We go right into the opening music and credits, and then Ryan comes out onto the stage to welcome us to the show. He must not have gone home, because it looks like he's wearing the same suit he wore last week. He talks about how this night is so important and how we're "almost there" blah blah blah, and then he introduces the judges. Simon looks smug (as always), Paula has that goofy smile plastered across her face (as always…and is she ever going to get rid of the bandage on her thumb?), and Randy just beats his chest and says, "Yeahhhhhhhhh" (again, as always). Ryan then tells us that we've got a "special" guest judge this evening, and boy is he right; it's none other than BMG Records honcho Clive Davis. During the video, we learn that Clive has had quite the illustrious career in music and has a knack for "discovering" acts that later go on to become big sensations all over the world. He's worked with everyone from Whitney Houston to Santana to Bruce Springsteen. He's even worked with American Idol alums Kelly Clarkson, Ruben Studdard, Clay Aiken, and Justin Guarini. (OK, well maybe not all of his people become worldwide sensations…) It also looks like he may have been the person responsible for popularizing the "comb-over" look, as I don't recall having seen it on anyone that far back before. Anyway, after the Clive video, we say hello to the ladies in the Red Room (sorry, the Coca-Cola Red Room), and they all look ready to go. Ryan asks Jasmine how she's doing, and she says, "I'm great. It's all about having fun now." Well, maybe. But, there's also this little matter of a million-dollar recording contract that you might be interested in, too, Jasmine. Fantasia explains that each contestant will sing three songs—one of their own choosing, a "Judges' Choice" song, and a song selected by Clive himself. Ryan then asks Diana how they decided the performance order for the evening, and Diana says they used the old "rock, paper, scissors" technique. With that, it's time to get the show underway.
The first round is where we'll hear our finalists sing their "Contestant's Choice" songs. Up first is Jasmine Trias, and she's chosen to sing the Whitney Houston classic "Saving All My Love For You". Hmm…now Clive is credited with "discovering" Whitney, so this could either earn Jasmine some brownie points, or it could really work against her. Anyway, she comes out on stage wearing a skirt so short that it looks like nothing more than a washcloth wrapped around her waist, and I think I recognize her top from a previous show. Something about her looks different, and I think it's that her eye makeup is rather severe this evening. Anyway, about the performance itself…I think Jasmine sounds pretty good. In fact, I think she sounds better than she has in weeks. She hits most of the high notes pretty well and does a credible job with the song. All that being said, though, she definitely won't give Whitney a run for her money or anything. What do the judges think? Randy says, "Yo, yo, yo. It was good, but it wasn't great. You're not all the way there yet." Paula says, "I have the same problem. When you pick a song like that, you're going to have to sing as good as Whitney, if not better. You're almost there, but not quite yet." Clive adds, "That was a tough song to sing. I heard a little sharpness, but you did well with it." Simon concludes with, "That was like a dinner with Paula Abdul—sweet but forgettable. There was no 'wow' factor." Hmm…I think Jasmine is going to have to "kick it up a notch" with her next two songs if she wants to ensure herself a place in the finals.
After our first commercial break of the evening, it's time to hear from Fantasia Barrino for the first time tonight. She has chosen to sing Aretha Franklin's "Chain Of Fools". Now, Aretha is also an artist that Clive Davis has worked with. Hmm…are these calculated choices on Jasmine's and Fantasia's part? I hear a "Come on, y'all!" right at the beginning, and I have to check to make sure it is indeed Fantasia and not Diana Degarmo. It is Miss Barrino, and she tears the song up. It could be because she's familiar with it, seeing as how it's the same song she sings on the AI3 compilation CD, and people may cry "foul" because of that. However, this is the "Contestant's Choice" round, and there was nothing preventing Jasmine from singing "Midnight Train To Georgia" or Diana from singing "I Heard It Through The Grapevine". Fantasia works the stage throughout the song, moving from one side to the other. She even ends the song with her trademark "yeah yeah yeah", but it doesn't seem as annoying tonight as it sometimes can be. Are the judges impressed? Randy says, "So, check it out. I don't care about the competition anymore. I don't care about 1-2-3 anymore. As far as I'm concerned, you are a winner." Paula tells her, "You celebrate each and every week. You picked the right song. Good for you." (As far as picking the right song goes, I guess we'll just overlook that whole "Holding Out For A Hero" mess from last week.) Clive tells Fantasia, "You nailed it. You pulled it off. Congratulations." Simon winks and says, "You demonstrated what we're looking for in this competition and may have found tonight. Superb. Well done." Looks like we know what the judges think of Fantasia's first number.
