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Seeing as how it’s April Fool’s Day, I was kind of curious to see if the judging panel were going to be up to any prank-playing or general merriment. We already know from Ryan’s opening tonight that he’s nominated Simon to be a contestant on Moment of Truth (FOX’s game-show version of the Maury Povich Show, complete with lie detectors, sluts, and man-whores).
So what are the judges laughing about today?

Randy: Check this out, dawg – I was chillin’ with my boys from Journey today and Jack White called me. Keepin’ it real, baby, Jack White from The White Stripes! So yo, dude, I say to Jack, what ‘sup, what’s happening, baby? And Jack, he say, “Randy, dude! Is your refrigerator running?” I say, yo, baby, don’t worry, David Cook ain’t doin’ no White Stripes cover of “Jolene”, it’s all good, all good. But Jack, he’s in his wheelhouse, and he say, “Then you better catch it!” and hangs up. What’s up with that, what, dawg? I’m not feelin’ it, not at all.

Paula: …Oh, oh, I have one! … When is a Coke not really a Coke? When it’s in my cup! *hic*

Simon: I don’t tell jokes. However, I will mark this April Fool’s Day, 2008, by pretending it’s Opposite Day. I will laud performances that are repetitious and uninspiring, and slam the singers who were actually pretty good. I’ll even claim to like country music, with a straight face. Ha-ha!

Backwoods Barbie mentors Skipper

All not-so-fun and games aside, it’s worth mentioning that our Idol guest star/mentor/living legend of the week is Dolly Parton, who remains upbeat and friendly in spite of the searing physical pain that endless plastic surgeries must have caused her. See, Joan Rivers, you can still be a nice person even after 12 facelifts.

Dolly’s first project tonight is Brooke White, who’s going to take on Dolly’s classic “Jolene”. Dolly is effusive with adjectives about Brooke, calling her “good, sweet, honest, warm”. Aw. Yeah, that’s our Brooke, so even if you don’t care for her “Jolene” – which features Brooke on acoustic guitar and accompanied by a fiddle player, one back-up singer, and a guy slapping a box – I bet you’d hire her as your kids’ nanny. Actually, though, Brooke does a fine job of it – it’s not quite Dolly’s version, nor is it the White Stripes’ angst-laden, guitar-wailing tribute – and if I had any criticism, it’s that it was a shade too perky. Brooke doesn’t really sound convinced that Jolene would be mean enough to steal her man. Randy is on the fence, complaining of pitch problems but admitting it was all right. Paula calls Brooke consistent and some other stuff, while Simon is unhappy with what he perceives as a lack of emotion. Plus, he doesn’t like the instrumental backup Brooke was provided with, a criticism that confuses Brooke and the other judges, and no doubt really pisses off Rickey Minor.

Little emo sparrow

David Cook cheerfully admits to Ryan that he has most definitely been performing covers of covers. Not that he’s ever denied it, and is it really his fault that Randy has never heard of Doxology? Anyway, he’s going to rock our socks off tonight with his very own arrangement of “Little Sparrow”. Dolly waxes enthusiastic over David’s self-confidence, voice, and heart. If it’s good enough for Dolly, then dammit, it’s good enough for me. David is sporting a freshly-mussed ‘do, and rather unfortunately seems to be cultivating a goatee, which is in the stage of looking like it was crayoned on his face. Other than that, his version is mostly what you’ve come to expect from him, which isn’t a bad thing. It’s not really as cool as Dolly’s own a cappella performance of the song (check it out on youtube) but this isn’t going to turn off any of David’s fans. Randy deems it yet another hot performance, and Paula bats her eyes and compliments David’s haircut. Simon doesn’t think it’s as good as last week, but congratulates him for making a song about sparrows somewhat good. Oh, Simon…please tell me that you don’t really think the song is about an actual, feathered songbird. This is part of the April Fool’s stuff, right?

Precious little

Dolly’s pleased to see Ramiele Malubay, who’s just her size. Um, in height. Dolly thinks Ramiele is just precious, and a spunky little thing. Well, that she is, but how will she do with “Do I Ever Cross Your Mind?” As spunky as Ramiele may be, she sadly lacks Dolly’s sass and confidence, and turns in a regrettably karaoke version of Dolly’s original. There’s not a whole lot else to say, and Randy admits he wasn’t moved to jump up and down over it, and gives Ramiele a 6 ˝ out of 10. Paula damns with faint praise, reassuring Ramiele that she connected with the audience and appeared to be having fun. Simon sneers that no one was going to remember this particular performance in 10 years’ time (oh, Simon, really, no one’s going to remember your insults in 10 years’ time either) and calls it “cruise ship”. If this lackluster effort doesn’t put Ramiele in the bottom 3, then I swear she’s going to the F2 with David Archuleta.

Jason travels thru Dollywood

Ryan decides to embarrass Jason with some fan mail from his mom some infatuated young lady, who claims via numerous postcards that Jason’s performances relax and mellow her out. Jason responds with his usual Jeff Spicoli impression, complete with dopey guffaw and mouth slightly agape. Dolly is amused by Jason’s dreads and overall funky look, but thinks he picked a great song, “Travelin’ Thru”. I agree, because I can easily picture Jason trying to thumb a ride on the interstate with his guitar strapped to his back. Jason’s performance tonight isn’t bad, his voice sounds better than usual and hey, I admit that I’m feeling pretty mellow afterwards. Randy thinks it started rough, but it all turned out kinda cool. Paula babbles a bit but I manage to decipher a compliment about Jason’s vocals. Simon snarls that he didn’t like it, it wasn’t sung well, and it didn’t suit him. Jason is unaffected as usual, smiling vacantly and thinking about rolling around in a field of wildflowers, watching a ladybug slowly climb the stem of a daisy.

