Okay, this blog has become the "Idol" only blog. That will change after my current crush of traveling: I'm in LA this weekend for The Advocate, I'm in Illinois next week for the Roger Ebert Film Festival and then I'm in London and Cannes for the Cannes Film Festival. After all that, I'll be home and getting used to my new Apple laptop and I'll find a happier balance between blogging and paying the bills. For the moment, cold turkery seemed an important first step after 18 months of constant posting.
MARTINA MCBRIDE -- She seemed nice enough, but most of the comments we heard were just sort of general enthusiasm. As with most pros, she managed to say something nice about everyone without tipping her hands as to what she really thought. She gave a few concrete suggestions, but mostly just told 'em to "concentrate on the lyrics." Country, rap or rock -- that's always a good idea, folks.
PHIL -- Singing Keith Urban's "When The Blacktop Ends." Like everyone else, Phil made no attempt to go country with his outfit. I guess everyone decided if they looked like they were wearing a costume it would have cut down on their believability factor. But surely Phil if anyone would have benfitted from a cowboy hat. Martina said she loved the tone of his voice, the latest celeb judge to compliment his vocals. Can't they find something nice to say without going so far? Or is it conceivable they are hearing something we're not? (Nope, it's not.) On the other hand, when he's rehearsing, they cut to her face during a vocal and she seems to rear back, like a horse that's just been spooked. We read a lot into the tactics of the producers, but the truth is they always try to rotate who goes first, last, etc. But surely Phil going first after being in the bottom two again and again can't help. Though not country looking, he looks pretty good and for Phil, the vocals are pretty lively. It's not memorably good, but it's far better than he's been in weeks if not ever. He gives man hugs to some of the guys in the audience -- are they his friends? They don't quite act like it, but I assume they must be. He gives a final "That's right y'all" towards the end. Phil is the first of many to insist he's country to the bone. If he'd been country all along, he might have built a fanbase. But I don't think you can switch on the vote of a genre's fans after just one week. No one in this show has the country vote and this week won't change that. Still, my initial instinct is that he could be safe this week. It certainly was a high point for him. On the other hand, he's been bottom two repeatedly and just went first. The judges are very nice to him.
JORDIN -- Singing McBride's "A Broken Wing." Talk about quietly being ballsy -- Jordin sings McBride's signature song. McBride gives her the most concrete advice of anyone by urging Jordin to just stand there and sing. Unlike LaKisha when Diana Ross told her the same thing, Jordin listens. Her dress is a little old for her, but it is definitely country-friendly. She sounds great, though the beginning is a little colorless. But as soon as she hits the chorus for the first time, Jordin just soars. She gets stronger and stronger and when she sings "Man, you oughta see her fly!" it's just sensational. She has an absolutely huge ending that is both emotionally satisfying for the song and pure "Idol." (Fans love it when you hold that big note at the end.) Just brilliant. She is def the Kelly Clarkson this year -- a quiet contender who gets better and better every week while being a little under the radar so no one gets sick of her. I wrote down "Jordin V. Melinda" for the finale as soon as she finished the song, as well as the note that she isn't gunning to be in the finals, she's gunning to win it all. Then of course, Simon said the very same thing by saying for the first time he believed she could win the whole enchilada. I guess petty minds think alike.
SANJAYA -- Okay, Sanjaya has spent the past three weeks trying to be considered a singer/entertainer rather than a punchline. But I still have to say I was bummed he didn't don any cowboy duds. Serious entertainer and showmanship can go hand in hand, Sanjaya. The bandana and hair thing was different but looked more appropriate for rap week. His joke in response to a reader's query was very funny -- he'd have Simon sing R.E.M.'s "Shiny Happy People" so Simon's true personality could come out. Sanjaya is def a smart kid. Last week was his strongest vocal with "Besame Mucho." This week went right back down with John Hiatt's "Something To Talk About." It's a pretty flat number in the verses; you really have to bring a lot of color to make those lines jump out, something Hiatt and Bonnie Raitt can do, of course. Sanjaya doesn't and the overall result is just boring, something Sanjaya should never be if he wants votes for his personality. He tries to groove with one of the backup singers and she smiles politely but seems to be thinking, "Oh please." [Later that night, Craig Ferguson guesting on Dave would refer to Sanjaya as "that effeminate" teenager. Boy, I hope this kid's self-confidence is high.] It was utterly dull and I thought, maybe now is the week he'll go. Simon said he was utterly horrendous, Ryan looked silly when he insisted that Simon would never like Sanjaya and Simon rightly pointed out he'd been complimentary last week. But the Sanjaya chat went on way too long. Will that help or hurt him? He should be very vulnerable, unless the anti-Idol vote (which I just can't take seriously) is far bigger than we thought.
