood visited with the people being helped by Idol Gives Back. It's nice, but I was wondering why they included it in such a tight show.
For his personal choice, Danny went with "You Are so Beautiful" by Joe Cocker. Of course, I remembered this from Taylor Hicks singing it in season five. Now, I know there are a lot of Taylor haters out there, but please admit that his version is miles above this. kthnx. Anyway, Danny wore a vest and white shirt and sat on a stool for his saccharine performance, backed by stringed instruments on-stage. This is the kind of album I would never, ever buy. At certain points in the beginning, he was a little behind the accompaniment, and his voice was whispery. Still, in characteristic fashion, he got stronger in the second half.
Randy, who was the one who chose it for Taylor, said it's an amazing song, written by Billy Preston, and he liked that Danny was trying to make it his own. He added, "You showed you're here because you can really, really, really sing." He liked the "mad vocals." Kara: said that "everything you didn't do in the first performance you just did." She called it "stunning." Paula said the performance "left all of us breathless." She liked him changing the chord structure and "using the gospel part of your voice," saying, "You nailed it." Simon loved the song, although he wouldn't have done the same arrangement. He said Danny is in a "vocal master class." Interestingly, I noted that Simon now had makeup on his shirt, presumably from whatever he had done to Paula.
Kris chose to perform "Heartless" by Kanye West, because he said, the "song just kind of came to him." The performance was fun, with Kris on the stage with just his guitar (which needed a little tuning). His faded jeans and river boat shirt matched the pared-down version of the song. I loved hearing the song this way, because it's usually so overproduced. He had a lot of energy, and even though the performance started out a little too much like something you'd hear in a coffee shop, it ended as one of the best unplugged performances, reminding me of when Bo Bice sang "In a Dream" a capella in season four.
Randy predicted, "This is going to be one of the toughest voting nights in the whole year of this show." He said he liked that version better than The Fray's and better than Kanye's. "You're in it to win it," he observed. Kara still couldn't get over her previous Simon slapdown, "Why didn't you do that with 'Apologize'?" In other words, why not change the arrangement. She found the performance "bold, brave and fearless" and gave him kudos for his tone, pitch, and phrasing. Paula said, "You are the bravest artist, because you sang a song about Simon Cowell." I get it: heartless. Ha ha. She added, "This is what keeps you relevant." Simon put the screws to Kara again, saying that "after what I thought was a lame song choice for you, I had written you out of this competition. That, however, has all changed after that performance."
Finishing off the night, Adam Lambert chose to do the Aerosmith song, "Crying." He promised to switch it up his own way, and he took the stage in a leather jacket and sequined T-shirt. He cut the opening short to get into the meat of the song and the chorus, which was a very smart choice. Strutting around the stage, he didn't even falter when he lost the ear piece in his left ear! He finished with a really powerful last note. Love. Him.
Randy said, "You're one of the best we've ever had on this stage," calling Adam "one of the most charismatic." Helpfully, he suggested, "You should make a rock album." (Really?) Kara asked him, "How do you hit those notes and then talk the next day? Who hits those notes?" Randy responded, "Adam Lambert does." She concluded, "We'll see you at the finals." Paula said that "If Steven Tyler was a mentor, I don't think he'd have anything to say. We'll be seeing you next week and many years after that." Simon said, he was "not going to suck up as much as the other three." He cautioned the viewers that it's "Easy to assume you're going to sail through... I don't want anyone to assume you're going to be there but to vote for you based on talent."
As Ryan was doing the numbers, he asked Adam how he felt about tonight, at which point Adam said, "Kris and Danny did so well tonight. It is an honor to be in their presence." That is one classy guy.
Kudos to Adam and Kris. If there is any justice, they will be in the finals next week. But that said, Danny has never been in the bottom three and seems to be the favorite to go head-to-head with Adam. We shall see!
One note on the videos: I've started using the performances from the official American Idol site, since they seem to be actively removing any non-official videos that I find elsewhere. This means, unfortunately, that the judges' comments are not included in the videos. It's good I take notes!
You shouldn't pick a song for someone and then criticize him for singing it.