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"Idol" Tuesday: That Was Just... Weird
2007-03-28 10:36
by Mark T.R. Donohue

I don't know what to make of where this "American Idol" season is headed. Every week it gets weirder. You look at this group of contestants, and you really have to wonder. Where is the talent? Did the judges deliberately pick a group that was more likely to lead to compelling TV, like the producers of the "The Real World" would do, than stirring singing performances? Or is it always this bizarre? Hard to say. In any event lengthy studies could be written on the underlying psychology of many of the performances from Tuesday night, not to mention the capable politicking of guest coach Gwen Stefani. Stefani's motive, unlike the dazed Diana Ross or the genuinely well-meaning Peter Noone and Lulu, seemed to be to make sure fans of all 10 remaining "Idol" finalists buy her next record. Stefani couldn't have said less of consequence to say even if she was working for the United Nations. Even so, she managed to get three contestants to perform No Doubt songs, which is kind of impressive given that in the ill-defined "modern pop" category, there are few artists with a more negligible or annoying catalog. And two Police songs? What is this, 1985?

LaKisha Jones While the technical quality of her vocals is top-drawer week after week, everything else about LaKisha tends to fluctuate. Sometimes she seems confident about her choice of song, sometimes she seems adrift. From time to time she really gets in touch with a song and can be very fresh and original. Jones also can be a little bit of a copycat, as was the case with her Shirley Bassey-channeling "Diamonds Are Forever" for last week's show. She's also inconsistent in appearance -- sometimes her dress choices flatter her figure, and sometimes they really don't. She didn't look her best last evening, but she did sing beautifully. I didn't catch the name of the sort of pop-disco thing she sang. It might have been "I Need You by Me," but it's not terribly important. Once again LaKisha illustrated the talent that only she and Melinda Doolittle really have in this competition, that of taking a forgettable song and investing it with fire and flair. Using her rather safe last couple of times out as a bridge, the LaKisha we saw Tuesday had a new confidence. She actually sang an upbeat song and wrested real soul out of it. A lot of my concerns about Jones were addressed Tuesday, but can she keep it up? 9

Chris Sligh Chris had the personality and the chops to make him the favorite in a profoundly weak male cast, but he's had his thunder stolen by Blake Lewis and is sliding desperately. After taking a lot of criticism for left-field song choices and questionable arrangements, Sligh somehow passed up the opportunity to come flying back into contention this week. He could have chosen almost anything; he went with "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic." The tempo was too slow and the usually pitch-conscious Sligh seemed tentative and unprepared. It was one of his worst performances, and a heinous mistake at this point in the contest where no one is really safe. A shaken Sligh admitted in his post-performance interview that he'd selected his song a day late. Boy, I mentioned this last week, but I would really like to get a look at the list from which the contestants have to choose numbers every week. There had to be a few things on there Sligh could have sung better than an elevator-music love tune from the second-most overrated band of the 80's. If there's anything to be said in Sligh's favor, it would be that while his song threatened to completely fall apart almost from the very beginning, it never quite descended to the level of outright catastrophe. Now, was this flameout bad enough to knock Sligh out this week? I don't think so. In fact, I think that finally showing some vulnerability could be a good move for the usually jocular Chris. His eyes were looking pretty misty while Randy and Simon were reaming him out. 5

Gina Glocksen So that's who Gina really is! Glocksen attempted to to climb into the pigeonhole the judges constructed for her with screechy "rocker" performances two of the last three weeks, but below and to the left of the pink-streaked hair beats a heart that just longs to sing the big ballads. I didn't recognize the song Gina chose this week (it was the Pretenders' "I'll Stand by You"), but boy, she made it work for her. Her tight dress was a worthy counter to Haley Scarnato's napkin-sized halter from last week, but Glocksen has vocal reserves on which Haley can never hope to draw. Strangely, singing a ballad seemed to restore her confidence, and she dripped with personality both in her interpretation of the lyrics and her coy eyebrow raises. Glocksen was infinitely less shouty than she has been the last several times out, and she rode the song's crests very well. Simon Cowell: "It wasn't one of your best performances. It was your BEST performance." Whichever "American Idol" line producer fed Cowell that line, she deserves a raise. 8

