Be warned, because my mood is pretty dark tonight. Well, that’s not quite true…it’s not so much dark as it is gray. All kinds of shades of gray, from a light pinstripe to a dark denim wash. It’s not just from the top 12 performances, though they sure didn’t help. Actually, it’s as if the stylists were eavesdropping on the rehearsals and decided to dress the contestants accordingly, because nearly everyone on American Idol tonight is attired in funereal gray. I never considered clothing as a portent of doom before, but I think that for the next three months, we should scan the wardrobes of the performers before the singing begins and we’ll get a pretty good idea of what’s in store for us.
We start off Top 12 night on an upbeat – or should I say up-tempo, which is the word of the day, kids – with a montage of clips of American Idol success stories. We see a blonde Kelly Clarkson at the Grammys, Chris Daughtry in a video (his band’s album has sold double platinum – who knew?), Carrie Underwood at the CMA Awards, Fantasia preparing for Broadway, and the most successful AI non-winner, Jennifer Hudson, who trumps everyone with her Academy Award. Noticeably absent are season two and five winners, Ruben Studdard and Taylor Hicks. Ah well…not everyone can be a Dreamgirl.
Ryan Seacrest appears in an unflattering pale gray suit, but the scruff is as carefully sculpted as ever. He announces that this season, there’s a bigger band. Because the former band didn’t do a good enough job of drowning out the singing – though this season, maybe the bigger band is not such a bad thing.
In case you missed last week’s show (and I did) – your season six top 12 is:
Brandon Rogers, Melinda Doolittle, Chris Sligh, Gina Glocksen, Sanjaya Malakar, Haley Scarnato, Phil Stacey, LaKisha Jones, Blake Lewis, Stephanie Edwards, Chris Richardson, Jordin Sparks
*Whew* last time I’ll have to do THAT this season. The judges’ intro is next, but we all know who they are. Any pearls of wisdom for us, judges? Randy says the girls are ahead, Paula says there’s great variety this year, and Simon says that the AI stage changes everyone. Well, not everyone, Simon – I’m willing to bet you were a pompous, egotistical bastard well before you came anywhere near the AI stage.
Tonight, the Idols will be
slaughteringperforming the music of the legendary Diana Ross. There’s a lengthy video tribute to Diana and her massive head of hair, and a voiceover of Diana wanting to mentor and “parent” the Idols. This from the woman who “mentored” Michael Jackson. Be afraid, Idols…be very afraid.
Oh, but if we could only hurry his departure
First up is Brandon Rogers. He pays the expected lip service to Ms. Ross, who is still looking
cheeryup-tempo at this early stage of the game, likely because her ears haven’t started to bleed quite yet. Brandon is going to perform “Can’t Hurry Love”. He’s dressed in a two-tone gray shirt and gray pants (DOOM!) and the best thing I can say about his rendition is that it’s barely pleasant. His vocals are dull as hell and although he’s cute, he’s not quite cute enough to overcome them. Randy is underwhelmed and says Brandon has reverted to being a background singer, and calls him boring. Paula weakly attempts to be nice and assures Brandon that it was just nerves and that he’ll “warm up”, but Simon is having none of it and tells Brandon that it was a complete letdown and that he lacks star quality. Brandon admits he forgot the words and says nerves got the better of him. Paula, stop giving these lousy singers an excuse for being lousy.
