It's hard to believe we're down to the top three contestants already. (That silly double-elimination threw off the pacing of the season, no?) And any seasoned "Idol" fanatic knows that Top Three week means hometown visits, judge's picks, and an appearance from the Warwick Davis of the music industry, Mr. Clive Davis.
Seacrest announces that Blake, Melinda and Jordin will each sing three (!) songs tonight. The judges picked one, the contestant picked another and one is chosen by "the producers"
What happened to Clive?! (Maybe he's chilling with Tony Bennett, "Idol" 's other no-show this season. If only Michael Bublé stepped in again. "I picked Quarterflash's 'Harden My Heart,' 'cause why not? Hiccup!")
It's a tight 60-minute show, so let's go straight to the performers.
Simon's Pick: Rose Royce's "Wishing on a Star"
Producers' Pick: Donna Summer's "She Works Hard for the Money" (Oof.)
Jordin's Pick: Shirley Bassey's "I Who Have Nothing" (Reprise)
Verdict: 17 Stars!
Two things struck me while watching Jordin in her natural habitat. First, I didn't know Yeardley Smith was a mayor! And also, is "Idol" really sending the judges' song choices via fax?! That's so 1988. Why doesn't "Idol" do what other reality shows do when they need to send an important message to the contestants? "Top Model" has Tyra Mail. The Pussycat Dolls show had a weird video message thing (which I believe they called "A Video Message From the Pussycat Dolls"). At the very least "Idol" could hire a local nonsense-spouting homeless person to be their messenger for the day. They could call it a "Paula-gram!"
I was worried about Jordin singing a high-pitched Rose Royce song (by now you know how I feel about her screechy upper register). However, my ears are pleased to report that Jordin handled herself swimmingly, despite a lite-jazz arrangement that would be more at home playing in the P.A. system of a Glendale shopping center. (Can we talk about the star that Jordin received at the bottom of a mall escalator? File that under reason 4,231 it would be awesome to be on "American Idol." I want people to stand on my name while they spank their children too!)
Paula and Randy loved Sparks' first offering, even though one of them spent the first moments of judging facing the crowd like a confused, over-stimulated animal on the set of "The Tonight Show." (I'll let you decide which judge I'm talking about.) Like me, Simon was also bothered by the dentist-chair instrumentation and thinks it hurt her performance overall.
Post judging, Jordin wastes no time reminding us all how young she is. "I had never heard [the song] before in my life!" You know that Molly Shannon character Sally O'Malley? She's the old biddy that ends every thought with "... and I'm 50! Fifty years old!" (It's about as charming as sand in your mouth.) Well, Jordin is the Sally O'Malley of "American Idol." I bet by the end of the episode, she'll proclaim, "I can sing, I can giggle, and I can sing. I'm 17!"
Hey, I'm pretty close. Before Jordin's next performance, she's at it again. How does she justify that her favorite song is "MMMBop?" By chirping, "I'm 17!" Gag.
For Sparks' second song, the producers picked Donna Summer's eternally lame "She Works Hard for the Money." Maybe everything I've said about the show playing favorites is wrong. Why would producers choose this monstrosity for the golden child to sing? It's one of those songs like "We Built This City" and "... Baby One More Time" that are impossible to cover without looking and sounding like a jackass. Furthermore, considering Jordin's age (17!), it's a tad inappropriate to have her sing a song most people associate with ladies of the night. Good job, Lythgoe! Why not make her sing R. Kelly's "Sex Weed" while you're at it?
The judges eat it up anyway. (Jordin, I'll give you an "it was a competent attempt at a stupendously bad song.") Paula even makes an obvious "You worked hard for the money tonight" joke. And then laughs. A lot. Simon's still stuck on the cheeseball arrangement. (Let's hope he doesn't have to share an elevator with bandleader Rickey Minor anytime soon!)
When it came time for Jordin's pick, she went with her breakthrough "I Who Have Nothing" from British Invasion week. It always rubs me the wrong way when "Idol" forces the top three to pick a song they've already covered. (And don't they normally wait for the finale to do that?) It's really inconsiderate and maddeningly dull for loyal fans. (I assume they're trying to recreate "wow" moments that casual viewers might have missed from earlier in the season.) Watching Fantasia sing "Summertime" for the first time was magical. But hearing her belt it a second and third time in one season had me begging for the winter.
To her credit, Jordin tried switching it up a little by adding one extra high note — and boy, what a note — but because we've already seen Miss Sparks perfect this song, she'd have to sing it in Mandarin in order to impress me.
Things turn ugly in judging when Simon calls it like it is. "Part of me hated that a 17 year old [!!!] sang a 60-year-old song." This brings out the real nasty, spoiled bratty 17 year old from Glendale, Arizona, who defiantly barks, "Wasn't Rose Royce in the '70s?" Honey, now is not the time to sass the judges! (Just ask Katharine McPhee.) I'm waiting for a voice to come over the loudspeaker. "Ladies and Gentleman, tonight the role of Jordin Sparks will be played by Chris Richardson. And please turn off your cell phones and refrain from the use of flash photography. It frightens one of the judges."
