This is it, folks: the final week of gender-segregated semifinal performance shows and I, for one, am tickled pink. Aside from getting to the meaty once-a-week top-12 performance episodes (Theme weeks! Inexplicable guest mentors!), it'll be nice to have my Thursdays back so I can focus on the things I really love, like reading to the elderly or working on my novel. Oh, who am I kidding? I'll be stuffing my face full of Oreos and watching "30 Rock."
But I'm getting ahead of myself.
First, I have to sit — or, suffer — through the top eight male performances tonight. Forget eight — judging from the past couple of weeks, I have to say that only four is enough, thank you very much. And although most of the boys stepped it up last week, I get the sneaking suspicion that we're all about to be monumentally disappointed. Like Lauryn Hill's Unplugged album disappointed. OK, maybe that's an unfair comparison. I doubt any of these guys are gonna sit onstage and rant for 12 minutes about "confronting falsehood."
Last week's sappy dedications are tossed out the window. Instead, the contestants will be forced to reveal a hidden secret or talent in their taped piece. Considering Antonella's still with us, this has the potential to be very, very awesome.
Song: 311's "All Mixed Up"
Verdict: Hate the Player, Love the Game
Blake Lewis is really testing me tonight. What do we hate more, the fact that he "loves" improv comedy, or the fact that he proudly proclaims 311 as his favorite band? (Remember 311? The judges don't. Here's the 411 on 311, guys: Imagine Sublime. Remove the talent. See also: Crazy Town.)
Blake begins his performance by curing cancer and making blind people see again. Silly me — he's just beatboxing! But based on the over-the-top reception he's receiving, you might have made that mistake too.
But for all the Blake-bashing I do, I have to hand it to him — he's never boring. (He could have chosen the especially dull "Amber." It is the color of his energy, after all.) Plus, Blake being a devout 311-er likely indicates that we'll never hear him warble a Creed tune. And an "Idol" season without a Stapp song is fine by me.
In the end, Blake (or Jimmy Walker Blue, as he prefers to be called on the Blue Collar Comedy improv circuit, apparently) cajoles the crowd to their feet and, uh, "Gits-R-Done." We'll see him in the top 12.
Song: John Mayer's "Waiting on the World to Change"
Verdict: His Best Yet ... But That Ain't Sayin' Much
In Sanjaya's taped intro, the increasingly off-putting contestant chirps, "People may be surprised that I can actually hula!" Nope, can't say that I'm surprised. But I am shocked that the normally shaggy singer straightens his hair to sing a John Mayer song. Save the flat iron for Avril Lavigne week, dude. Mayer warrants, nay, demands a 'fro.
Sanjaya's performance is predictably strange, giving Mayer's socially minded song the "Sesame Street" treatment. (His gold hoop earrings don't help any, either.) Randy D. (for Dawg?) Jackson hits the nail on the hair — I mean head — when he complains that we have yet to see Sanjaya live up to his first audition. He's right. The Shy Guy was one of my early faves, but each week I'm left shaking my head and shaking off the heebie jeebies. And I'm not the only one. Simon wonders aloud if Sanjaya's "Paula" hair is keeping him in the competition, prompting Ryan to make what was evidently the funniest Paula Abdul hair-extention joke ever told, based on the judges pants-wetting reaction.
Song: Pearl Jam's "Jeremy"
Verdict: Negative Ten
Sundance Head (who told the world on last Thursday's elimination show that he's a huge fan of "Free To Be ... You and Me") reminds us why he's been earmarked as the male "Vote for the Worst" contestant this year. Dude is jaw-droppingly terrible tonight, making lines like, "Try to forget this!" and "Try to erase this ..." all the more apt. Somehow Randy and Paula like it — Abdul going so far as to say that the "Sundance Groove" is his "unique quality." (She calls it unique, I call it shouting. Potato, potahto.) Now the only question I have is whether the guyliner he's sporting tonight will turn off his Southern fanbase and finally get him voted off the show.
Song: Keith Urban's "Tonight I Wanna Cry"
Verdict: Watch Out, Robin Thicke!
J-Fed used to be a fatty football player. (His secret is inherently conceited. Isn't he just saying, "America would never think that I wasn't always the perfect specimen they see today"?) And the normally uptempo singer tackles a ballad. Odd move in the semifinals where the mantra should be "If it ain't broke ..." but he successfully puts an R&B twist on a Keith Urban song (which contains a lyric about drinking alone in a house ... oof).
I'm still not blown away by J-Fed's voice, but it's good enough that if he finds the perfect song, he'll have a real "wow" moment this season. I hope America gives him the chance. On second thought, J-Fed loses a few points during the post-judging banter when he dedicates the song to his grandmother, Big Momma. Dedication week is long gone, friend. Now there's no way to get the sympathy vote without it looking forced.
Song: Stevie Wonder's "If You Really Love Me"
Verdict: Loud, Not So Proud
Poor Jared Cotter. His secret was that he used to play Division II college basketball but wasn't good enough to play for the NBA. So he left the iffy athlete career path for a much more stable and reliable line of work ... in music. D'oh!
