Nothing says "American Idol" like the British Invasion, right? RIGHT?
Now before you get giddy with the thought of Melinda belting "Yesterday" or Blake rewriting "She Loves You" on his laptop, keep in mind that Beatles tunes cost a lot of moolah, and if there's one thing "Idol" producers hate more than Brian Dunkleman, it's signing checks. (Anyone else catch the recent headline that "Idol" stylists are forced to reuse hair weaves each season? Yikes.) It's a real pity that the night will be Fab Four-free because I'd just die if Sanjaya warbled "Do You Want to Know a Secret" while doing the hula.
So instead of Paul and Ringo dishing the dirt on one-legged ex-wives and "Shining Time Station," respectively, we're stuck with this week's guest mentors: Peter "Claps Like an Entertained Immigrant Grandmother" Noone and the appropriately named Lulu.
The unsettlingly upbeat Noone, of Herman's Hermits fame, will hang with the guys tonight while Lulu mentors the girls (and by "mentor" I mean make them sing backup while she rips through a song. Nice way to steal the spotlight, lady!) Later in the taped intro, Lulu observes that the contestants weren't born when these songs were written. Apparently, she hasn't met Melinda yet.
But enough with this rubbish, as the Brits might say. Let's get to the performances!
Song: Billie Davis' "Tell Him"
Verdict: From Lady To Ladette
Lulu advises Haley "I'm Cuter When I'm Weeping" Scarnato to find her place in the competition by being herself. So Haley ditches the Broadway-bound Celine freak persona and puts on hot pants instead! I couldn't help but notice that Haley got her decades mixed up because bra-burning didn't really start until the '70s.
Scarnutto sashays through the audience not once, but twice during her performance. Each time the crowd looks indifferent, as if they're saying "Who is that again? Oh, she's the one that had a meltdown last week. Where's Melinda?" The judges are easy on her, perhaps too easy. Randy gives her the dumb "yo factor" seal of approval while Paula shares her words of wisdom: "Haley, you have a girlish quality about you." (You don't say, Abdul.) Me? I think the performance would be better suited for a Miss America pageant — or some sort of pageant. And it's nice to see that "Idol" producers apparently hired Antonella as a stylist. Zing!
Song: Gerry and the Pacemakers' "Don't Let the Sun Catch You Crying"
Verdict: Chris "Aces" It
Peter Noone scores a few points in my book when he disses J-Fed for singing songs that are "kind of ... [He makes an unintelligible, high pitched breathy goose noise]." Although he's as eloquent as Paula on a good day, somehow I know exactly what this dude's talking about! J-Fed's flimsy voice has failed to make an impression so far, and even J-Fed himself admits it. Tonight, his goal is to "finally nail a song." Why does that sound filthy?
Accompanied by an acoustic guitar and a simple melody, J-Fed shines. After one line, the audience bursts into spontaneous applause like they just witnessed a feat of incredible difficulty. He only sang six notes, people! Once the song builds, J-Fed gets a little "run" happy which unfortunately results in a shrill, nails-on-a-chalkboard tone in his voice. Nasal tendencies notwithstanding, J-Fed finally shows that he has more talent than Ace Young and his creepy chest scar. In the good-luck-charm department, however, J-Fed's rubber bands are still more annoying than Ace's beanie-hat-in-the-back-pocket.
Paula, who has no problem with the sun catching her crying — or the camera catching her crying for that matter — calls J-Fed's presentation "very sexy." Thanks to an immediate cutaway shot, it looks as though an overeager Peter Noone really agrees with her. That man is a little too happy, isn't he?
Song: Dusty Springfield's "You Don't Have to Say You Love Me"
Verdict: Baby Beyoncé Loses It
Anyone who caught Paula Abdul on QVC last Friday (Oh, like you wouldn't have TiVo'd that if you had known!) can perfectly ID some of Stephanie's accessories tonight. Paula mentioned during her QVC hock-a-thon that she outfits the "Idol" girls with her line of costume jewelry, but I didn't believe her until now.
For some reason, Stephanie Edwards' "coming up after the break" wave moment is being shot by a baby in a stroller. At least, that's what it looks like as she looms over the camera, waving frantically and making exaggerated faces. (Dear toddlers of Manhattan, I promise to never ever do that again. I now see how annoying that is. Apologies.)
