‘Idol’ Recap: Grandma Gets Sappy Shoutouts, Simon Crushes A Soul

Dedications theme inspires more sentimental stories than strong performances.

It’s only the second week of performances, but the sixth season of “American Idol” has already given us tabloid-worthy drama (see ” ’Idol’ Hopeful Antonella Barba’s Pal Says X-Rated Pics Are Fake” ) and unexpected twists — like the early dismissal of Baylie Brown during Hollywood Week. But the juiciest “Idol” talk always comes from analyzing the performances with an attention to detail that would make Donald Trump’s accountant proud.

After abysmal attempts by the male contestants during last week’s inaugural season-six semifinal performances, the guys are back and ready to prove that they’re more than just dudes filling an arbitrary quota set up by “Idol” producers in season four. In fact, Seacrest even threatens, “This time, it’s personal!”

Nope, there’s no “Death Wish”-like vendettas being fulfilled tonight. (Dang!) Instead, the top-10 men will dedicate their performances to an inspirational figure in their lives. In other words, this week, it ain’t about the singing. It’s about who has the best sappy dedication.

After Seacrest takes credit for “discovering” Oscar-winner Jennifer Hudson — man, “Idol” really owns you once you sign on the dotted line — and introduces “celebrity” guest-in-the-audience Jeff Foxworthy (whose new material should be called “You might be a shill for Fox when …”) we get to the performances.

PHIL STACEY
Song: John Waite’s “Missing You”
Verdict: If it’s good enough for Foxworthy …

Phil “Absentee Father” Stacey — nope, I’m not letting that one go — hits the ground running. His performance is just so-so — he over-enunciates like he’s in “99 Luftballons: The ’80s Jukebox Musical” on Broadway — but his dedication is GENIUS. This one’s for his command base back home. In fact, in his taped interview, Phil’s thankful for the opportunity to give what he has to offer (his singing ability) to a great cause (the Navy). Yeah, I’m fairly certain that butchering hits from 20 years ago is going to help us win the war on terror. And we wonder why we haven’t found Osama Bin Laden. Maybe he’s a grunge fan? OK, snarky commentary aside, America’s gonna eat this up with a spoon. Phil could come out and sing that liberal lesbian Melissa Etheridge’s Oscar-winning “Recycling Is Good” song, and conservatives would STILL vote for him based on his dedication alone. Hell, Foxworthy loves it. (It’s only been two minutes, but Fox doesn’t want you to forget that his new show debuts after “Idol”!)

JARED COTTER
Song: Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On”
Verdict: Hairy Cotter

Of ALLLL the songs in the world, could you think of a more INAPPROPRIATE one to sing for your parents than Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On?” This easily takes the cake as the ickiest “Idol” moment ever — and that includes David Foster making blind jokes to Andrea Bocelli’s face. Get past the dedication (if you can … shudder) and you’re left with a performance that could be in any Wall Street happy hour on Karaoke Tuesday. The unbuttoned shirt fits that description, too. The histrionics are there, though; Jared’s Burt-from-Sesame-Street eyebrows (or as I like to call them, why?brows) get a great workout, and he even drops to his knees (how McPhee of him!) to demonstrate how badly he wants to “get it on” (to his parents? — double-barf) but his voice cracks and I’m sufficiently unimpressed. Randy praises the “face move” in which Jared runs his hands down his head all D’Angelo-like. Meanwhile, Paula is giggly and incoherent — more than she usually is — and makes a “you don’t have to push so hard” double-entendre. And just when you think it couldn’t get any grosser, Seacrest bounces onstage and wistfully coos, ” … the things we’ve all done to that song! Memories, huh?”

AJ TABALDO
Song: Nina Simone’s “Feeling Good”
Verdict: A real drag

AJ dedicates his flamboyantly dramatic performance to his parents. I’d kill to see Foxworthy’s reaction here. Speaking of which, where is he? Isn’t Rupert Murdoch worried that we won’t know to stay tuned for the new high-concept game show about idiots? Running promos every single commercial break isn’t enough. I need to see Foxworthy clapping, damn it! AJ gets some nice reviews from the judges even though I think it’s a tad indulgent. Anyone else agree that this performance would look more at home at a drag show?

