Fifties night -- and a semi-official big band night for many of the ladies -- proved the most satisfying yet singing-wise. One big overlooked reason why this show is successful? Every once in a while, sometimes more than once a show, someone gives a really entertaining, memorable performance. (Think "Summertime" or "This House Is Not A Home" from seasons past.) The verdict:
Mandisa -- the most complete performance of the evening. Simon is staying out of her way for the moment, but thinking, "Please, not another Ruben."
Bucky -- he can barely speak intelligibly, much less sing, and his "Oh Boy" was godawful.
Paris -- looked great; vocals a little rough in the low notes but gave some big flourishes that the audience loves. For the first time, I thought, "She's a little young and inexperienced." Like Mandisa, the clip chosen to remind viewers of her performance was clearly not the best moments of the song for her. (Don't put anything past the producers to stack the deck for or against someone.)
Chris Daughtry -- not a great vocal (especially early) but a very good reimagining of "I Walk The Line" that made it distinctively his own. Properly recorded, I could hear that one on the radio. The most consistently great, but since he's not a teen idol pin-up, does Daughtry appeal enough to the core 13-17 female voters to win it all? Let's face it, the people who would admire him most are not the biggest audience of the show.
McPhee -- richboy deserves full credit for spotting her early on. She continues to blossom a la Kelly and Clay (this was her best night yet) and clearly the producers like her (the clip chosen for her at the end was especially well-chosen).
Taylor Hicks -- a remarkably dull, sleep-inducing version of "Fade Away." Presumably people like him enough to carry Taylor for a week, but the bottom three would be a good wakeup call.
Lisa Tucker -- looked adorable and some nice runs, but "Why Do Fools Fall In Love" is a bear to sing and she didn't wrestle it to the ground. Simon nailed it by saying he felt like he was at a high school musical.
Kevin Covais -- his best performance yet, which of course isn't saying much. The sort of contestant who goes farther because of how well he handles himself with the judges and Ryan (just like Kellie) rather than their singing.
Elliott -- dreadful, as usual. My jaw drops when the judges praise his singing. I have no idea what's going on here. Not as bad as previous weeks, but still not good. The only reason he should stay in is to mimic the plotline of the Hugh Grant movie American Dreamz, an Idol spoof.
Kellie - she looked trashy, in a good way. Loads of makeup, a clingy top showing off her breasts -- Middle America ate it up. But this will be her peak. If she couldn't blow us away singing Patsy Cline (which I correctly predicted would be her song choice), she never will. By the way, she provided the strangest moment of the night when Barry Manilow said he was unfamiliar with Patsy Cline's "Walking After Midnight." Huh? How bizarre.
Ace -- Boy, is Ace going to be shocked when he gets cut from the show. Runway model (never print), daytime soap actor, strip-o-gram delivery boy -- these are the career paths Ace should consider. Who led him to believe that singing was an option when clearly he can't sing?
Barry Manilow -- excellent. We got actual glimpses into what an arranger does and he clearly gave some thought into helping the kids as best he could. Unlike Randy and Paula, he also gave thoughtful if polite assessments of the singers that were dead-on. "I think he got it" meant "this kid can't sing." Offering a spot on his tour? The kid's got it.
The judges -- weak. Always easy to pick on. (How can you give constructive criticism to someone who can't sing?) But watching Paula and Randy ignore Taylor's deadly dull routine (the crowd barely reacted and even his family and friends looked concerned) reinforces their blandness. And Simon lately seems more interested in making elaborate comments (It was like a drunken karaoke performance by a dad) rather than just giving a simple, correct assessment. Why not say to Taylor, "You can hear the difference in the crowd reaction to Mandisa or Chris to your performance tonight. They like you but barely stirred while you were singing even though you bounced all over the stage.") Clearly, I just want to be a judge.