One of the many ironies of American Idol is that the nights with the oldest songs are often among the best of each season. We're not quite sure what to make of Tuesday night yet. No obvious disasters, but no standouts either. It was, to be honest, sort of dull.
There are a few things you'll find with a theme like this you won't find anywhere else. You won't have any truly disastrous performances - everyone's vocals will at least be bearable. It becomes as much about "selling" the performance as anything else. That doesn't mean vocal ability suddenly becomes irrelevant. For the middle of the pack performers who don't have the kind of vocals that others like Melinda or Jordin have, however, it becomes much more important. In some ways, this week was a lot more about style than substance.
Sitting pretty: it's nice to be on top of the pile, and Melinda's been there since... the season started, really. Why shouldn't she be there, though? Her vocals are top-notch, and she's been able to connect with her song every time. There's nothing new to say here. Still not much in the way of versatility, but it's something she doesn't need as much. It could hurt her when it gets down to the final four, though.
The only other person to be in the same league was Jordin. She's so good, we keep forgetting she's only 17. I don't think Idol has had anyone else who was so good at so young an age. Good vocals, good control, and good song choice. When Jordin is "on", she's as good as anyone else. Unfortunately, that's not always the case. She could end up in the finale - but her consistency, or lack of it, will determine if she'll be singing in the Kodak Theater.
The, uh, best of the rest. Relatively: There wasn't much to separate the other seven contestants. The singing was at least bearable (yes, including Sanjaya), and was even good for some. Still, none of them felt like a complete performance. Something was always missing.
Let's start with Blake and Chris. We've said before that they're both making up for their weaker vocals with good performance skills, and that was even more true than usual this week. They both ignored the actual meaning of what they were singing and put their own spin on it anyway. Now, does this sound familiar? You bet it does. We said something very similar way back in the top 12! Both Blake and Chris did their best to ignore the "theme" (whatever it was) and impose their own style on it. We're tempted to bring out the "indulgent" tag... and Simon might well use it himself sooner or later. I mean, really, can it get any more indulgent than singing a song titled Mack the Knife like it's a happy song?
As for Lakisha... well, as usual it was technically good. Unfortunately, that means bupkis as long as Melinda's also in it. She seems to have difficulty connecting with her material too - it's always well-sung, but it doesn't quite move those watching. Also, why does Lakisha keep ignoring what the guest mentors advice her? She ignored Lulu's advice on song choice, and she kept the run when Tony Bennett told her not to. Is this a case of "Kiki always knows best?"
When you do a very slow song - which Phil did with Night and Day - it's something of a risk. You have to really knock it out of the park, or otherwise it comes off as being the next cure for insomnia. Phil... it was well done, but I wouldn't listen to it if I was sleepy. It was okay, but it had no wow factor. We'd go as far as saying it was not a good song choice, but with such a limited theme that may not have been possible. (There's a rumor floating around that the Idols had a grand total of 20 songs to choose from. Make of that what you will.)
When your legs are the focus of your performance, that's not a good sign. Still, Haley's performance wasn't that bad. It was rather similar to the Tell Him performance from two weeks ago, and it had similar results. Very up-tempo, sexy outfit, playing with the audience. It wasn't that good, but it wasn't bad either. However, it really showed up the fact that her vocals are not that strong. She's done well to get this far, and for her to get any further everything has to come together - good song choice, vocals are at least acceptable, high energy. She's still in the hot seat. (One more thing. The judges were just about useless with her. They're paid millions to comment on singing... and they said not one bit about her vocals. Are we missing something here?)
And now to the punditocracy's favorite whipping boy... Sanjaya. Was it his best? Much as it pains it to admit it, that probably was. It was tolerable, and didn't send us running in fright. Just cringing, which is an improvement. Of sorts.
Maybe it was the tongue stud: Once again, people are a little aghast at Gina's elimination, especially since most believe that either Haley or Sanjaya should have gone first.