Sanjaya Malakar Gambling interests have bought Sanjaya off, right? That's the only explanation for Malakar's unspeakable outing Tuesday night. Where to begin? The hair? The choice of song? I don't know if Malakar has been brainwashed, is getting very bad advice, or is genuinely as clueless as his on-air persona seems, but his "Bathwater" was so unbelievably weird and bad (and not in a watchable way like his "You Really Got Me" last time) that even his non-irony-motivated fanbase (if such a thing can be said to exist) must have been made to cringe. What's funny is that given the theme for the evening Sanjaya easily could have picked a catchy, memorable song that wouldn't have even taxed his lean vocal talents, thus holding on for at least another week. Instead he teased his hair up worse than Joakim Noah's and sung a crappy, forgotten No Doubt single to which I suspect Stefani might have difficulty remembering the words. Malakar stumbled on his lines a few times, and that might finally mean the end for him. Please. 2

Haley Scarnato It's funny how Gwen Stefani's guest appearance ended up being the pretext for a whole series of revivals of Eighties Songs We Thought We Had Finally Rid Ourselves Of. I thought that the theme for this week was going to be Nineties Pop, which was supported by the "Idol" website, but the unannounced switch to Songs Gwen Stefani Likes or Wrote (I guess) was explained so poorly that it kind of lays clear how stupid and contrived the whole "theme night" concept is to begin with. Last week Haley was able to do "Tell Him," an American R&B hit, because apparently there was some obscure British cover released in the appropriate era. That wasn't the root cause of a sudden surge in Scarnato's popularity, however. This week Haley dialed back the skin exposure slightly and she didn't accordingly increase the quality of her singing. She looked more like a trophy wife than a prostitute this time around, so watch her vote totals plunge. Haley's "True Colors" was so pedestrian that I don't have a lot of useful things to say about it. Scarnato has so little vocal power and character that it's only the overall talent vacuum this season that has allowed her to stay alive so long. I think Sanjaya will, deservedly, take the fall before she does but it's only a matter of time. 4

Phil Stacey By contrast, here's Phil, still plugging along, still nobody's favorite but more than likely to coast along for another few weeks. Even so, I think we have seen the very best Phil has to offer. He's got a great voice, but I just don't think he's got good enough musical instincts to ever figure out what to do with it. Last week he oversang "Tobacco Road" and this week he did "Every Breath You Take," another lousy and overexposed Police song, in a shallow and imitative style. Despite an arrangement that demanded far less of Stacey than the full-range workout he successfully negotiated last time, Phil made a bunch of bad pitch mistakes. I think he could finish in the bottom three this week and for the next four weeks running. 6

Melinda Doolittle Melinda is like an NFL coach whose team has already clinched a first-week playoff bye. You're not going to see her starters playing in Weeks 16 & 17 for more than a quarter or two. She's playing it as safe as safe can be, which is a real snoozer to watch seeing as she was already pretty vanilla back when she was legitimately trying to make a name for herself. Even when she goes upbeat it still seems kind of tame (last night, particularly in contrast to the fiery Glocksen). She's moving more on stage than has been her style but her awkward dance steps and slow arm raises look anything but natural. But her voice is so obviously great. Doolittle has a very good chance of winning "American Idol," but nothing she has shown me so far gives me the faintest hope that she will be an enduringly successful commercial artist afterwards. Gwen Stefani, for example, can't sing a lick. 8