SANJAYA MALAKAR
Song: Tony Bennett’s “Steppin’ Out”
Verdict: Baby Steps

I’m really pulling for Sanjaya. His segment starts off promising with a savvy taped interview (Dead grandfather? Score. Cute baby pictures proving that Sanjaya had a shaggy mullet even as a 5-year-old? Bonus points!) but sadly, my faith is flushed away as soon as the timid teen takes to the stage. First, there’s the make-under. The hat, the suit, the earrings, the ponytail. He’s styled like Gerardo going to the Grammys. Then, there are the hushed vocals that make Norah Jones sound screamo by comparison. Randy relates it to a bad high school talent show (so true, dawg). Simon, who is clearly running out of insults, says it’s like a “ghastly … um … lunch … where after lunch your parents asked their children to get up and sing.” Seriously, between this pitiful excuse for a critique and last week’s Chris Sligh “student gig” comment, I think Cowell needs to get Bruce, if you know what I mean. But what Simon’s bizarre comparison lacks in eloquence, it makes up for in sting because Sanjaya is near tears. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the first truly crushed soul on “American Idol” season six. God, I love this show.

CHRIS SLIGH
Song: Ray LaMontagne’s “Trouble”
Verdict: Love Him Tender

Chris Sligh gets all married on us. (Did we know he had a wife?) The Navy is cool. A dead ancestor is cooler. But a wife? That might trump all. Except maybe a dead wife. But here’s the neat twist: Chris doesn’t need to rely on a sentiment because his vocals are actually pretty good. His performance is soulful, pretty and tender. He trails off in the middle, gets ahead of the music a little bit — again — and seems distracted when he’s singing directly to his wife in the audience (the irony!), but overall, I’m sold on this mature outing. The judges are too. Wait a second — where’s Foxworthy? We get three shots of the Redneck King in the first eight minutes of the show but we haven’t seen him since! Did he storm off like Eddie Murphy allegedly did after losing the Oscar? Is the “Blue Collar Comedy” God miffed that nobody’s dedicated a song to him yet?

NICK PEDRO
Song: Peggy Lee’s “Fever”
Verdict: A fevered pitch … problem

Poor Nick Pedro. I’m assuming all his grandparents are alive and he’s not in the armed forces. Instead, he’s stuck dedicating a song to his girlfriend back home in Boston. (Her name’s Caitlin, not Zazu, you jerks.) But a long-distance girlfriend isn’t a great way to get votes. I almost wish the Boston boy dedicated his performance to the Red Sox. It would have felt more sincere. (Yankees suck, right Nick?) Pedro has to really bring it if he wants to stay afloat. Luckily, he has the “Idol” producing team pulling for him. How else to explain the cutaways to an animated drummer during the performance? Let me tell you, snap zooms on an overeager percussionist are a great way to make a dull performance seem exciting. I can practically hear the director yell, “Annnnnnnnd ZOOM!” Sadly, Nick’s belated Valentine to Caitlin is pitchy, and his habit of hunching his shoulders distracts me from fully enjoying his “smoky” voice.

BLAKE LEWIS
Song: Jamiroquai’s “Virtual Insanity”
Verdict: Breakin’ 2: Electric Buggaloser

This song always kinda blew without the cool video … and so does Blake’s performance. (Dude even tries to glide across the floor at one point!) Now I adored Blake’s melancholy beatbox-free Keane interpretation last week, but apparently I was in the minority, because when he skedaddled and scrizzatched the bridge of the song Tuesday night, the place went CRAZY. Crazy enough to hide the fact that the rest of the song was hideous. But not as hideous as the non-spiked hair we had to endure during his pre-taped interview. Keep it spiked, dude. Keep. It. Spiked. Randy wonders if America knows who Jamiroquai is (um … anyone alive during 1997 should know that song) while Paula gives her patented seal clap of approval, but it’s Simon who cuts through the bull and agrees with me. Aside from the beatboxing — or vocal entendres/turntablisms as Blake idiotically calls it — the I’m-doing-this-for-my-parents performance was atrocious. (Side note: I never thought Jamiroquai would ever spur such a spirited discussion! In 2007, no less! I can’t wait for next week’s White Town debate).

BRANDON ROGERS
Song: Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time”
Verdict: Back To Basics

Brandon Rogers — wasn’t there already an “Idol” contestant with that name? ohh, close — fails to meet expectations for the second week in a row. Last week, he ate crow for “oversinging” and this week, he falls victim to undersinging. Brandon’s uninspired by-the-book “Time After Time” isn’t off the hook (no, it’s firmly ON the hook) and it feels endless. His parents hold an “All Aboard the B-Train” sign, but trust me, that train’s heading back home Thursday night. His last-minute pleas didn’t help either. Dude pulls the dead grandma and dad’s birthday out of his hat in 30 seconds. Thankfully, Simon calls him on it by saying to the camera, “Happy birthday, Mom, in six months time. And I like puppies.”