Stephanie, or as I will now call her, Baby Beyoncé, goes all Dusty Springfield on us (minus the lesbianism). I never realized how much this Dusty tune sounded like Rizzo's showstopper, "There Are Worse Things I Could Do" from "Grease." Oops!
Baby B's performance bursts with vocal histrionics but ultimately, feels emotionally hollow. More importantly, it breaks my "don't sing songs with lyrics that will be extra poignant if you get voted off" rule. As she sings lines like, "You don't have to say you love me just be close at hand/ You don't have to stay forever, I will understand," I study her face because I'm pretty sure after the results show, we won't be seeing her again. Or at least until the finale when we all go, "Who the hell was that?"
The judges agree with me ... I think. It's hard to decipher some of the inanities. For example, Randy says, "I think it wasn't my best performance for you for me." Forget doublespeak, that's like quadruplespeak! Paula, meanwhile, sneaks in a subtle plug for her QVC junk. "I love what you're wearing." Shameless. Simon uses the dreaded C-word: "cabaret," almost ensuring Stephanie's bottom-three status.
I have to give Baby Beyoncé's family props, though. One of her cousins holds up a sign that reads, "Kilroy Says Vote For Stephanie." That means she has a cousin named Kilroy or her cousins are diehard Styx fans. Either way, that's what we call a win-win.
Song: The Zombies' "Time of the Season"
Verdict: Union Hack
When was beatboxing considered "contemporary?" I know Justin Timberlake engages in a little Blake-ization every now and then, but I'd probably say that beatboxing — or "the business" as the still-happy Peter Noone calls it — was in its prime during the era of the Fat Boys, pre-"Disorderlies."
Blake's beatboxing is highly incongruous this time 'round, as the arrangement of the song is incredibly faithful to the '68 recording. To say that Blake made it "contemporary" by simply adding "skidizzles" and "fshhhhhs" is an insult to America's intelligence.
And don't even get me started on the dancing. Why does Chris Richardson get the JT comparisons when it's Blake who's obviously stealing Timberlake's every move? And poorly at that. In fact, I've seen frat guys slurring "My Love" who can ape Justin's moves better than Blake can.
But strip away the low-rent Timber-moves and the distracting Michael Winslow impression and you're left with an absolutely gorgeous rendition of a '60s classic. His vocals are the best they've been since his week as a Keane fiend, and I'm convinced Blake's gonna go all the way this season. Heck, even Nigel Lythgoe is seen in the audience going absolutely CRAZY over Blake. Ka-ching! Ka-ching!
There are two things that stand in his way to the top.
1) A disorganized fanbase. One fan's sign is so busy and messy that I need a decoder ring to crack the code. Hey, Paula, do you make decoder rings? The sign literally reads, "Blake Beatbox To The Final Four B! Win!! B! B!" Any "DaVinci Code" fans out there? Help a brother out.
2) Ryan Seacrest. The appreciation I have for Blake's vocals quickly go to hell when Seacrest bursts into an impromptu dance and beatbox freestyle. (And he's a spitter.) If Blake's bastardization of hip-hop is inspiring Seacrest to make an ass of himself, I can only imagine what dads across America are doing right now in their living rooms. And all the children of those dads are reacting the same way I did when my father started doing the Pee-Wee Herman "Tequila" dance: with an eyeroll and a sigh. "That's so played out, dad."
Song: Shirley Bassey's "Diamonds Are Forever"
Verdict: All Blinged Up and No Place to Go
In Lululand, Lakisha struggles to find a song. "Diamonds are Forever" is her first choice, but Lulu has another plan for her: "You're My World." Despite Lulu's best efforts (she even stops mid-interview to run over and get Lakisha on the "World" bandwagon), KiKi disses Lulu and chooses the Bond song. For those of you keeping score at home, that's America, 1. England, 0. USA! USA!
Ryan introduces Lakisha by saying, "She's wearing about a million dollars worth of diamonds." Clearly, KiKi ain't rocking the Paula jewelry tonight. But wouldn't it be great if Seacrest told us about each singer's getup regardless of the cost? "Wearing $23.84 worth of cubic zirconia and Katharine McPhee's old weave, here's Haley!"
Lakisha dazzles on the first verse. It's pure double-0-heaven. But something happens around the minute mark. KiKi loses focus and the song becomes tedious and repetitive. (I don't think the refrain "Diamonds are forever" is supposed to feel like forever.) Perhaps Kisha's thinking about how as soon as she steps off of the stage, "Idol" producers and bodyguards are going to snatch away the diamonds faster than you can say "Harry Winston."
