Ah, Country Week. Each season we wait and we wait for this theme to roll around and offer up to us the purest and best of train wreck possibilities. Between the challenges of trying to get the earthy pathos right, and hovering just subtly enough over the twang, Country Night can send an otherwise innocuous singer hurtling toward elimination faster than you can say, “Aw shucks!” (See: Mandisa, Matt Rogers) So, who bit the big biscuit, and who made the red dirt rattle? I won’t make you wait any longer to find out.
Bat Out of … Hosston
That fiery Martina McBride is our mentor for the evening, and Ryan describes her mission as helping the contestants make country contemporary. Martina interprets that as showing the kids that country music doesn‘t have to fit into the country genre, and I do believe I can already hear Blake beat boxing some “Ring of Fire:” And it burns, b-b-burns, b-burns …. This should be really fun.
Up first is Phil Stacey, doing “Where the Blacktop Ends.” In case you didn’t
careknow, Phil reminds us that he is an honorary country boy, because he grew up in Wichita. Martina has got the bestest bemused look on her face as Phil rehearses his final glory note for her, perhaps trying to remember what the guy’s name is? Or maybe she just wants a bagel, I don’t know. But she urges Phil to integrate more of that soul into the whole song, instead of leaving it all for the ending.
I guess he takes her advice, because this turns out to be Phil’s best performance yet. He’s in good voice, and he sounds convincing. And aside from being a little out of breath after the chorus, his energy is really good as he works the audience, guiding them through the stomp-clappy breakdown near the end. Also, Phil is wearing a silver-striped black shirt which reminds me of Elliott, so I guess he gets points for that too. Randy’s plumb shocked at this side of Phil, and says he just realized that country might be Phil’s niche. Phil nods, all “Duh,” because he knew that already. Perception‘s not his middle name. I bet it‘s something like Earl. Paula congratulates Phil on finally nailing a song all the way through, and Simon liked seeing him show some style and personality. All really good feedback. So good that I’d be willing to bet Phil is safe this week. If Sanjaya weren’t on the show.
Jordin’s singing Martina‘s own “Broken Wing,” so of course she‘s nervous about it, but she doesn’t back down from the challenge because this is her one shot, her one chance to make her dreams come true on live television in front of her mom and everyone and finally earn enough celebrity status to compete on Dancing With the Stars! No wait, that‘s my Idol story. Keep your fingers crossed for me in ‘08. But back to Jordin. She looks a bit lost while she sings; maybe she’s trying like I am to figure out why she looks like a serving wench at the teen version of Medieval Times -- shiny red empire dress with a gold lame' bodice? Seriously, why? But her voice is rich and full for most of the song; a couple of the upper notes give her some trouble, but all of the glory is present and accounted for. With all the talk about dreams and flying and triumph and so on, this ditty packs as much inspirational punch as any Idol coronation tune, so of course the judges are going to love it. It’s in their contracts. Jordin actually deserves it, so it's cool. Randy gives her props for taking on such a difficult song, Paula enjoyed the way she told the story. And Simon says this is the first time he can envision Jordin as the winner of the competition. High praise indeed, but it loses credibility when it’s like the fourteenth time he’s said it to Jordin so far this season. Get a thesaurus and craft some new compliments, Cowell. And I guess while you’re at it you can work on some new insults too; only so many times you can call someone a wedding singer before the words lose all meaning, after all.
The Phenomenon Goes On … And On … A Bit Too Long …
Speaking of wedding singers … nah, I’m kidding. Sanjaya would never be hired as a wedding singer. He might have a shot at a job if that wily Noriega ever gets up to his old tricks again, but until then he’s on this show. And tonight he’s wearing a bandana. Oh, Sanjy. Much like Samson, you’ll have to learn the hard way never to neglect your coif. Sanjaya gets a viewer question this evening, and it’s a total softball setup of what he would make one of the judges sing. And oh my gosh, Sanjaya answers in that lazy teen voice that can never be bothered to be modulated that he would make Simon sing “Shiny Happy People.” The audience laughs, Simon smiles dutifully, score one more for Sanjaya.
