The Idol Guy, Top 11: Two Steps Forward, One Step Back
Welcome to the Idol Guy, our weekly look at the goings-on in the Idol world. This is not a recap; for that look up the fine ones written by MotherSister and AJane.
This week was the kind of week that can drive Idol fans crazy. Performance night was possibly the best of the season to date; yet you have to balance that with the loud howl of protests at the departure of Stephanie. The question on everyone's mind: what in the world is going on here?
Let's start with the good. The performances were simply a cut above the rest of the season. Lots of things came together to make it happen: the theme was not very restrictive, so everyone could find something that kept them in their comfort zones. Add to that some terrific mentoring from Peter Noone and Lulu - more on that later - and we had all we needed for a good performance night.
The most interesting thing was that for perhaps for the first time, Melinda and Lakisha stumbled a bit. They were still very good last night, but their song choices were a bit off. Diamonds are Forever seemed like an excuse to wear a million dollars worth of jewelry. Was Lakisha a little too proud to listen to Lulu? We'll never know. It was technically good, but there's more to good singing than that. It just didn't seem to connect with viewers at home. The same was true of Melinda, although not nearly to the same degree.
Of course, their real problem is that where there used to be two front runners, there are now three. If Jordin was good last week, she was outstanding this week. Her vocals were just as good as Melinda's and Lakisha's. More importantly, she has one thing that the other two could use some more of: versatility. If there is one trait that the Idol format rewards, that is it. Chris Daughtry had to show some last season, and he was as genre-limited as anyone else to get that far. It's something that Lakisha has shown virtually none of, with Melinda showing a little more, but not anywhere near Jordin's.
Another thing interesting about the performances this week is while they were good, they also showed up a lot of weaknesses in the field. On the guys side, Chris Richardson and Blake are both better performers than singers. Chris's voice is not that good - it's only better than Phil's and Sanjaya's - while Blake does have good control, but he loses out badly in the power department. Blake has an edge here because of his previous experience - he knows the limits of his voice, and how to make the best of it. It's experience that Chris doesn't have, and it will cost him sooner rather than later.
Phil's situation is somewhat similar. Again, he has fairly good stage presence, but Tobacco Road seemed to have quite a few control problems. He can't keep shouting forever. Chris Sligh... well, it was technically a good vocal, but it left us cold. It was very similar to how we felt about Lakisha, and that's the kind of reaction we've been getting from him all season. Talent-wise, he should be doing better, but he's been unable to get a good, solid connection with both song and audience. Sanjaya was... Sanjaya. For the record, that's not a compliment. It wasn't a complete and utter disaster... but it was still bad.
Let's turn our focus to the rest of the girls. Haley and Gina don't have consistently good voices, but they can shine with proper song choices. Haley chose perfectly - she has a young, energetic image, and her song reflected that to perfection. Gina's a rocker chick, and Paint It Black was right in her comfort zone. They were reasonable, entertaining performances, but at points they both seemed to lose control (Gina more than Haley). They both need to keep making smart song choices if they want to last. Let's be realistic, though - they're not going to make the final four, and even the final six would be hard, particularly for Haley.
Yes, and Paula's not the most sober person in the world either: Sanjaya: "I know I'm not the best singer in the competition."
Tricks of the trade: we've commented somewhat negatively about the quality of the guys left, but I will give them credit: collectively, they're pretty good at using the little tricks that excite the crowd - something that, in turn, makes the performance look better to viewers at home. Just this week, we had Phil and Sanjaya doing some work with the microphone stand. Chris Sligh, of course, did that and mixed it with starting out in the audience. Don't forget that we had people climbing onto the track behind the judges, too. We give the proverbial hat tip to Bo Bice, Chris Daughtry, and Taylor Hicks, who were the ones who, in a way, introduced and popularized all of those moves. It makes for a better show, both for the live audience and us viewers at home.
A case of bad timing: we have to feel sorry for Stephanie. Our prediction from two weeks ago was almost spot-on. We said then:
We now know the answer: no. She was never able to clearly establish her own distinct fan base, and Jordin's knockout performance poached on what little she had. Vote splitting reared its ugly head, and the whole situation is very similar to what happened to Jennifer Hudson in Season Three.