Blake Lewis Continuing the Chris Sligh-Blake Lewis comparison might be useful here. By taking on such artists as Keane and (last night) The Cure, Lewis has won himself an image as the "Idol" contestant who does his own thing and doesn't care what others think. Of course, Chris Sligh has done the same, only Sligh has been too clever for his own good, picking artists that nobody has heard of, instead of just not the judges. I'm not impressed that Lewis is a 311 and Jamiroquai fan. All that means is he has a slightly longer memory than his voting constituency. So "Lovesong" by The Cure was a perfect Lewis choice, alternative and edgy only by degrees to Sanjaya and Jordin's Radio Disney stylings. Lewis's outfit, then, must have been the "Idol" homogenization of goth, some sort of grey-and-black sweater ensemble rather than the usual mismatched Blake getup. I don't know if I would have chosen "Lovesong" over "Just Like Heaven" or "Friday I'm in Love." For Blake's pitch, the song wasn't a perfect fit. It was too draggy to let him beatbox, and he sounded like he was swallowing many of the lines. He also couldn't avoid affecting that weird fey intonation a lot of Americans inadvertently get when trying to sing like Robert Smith or Morrissey. I realize he has been chastized by the judges for it before, but this might have been a case where Lewis should have taken a radical chance with the arrangement. On the whole it could have been a lot more interesting than it was. 7

Jordin Sparks Sparks is being promoted as the youthful, fun-loving counter to Jones and Doolittle's accomplished predictability. That would be fine, if she was any good, but I've never been a fan of Sparks' singing and the candyfloss where her brain ought to be bothers me more and more each week. First of all, anybody who thinks No Doubt's "Hey Baby" should be listened to by anybody, ever again, is an idiot. Second of all, Sparks may be the youngest female contestant left in the running but she's like two feet taller than Ryan Seacrest and her running around in a skirt and knee socks just seemed incongruous. Having yet to completely sell this critic, at the very least, on the merits of her singing voice, why did Sparks choose a song that doesn't even have any singing in it? I don't see how she could be considered a favorite. Now that I've said that, she'll probably go on to win. 6

Chris Richardson I keep writing that Richardson sings the same melody every time out, but from time to time he will surprise you. I was weary of No Doubt after Seacrest's hagiographic introductory narration, and yet Richardson managed to turn the third ND song of the evening into a mild highlight. Richardson gave "Don't Speak" a more soul-based feel. I can't say I understand the contestants' relentless enthusiasm for No Doubt tunes, but in this case it was certainly a song that Richardson both knew and for which he had an original take. Richardson is definitely in the area where he needs to be on his toes week in and week out to stay alive. I believe that on this occasion he did more than enough. 8


Homes: Sanjaya Malakar
Lobes: Melinda Doolittle
10-Sided Die: LaKisha Jones

2007-03-28 15:02:23
1.   Inside Baseball
Sanjaya is gaining momentum as Idol's own car crash on the side of the road. I think he's going to make the top 5 and become a modern day Tiny Tim. What a wonderful world.

I think Haley goes home tonight.

2007-03-28 18:00:35
2.   Benaiah
Sanjaya is easily my favorite remaining Idol, the contestants are all terrible this year and Sanjaya is the Idol contestant for people to cool for Idol. Liking him is like hating the show, which I pretend to do even as I watch it every week.

Chris Sligh is going home tonight, his performance was unspeakably bad last night. He couldn't find the music and it sounded like a car wreck. He was an early favorite but what have you done for me lately?

2007-03-28 18:11:30
3.   Mark T.R. Donohue
3 We'll shortly see, I suppose, but I think that Sligh's fanbase could rally around his worst-ever performance. He's kind of slid out of the spotlight the last few times out with performances that were neither particularly good nor noticeably bad. Here's what I really want to know -- two weeks ago when Sanjaya was in the bottom three, was that whole thing a cheat by Fox? Because if he doesn't get ejected this week we have to assume that he really does have an enormous and blindly loyal crew ready to dial his number to the very last.
2007-03-28 18:39:12
4.   Benaiah
3 - I was right. Sanjaya doesn't have a following, he is just the puppet of the movement. People like Howard Stern are organizing people to vote for him because he is so bad.
2007-03-28 19:52:43
5.   Mark T.R. Donohue
So much for Big Chris. Oh well, he deserved it. I really do hate the frickin' Police.
2007-03-29 05:48:33
6.   Justin David
All right, I give. Who's the most overrated band of the 80's?
2007-03-29 08:19:11
7.   Mark T.R. Donohue
6 Should be obvious as they're also the most overrated band of the 90's and in the running for the current decade. U2.
2007-03-29 10:01:36
8.   Justin David
You're right. That was obvious.

Seeing as it's already 2007, I'd say they have this decade pretty much wrapped up too.

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