We're disappointed that Gina went early, but it wasn't all that much of a surprise. This week, she went for the low-key route again, but not nearly as well as last week. It was just okay. One trip out of your fan base's comfort zone is fine, but two in a row is asking for it. It wasn't the kind of performance that could get crossover votes - not on a night when Jordin was doing a similar slow ballad. She never had (or, perhaps, not enough) fanatical supporters who could save her from a bad night.
We've been saying all along she needs good song choices to truly shine. Well, song choices are constrained by the theme, and this was one that well and truly screwed Gina. As we mentioned above, it's said that the song list was ridiculously limited - and if that was the case, no song choice would have been good. Simply put, Gina had to be at her absolute best - and maybe even more than that - in a genre that was not hers.
The King of all Hype: We have to say something about this whole "vote for the worst" phenomenon. It's something that has been around Idol for a while, and with the walking comedy skit that is Sanjaya staying far longer than he deserves to it's getting even more press than usual.
How much of the media coverage is being driven by Howard Stern's sudden embrace is a good question. Setting aside the rich irony of Howard Stern trying to corrupt anything (does he want everything to be at his juvenile level?), the influence of any vote for the worst campaign is wildly overstated. It's simply a question of numbers.
Idol gets around 30 million viewers every night and about the same number of votes. While Sirius doesn't say how many people listen to Stern, their overall subscriber count is around six million. Will all of those people be listening to Stern? We doubt it; the overall audience is closer to one million. We're being generous giving him that many listeners; top-rated cable channels have viewers of around one to two million. Despite his self-proclaimed status as the King of all Media, Howard Stern is not that big. He's a big fish in a relatively small pool, nothing more.
It's true that a relatively small number of people can disproportionately influence the results if they're dedicated. If only hardcore voters did the voting, it would take about fifteen thousand people. (33 million divided by the 1200-2400 votes one can probably make over a two-hour period.) Still, though, what's the possibility that the fanatical voters are dominated by Stern fans and other similar vote for the worst types? Consider that under any circumstances, vote for the worst voters will be outnumbered by people just as fanatical. We think it's slim to none. The numbers just don't work.
Consider, too, that the actual number of voters is far higher than the lowest estimate of fifteen thousand. While the number of people who cast votes for two hours straight is probably just in the thousands, the overall voters is much larger - maybe even a million. After all, with around thirty million voters, if just 3% decide to vote, all the one million voters would need is a few minutes. And few of those types will be vote for the worst types; they'd be the more "casual" viewers, not as locked into a contestant or idea as the hardcore fans or supposed worst voters are.
Both Vote for the Worst and Howard Stern are damnably good at promoting themselves, but claiming "credit" for keeping Sanjaya on is insane. There are good reasons why Sanjaya is still around and some of the others aren't. We do that every week here; and no fancy "campaigns" is necessary. A little clear thinking - about both the contestants and the numbers - is enough explanation.
On vacation: Maybe it's because it's Holy Week for Catholics and this the entire Philippines (where Idol Guy Central is located) is on vacation, but the birds didn't drop any numbers for us today. Still, we think the bottom three is (reasonably) accurate. Phil has not been consistent and Haley is... Haley. No voting powerhouse either. We're pretty sure, though, that the "top 3" wasn't. Lakisha in the top 3? We don't think so.
An update: Since we first posted this, this week's numbers fell into our lap. So our sources weren't on vacation after all, it seems. The "official" ranks this week are:
Sanjaya placing second is, well, nothing short of amazing. That kind of support he's getting would be admirable... if it was for someone who could actually sing. We have to wonder what this means about his chances of making the final four.
Chris and Blake are doing better than we thought they would. Because their styles are somewhat similar, though, we wonder when vote-splitting will start to affect either one of them. Jordin... what will it take for her to end up in the top three? She's far too good just to be fifth. Lakisha is right where we thought she'd be - and the upcoming themes (Latin next week, country after that) might spell trouble for her.
We don't take vacations. At least not while Idol is on. For any comments, PM us.