Even more depressing is how he gets no respect on "Idol." (I always considered him to be the George Whipple of the batch, but he's actually more like Rodney Dangerfield!)
For example, Jared-Plain-And-Tall is set to take the stage, but first Ryan says, "People online are buzzing about the Jared Cotter Face Mask." Did Seacrest just make an eyebrow joke to Jared's face? What a jerk! Actually, the "Jared Cotter Face Mask" refers to the "sexy" hand-down-the-face move Jared invented last week while singing "Let's Get It On" (again, for his parents), so we'll let Seacrest slide on this one. Scratch that. Ryan just forced all the men to try their hand at the "Face Mask" for the camera. Hey Jared, how does it feel to have seven of your peers and one over-tanned doofus openly mock you on television? Now go sing a song!
Screech a song is more like it. Jared, like Sundance, shouts his way through the performance. I'm also dismayed by Jared's awful march-in-place-but-rock-my-shoulders-back-and-forth dance that he does week to week. (Funny blink-or-you'll-miss-it moment: Chris Sligh is seen clapping completely off-beat toward the end of the song. Now that's hard to do. Have you ever tried it?)
During judging, Paula Abdrool nearly incites riots when she tells the African-American Jared to "color up" the way he sings. Wha-wha-whaaaat? Simon's eyes bug out of his head as he looks off camera to a producer, but calms down when he realizes that Paula's not channeling Strom Thurmond. She just thinks that his voice is a little one-note. Whew. Close call.
Song: Rare Earth's "I Just Want to Celebrate"
Verdict: He Won't Be Celebrating on Thursday
Brandon Rogers (His secret? Classical pianist!) breaks one of my personal "Idol" rules and sings a song that is tailor-made for an "Idol" elimination. Just listen to the lyrics: "I put my faith in people/ But the people let me down/ So I turned the other way/ And I carry on, anyhow." He might as well just sing that damned Daughtry ditty that's now in my head for the next three months. I bet "Idol" producers love when contestants pick a song like this. It makes for great television when the singers are then forced to perform it while fighting back tears. Brandon's performance is "a'ight," as Randy would say. But it wasn't good enough to guarantee him a spot in the finals.
Song: LeAnn Rimes' "I Need You"
Verdict: Something's Gotta Give
Finally, we all can sleep soundly at night. The Zodiac killer might still be out there, but at least the mystery surrounding Phil Stacey's bald head has been solved. Story goes that Phil had long hair back in the day, but then joined some kind of cult in college where he had to have a short, kempt haircut. (Cult, musical group, fraternity — whatever it was, same difference.) Since he hated how he looked with short hair, he decided to shave it all off ... and now loves rocking the bald look. So much so that he's wearing a hat tonight! Good call, idiot!
But pulling a Diane Keaton wasn't his only misstep. Choosing a schmaltzy LeAnn Rimes song — and then failing to hit most of the notes — is probably more problematic for his singing career than any doofy hat. (But boy, what an awful hat! Anyone else notice how the brim bent to his left, making him look like Sloth from "The Goonies?") The judges (despite Randy comparing him to Journey's Steve Perry!) were unimpressed. Phil might want to pack his belongings — and hats — for Thursday's results.
Song: DC Talk's "Wanna Be Loved"
Verdict: The Passion of the Chris
Chris Sligh continues the follicle-fable that Phil Stacey started by dishing, "I used to have really short hair. Then I shaved it off. Then I grew it out." Hey guys, sharing a secret doesn't mean talking about your past haircuts. It means opening up about shoplifting and taking naughty Internet pictures!
Chris quickly turns "Idol" into an ad for Time Life's "Songs 4 Worship" by singing the Christian rock anthem "Wanna Be Loved." First he sings Mute Math, now DC Talk? I guess my prayers for a Creed-less season are going unanswered.
Sligh delivers the night's best vocals almost by default. Hey, when you're competing against a motley crew of Sanjayas and Sundances, even a well-developed belch would sound like the second coming of Streisand by comparison. So congrats, Chris: You sucked the least out of everyone!
High Note Of The Night
Since none of the fellas truly knocked it out of the park, Ryan stepped up and earned his paycheck tonight. Still giddy from last Thursday's "You Totally Bought Fake Boobs" Kellie Pickler showdown, Seacrest was equally uninhibited tonight. Whether joking about a casting couch with Brandon Rogers or confronting Simon by shouting "Let the old man judge, let the young man interview!" after the cranky judge dissed his post-performance interview with J-Fed, Ryan seemed high with the power that he could say or do anything he wanted. (Maybe he should be the new "View" co-host!)
However, chats with aging country stars (Travis Tritt was in the crowd tonight, looking like he goes to the same doctor Kenny Rogers visits, if you know what I mean) and inappropriate jokes paled in comparison to simple, smart showmanship. Ryan made this Thursday night's results show sound like it will shake us to our core! Aside from revealing our top 12, he'll announce "one of the most important events in 'Idol' history." But before you think Paul McCartney, keep in mind the "Idol" 's history includes Ashford & Simpson, Ryan Starr's "Frim Fram Sauce" and "From Justin to Kelly."