The judges are lukewarm, "This was Lakisha in 50 years' time," sniffs Simon. And he's right. It's not a knock on her grandma hairdo, per se, but more about the overall tone of the performance. You have to admit, it felt very cabaret circa 2057.
Points for Seacrest avoiding homophobic banter with Cowell this week. When Simon said Lakisha's dress was Ryan's "subject," Seacrest kept this "Diamonds" refreshingly conflict-free. You go, girl! Oh wait, that's homophobic, isn't it? Dang!
Song: The Nashville Teens' "Tobacco Road"
Verdict: Up in Smoke
Phil Stacey's been going for the Daughtry look since we first met him. (Remember when he skipped out on his daughter's birth? Yep, I'm still not over that.) It was only a matter of time before Phil tried stealing his sound, too. In all fairness, his vocals were all Phil-like and nothing like the constipated yelps Daughtry squeezed out each week. But Rickey Minor and the band turned their amps up to 11 and Phil grabbed the mic stand like a Bo disciple (or should I call him a Bice-sciple?) The result was an aggressively unpleasant experience. It didn't help that Phil's shirt looked inexplicably wet. Was it sweat? Water? Newborn-baby drool? Well, we know it can't be the last one.
Song: Shirley Bassey's "I Who Have Nothing"
Verdict: A Giant Success!
Ryan and Jordin chit-chat thanks to Coke (who also supplied the judges with new bright, distracting cups tonight), and the lame questions from home viewers keep pouring in. "Name a song that describes you best." I wonder if Jordin's response will be a song from an animated movie! Not exactly. The Pointer Sisters' "I'm So Excited" wasn't in a cartoon, as far as I know, unless you count "Saved by the Bell."
Wouldn't it have been great if Jordin shook things up and said something completely inappropriate there? "Well, Ryan, the song that sums me up would probably have to be Nine Inch Nails' 'Closer.' " Sigh. I miss Antonella.
Lulu — who is getting more lulu as the episode progresses — is exasperated by Jordin's song choice. "Woooooooooooah! Big song!" Personally, I think it's appropriate that the giant wants to sing a "big" song.
Things get deliciously awkward real quick. As Jordin hits a high note in her rehearsal, Lulu inexplicably shrieks like a tropical bird. I think the aging British star was trying to one-up the young'n. "Oh, you think you're hot stuff, little miss 17? I can sing an octave higher than you. CAAAAWWWWWW!" If there's a God, Lulu will have her own reality show by the end of the year.
My chants of "Lulu for President" subside as Jordin — who looks amazing tonight, by the way — takes to the stage. Miss Sparks' gut-wrenching performance is a revelation. It not only erases all memories of last week's dreaded dino ditty, but demonstrates that a 17-year-old can deliver an emotional performance of a "big" song after five seasons of suggesting otherwise. Lisa Tucker, Paris Bennett, Kevin Covais, John Stevens, you all just got served.
Randy unintentionally makes a height joke in his review. "That was a tall order!" You just know Mel Brooks giggled. And oddly enough, after last week's over-praise, this week Simon underplays his enthusiasm for the teenage prodigy. Cowell's "I feel like jumping off a bridge" quip really belittled the brilliance of Jordin's star-making moment. Boo!
Song: The Kinks' "You Really Got Me"
Verdict: Sex, Hugs, Mock and Roll
Sanjaya came out of his shell tonight and the "Idol" purist in me wants nothing more than for him to crawl back in it as soon as possible. I've always been a supporter of Sanjaya's voice (it's his inexperience that does him in each week, right?) but tonight he decided to distort his vocals with a nasty growl and distract the home viewers with a train-wreck of a performance.
And it was absolutely brilliant.
Here's why: Sanjaya is still around for two reasons. Howard Stern and Vote for the Worst certainly have a lot of pull (see "Is Howard Stern Behind Sanjaya Malakar's Staying Power On 'Idol'?"). And for whatever reason, young kids heart Sanjaya. Somehow, tonight, Sanjaya has perfectly pleased both fanbases with one bloodcurdling performance. He's turned the freak-show factor up 500 percent, as the judges might say. The cut-off gloves borrowed from Jared Leto, the Gene Simmons tongue homage, the strangely sexual moans? Check, check and oh boy, check. But if you think about it, popular bands like My Chemical Romance and 30 Seconds to Mars employ similar theater-rock posturing. So he's pleasing the "TRL" emo kids and the Howard Stern burnouts in one delirious offering. Bravo.