Melinda’s heels, Ryan’s closet, and Paula’s out-of-body experience
Next is Melinda Doolittle, the very sweet former back-up singer with no neck. (I’m sorry, but it’s VERY distracting, and I did say she was a sweet girl.) Ryan has a viewer question for Melinda – what’s the hardest part of this contest? Melinda sighs and says it’s the high heels and dresses (and who could blame her, because she’s been wedged into a too-tight gray frock). There’s a brief scripted exchange between Ryan and Simon – Ryan asks Simon about high heels and tells him to stay out of his closet, and Simon…well, you know what Simon said. Even if you didn’t see the show, you know. Uh, guys? Remember Melinda? She’s going to sing “Home” from The Wiz – hopefully the song is better than that movie was. Melinda turns in a powerful vocal performance, marred only by a strange shaking-hand thing she does while singing. Her final note is spectacular and actually moves her to tears. Seem odd? Not so much, considering Paula is sobbing dramatically at the judges’ table. Randy is pleased and proclaims it “hot”, but it’s not enough time for Paula to get hold of herself. She blathers something incomprehensible, and Simon looks irritated and snappishly asks Melinda why she’s crying. He soon mellows and tells Melinda although the song is appalling (and yeah, it IS just as bad as the movie) she reminds him of a young Gladys Knight. Heady praise, and Paula tells Ryan that Melinda must feel like she’s had an out-of-body experience. Well, if anyone would know what that’s like…
The hair’s the thing
Chris Sligh’s reputation must have preceded him, because apparently he’s made Diana Ross nervous. Or maybe it’s just that his curls are natural and Diana’s are a bad weave. Chris lumbers confidently into the studio, and immediately remarks that he & Diana have similar hair, causing the Queen of Motown to giggle apprehensively. Chris announces he’s going to perform “Endless Love” and put his own spin on it. Ah, that’s why Diana is so nervous. His onstage entrance makes me hopeful, because he’s actually not wearing gray. Instead, he’s donned jeans, a t-shirt and blazer, winning instant points with me as that’s my personal preferred attire. No glasses, though, which gives him that odd naked look that many glasses-wearers suffer from when they don’t have them on. Why am I spending so much time talking about clothes? Because I’m trying to distract you from the fact this fan favorite turned in a horrendous performance, OK? His “Endless Love” has a weird, up-tempo beat that sounds oddly familiar, though I can’t quite put my finger on it. His vocals are okay, but the arrangement is brutal. Randy hates it and comments that it sounded like Coldplay (Eureka! That’s why it sounded familiar and why I didn’t like it!). Paula coldly tells him that he’s trying ultra-hard to be ultra-hip, which may be the most insightful thing she says all season. Simon says the obvious – he murdered the arrangement, it was unemotional and uninspiring, and in the future Chris should keep his glasses on. Chris, to his credit, seems to regret the lousy arrangement. Diana Ross meets Coldplay should NEVER be attempted.
Faux rock chick – never meant to be
Gina, self-proclaimed rocker girl, claims to be star-struck by Ms. Ross, and tells us a story about singing “Love Child”, her song choice tonight, as a small and presumably adorable little girl. Well, maybe I can buy her act tonight, as it’s a great song…but she’s wearing a horrid pair of shiny gray pants she must have picked up from a garage sale at Pat Benatar’s house. Likely the same place the chain on her jacket came from. Actually, her performance isn’t that bad – in fact, it’s good overall, she makes use of the big stage, though she does sound a bit off on some notes. The collective response from the judges is “meh” – it’s not Randy’s favorite Gina performance, plus she was pitchy in spots, Paula thinks she’s better than that, Simon likes the song choice and says it’s not terrible, but not fantastic. Gina wisely takes the mediocre praise and scuttles off after a few polite words with Ryan.
The hair’s the thing, part two
Sanjaya is love. That’s according to Diana Ross, and if I’m not mistaken, she said something similar about Michael Jackson at one point. Let’s hope the similarities end with that and the breathy little speaking voice. Sanjaya is going to sing “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”. Can the wee boy pull off this big song? Uh-oh – he’s wearing a gray-striped sweater. I hear doom calling. His hair is all cascading ringlets, and I’m reminded of the horrific style job that poor Bucky Covington endured last season. Do we really want boys to have hair like 1970’s shampoo ads? That’s two strikes against young Sanjaya, who has such a lovely smile you just want to like him and wish he could sing. Well, he can sing, a bit – his vocals on ANMHE are pleasant, but noticeably lack power. Kind of an Idol-lite performance. Randy cruelly thanks God for the background singers, and Paula anxiously tells Sanjaya that he has the “sweetest soul” and has to “let go” with his voice. Simon dismissively says that the only similarity to Sanjaya and Diana is the hair, and snidely tells him that he’s brave. Gee, judges…bitter much? Don’t forget it was you guys who pushed him through to the top 24, now.