Paula's Pick: The Police's "Roxanne"
Producer's Pick: Maroon 5's "This Love"
Blake's Pick: (Robin) Thicke's "When I Get You Alone"
Verdict: In It To Win It!
It's Blake Lewis day in Bothell, Washington ("Every year on this day all citizens must listen to 311 exclusively and sing in a fake British accent!") and the 14-year-old-looking mayor announces that Paula wants to hear the resident Beatboxer ruin The Police's classic ode to prostitution. (I'm sensing a theme tonight. Here's hoping Melinda spits "Big Pimpin'.")
The Blaker boi's first performance is aggressively unpleasant. I blame the atonal background singers droning "Roxaaaaaaaaanne" repeatedly, and the poorly mixed reverb on Blake's vocals didn't help much either. To be positive, at least he kept his beatboxing at bay. (After last week's mind-melting marathon, I'm glad he gave us a breather.) Plus, his final slide-to-the-front-of-the-stage-and-accidentally-toss-the-microphone-off-the-stage move was sort of charming in a junior-high-school-dance kind of way.
Although Randy and Paula raved, I'm a little worried for Blake. He needs to step it up big time if he wants to compete against Mindy and Jordy. (Fingers crossed for a cover of David Essex's "Rock On." How badass would that be?)
In round two, Blake fares much (much) better thanks to the producers' smart choice of Maroon 5's "This Love" — which incidentally happens to be my karaoke jam. It plays up his strength as the most contemporary singer of the competition and allows him to work in some of the Blake-izations without it sounding like a bad audition for a college a cappella group in need of a "percussionist." It'll be interesting to hear if Adam Levine's vocals sound this good on the "Idol" stage when Maroon 5 performs during the elimination show.
Side note: "This Love" might be the raunchiest song ever warbled on the "Idol" stage. (Jim From the Future says: "Just wait until Season 11 when the top four perform the music of Akinyele.") Just 20 minutes later, Blake has already out-raunched himself by accompanying Sir Mix-a-Lot (?!) in Bothell for an impromptu "Baby Got Back." (Speaking of the has-been MC, anyone out there able to decipher Mix-a-Lot's "new king of C-Town" proclamation? They don't have C-Towns on the West Coast.
It's not until Blake's final song, however, that he really knocks it out of the park. He wisely eschews all his past "Idol" performances and instead picks a Robin Thicke tune tailor-made for his schtick. I didn't realize the contestants were allowed to choose any song they wanted. Suddenly, Jordin's retread looks lazy and foolish.
"When I Get You Alone" always made me laugh because Thicke references his father's "last name" in the hook. And when I think of Robin Thicke's dad, I think of "Animal Crack-Ups" But Blake's show-stopping performance kept me so engaged I forgot all about Papa Thicke, and even better, I forgot all about Robin Thicke's thin performance on "Idol" a few weeks back. (Who knew "Lost Without U" was really about AutoTune?)
Inexplicably, Randy isn't that impressed with Blake's finest performance yet. And Paula's response, although positive, isn't the "I'm forever your girl" drool-fest he deserves. (My Theory of Jordin Favoritism is back on, people.) Simon appreciates it, (whew) and lavishes Blake with compliments that will hopefully get the dialers on Team B-Shorty.
Randy's Pick: Whitney Houston's "I Believe in You and Me"
Producer's Pick: Ike & Tina Turner's "Nutbush City Limits"
Melinda's Pick: Peggy Lee's "I'm a Woman" (Reprise)
Verdict: Hell to the Yes!
Melinda's shortcomings are on full display during her painfully awkward visit with the mayor. Randy Johnson's — er, Jackson's pick — is a Whitney song (even in a fax, dawg's name dropping!) and although Whitney's in the Holy Trinity of Do. Not. Sing. On. "Idol." EVER. (alongside Mariah and Xtina), Jackson thinks Mindy can handle the challenge.
Melinda starts off using a soft, almost whisper-like voice that make the low notes sound like buttah. It's a tender (and sexy!) variation on the Melinda sound we're used to. How refreshing that Mindy Doo is bringing new things to the table so late in the game. (Now if only she kicked up the personality a few notches.) By the middle of the song, she's feeling it, so much so that her voice pulls a KiKi and cracks on the two high notes of the song. But all is forgiven come judging time. The Three Stooges are blown away (well, I believe Randy said something about blowing it out of "the box." Take of that what you will ...) while Simon proclaims Melinda the winner of Round One. And then accuses Seacrest of being drunk for no good reason. Between this random moment and a later kiss between Paula and Simon, I feel like I'm watching "Match Game '75." (Does that make Simon Charles Nelson Reilly?)
