Bonjour! I'm on vacation with the Mrs. in Paris (France, not Bennett, you "Idol" freaks.) So, apologies for the later-than-usual recap. Believe it or not, it's impossible to find a live feed of "American Idol" in the City of Lights. You'd think that a nation that worships Jerry Lewis and cheese would be especially fond of the zany antics of Paula Abdul and the Velveeta-like tone of "Idol," right?
I had to watch the show on a 9-year-old laptop so the video was as herky-jerky as a ride on Coney Island's Cyclone. (Imagine streaming video on a dial-up connection. Shudder.) Therefore, I may have missed some of the cutaways and signs I normally adore writing about, and this week's recap might be shorter than usual. Bear with me. Plus I am, after all, on vacation ... in Paris! There are more sights to be seen and more foie gras to be considered but not ordered because I'm not as adventurous an eater as I pretend to be.
On this week's show, the top nine warble "the music of Tony Bennett," but considering that Tony Bennett has released 100-plus albums, it's really just a fancy way of saying, "It's standards night!" Like the annual mile run in high school, "standards night" on "Idol" is a constant thorn in my side. It's always there, looming over me, daring me to endure it. But at least watching amateurs sing old-timey songs never caused me to pass out while a group of jocks pointed and laughed at me.
Ryan introduces the top nine, who stand around backstage looking like they're one cockeyed little person shy of a Tom Waits album. While I watch the "Tony Bennett 101" video package, I daydream about how fantastic it would be if Frank Sinatra were still kicking. Imagine Ol' Blue Eyes mentoring Sanjaya ... are you drooling yet?
I snap back to reality just in time to notice that Martin Scorsese's mom is back from the dead. Why is Catherine Scorsese calling the "Idol" contestants "very competent"? Oh, that's Tony Bennett. Wow. I guess I haven't seen him in awhile. Poor thing.
Song: "Mack the Knife"
Verdict: The Vocals Just Don't Cut It
Tony hints that Blake was going to beatbox all over Sinatra's grave, but luckily Bennett channels another Tony — of the Soprano variety — as he threatens quietly, "This song is pre-rap, you know." Ditching the customary vocal Olympics for the second week in a row, Blake is forced, yet again, to rely solely on his singing voice. Sadly, a lot of the notes are flatter than his hair sans pomade. Seems Blake's swingin' vibe charmed some of the judges, though. Randy digs his "funky jazzy cool"-ness while Paula cries, "You personified pizzazz." Coming from a woman wearing a sassy neckerchief, that's quite the compliment. But I'm going with Simon on this one. The on-point Rickey Minor band helped Blake stay afloat.
Song: "Night and Day"
Verdict: Hairy and Scary
First off, Phil Stacey must have run out of razors, because tonight he's looking ever-so-slightly Chia. Last week, Phil shocked Gwen Stefani: "Wow, he can actually sing." This week he has Tony singing his praises. So why is it that when Phil steps onto the "Idol" stage he leaves America shrugging? Tonight, he's channeling Michael Bublé channeling Harry Connick Jr. channeling Frank Sinatra. And somehow Charles Manson is thrown in for good measure, too, because his eerie "Night and Day" gives me the heebie jeebies. After Simon compares it to "singing in a funeral parlor" Phil retorts, "I was trying to focus on my wife." The studio audience "awwws" but I'm going "AHHH! Run for your life! Your husband's out to get you!"
Song: "I Got Rhythm"
Verdict: Like a Rock ... A Very Old Rock
Anyone hoping for a younger-acting Melinda Doolittle will have to wait one more week, 'cause singing a song from the '30s ain't gonna do much for her image. Speaking of image, her flat-ironed hair makes her look like Macy Gray's older (and wiser) sister. Predictably, Tony B. is blown away by Mindy. And, predictably, Melinda continues the humble schtick. But this time, it verges on self-parody. Her emotional "It feels so good to know that somebody believes in you" bite has me choking on a baguette. She can't be for real, right? Has anyone ever said to her, "Stop singing! You're TERRIBLE?" I doubt it. Get her ass in therapy, stat — she must have some severe daddy issues or something. (Phil Stacey, see what you're doing to your baby girl?) For the zillionth time, Melinda's performance is flawless. She may have rhythm, music and her man, but alas, no neck — I mean, "personality." Simon hints at her downfall: "I don't think we'll ever be able to criticize you. This is a problem!"
Song: "Don't Get Around Much Anymore"
Verdict: Go, White Boy! No, Really. Just Go.
My J-Fed (JT + K-Fed) comparison is especially apt tonight, considering he's dressed like Kevin Federline in his (sole) music video. He struggles to hit the low notes of the first verse but soon takes it up an octave for his usual nasal runs. The judges praise his ability to make an old ditty sound contemporary and I suppose they're sort of right, if Color Me Badd are considered modern. Paula, perhaps wanting J-Fed to "sex her up," is happy he didn't "compromise his artistic integrity." I bet she'd say the same for a dog that crapped on the carpet. "You did what you were born to do: poop in public. Well done!" Maybe I'm just in a bad mood because one of J-Fed's fans held up a sign that says "Chri$ Is Rich With R&B." Some names just weren't born for puns. Chris Richardson is one of them.
Song: "On A Clear Day"
Verdict: Melinda Toolittle
Jordin needs to stop hanging out with Melinda. The 17-year-old sounds like a polished 70-year-old this week. Yes, she can carry a tune — which is rare these days, right Tony? — but her cabaret performance has me wishing for last week's screechy-but-at-the-very-least-age-appropriate "Hey Baby." As soon as Paula's outfit stopped causing loud audio feedback, Abfool unleashed her finest mixed metaphor yet. First, Jordin is a "magnet of joy." Then, somehow, Jordin "exuded" a magnet of joy. And then Paula said "friggin'." Forget the singing. This is music to my ears.
