I thought bringing on the guy from Herman's Hermits and Lulu were pretty sad choices for British Invasion week. But Peter Noone was okay (at least we could tell who he liked and who he didn't) and Lulu was terrific -- one of the best guest judges ever. Her advice was specific, on-point and enthusiastic.
HALEY -- "Tell Him" -- I would have said this was by the Exciters, an American group from Jamaica, New York. I know the song from the "Big Chill" soundtrack. I've looked in my books, but can't find any earlier version that charted in the US or UK. The Exciters charted in '62. Someone named Billie Davis charted in the UK with the song in '63, his sole Top 10 hit...in that country. So how is this part of the British Invasion? Anyway, it wasn't a great vocal but it was fun and Haley looked cute in a youthful, innocent way. So often, the women think they have to dress for their prom on this show. Her look will get Haley through to the next round and, hey, that's half the job of a pop star. The only caveat is that she performed first when the fewest people are watching and that's always dangerous.
CHRIS RICHARDSON -- "Don't Let The Sun Catch You Crying" -- How telling is it that Chris said, "My goal this week is to finally nail a song." Boy, did he and Peter Noone not get along. How many different ways could Peter make clear he didn't like Chris's singing? He was never this blunt again, but for a moment I thought the Brits were gonna be tearing it up with their tart tongues. I thought it was good of Chris to try and just sing a song this week and the acoustic guitar arrangement was nice. The only problem? It all just highlighted what a weak voice he has. Frankly, it was a little boring. But he had some good moments (especially when he spiced it up) and a nice falsetto at the end. The final closeup had Chris playing too much to the camera and seeming too in love with himself. But he saved it a bit by immediately switching to a disarming smile when the song ended, as if to acknowledge the cheesiness of the moment. Simon didn't know the song? Bizarre. Overall, he was sensitive enough to go through.
STEPHANIE -- "You Don't Have To Say You Loved Me" by Dusty Springfield. Pretty good and she looked cool in the boots. But somehow it was completely forgettable to me. It's better to be great or horrible on this show, frankly. The most dangerous thing you can do is give a performance that is simply unmemorable. That's what she did here.
BLAKE -- "Time of the Season" by the Zombies. Great song choice and Blake had some cool plaid pants on. I thought it was a bit draggy and he was rough on some of the high notes but somehow the overall effect was fun and somehow sexy. Still, the judges overreacted i their praise. I think they realized they were hyping LaKisha and Melinda too much and needed to suport some of the top guys. Not that it's plotted out; just instinctive on their part. Randy said how remarkable it was that the song was 40, 45 years old and Balke made it seem contemporary? Uh, it's timeless, dude. And "Time of the Season" in particular is such a wacky, crazy tune that it would sound completely contemporary as is, if it were released today.
LAKISHA -- "Diamonds Are Forever" by Shirley Bassey (personally, if I'm singing a Bassey Bond tune, it's gonna be "Goldfinger"). I dug Lulu's passion for "You're My World" and given her ultimate performance, LaKisha should have listened to her. Her performance just wasn't as brassy as it should have been; placid is not the word you want coming to mind when singing the hyper-dramatic Bassey. But she looked good and her performance was certainly good enough to go through. LaKisha certainly had the best line of the night: "You take the good with the bad and the ugly," she said when talking about the judges. If Ryan HADN'T made his joke about knowing which one was ugly, I would have taken away his hosting license for good.
PHIL -- "Tobacco Road" by one-hit wonders the Nashville Teens. (And no, I never would have guessed that they were British.) Very Chris Daughtry-like performance from Phil. For me, it was his best performance yet. But he still bores me.
JORDIN -- "I Who Have Nothing" by Shirley Bassey. Again, Lulu seems like a great coach, especially if you consider half of their job being to instill confidence. Jordin had a great night because she came across as adorable in her video with Lulu and chat with Ryan, something that can't be underestimated in the voting. But her performance! I was absolutely BLOWN AWAY by it. I thought her singing was sensational, dramatic, sophisticated in a way I didn't expect from someone so young and generally just thrilling. It was a HUGE leap forward for Jordin, in my mind. The one word I scribbled down while she was singing? Fabulous. At the recap at the end of the night, her performance popped out again at me and I went back and played it again and even taped the damn thing. It was one of the best performances of the season. What stunned me even more was how reserved the judges were. I thought they were gonna heap praise on Jordin and instead their comments were nice but mild. Even Paula didn't go crazy. I have no idea why they didn't hear this properly but the crowd went wild and for a change it wasn't just because of one big dramatic note -- it was because the performance overall was thrilling. She is a contender.
SANJAYA -- "You Really Got Me" by the Kinks. Who knew Sanjaya could sing any louder than a whisper? Frankly, I hope he makes it through to Heavy Metal night because obviously he's got the hair for it. As I suggested before, Sanjaya may have been soft but was almost always on key. Tonight, he was loud but a little flat and off-key in places. But it was silly and fun and he actually seemed to be enjoying himself, which was a relief. And of course it was the first of 700 closeups of the little girl who cried every time anyone appeared on stage because she was so excited to see them. And Sanjaya is a BIG hugger. If India's cult figure Amma (the Hugging Saint) ever retires, Sanjaya could take her place.
GINA -- "Paint It Black" by the Rolling Stones. She had on a cool outfit and it was a cool song but not the right song. "Paint It Black" is pretty flat melodically most of the way through and Gina seemed lost. It was more like wathcing some play a rock and roller than actually hearing one. But she got stronger throughout and had a pretty good finish. I think being the lone rocker might keep her safe (along with the fact that she's very funny and personable during the videos and chats) but it's a dangerous week for her. Lulu again came through with a very specific useful suggestion of a key change.
CHRIS SLIGH -- "She's Not There" by the Zombies. (Is it too much to hope kids will run out and buy the Zombies classic "Odessey and Oracle?" If you don't own it, you should.) I thought this was a great fun and a really good vocal PERFORMANCE by Chris. Strolling through the crowd, playing to the camera, toying with Simon -- I've always thought Chris was a wild card who could get to the finals with his solid vocals and smarts but this is the first time I thought he was an entertainer. Except for that high note on "She's Not There" his vocals were great. And how fun is it that Chris's family and friends were touting a sign that said, "Bringing Chubby Back?" Hilarious. Terrific ending, too.
MELINDA DOOLITTLE -- I've been a big fan of Melinda from the start but one MAJOR problem is reappearing again and again -- her absolutley dreadful song choice. It's British invasion week and she chose "As Long As He Needs Me?" From "Oliver?" Ths is American Idol, not Broadway Idol, Melinda. And coming on top of that song from "The Wiz," she is going show tune crazy. It's just a dull, dull song (and I like musicals, don't get me wrong). But of course Melinda sang it well and even caught me up a bit emotionally at the end. Yep, she'd be terrific onstage, but if she wants to be a pop star, she needs to start singing some pop songs. I';ve always said she could be the first adult to win Idol, an artist that appeals to the Anita Baker crowd rather than the Britney Spears crowd. But that's no excuse. Simon was right on target as usual.
MY BOTTOM TWO -- I'm just going to assume that Sanjaya is safe for another week; his performance was too goofy and fun (plus he got to hug the little girl first). So my bottom two would be Stephanie and Phil, with Stephanie going home because she sang third, when fewer people are watching. My backup pick for the bottom two: Gina.