Want proof that the kids like the Sanjaya? Look no further than the weeping mess of an audience member who I call Little Orphan Ashley. (My boss calls her "Jan Brady," but I'm all for the Orphan nomenclature. Where were her parents? Maybe that's why she's crying so much!) We got a quick glimpse of Little Orphan Ashley before J-Fed's segment, but during Sanjaya's performance, her quivering mug is front and center. And huge. (Note to Idol producers: extreme close-ups have historically been used in cinema and television to highlight an important item ... like a keychain, or a letter, or a gun. Not a teen's blubbering face.) The inter-cutting of Sanjaya's performance with Little Orphan Ashley's meltdown has me in tears ... from laughter.
My fave moment? Sanjaya passes by Little Orphan Ashley in the crowd. She's excited when as he's approaching her but as soon as he get next to her she pulls away from him! Like he's the Elephant Man! Oh, to be young and in love. "I want to kiss you, but EWW! Not really! I'm scared of you. Don't come near me!" [Punch!]
When it all ends, the Malakar clan — probably taking a cue from the family in "Little Miss Sunshine" — applaud Sanjaya's spazz attack wholeheartedly. It's really charming. And his sister's there, so you know Sanjaya's happy.
Randy and Paula give Sanjaya props for "coming out of his shell." I think they're really highlighting that he's embraced his status as a joke on the show and for the first time, we're laughing with him and not at him.
Simon isn't having any of it when he deadpans, "The little girl's face says it all."
Then, just when it couldn't get any awesomer, Sanjaya runs down and hugs the weeping Orphan. I want a Sanjaya hug!
Song: The Rolling Stones' "Paint It Black"
Verdict: Gimme Shelter
Gina reads blogs. She says so in her "real" moment with Ryan. Yikes. Gina, if you're reading this right now, I'd just like to clarify that when I made that "chubby goth girl" joke a few weeks ago (see " 'Idol' Recap: Simon Says Antonella's Time Is Up, Melinda Aces It Again"), I was talking about Evanescence fans, not you. Honestly. Now do yourself a favor and skip the next several paragraphs.
Poor, poor Gina. What can you say about Gina that hasn't already been said about the girl in high school who plans on moving to New York after graduation because "you know, things will be different." Girl's got a powerhouse voice — she killed that Celine song week one — but because she's competing against Mindy and KiKi, she has to go the "rock" route to stand out. And in a cruel twist of fate, the more she tries channeling Chrissie Hynde, the more she ends up looking — and worse, sounding — like Ashlee Simpson.
I love the Glockster as a performer. She might be the only "Idol" finalist who REALLY gets into her songs. Throw in a unique sense of style and a great personality and you've got a winner, right? Wrong. Unfortunately, "Idol" contestants don't have the luxury of an auto tuner, so a bad note's a bad note. And tonight, she's painting it pitchy.
Randy and Paula give We-Will-Glock-You OK reviews, which is probably why Simon's "torture" comment blindsides her moments later. Poor Gina spends the rest of her post-performance airtime fighting back tears Haley-style. Hopefully, Gina has a fanbase, because I think the Glockster has a "wow" moment in her that's dying (no pun intended) to come out. We'll just have to wait and see.
Song: The Zombies' "She's Not There"
Verdict: Strange Thing Mystifying
Wow. Between Blake and Chris Sligh, the Zombies are getting some much-deserved love tonight. (Here's a litmus test to see if your parents were cool in the '60s: Go ask them if they knew about Odessey and Oracle. Bonus points if they still have it on vinyl!)
Martin Scorsese's moonlighting as a television director, apparently, because Sligh's entire performance is covered in one uninterrupted Steadicam shot. Pete Wentz is geeking out if he's watching right now, fo' sho.
The song begins with Chris in the audience. The crowd — including the cast of "The Wedding Bells" — parts like the Red Sea while Chris walks through, maintaining zombie-like eye contact with the camera. This I'm-not-going-to-acknowledge-my-fans-in-the-audience-even-though-they're-grabbing-at-me strategy backfires tremendously. It reminds me of that scene in "Jesus Christ Superstar" when the big JC gets overtaken by a sea of cripples, lepers and beggars. (Yes, that's in the Bible too, but I'm more familiar with the Gospel according to Andrew Lloyd Webber, thank you very much.) I half expect Sligh to stop singing the Zombies to cry out "There's ... too many of you!" But alas, he sticks to the '60s instead.
