What can you say about a show like this week's? It wasn't outrageously bad, but you can't say it was good either. We're actually at a bit of a loss for words - it's hard to get excited over a night that was thoroughly and completely average.
The best of the night was, once again, Melinda. Is anyone really surprised? Technically, she's got everyone else beat, and you can even make a decent argument she's one of the best ones in American Idol history. She has both an incredible amount of raw talent and the knowledge of how best to make use of it. Of course, it helps that she's not straying much from her comfort zone. How will she do when she's brought out of it? We don't know, but it won't matter. The really good singers in every season can afford to have one or two bad nights. Melinda will be no exception. Her chances of making it to the finale? We'd be honestly shocked if she doesn't. Any other season she'd run the risk of being locked to her genre, like Chris Daughtry was - but this year she's so above and beyond the rest of the field that won't happen.
If Melinda is the star, then Lakisha is the understudy. Melinda does an upbeat Donna Summers song, Lakisha does the same thing. It was good, perhaps bordering on great. However, she doesn't have the complete package, and she hasn't improved that much since we first saw her. To make matters worse, she's even more genre-locked that Melinda. She should be safe... for now. As it stands, however, she will probably not make the final four. She's in the same boat Stephanie was before. What can she do that Melinda can't do as well, or better?
For the rest of the girls, it came down to choices. Gina chose a good song and sang it well. Just as importantly, she showed off the one thing Idol rewards: versatility. Before this week, we didn't know if Gina could do anything but be a good rocker. Now we do, and it's clear she can. She still needs to make good song choices - she doesn't have the vocals to force through a bad one and make it sound good. To her credit, though, she's been doing well in the song choice department of late. She actually has a good chance of ending up in the final four if she keeps this up.
Haley and Jordin both made very bad song choices. My knock on Haley has always been she tends to pick big, ambitious songs. True Colors isn't really one, but she tried to turn it into one anyway. Why does she keep doing this? It hasn't turned out well for her before. There's a word for doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting a different result: insanity.
Jordin... well, where do we begin? Gwen Stefani was rightly surprised she chose that song. It's not a song that shows off what someone can really do. "Highly stylized" is really doublespeak for needing a ton of magic in the studio to work right. That's not what you want in a live show like Idol. We're not usually big fashion critics, but we have to say this: her outfit didn't work either. It looked like a naughty schoolgirl costume gone horribly wrong. Given that she made all the wrong choices, it's a miracle it wasn't a complete disaster. She used her abundant vocal talent to force her way through the whole performance - while it worked this week, she can't really afford another slip-up.
On to the guys, the biggest surprise was Phil. It was easily his best performance all season, although that's not saying all that much. He's always had that big voice, now he's showing some signs of learning control as well. One has to wonder if he can sustain his good showing, though, or whether he just lucked into a song and sound that fit him like a glove. If there's one point we'll never stop harping on, it's song choice. Now we've seen Phil can really sing, but can he pick a good song again?
Blake... well, there's no ifs or buts about him. It's a very unique style that hasn't been heard on Idol before, and it tends to divide people. You either like him or you don't. It doesn't work for us, but we can see the appeal. He's the best of the guys, but he has the same problem as the second-tier girls (Gina and Haley): song choice is important for him. Toss in a fair amount of theme-bending to his toolbox and you have the ingredients for being the last guy standing. He has his style which he's good at, and he'll stick with it, through hell or high water. Where have we seen this before? Chris Richardson, meanwhile, is just plain uninspiring. His rendition of Don't Speak reminded us of Jordin's performance. It was another overly stylized song that relies on studio magic, and doesn't translate well to a live show. Unfortunately, Chris doesn't have Jordin's vocal talents. It was just bad all-around. He's skating by on his looks and performance skills.
