Ryan opens the show, surrounded by the remaining five finalists, and I cannot help but immediately notice Trenyce's Pucci-inspired mini-dress. All I can say is...you go girl! You GO! Anyway, after the usual intro credits and music, Ryan comes out on stage solo and starts things off by saying, "I'm your host, Ryan Seacrest…dancer, model, gigolo, and Dancer? I don't know (though I am getting a visual, and I'm not sure if it is a good one or not). Model? Well, maybe. Gigolo? Yeah, right. Well, I guess it could happen, depending on who the customer is. MC? OK, I will give you that one. Anyway, he goes on to introduce the Top 5 one by one, and then we say hello to the judges. Ryan introduces Randy by saying, "He's half man and half 'dawg'. I'd tickle him on the tummy, but then he'd grab onto my leg, and, well…do you know how hard it'd be to get rid of that?" Oh, come on, Ryan. You'd like it and you know it. He then introduces Paula as "small, but beautifully packaged." OK, whatever. He then introduces Simon, and nobody claps. All we hear is the sound of crickets chirping. Score one for the writers this week.
Ryan tells us that tonight will be the first week that the finalists will each sing two songs. One song will be a song from the 60's, and the other will be a song written by tonight's guest judge. Who is tonight's guest judge, you ask? Well, he has written for everyone from The Captain & Tennille to The Carpenters to Connie Francis. Tonight's guest judge is…Neil Sedaka! Neil comes onstage to applause and cheers, and Ryan is excited because, he says, "For once, I feel tall." Neil looks at him and says, "Well, maybe I should have worn my high heels." Yeah, Neil..you'll find those high heels in your closet right next to your poodle skirt and angora sweater. Anyway, enough banter…let's get to the performances!
The first round of songs will be songs from the 1960's. First up tonight is Ruben Studdard, and he has chosen to sing "Ain't Too Proud To Beg". He comes onstage decked out in gray leather from head to toe, and the first thing I think of is, "Wow…that looks like the interior of my car!" Anyway, Ruben launches into the song, and he does a good job. He does miss a couple of high notes, though, and I think he knows it. It's a fast song, so Ruben does move around a bit. However, it's not much more than his standard routine of holding the microphone in one hand while extending the other, then switching hands and doing the same thing. And they say that Clay needs to work on his dance moves? Anyway, like I said, Ruben does a pretty good job, but I don't think it was his best. The judges seem to disagree with me, though. Randy says, "That was good man. Very good." Paula says, "You are so smooth. You shook what your mama gave you." Paula, please try to rein in your weekly Ruben love fest just a bit, OK? Neil called Ruben "a hit maker", and Simon said, "I'd give the song a 9, the outfit a 2. Now I know why there's a cow shortage in California." Meow, Simon!
Next up is Trenyce, and she has chosen "Proud Mary" for her first song of the night. As I said earlier, Trenyce is looking very much the part tonight in her mini-dress, and I like it. She starts off slow à la Tina Turner and then speeds up the tempo on the second verse (again, like Tina does). I am glad the Tina similarities stop there, because I'm afraid that if Trenyce had started spinning around like Tina does, we would have seen a whole lot more than Trenyce would have liked us to see. Nevertheless, Trenyce is all over the stage during the song, and I think she does a very good job. The judges seem to think so, as well. Well, most of them do, anyway. Randy tells her, "You brought it tonight, baby." Paula says, "You have confidence the size of…well, Ruben. And to take on a song like that? You did it." Neil calls Trenyce "positive and uplifting". Simon brings the compliments to a screeching halt when he says, "It reminded me of a drag act, but you made the effort." What? Were you watching the same thing I was, Simon? Anyway, Trenyce goes over to join Ryan, and Ryan says, "I wonder where Simon does his drag research?" Hey, Ryan…you and Simon seem to hang out together a good bit…maybe you could show him a few places.
Our third performer of the evening is Joshua Gracin, and he has decided to sing "Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye". The song was originally done in the 60's, but it was later remade as a country song. To nobody's surprise (well, certainly not to mine), Joshua has decided to go with the country rendition. I don't know what it is, but Joshua seems a bit emotion-less to me during his performance. As far as Joshua's performance goes, I don't think it was horrible, but it certainly didn't blow the roof off the place. What did the judges think? Randy says, "That was a good choice of song. It didn't blow me away, but it was alright." Paula says, "That was a beautiful song. If I have one critique, though, it's that you weren't free enough." What does that mean, Paula? Did you want him to sing the song in his birthday suit or something? Neil tells Joshua, "That was a good choice. The more you sing, the better you'll get." Finally, Simon says, "You're lucky you're doing two songs tonight. That was dreary." Oh, great. Simon is in a mood. He slammed Joshua, and he slammed Trenyce. He didn't really slam Ruben, but, then again, who has?