It's time to hear Diana Degarmo's "Contestant's Choice" selection, and it's the Diana Ross and the Supremes classic "Ain't No Mountain High Enough". It wouldn't be a Diana performance without a "Come on, y'all!" and Miss Degarmo certainly doesn't disappoint in that regard. For me, however, she does disappoint with the rest of the performance. It's not one of Diana's better performances, and it sounds like she screams almost the entire song. I don't know if it was nerves on her part or what, but she just doesn't appear as comfortable on stage to me as she usually does. Do the judges notice this? Are they impressed? Randy says, "That was not your best. It was just OK for me." Paula tells Diana, "I think you did great". (Of course, Paula hardly ever has a negative word to say about anyone. But, I digress…) Clive adds, "That was good cabaret, but it was not unique." Simon concludes with, "I agree with Clive. You shouted that song, Diana." Ouch, not a great start for Miss Degarmo.
It is time for the second round of performances, and this time the contestants will be singing songs chosen for them by Randy, Paula, and Simon. Jasmine is up first again, and Ryan turns to Paula to announce which song she has chosen for Jasmine. Paula says that she has chosen the Natalie Cole hit "Mister Melody" because (a) it's up-tempo, and Paula likes it when Jasmine sings up-tempo songs, and (b) Jasmine is a Natalie Cole fan. Now, I like "Mister Melody", but if I were going to pick an up-tempo Natalie Cole tune, I probably would have gone with "This Will Be" or "Pink Cadillac". But, I'm not on the judges' panel, so what do I know? Anyway, Jasmine comes out in the same outfit as before, and she sounds off to me almost from the very beginning. She inhales at the beginning of every line of the song, and because she has the microphone right by her mouth, it sounds like Darth Vader singing from the Natalie Cole songbook. At one point near the end of the song, Jasmine tries to do some scat singing, and it just doesn't work. I don't think this is a good performance for Jasmine, but not all the judges agree with me. Randy tells Jasmine, "Paula made a good choice. That sounded better for you." Paula says, "I love it when you just let go." Clive adds, "That was light, and the jazz riffs were not believable. That was not your best moment." Simon concludes with, "I'm just thinking, 'so what?' You just haven't connected tonight, Jasmine." OK, Jasmine, you have one song left. I think you're going to really need to knock it out of the ballpark.
It's time for Fantasia's second song, and Mr. Cowell himself has selected it for her. He has chosen the Ike & Tina Turner hit "Fool In Love", and he says he chose it because it will give Fantasia the chance to show off her attitude. Of course, I don't think she needs any help in showing off her 'tude, but that's just me. Now, Tamyra Gray sang this during the show's first season, and I think it was one of her best performances on the show. Does Fantasia's rendition measure up? It most certainly does. In fact, I think Fantasia's version is even better than Tamyra's. This is the perfect song choice for Fantasia, and she definitely makes the most of it. She starts out on the stage, but it's not long before she's in the audience and interacting with the people who have come to see the show. She even stops long enough at one point to shake her butt in Clive Davis' face. That could have really backfired on Fantasia, but Clive doesn't seem to mind. She winds up back on stage to end the song, and the audience roars its approval once she's done. Are the judges similarly impressed? Randy says, "I don't know what else I can say about you. You're just da bomb. I love you, man." Paula adds, "I don't think you even need this competition anymore." Clive tells Fantasia, "If this were no competition and I was in a basement in Kansas and saw you perform like that, I would sign you right away." (OK, I'm not sure what the "basement in Kansas" part has to do with anything, but whatever) Finally, Simon tells Fantasia, "I'm going to be tactical here, because you need a sympathy vote. That was the worst thing I've ever heard in my life." Of course, Simon is kidding, and Fantasia knows that as she laughs hysterically.