Furthering the Tina Turner comparisons, the producers choose the Ike & Tina track "Nutbush City Limits." (Stop giggling at that title.) On paper this should have been genius, but Melinda lacked the Tina presence this round and the performance felt forced and ultimately fell flat. For a song with very little melody (I only counted five notes), Mindy needed to work the stage instead, but aside from one neat moment with the mic stand, I just wasn't feeling it. (You've gotta do more than just walk back and forth onstage, Mindy!) But maybe I was just too distracted by the fact that Melinda's hair was stuck to the side of her mouth for the second half of the song.
The judges are all impressed, yet again. But this time it doesn't seem like they're being as sincere. Paula opens her criticism with the usually deadly, "You had fun?" But then, she switches gears to, "What else can we say? We love you, we love you and we love you!" (Simon's quip, "That's why we hired you for this show, Paula" was Cowell at his cutting best.) Simon seems like he's at a loss for words before tossing off, "Another brilliant performance." Why don't I believe him?
After a touching moment on Melinda Doolittle Way (which I'm assuming is a short, stumpy cul-de-sac, for some reason) Miss Mindy closes the show with a redo of a semifinal song. Not the smartest move, especially following Blake's new Thicke-ening agent.
She kicks off her final appearance with a playful sports-jacket striptease. Fun! Her performance is a sass-a-second offering. Too bad she mangles the second line of the song! (Oh no!) What should have been "I can starch and iron two dozen shirts 'fore you can count from one to nine" comes out as "I can shfltghsdifgh asd two shzzrtrpgfffffff one to nine!" (Leave the beatboxing to Blake and the Paula to Paula, Melinda.) You can see the panic in her face and it takes her almost the rest of the performance to recover. And she does, just in the nick of time, and finishes us off with a fantastic final run.
The three background singers join Melinda onstage midway through the performance, and it's a produced manipulation to make viewers say, "Oh, look at that. Melinda used to be a background singer and now she has her own background singers. What a great story!" I suppose, but the greater story is when the camera glides around the back of Melinda we can clearly see that she has a massive wedgie. (Where's Sir Mix-a-Lot?) Poor thing! No wonder she forgot the lyrics.
The judges don't notice (or choose to neglect) Melinda's obvious lyric slipup, and instead choose to praise her so much she's almost a lock for the top two. And personality or no personality, a Melinda-less finale would be criminal.
High Note of the Night
Sure, Simon pushed for Melinda to be in the finals, but based on tonight's performances (or, at least the last two performances), I have to give a slight edge to Blake. And that's saying a lot, not only because Jordin and Melinda are better singers, but because Blake actually said he wants Jim Carrey to play him in the Blake Lewis biopic "Organized Chaos." [Head slap!] That revelation is so wrong it's right.
Jordin turned me off tonight thanks to her immature outburst. Her vocals may have been solid (and sometimes breathtaking) but the 'tude was enough for me to write her off as an undeserving diva.
Melinda started off with a bang but fizzled out as the night progressed. (Sorry, Simon. I can't let the lyric gaffe pass as easily as you did.) And for the first time this season, Doolittle looked nervous and uncomfortable onstage. Plus, she's still a deadly bore when she's not singing.
So that leaves Mr. Lewis. Okay, I admit, his "Roxanne" was, at times, pretty horrific, but I'm one to root for the underdog — especially when the underdog is working overtime. (I didn't see Jordin or Melinda learning a third song, thank you very much!)
I was worried that last week's hideous performance (and absurd outfit on elimination night) suggested that Blake was trying to sabotage his "Idol" run, as some "Idol" fans have posted on message boards here and there. But this week's solid (and fun!) appearances proved that he's in it to win it. I'm so proud. (Why do I feel like Blake's mom all of a sudden? And how have I never noticed that Blake's mom looks exactly like Roseanne Barr?)
Half of me wants a fair fight in the finals, which means that Busy Beatz would go back to Bothell to make room for a big-voiced Melinda/Jordin smackdown. (Or, in an ideal world, a Melinda/Fantasia battle! Drool!!) But the other half thinks that sitting through a predictable finale with predictable ballads and predictable judging would be spirit-crushingly dull.
I'll tell you what's unpredictable: this week's results. Thanks to nine (well, eight and a half) better-than-great performances tonight, I can't even begin to fathom who will be watching the Daughtry montage on the elimination show. It could be any of them for a dozen different reasons. My head hurts. I'll just have to put my faith in the not-sketchy-at-all-phone-voting process and accept that any of these three would be stellar Idols.
What do you think? Did Jordin's comment make you re-think your allegiance? Aren't you excited to see Blake live on the "Idol" tour this summer? Who's cuter: Melinda's grandparents or Simon's mum? And what was the deal with Simon's new hair product — his 'do looked wet all night? I'm dying to hear your thoughts in You Tell Us.