Project Idol Runway

Carly Smithson so impresses Dolly with her mad vocal skills, the Backwoods Barbie is moved enough to claim that “Here You Come Again” (a song she didn’t pen herself) was written for a voice like Carly’s. High praise indeed from the legendary lady, and even better, Carly is dressed much better than usual tonight, in a halter-neck black top, red pants and black knee-high boots. She even has believable-looking extensions. Fierce! Carly’s version of the song is light-years from Dolly’s, but she sounds simply wonderful and puts the right amount of emotion into the lyrics. Randy happily calls it one of the night’s better performances, and Paula waves her arms excitedly and calls Carly’s voice “glorious”. Simon grouches that it was good, not great, and then launches into a lengthy critique of Carly’s wardrobe. This from guy who wears undershirts in front of millions of people every week. Poor Carly looks completely crushed, but Ryan, bless his heart, leaps to her defence and launches a vigorous attack on Simon’s fashion sense. Simon looks slightly abashed, but he’s probably more worried about Carly’s husband sneaking up on him in a dark alley.

Hannah Montana, eat your heart out

The mere mention of David Archuleta’s name is enough to throw the little girls (and some of their moms) in the audience into a paroxysm of ecstatic squealing. Dolly is similarly enchanted with the winsome David A., saying that “Smoky Mountain Memories” is a song dear to her heart, but thinks David really felt the emotion behind it and is poised to become a great singer. I’m not convinced that David can possibly understand a song about a poor mountain family, and it’s not just his young age, though I figure Dolly has implants older than David. Anyway, his performance sounds exactly like every other one he’s done since he landed on the Idol stage, and if you loved him before, this won’t change your mind. The judges dole out the usual fawning adulation – Randy calls it the best performance of the night, Paula drools over David’s amazing tone, and Simon calls the song choice “absolutely on the money”. And dollar signs are no doubt what’s flashing in front of his eyes when he looks at David.

Thank God I’m a country girl

Kristy Lee and Dolly, not surprisingly, bond over their shared rural roots, though Kristy Lee is a little more rodeo-queen while Dolly is a little more barefoot-in-a-tin-shed. Kristy Lee is doing a different kind of pandering this week, and going for our heartstrings rather than our patriotic sensibilities. Because who can’t listen to “Coat of Many Colors” and not tear up at least a little bit? Oh, you know you did. If you didn’t, go read the lyrics, as they’re guaranteed to reduce anyone to a pile of blubbering mush. Kristy Lee is all prettied-up in a Joss Stone kind of way, in a long dress of many colors, ringleted and barefoot. She rushes the beat a bit, as she is wont to do, but otherwise it’s just fine, because Kristy Lee really is a country singer and this song is about as country as you can get. Randy says Kristy is in her wheelhouse, which is apparently a good thing. I think. Paula thinks she looks stunning and calls it her best performance. Simon sighs that it’s pleasant but forgettable. Much like Kristy Lee herself.

The return of Screamesha

I know, we’re all wishing Syesha Mercado would have been at least half as clever as David Cook was tonight and done a song less obvious. In case you didn’t know, although Whitney Houston made “I Will Always Love You” into a monster pop hit, Dolly wrote the song and sings a perfectly lovely, understated version of it. Syesha thinks she can manage to combine both Dolly and Whitney in her own performance. Uh-oh. I actually heard the theme from Jaws when she said that. Was that in my own head or did you guys hear it too? Syesha is all decked out in a pretty yellow dress, seated atop a grand piano. So far, so good. She starts into the song, and you know, the first 30 seconds are actually quite nice. Hey, maybe this won’t be too b- …aw, crap, nevermind. You all know what happened next. Screamesha is unleashed, complete with all the requisite vocal gymnastics and window-shattering notes. Randy forces a smile and says it was pretty good. Paula says some words that include velvet, growing, and connecting. Simon lauds Dolly’s immense songwriting ability, then tells Syesha that he’s sorry she chose the song and that the second half of her performance was a pale imitation of Whitney. Again…much like Syesha herself.

So, so right

We all know that an hour should be ample time to fit in nine songs, but the self-indulgent meandering babble of the judges has screwed things up and we’re left with only two minutes for poor Michael Johns. Unfair, since he’s certainly the nicest thing to look at this season. Dolly giggles coyly that she could write some good songs for Idol’s Wonder from Down Under, and if she’s shamelessly flirting, who could blame her? For his part, Michael defies all possible expectations for him on country music week, and turns in a scorching, bluesy version of “It’s So Wrong, But It’s So Right”. Can it be that this is the Michael that we’ve only caught a brief glimpse of since Hollywood week? Glory be, I think it is. Randy excitedly proclaims it “blazing hot!” while Paula swoons, then calls Michael a rock star and she’s his number one groupie. Simon muses that it’s been an interesting night (ahem, it’s two minutes past the hour and counting, Mr. Cowell), then admits it’s the best he’s ever heard Michael sing.

Seeing as how we’re already running long late here, just make sure you check out Dolly in all her glory on Wednesday’s results show, the inevitable group sing that will surely include “9 to 5”, and MotherSister’s down-home knee-slapper of a recap. See y’all there!

Wouldn’t you love to prank-call Randy? If you have his number, PM me.