We come back from another break, and it's time to hear Diana's second song of the night. Randy has picked the song for her, and it's the Celine Dion hit "Because You Loved Me" from the movie Up Close And Personal. Diana certainly has the booming voice for the song, but can she deliver the goods when it counts? She starts out the song on a stool at center stage, and the first thing I notice is that this arrangement of the song is too fast. I also really notice Diana's Cleopatra-like bangs at this point, and I want her to just move them out of her eyes. Would it have cost that much for her to run to Supercuts earlier for a quick trim? Anyway, I think Diana sounds pretty good, and it's a marked improvement over "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" earlier in the show. What do the judges think? Randy says, "You took on the challenge, but it was just aight for me. It was just aight." Paula tells Diana, "You definitely have the pipes. I was just hoping that you would make it a little different." Clive says, "That was a good choice. You showed you can not only hit the high notes, but I also liked your tender ending. It's a much better song for you." Simon concludes with, "I'll give that a 7 out of 10. That's a compliment."
After another commercial break, it is time for the "Clive's Choice" round of songs. First up is Jasmine, and Clive says that he's selected the Eric Carmen (and, later, Celine Dion) hit "All By Myself". OK, here we go. Last week, Jasmine beat out LaToya London for a spot in the final three, and many people (including myself) thought the results should have been reversed. "All By Myself" is the song that LaToya sang in the semifinal round and blew everyone away with. Now, Clive picks the same song for Jasmine to sing tonight. Coincidence? I wonder. Anyway, Jasmine does merely "aight", and she comes nowhere near matching LaToya's outstanding rendition from earlier in the season. There is something about the whole performance that just seems off to me, but I'm not sure what it is. That's my opinion, but what do the judges think? Randy tells Jasmine, "You really need to work on your lower register…I just don't feel any connection with you." Paula says, "You did a better job on this one." Clive adds, "You hit the high notes. But, this song is about loneliness, and you came off as strident because of the overblown ending." Simon, never one to soften the blow, says, "Jasmine, you're a lucky girl. But, the reality is that because you're so young, sweet, and you have this unbelievable support from Hawaii, that is why you are still in the competition. For me, it has to end tonight." Well…I guess we know what Simon thinks of Jasmine, don't we?
It's now Fantasia's final chance to impress the judges, and Clive announces that he's chosen the Whitney Houston hit "Greatest Love Of All" for Fantasia to sing. Ugh…this makes two Celine songs and two Whitney songs tonight alone. Can't anyone think of anything else for these girls to sing? Well, if there's anyone who can make listening to yet another Whitney song bearable, I suppose it's Fantasia Barrino. She starts the song seated on a stool, but it's not long before she's on her feet and belting the hell out of the song. It's not a perfect performance—she does some really distracting hand motions, and she adds her signature "yeah yeah yeah" to the end of the song—but it's definitely another great performance from Miss Barrino. Are the judges impressed? Randy says, "Great song. What a great version. I love you, man." Paula says, "What an amazing night for you. Thank you. I feel honored to be in your presence." Clive adds, "I have one simple word: wow. Wow, Fantasia." Finally, Simon asks Fantasia, "What does it say behind you?" Fantasia turns around to see the sign with the show's name on it, and she says, a bit sheepishly, "American Idol". Simon then throws up his hands as if to say, "Well, there you go."
After yet another commercial break, it's time for Diana's final performance of the evening. Clive announces that he's chosen the Melissa Manchester hit "Don't Cry Out Loud" for Diana to sing. Now, I actually like the song, but I'll admit that it is a majorly sappy tune. That being said, though, I think this is a good choice for Diana. It's got plenty of power notes for her to hit, and my guess is that it's definitely within her range. Diana does not disappoint and easily gives her best performance of the evening. She has a bit of trouble on some of the lower notes at the beginning, but, other than that, it is an exceptional performance from Miss Degarmo. She even holds the last note of the song for what seems like an eternity, and there is no sign of wavering in her voice while she sings it. What do the judges think? Randy says, "So, check it out. You brought it back on this song. That was great." Paula tells her, "That was the best choice. That was flawless, Diana…flawless." Clive adds, "You did nail it, and you did that song proud." Finally, Simon tells Diana, "Write a letter to Clive Davis saying 'thank you for booking me a place in the finals', because that's what he just did." After that, we have a video recap of the night's performances, and the show comes to an end.
Well, gang, there's only one more cut to make before we're down to the final duel of the season. Who will be left standing after the results are announced Wednesday night? Tune in with the rest of us and find out!
My Rankings and Predictions
Who should go home: Jasmine Trias
Who will go home: Normally, I would say Jasmine without hesitation. However, given what happened last week and how some people may cast pro-Jasmine votes just to spite the judges (in particular, Simon), who knows what will happen? I've got to believe, though, that the voting public will do the right thing and say "aloha" to Miss Trias.
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