Tony Bennett provides at least three "Hot Topics"-worth of arguments on "The View" by connecting 9/11 and Iraq during his pre-taped interview. (Who knew Tony worked for the Bush administration?) Gina, one part skinny Ricki Lake, two parts Melanie Lynskey, ditches the "rocker" look and sings a Charlie-Chaplin-penned tune (the one about smiling, not the one about elaborate slapstick). I'm not entirely sold on her muted image, and I thought she displayed prettier pipes last week. But Randy likes her "very nice and controlled" vocals. When Simon points out that Jordin and Melinda outsang Gina tonight, Paula interjects, "NO! You aim for your own personal best." What? Has anyone ever read Paula the rules? Last time I checked, the show wasn't called "American Gina Glocksen."
Song: "Cheek to Cheek"
Verdict: Andy Kaufman Would Be Proud
Sanjaya is déjà vu personified. Doesn't it seem like every week he says in his taped interview, "I just want to prove that I can sing"? And every week, we're all too distracted by the odd showmanship and always-changing hair to notice if he's on tune or not. So, back to his "I can sing" claims: At what point tonight do you think he abandoned his plan of proving his vocal prowess? Was it before or after he grabbed Paula for an awkward "I'll dance with my friend's widowed grandma at his wedding" two-step? His hair may have been slick, but his pandering wasn't.
It's impossible to predict when his time is up. Considering the excitement of his fans in the audience this week — one of them even held an Abdul-worthy "SANJAYA IS MY PAPAYA" sign — he could have another week to make Howard Stern happy — I mean, "prove he can sing." Oh, and stop snickering at the song title.
Song: "Ain't Misbehavin' "
Verdict: Give Her a Time Out!
Haley begins her segment with a "Real" Q&A from an "Idol" fan. Scarnato, who famously sighed, "I just clock in and clock out" when it comes to listening to Simon, now has a change of tune. She respects what he has to say and loves when she gets good feedback from him in particular. This is important setup, folks. Believe me, the payoff is tres bon.
During her performance, Haley's a real tart — and I'm not just commenting on her key-lime getup tonight. First, she tries to turn a song of devotion into an ode to promiscuity. ("And you. And you. AND YOU!") Then, she sashays up and down the crowd, ready to give a lap dance to a 30-something who is a little too happy to be in the "Idol" audience. And what's with the "sitting" thing? She begins almost every performance on the side of the stage. It better be a low-blood-sugar thing, because otherwise I'm going to mock it relentlessly until she stops doing it.
During judging, Randy and Paula refuse to critique her. Seriously. It's like some weird "Idol" protest thing, and I'm captivated. Apparently, they're not so keen on Haley's "I only listen to Simon" attitude from earlier and are now acting like overzealous college kids on a mission to improve the ketchup quality in the dining halls. Finally, after much coaxing from Ryan, Randy and Paula come up with some criticism, but they decide to switch roles. Randy uses the Abdul-like phrase "wheelhouse of songs" while Paula hiccups a Dawg-approved "you did yo' thang, you did yo' thang." Bizarre, folks. I swear, David Lynch is now secretly writing "American Idol."
Finally, Simon Cowell — remember, the end-all be-all in criticism, according to Haley — sniffs, "You have nice legs."
The Fable of Haley Scarnato has two morals, kids: 1. Don't cross the judges. 2. If you're gonna hooch it up and act like a trollop, don't be annoyed when people only compliment you on your looks.
Song: "Stormy Weather"
Verdict: KiKi Gets Stubborn
LaKisha isn't a strong listener, apparently. Remember when Lulu urged her to pick a different song a few weeks ago? KiKi wasn't having it. This week, Tony Bennett begs her to lose an improvised run at the end of the song and instead stick to the written long note. Fast forward to 90 seconds later, and sure enough KiKi is singing what she wants to sing, Tony Bennett be damned! As she unleashes the tag "Ain't no sunshine when he's gone, nooooo" we see how much pleasure LaKisha takes in being disobedient. How was the rest of the song? Well, the first verse was quite ... stormy. She hit her stride midway through and gave us the big voice we know and love. But in the end, Tony Bennett was right. If KiKi had ditched the Fantasia-like run at the end of the song, I would have been blown away with an ending power note. Instead, it's a bit of a letdown. I suppose that's only appropriate on standards night.
High Note of the Night
"American Idol" 's charity show is getting stranger by the minute. Seacrest announced some more "artist" appearances. Forest Whitaker! Helena Bonham Carter! Keira Knightley? (ahem) And Daniel Radcliffe! Even better? Ryan announces Rowan Atkinson and Mr. Bean as if they are two different people! The best news is that the original "Idol" is coming home ... Kelly Clarkson will grace us with her presence, all in the name of some vague African-but-also-Katrina-related charity. I'm so there.
But before I'm there, I have to finish my jaunt in Paris, so I leave you with the prediction that Gina alienated her GlockFans with a subdued snoozefest, and she's headed back to the Galleria Mall sooner than she expected. I won't find out if I'm right 'till I return to the States later in the week.
It's really surreal to be in a place where I don't have to worry about "Idol" spoilers. Luckily, Paris has its own version of "Idol" called "Nouvelle Star." Enjoy. I'm off to find some English-speaking Parisians willing to translate before tonight's broadcast. Au revoir!