CHRIS RICHARDSON
Song: Jason Mraz’s “Geek in the Pink”
Verdict: Consider me geeked

JT/K-Fed lookalike Chris Richardson (I call him J-Fed) dedicates his performance to his alive-and-kicking (how novel!) grandmother. He calls her Big Momma, but as far as I can see, there’s little resemblance to Martin Lawrence. (If only!) In his taped interview, J-Fed says Big Momma lives like she’s 20, but based on the pictures provided, she looks even less spry than Peter O’Toole. Federlake sings “Geek in the Pink” in her honor and while it might seem like an odd song choice — especially since it sounds like he’s saying “geeking the pink,” which could be a euphemism for … ahem … turning Japanese — turns out old ladies love Jason Mraz. Did you see how fast Paula jumped to her feet once the music started? J-Fed’s bopping charisma — and mastery of the Mraz-ian maze of tongue-twisting lyrics — carry him to rave reviews, despite the performance being less-than-perfect vocally. I’m also not digging the singer’s two-rubber bands on-the-wrist “good luck” charms. The rubber bands make him look less like a singer and more like a PA who checked out a couple of tapes at the MTV library. Oh, and did I mention that Paula somehow has a Valentine in her hand during judging? What else is she hiding in her magic purse o’ crazy?

SUNDANCE HEAD
Song: Wilson Pickett’s “Mustang Sally”
Verdict: A-Head of the Pack?

Last week’s “Nights in White Satin” was Meat Loaf-ian in its epic offensiveness. The fact that Sundance survived the first elimination proves that he’s got a huge fanbase. Tonight’s sentimental “to my son Levi” dedication is certainly going to widen the support. Let’s face it: Moms, grandparents both dead and alive, Navy comrades and wives can’t compete with children! Sundance’s taped interview is so sappy (he sobs while talking about the son he barely knows because of the “Idol” taping schedule) I’m half-expecting a shirtless Ty Pennington to burst through the “Idol” set to build Head a new house full of Sears appliances. (On a more serious note, it occurs to me that there is a new generation of kids being raised by a single parent because the other parent is competing on a reality show. You think LaKisha’s daughter is going to resent that mommy is away for months at a time in her pursuit of fame? But I digress.)

After vowing to be “less crappy” during tonight’s Coke “Real” moment, Sundance delivers on that promise. But while he’s considerably better than last week — not hard to do — there’s still something about this guy that I just don’t buy. His hearty vocals sound forced to me — and aside from his unconventional looks (a hair-sprayed goatee?!), he has little presence onstage. I give him props for hitting the high note from his belly, but other than that I just don’t see what the big fuss is, honestly. And did anyone else wince when Ryan projected a goatee-PhotoShopped pic of Sundance’s kid on the monitor? Call me Wendy Pepper from “Project Runway,” but I just don’t think it’s cool to draw facial hair on a pic of somebody’s child.

High Note Of The Night

My show highlight is non-performance related. How sad is that? At the very end of the show, Seacrest reintroduces Jeff Foxworthy (where was he this whole hour and a half?) and reminds us all to tune in to his new show for the 40th time. Then, Ryan actually engages Jeff in a detailed explanation of the show’s concept, despite its hilariously obvious title and impossible-to-escape TV spots. (If only “Idol” was on when “Who Wants to Marry A Multi-Millionaire?” aired. “So … it’s a bunch of women competing to marry a guy with a lot of money? I don’t get it. Tell me more!”) And in a brilliant move, Foxworthy — apt name, now that I think of it — asks the audience if they know how many sides a trapezoid has. When Ryan and the judges are stumped, Foxworthy cackles like the mad genius that he is!

In the end, the night will be remembered for the triumphant “return to form” of some of the early audition favorites — the Beatbox is back! Sundance can sing! The background singer with a heart of gold — and don’t forget … a dead grandma and a dad whose birthday is TODAY! — should start packing. As should AJ Tabaldo. Nick Pedro needs more than a goofy recurring “Vote for Pedro” motto to keep his butt around, but I think he’s safe again this week. What about Sanjaya? Last week he was in the top four (despite a paltry performance). Will his fanbase stick with him another embarrassing week? And more importantly, which star from “The Wedding Bells” will be forced to explain their show in great detail to Ryan tomorrow?

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