That leaves us with the two laggards of the night. Chris Sligh, we'll talk about a little later since he's headed off to where booted Idol contestants go. Sanjaya is turning into a parody - the faux-hawk (or whatever the heck it was) was just the tip of the iceberg. If this is supposed to be some sort of joke, we're not laughing. ESPN columnist Bill Simmons coined the Tyson Zone, where someone's behavior is so outrageous that any rumor, no matter how shocking or bizarre, is believable. Well, here at the Idol Guy we're officially proclaiming the Sanjaya Zone. There, someone's singing and overall performance is so bad, any description of how bad it is, no matter how overblown or exaggerated, is perfectly believable.
Being bad by itself is not enough for induction. The Sanjaya Zone is the Hall of Fame of Idol ineptitude; one has to show consistent and long-lasting incompetence. Of course, Sanjaya has the (dubious) honor of being the first inductee. Any other nominations you, the reading public, have in mind?
Big hair does not equal big votes: what happened to Chris Sligh? We had him ranked as one of the top guys coming into the top 12. How did he fall so hard and so fast?
Chris Sligh was a classic case of not growing into the top 12 stage. Save for this week, he was okay - not good, not great, just reasonable - and that was never going to work. He also decided to try and move around the stage more - which is a good trick if you can still keep singing well. Unfortunately, he didn't. Chris sometimes failed to connect with the audience at times - which is really surprising, since he seemed to have a lively personality when he wasn't singing. It was almost like his singing and non-singing personalities weren't talking to one another.
He also wasn't able to get the kind of fan base that could protect him through rough patches. It's unfair, but looks had a lot to do with that. He couldn't do what someone like the other Chris or Haley can - get votes solely on the basis on physical appearances. And so he heads off to the Idol sunset.
What did she do and when did she do it?: Did Gwen Stefani actually do anything meaningful this week? All she seemed to do was stand there. Granted, there may not have been much time for anything else, but Gwen ain't no Lulu. What was she doing "mentoring", anyway? Oh, right, they want a big current name and she wanted to promote her tour. Of course. Where exactly did the contestants figure in this equation? Nowhere, which explains why the night was not good. Heck, she couldn't even give us the benefit of a truly good performance on Wednesday night. What was that Ryan said? All performance? Translation: she can't sing that well, and she's a bad coach to boot. Next!
Own universe? Try own dimension: Simon Cowell, on Sanjaya: "I think you are in your own universe, and if people like you, good luck."
Little birdie time: Like last week, the birdie dropped this information into our lap. Here's how the top 10 votes turned out:
1. Melinda Dolittle
2. Blake Lewis
3. Lakisha Jones
4. Sanjaya Malakar
5. Chris Richardson
6. Gina Glocksen
7. Jordin Sparks
8. Phil Stacey
9. Haley Scarnato
10. Chris Sligh
No manipulation this time, and why should there be? Keeping Haley around as eye candy wouldn't be such a bad thing to the minds of the powers that be. Certainly, they'd like her to outlast someone like Phil or maybe even Chris. They'd also like to put Jordin in the final four, too, but they reckon she doesn't quite need it yet - unless she makes another bad song choice. She's the biggest disappointment we have in this list; she wasn't good this week, but based on her overall track record she should be much higher - around fourth or fifth. Gina should be higher as well.
It's pretty dismaying to us how high Sanjaya is. He's a lock for top six, and no matter where he finishes the statement of "worst contestant to make the top 9, or 8, or whatever) will be sadly true. Given his strength and consistency in the standings so far we can't rule out a spot in the final four, either. What will it take for him to end up in the bottom half?
Next week's theme should make for an interesting week. With Tony Bennett as our mentor, we'll be seeing a lot of standards and songs that Simon would ordinarily call old-fashioned. Depending on how tightly or loosely it's interpreted, it could make for an interesting night. It has the feel of Diana Ross nightredux all over it. One thing for sure: if people are waiting for Melinda and Lakisha to change, it won't happen for at least one more week - not with another softball theme, as far as they're concerned.
We try not to toss softballs here. Give us a PM if you've got something to say to us.