Our fourth performer of the evening is Kimberley Locke, and she has chosen "I Heard It Through The Grapevine" as her song for the first round. Kimberley must have gotten ready in a hurry, because it looks like she forgot her top and just came out in jeans, a jacket, and a camisole. Anyway, Kimberley channels Gladys Knight and delivers another solid performance. I have to admit, though, that I was a bit underwhelmed. Kimberley's performance receives mixed reviews from the judges. Randy tells Kimberley, "It was good. That's about all I can say." Paula says, "That was a heck of a song. Good job." Neil adds, "You are ear-delicious. That was terrific." Ear-delicious? Simon once again rains on the parade when he says, "You can hear that in any church. You can do better."
The last singer in this first go-round is Clay Aiken, and he has chosen to perform "Build Me Up, Buttercup". An up-tempo song for Clay? This should be interesting. Clay jumps right into his performance, beginning to sing even before he reaches center stage. He moves around, and, though he isn't ready for "Soul Train" or anything, he does seem looser than at any other time so far. The audience is getting into the song, and Clay looks like he is having fun with it. When all is said and done, I think he does an excellent job. However, what do the judges have to say? Randy says, "Tonight, you changed it up. That was excellent. I was entertained, dude." Paula adds, "When I criticized you before, it wasn't about your dance moves. It was about your spirit dancing. Tonight, your spirit danced." Neil says, "That was perfection. I would kill to write and produce your first CD." Simon concludes with, "I agree with what everyone said. You entertained. Good job." Oh, for the love of God, Simon. Why do you always have to find something to…Oh, wait. Simon complimented Clay. I guess I was expecting him to slam yet another of the finalists. He caught me off-guard there.
Well, that's it for the first round of songs. Now, let's move on to the songs written by tonight's Celebrity Judge, Neil Sedaka. The finalists perform in the same order as before, which means that Ruben is up first again. The Neil Sedaka song he has chosen is "Breaking Up Is Hard To Do". Now, Neil has recorded this both as a ballad and an up-tempo song, and Ruben has decided to go with the slower version (though I think it would have been hilarious to see Ruben come out on stage singing, "Come-a come-a down doo be doo down down…" But, I digress…). Ruben has changed out of the car interior-like ensemble and into a more normal-looking outfit. He stands at center stage in front of a stationary microphone, and he turns in an outstanding performance. It was apparently good enough to cause Randy to say, "You've already won, dude." Paula calls it "a stellar performance". Neil says, "Thank you for doing me proud." Simon calls Ruben's performance, "absolutely sensational".
It is time to hear from Trenyce again, and Ryan tells us that she will be singing "Love Will Keep Us Together". Oh, God…this could be either really good or the epitome of cheesiness. Trenyce comes out looking a bit like Daisy Duke in her denim boustier and short skirt. She is definitely not Tennille, that's for sure. Anyway, Trenyce turns in another very good performance, as she sings with enthusiasm and injects her own style into the song. Did it win over the judges? Well, apparently it did. Randy calls Trenyce's performance "fantastic". Paula says, "This has been a brilliant night for you. I'm so proud of you." Neil says, "You made it today." Simon concludes the judges' comments by saying, "That was…fabulous. Well done." Good for you, Trenyce.
It is Joshua's turn again, and he has decided to sing "Bad Blood". He takes a chance by singing outside of his country "comfort zone", and he turns in an emotion-filled performance. He does a good job, but is it as good as his fellow finalists? I'm not sure that it is. When Joshua's done, Randy tells him, "That was a lot better." Paula says, "That was the performance I was waiting for." Neil tells him, "You made my song your own. I just wish you'd relax a little more." Simon adds, "Those two performances are not good enough to stay in this competition." While his comments may sound harsh, I think Simon might be right in this case.
It is time for Kimberley's second song, and she has chosen to sing "Where The Boys Are". Outfitted in pink this time around, Kimberley slowly and casually walks toward center stage as she sings. While her first performance of the night was good, this one was much, much better. She sings with feeling and emotion, and I think she does a great job. The judges seem to agree. Randy says, "That was hot, dude. That was hot." Paula calls Kimberley's second performance "brilliant". Neil says, "You are sugar-sweet. You did me proud. Thank you for that." Simon says, "You just proved my point. We talk about raising the bar…you went beyond the bar. Congratulations."
The final performance of the evening comes from Clay Aiken, and he has chosen to sing "Solitaire". He is already at center stage when he begins the song, and he is surrounded by not much more than backlighting. He gives a powerful, passionate performance, and it is a perfect way to end the show. His interpretation of the song receives rave reviews from the judges. Randy says, "You did your thing, dawg." Paula calls it Clay's "most vulnerable performance yet". Neil says, "Bravo. I have lost my song to you forever." Simon tells Clay, "That was a grown-up, fantastic performance."
Well, another show has come and gone. After this week, we will be down to the Final 4. Who will move on? We will find out tomorrow night!
Now, since we are down to only five finalists, rather than pick a "best" and "worst", I decided just to rank all of their performances. That being said, I would rank them as follows:
Two lowest vote-getters: Joshua will be one of the two. For the other spot, it's a toss-up between Kimberley and Trenyce.
Voted off: Joshua
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