As Chris gets up on stage, I notice a sign in the audience that says "BRINGING CHUBBY BACK!" That seems kinda mean, but I'm relieved when it's revealed that the sign belongs to his friends. Actually, I give them props for putting more effort into their signs after last week's "FRO PATRO" travesty. Maybe the Sligh family got my letter (see " 'Idol' Recap: Lakisha Edges Out Melinda, Haley Has A Breakdown").
Sligh's vocals are less-than-heavenly this week. The song seems just out of his reach, but as Simon points out, he showed personality so he should be able to float on through the results show. Too bad Chris shows too much personality when he unsuccessfully tried to make "Fro Patro!" his catchphrase. Um, no.
Song: "As Long as He Needs Me" from "Oliver!"
Verdict: Doolittle Too Late
Ironic that "The Soup" compared Melinda's humble reactions to those of an "adorable street urchin" this past weekend because tonight she's singing a song from a musical about ... an adorable street urchin! It's a little unfair that "Idol" producers are including "Oliver!" with the British invasion. But I wasn't alive during the '60s. Maybe teenagers were singing "Food Glorious Food" and "Consider Yourself at Home" while hanging up posters of Mick Jagger. Who knew?
Melinda's team of stylists gave her a haircut, and it's unfortunately counter-productive. Kids, this is a good lesson for you: If you're trying to look younger, don't think Eartha Kitt.
And don't think torch song from a '60s musical! When you're as good as Melinda, song choice is even more important than it is for someone like Sanjaya. Remember when Tamyra Gray got booted because of Patti LaBelle's eternally-lame "New Attitude?" While Melinda doesn't have to worry about getting cut this week, if she keeps picking forgettable songs like this one she needs to worry about getting to the top four. People are going to eventually get bored by her schtick (her schtick being "amazing singer") if she doesn't start choosing smarter. When you're consistently brilliant, people assume that you're safe and don't vote for you.
On that note, I hate to be a Doolittle-basher, but I was bored to tears tonight. (There were tears from Little Orphan Ashley, too, but her tears seemed more of the "my dog's head was left on my doorstep" variety.) It's depressing that I was more intrigued by a ridiculous amount of spit that flew out of Mindy's mouth than I was her vocal stylings tonight. (I'm also intrigued by a technical goof that suggests a cameraman's foot is really "Melinda's Mom & Friends!")
The judges worship her, as they should, I suppose. It's like watching a young Streisand each week, right? But I disagree when Simon touts her ability to turn a boring song into something "sensational." Tonight, superstar Doolittle merely sang a boring song really, really well.
High Note of the Night
I already spent many a keystroke championing Jordin's Sparktacular performance tonight, so I'll focus instead on the real star of tonight's show: the audience! From Chris Sligh Superstar to Haley and the Comets to Sanjaya the Elephant Man, there was an awful lot of audience interaction tonight. I give the crowd an "A" for signage, too. Two clever fans (possibly conjoined twins?) made two oval cutouts so they could put their faces into a sign that gushed, "JORDIN WE LOVE YOU." "MELINDA
DOOLITTLE DO LOTS" is also crafty, considering it features the seldom-used "strikethrough" option.
Tonight's broadcast also repeatedly featured the back of a mysterious 12-year-old girl throughout the show in odd over-the-shoulder shots. We never saw her face, but she was there for almost every performance, standing in the crowd like a true fan. I salute your endurance, random-back-of-12-year-old-girl. You're an inspiration to extras everywhere.
However, nothing embodied "American Idol" audience member more than Little Orphan Ashley. At the end of the show, Ryan forced — and I mean forced — Ashley to meet the top 11. Little Orphan Ashley went from contestant to contestant, getting sloppy wet hugs along the way. She may have lost her parents in a tragic accident (I'm making that up), but music keeps her spirit alive. Seriously, though, when the show's over, her family may want to consider some serious meds (What's the eternally cheery Peter Noone taking?) and maybe even some intensive therapy. If there's one thing we've learned from watching Paula Abdul for five-and-a-half seasons, there's a fine line between "moved to tears" and "batsh-- crazy."