Any other season she’d be a standout, but with two other big voices in the mix Stephanie gets overshadowed. There’s not much she can do, to be honest. She has to find a way to distinguish herself from Lakisha and Melinda, but is that really possible?
Another factor was she didn't improve much, if at all, with the change to the big top 12 stage. With so many others stepping up (Haley, Gina, and the guys in general) and a performance that was just okay, she was very vulnerable. Yes, people are outraged, and rightly so, but we can't pretend that this was some sort of shock. It wasn't.
Good help is hard to find: we talked last week about how the big names brought to "help" the Idols aren't always that helpful. This week, courtesy of Phil Noone and Lulu, we had shining examples of how the mentors can be very helpful. Like Barry Manilow (coincidentally, the top 11 coach last year), they both squeezed out the best from the contestants. Part of it was they gave very specific advice to the contestants - something that really wasn't there last week. Sure, neither of them is as "big" a name as Diana Ross, or whoever else they'll bring down the road, but it'll be hard to do better than they did this week. It is really remarkable how some good coaching can make such a big difference. They both deserve big, big kudos for what they did.
Judicial insanity, Idol style: Taylor Hicks, on Randy and Paula: "Oh, yeah, you listen to what they had to say. Some nights you understood it. Some nights you didn't."
A little birdie told me: People not into the Idol rumor scene may want to skip this section. Don't say we didn't warn you!
Someone told us about this crazy rumor about last week's results. According to this, the "bottom 3" last week... wasn't. While Brandon did get the least number of votes, the other members of the bottom three were not Phil and Sanjaya. The full order of the top 12, according to this, was:
1. Melinda Doolittle
2. Blake Lewis
3. Jordin Sparks
4. Lakisha Jones
5. Chris Richardson
6. Sanjaya Malakar
7. Gina Glocksen
8. Chris Sligh
9. Phil Stacey
10. Haley Scarnato
11. Stephanie Edwards
12. Brandon Rogers
Also, the same source has the top 11 results as well. There's tinkering there too:
1. Melinda Doolittle
2. Blake Lewis
3. Sanjaya Malakar
4. Jordin Sparks
5. Lakisha Jones
6. Chris Sligh
7. Chris Richardson
8. Gina Glocksen
9. Phil Stacey
10. Haley Scarnato
11. Stephanie Edwards
We have two questions about these purported lists. First of all, are they real? Two things do make the list somewhat believable. First, the vote rankings are, within reason, about where we think they ought to be. Ask a dozen Forters what they think the results should be, and the lists you'd end up with would not be too different. After all, people have been commenting that it's insane that Chris Richardson was bottom two - and if you believe this list, he wasn't! The only one that's really strikingly out of place in both lists is Sanjaya, but the why behind that could be a whole other Idol Guy.
Secondly, the supposed source of this list has, we're told, a very good record spoiling the season so far, including the top 24 and a lot of the song choices. We have no idea about the personal background of the person putting this out, but he's been pretty accurate before. Given his track record, this list cannot be simply dismissed offhand as a figment of someone's overly creative imagination. The previous spoilers have been too spot-on.
Assuming it's real, the question would be why? The scenario that makes the most sense is some sort of damage control. We're not the only ones to have given the powers that be a tremendous amount of grief over the weak guys this year. By giving the impression that the guys are in more danger than the girls, the fan bases for the guys will be energized and vote more - thus, in someone's mind, keeping them in longer and negating that criticism. Putting people in the bottom two/three does give a bounce to that person, but that's usually proven to be a dead-cat bounce. This time, though, with the guys not being in the cellar, it would be a free boost. If this is the case, we would not be surprised to see Chris Sligh in the "bottom group" next week. He needs the boost more than Blake does, and they are the only guys who have not been in the cellar - or, at least, that's what Ryan told us.
If this is the case, well, for people who have built such a successful show, the Idol producers are dumber than they look. Our completely unsolicited advice: less manipulation, more looking for useful mentors, and more work clearing songs. It ain't broke, don't "fix" it!
Do we need to put on a tinfoil hat? Send us a PM if you think so.