LAKISHA -- Singing Carrie Underwood's "Jesus, Take The Wheel." McBride likes that LaKisha really identified with the song and a brief clip of her singing the first lines sounds very promising. LaKisha uses a mike stand (hello, Miss Ross!) and when she sings "She had a lot on her mind" LaKisha helpfully points to her head. People, never act out the song. Best of all, LaKisha has on some serious gold boots that are a hoot. She's really harsh on a big note in the middle and pretty piercing throughout when going for volume, though the quiet beginning and end are fine. If we think of her and Melinda appealing to the same vote the way Blake and Chris do, LaKisha seems to be falling behind. Vulnerable.
CHRIS -- Singing "Mayberry" by Rascal Flatts. McBride insisted he was versatile. I'd kind of like to think he was versatile too. He had on a terrible jacket (the rolled up sleeves didn't help) and was it my imagination or were the teenage squeals far less noticeable last night? He was kind of flat at first and had a rough middle section but was pretty good on the first chorus. Overall, lots of rough notes, though he gave it a pretty good country twang throughout. Randy was right when he said he didn't feel any emotion from Chris at all. Simon called it nondescript, nasally and tinny and Chris was actually right when he was defending the tone of his voice as a choice that was appropriate for a country song (a genre Simon hates). But that doesn't change the fact that it was weak overall. Unmemorable and therefore vulnerable. Chris at the end made a brief, appropriate reference to having friends at Virgina Tech, highlighting the fact that Ryan should have made a brief mention of it at the top of the show, something like "a terrible tragedy and our thoughts and prayers are with the people of Virgina Tech. If you want to try and take your mind off that sadness for an hour, hopefully we'll be able to help."
MELINDA -- Singing "Trouble Is A Woman" by Julie Reeves. McBride had never heard of her and neither had I -- she seems to have released all of one album in 1999. Melinda has some crazy taste. How ever did she find this one? Usually, her taste leads her astray and it's always dangerous to choose a song almost none of the audience will know. But the lyrics were easy to follow and the song was a lot of fun. It was great at making Melinda seem playful and young, something she definitely has to work on with Jordin breathing down her neck. If it comes down to those two, Melinda would have to blow the kid away vocally to win and I don't know that she can. Otherwise, weeks of being the frontrunner and the general air of being an adult (who wants to vote for their mom to win Idol?) hurts her. But performances like this def help. Great fun. Randy gives her a backhanded compliment by referring to Melinda as "our resident pro." Is he trying to lose her votes? Simon was very funny by insisting Melinda lose the look of surprise when he said something nice. (Wisely, she did.) His Tina Turner ref was a stretch, but deserved.
BLAKE -- When they cut to the break right before Blake's performance, he did a goofy thing miming cowboy pistols. Blake is definitely an entertainer; he always tries to think of something silly and memorable to do like that every week. Singing Tim McGraw's "When The Stars Go Blue." McBride's comments that he seemed nervous and attempts to get him to hit a purer tone on his high notes were very specific and concrete and seemed to indicate he could have trouble. And boy did he ever. The producers pulled out all the stops production-wise, with lots of colored lights covering the stage. And Blake looked very cute in his sweater vest ensemble. His vocals were rough throughout, Blake kept looking back at the band as if he they weren't in sync or he couldn't hear them well, he just seemed lost up there and was even screaming a bit on the big notes. It never came together and he looked very unhappy when it was over. Then, bizarrely, the judges acted as if he had done a good job. Are they trying to protect their best male candidate so it doesn't become a final four of women? I hate to be cynical but I can't think of any other reason why they didn't criticize what was Blake's weakest performance in ages. Normally, I'd say he was vulnerable, but with the judges polite comments and the fact that Blake has won over more of the Tiger Beat vote, I guess one off week won't be enough to hurt him.
THE BOTTOM THREE -- Looking back, I've got lots of contenders with Phil and Sanjaya and LaKisha and Chris (and Blake). I'm going to assume that LaKisha and Blake are safe thanks to weeks of building up a fan base. That leaves Phil and Sanjaya and Chris in the bottom three. Both Phil and Chris have been there before, of course. Just on performance, I'd say Sanjaya and Chris. But since Phil has been in the bottom two for weeks, I've got to assume he will be again. So let's say Phil and Chris, with Chris going home.