Hey, cleavage got Katherine McPhee into the top 2…
Haley is up next, and I remember her from auditions as being exceptionally pretty and having a cute outfit. Of course, the AI stylists have now gotten hold of her and totally ruined her fashion sense – they’ve put her in an utterly hideous gray sack of a baby-doll dress that’s probably left over from Katherine’s closet last season, because there’s way too much boob and an awful lot of leg showing. Must we be reminded of Miss McPhee’s near wardrobe-malfunction last year? She’s going to sing “Missing You”, and she’s testing that too-short dress by choosing to perch on a stool for the beginning of the song. As it turns out, it’s a good thing the dress is so distracting, because her performance is a disaster. If you’ve heard Diana Ross sing the original, you know that this particular song is made beautiful by the pure, understated sweetness of her vocals. While Ross has exquisite control of her voice, Haley very obviously does not. The news from the judges is predictably grim – Randy tells her she was pitchy and all over the place, Paula assures her she looks lovely but she forgot the words, plus the pitch thing, and Simon…well, the last couple of performances have apparently driven Simon to switch Coke cups with Paula (and who could blame him?). He doesn’t think Haley was that bad – in fact, she had real presence on the stage. I guess he could see up her dress from where he sits. He gives Haley a verbal pat on the back, telling her that her nerves got the better of her. Haley is embarrassed by her poor showing and says she feels like a “schmuck” – don’t worry, Haley, the dress did its job just fine.
Chris Daughtry Lite
Diana Ross likes nice boys, and Phil Stacey seems to be a very nice, well-mannered lad. He politely introduces himself to the woman who invented the word “diva” and Diana, for her part, says Phil’s singing reminds her of her work with Marvin Gaye. So I’m expecting big things from his performance of “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me”. The first few bars, though, has me wondering how this guy managed to make top 12 (or maybe it’s just the gray pants). Thankfully, though, Phil manages to find his voice in the middle of the song, and finishes strong. Randy thinks the vocals were hot, but the performance was boring. Paula liked the vocals as well, but thinks the song should be more up-tempo. The vodka has made Simon argumentative, and there’s a short verbal battle between him and Paula concerning tempo. As usual, Simon’s voice prevails over Paula’s, and he tells Phil that his performance was overall middle-of-the-road. He’s the best of a bad bunch of male performances tonight, so the middling judges’ reviews should be enough for him to live another week at least.
An angel in white will save us
OK, I’m totally prejudiced. LaKisha has been my favorite from the start, and I’m anxiously anticipating her performance. KiKi seems to bond with Diana, who appears pleased at the Billie Holiday song choice of “God Bless The Child”. Diana dispenses wardrobe advice and even the use of a mic stand – heck, she’s even calling her “KiKi”. Is LaKisha up to Motown standards? She appears in an absolutely lovely flowing white gown, and the only thing I don’t like is that she’s not using a mic stand, which would have really given the performance that Billie Holiday feel. Her vocals are superb as usual, soaring yet controlled. Randy thinks it was a perfect song choice, and calls the vocals sensational. Paula is curiously understated, simply telling LaKisha that her heart comes through when she sings. Simon lays it on thick, calling KiKi a star and telling us that she and Melinda are in a different league from the others. We’ve seen amazing talent eliminated early before, though (Jennifer Hudson, anyone?) and LaKisha’s fate rests with the fickle voting public.
The beat-boxer gets a beat-down from the judges
Blake is cool. He’s so cool, when an innocent viewer asks what kind of music he listens to, he actually tells us he likes “underground” hip-hop, and throws out a bunch of obscure performer names. He’s so cool, he uses a computer to put a new beat to “Keep Me Hangin’ On”. He’s so cool, he’s even got Diana Ross looking forward to his performance. And – he’s so cool, he thinks he can overcome the Curse of the Gray Suit that has plagued nearly every other Idol tonight. Yo, Blake? As cool as you are…you’re just not cool enough to pull off an electronic/hip hop/boy band cover version of KMHO. Not even close. Randy doesn’t want to hurt him, you can tell, but suggests that it’s not necessary to “Blake-ize” every song. Paula, who’s obviously sobering up, says she liked Blake’s revamp better than Chris’. Nice damning-with-faint-praise there, Paula. Simon flatly tells Blake that he didn’t get it at all, and whatever it was he was trying to do, it didn’t work. But you’re still cool, Blake. Really.
Doomed to be bridesmaid
Gaaahhh. Excuse me while I go scrub my eyes, because I just saw Paula, decked out in icky gray frills, perched on Ryan Seacrest’s lap. It’s enough to make me wish for more bad singing. It might not be too bad, though, because Stephanie is up next. She’s cute-as-a-button, and reminds Diana of herself, a long (long, LONG) time ago. Stephanie is singing the truly awful “Love Hangover”, and fortunately for her, the stylists must have finally run out of gray fabric as she’s in a funky mosaic-patterned wrap dress. The song, as mentioned, is probably one of Ross’ worst, but Stephanie’s vocals are excellent, good enough to spur Paula to jump up and bob drunkenly at the judges’ table during the performance. Randy thinks it was a good vocal, but darn it, she never did the up-tempo part. Paula complains that she was also waiting for the up-tempo portion – what the hell was she dancing to, then? Simon neglects to mention the tempo, but doesn’t care for the arrangement and tells her that she was out-sung by LaKisha and Melinda. Nobody likes being no. 3, and Stephanie looks crestfallen as she departs the stage.
The Boss is fired
Uh-oh, looks like someone is stealing Ryan’s patented perfect chin-stubble. But there’s nothing really original about Chris Richardson anyway – he’s got Justin Timberlake hair, Nick Carter dance moves, and the voice of any old C-list boy-bander. Diana Ross, who’s probably had enough by now (as have we all), tersely says that for Chris’ version of “The Boss” to be a success, he must define the hook in the song, work the audience, and move around. Well, if nothing else, Chris can take direction well, because he does move around and attempts to work the audience by hopping into the crowd and using the small stage behind the judges’ table – the only Idol to do so tonight. His vocals are weak – very weak – but the crowd appreciates his effort. The judges have had enough too, though – Randy says Chris overdid it, and Paula again pulls out her faint-praise manual and tells him that he’s the only guy who nailed the blend of contemporary and classic sound. Simon says that if you take Chris’ charm and personality out of the equation, the result is dreadful. (There was charm and personality somewhere? I must have blinked.)
Sweet…and a little bit gooey
Jordin is the winner of tonight’s sweet spot – the last Idol to perform, and it’s all the sweeter because most of the performances have been, well, lousy. Diana seems to like Jordin, calling her “gorgeous” but warning that she must project while she sings. Jordin is performing “If We Hold On Together”, and she opens by sitting on the stage, with tamed curls and a pretty wine-colored dress. Her vocals are surprisingly powerful for someone her age, and with no professional training. The judges are pleased – Randy goes far enough to tell Jordin she’s made it a 3-girl race (with LaKisha and Melinda), Paula tells her she has a natural gift, and Simon thinks it’s a little bit gooey, but a very good vocal nonetheless. Jordin’s obvious delight betrays the fact she’s just a teenager, but unlike Sanjaya, she’s not only sweet but an excellent singer.
So ends tonight’s show, on a high note but with no real edge-of-your-seat breakout performances. Wednesday, Diana Ross will be gracing the Idol audience with her actual presence and a performance, and the wonderfully witty MotherSister will be recapping it all for you. Who can resist five minutes of Diana, fifteen minutes of Ford commercials, and 10 minutes of results? You know you can’t!
Is gray the new black? Fashionistas, PM me.