Sanjaya’s singing “Something to Talk About” because he gives people something to talk about, *big smile* and aren’t the sympathy and the joke wearing off a bit by now? Even just a bit? Please? Martina encourages him to sing in a more aggressive manner. In other words, she wants him to try. Sanjaya decides not to, because pfft. Why should he? This ain’t nothing but a singing competition. So no, Sanjaya doesn’t try at all, and it’s a bit tiresome coming up with ways to describe his vocal stylings from week to week, and I mean if he’s not going to put forth any effort why should I? So, yeah. He finishes; Randy calls him horrible, Paula laughs at him for having fun in the midst of all this adversity. And then she calls him loveable. Simon calls the performance “utterly horrendous,” and then hits the bulls-eye of criticism by saying that Sanjaya is as bad as any random horrible auditioner, which makes his mother (?) have a sad face. The crowd boos, and Simon sass-mouths that none of them can hear worth a crap. Which … might be true. Ryan tries to intervene, but Simon snaps at him and he probably dies a little inside. But then he calls him ‘big mouth’ so maybe that made it all better. I don’t know. Just a guess.
Say A Little Prayer For Her
“Jesus Take the Wheel” called out to LaKiki on that short list of songs the show could get. Martina is thrilled by LaKisha’s rehearsal of the song. She even gets all teary-eyed, too farklempt to offer any advice for Kiki to reject, but I’m sure she doesn’t mind that. So LaKisha comes out all cinched up in a flowy brown dress, with these gold slouch boots, looking very Opry I imagine. And she sounds all right in the beginning; very smooth and contemplative. She runs into trouble at the key change when the band comes in full force, but she recovers pretty well and finishes on a good note. Or so I think, anyway. Randy wishes she had put more of a gospel spin on the song, but I’m saying. It’s already a prayer, to Jesus. What more does he want, for her to put on a robe and jump in a tub of holy water? Paula says she was shouting some, and Simon compares it all to eating a hamburger for breakfast, by way of saying LaKiki and the song don’t mesh well. Clearly Mr. Cowell has never breakfasted at Le Casa de MotherSister, where our motto is: Hamburgers are always appropriate. Still, this criticism from Simon sounds eerily familiar. Oh no. Will LaKisha be Mandisa’d?
Can’t worry much about that for now. Chris Richardson is coming so it’s time to find the rope so I can keep my ears from running away in terror. Martina thinks Crich could be a country singer if he wanted. If anything is right about the world, millions of country music fans are at this very moment penning passionate letters to Martina’s representatives, begging them to get her some help because she is crazy. Chris “Nasal Helps Us Play” Richardson? Can be a country singer? Can be any kind of singer? Girl, please. Chris helps make the case for the Martina’s Tripping side by absolutely massacring some Rascal Flatts song called “Mayberry.” Even if people can look past the whiny tone of the voice, the pitiful weakness of those “na-na-na’s,” the screechy sharps, and the heavy flats should be strong enough to smother any fanness wherever it lies. But they are not. The audience gives Chrich a standing ovation when he finishes, and I cry a little bit. Not for myself, you understand. But for my ears. Yours too, because I’m generous with my emotion like that.
Randy chooses to avoid the real issue and critique Crich’s connection the song. Paula says something equally nonsensical. Simon wonders why there was a standing O and restores my faith in humanity by saying that the performance was tinny and nasally, and completely insignificant. Crich fires back that “Nasally is a form of singing,” which … no. Maybe on the planet 1998, where people were fooled into thinking that Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake working their creaking-door diaphragms all over the airwaves was the height of awesome. But no more. Not today. Go away, Chris R. Please just go away. And if you can, do so before you make an awkward and entirely too afterthought-ish remark about the tragedy affecting VA Tech. Oh, crap. Too late.
I‘m counting on Melinda to bring the nice to the stage again. She’s looking good; the hair team has finally come up right -- bone-straight shoulder length extensions that really slim down her face. Sitting down with Ryan, Mindy relates a True Story about seeing a woman on the street who started screaming and running. And you know what? That charming little Melinda started to do the same, until she got clued in that the woman was a fan, that the screams were for her, and that the running was employed to bring the woman closer to her. Anyway, the story’s a lot cuter when Mindy tells it.
It’s the same way with songs. Melinda’s chosen a sassy tune called “Trouble Is A Woman,” and Martina’s grinning and just can’t get over how “the best” Melinda is. Out on stage, Mindy gets real live fiddlers and everything, well okay just fiddlers, to supplement her growly, smoky, spot-on perfect vocal of the song. The only bad point in the whole thing is that her top looks more like a potato sack than any top should look. But she’s also got on tight blue jeans, so it balances out. I’m pretty sure that’s the message in the song. As for the judges, Randy calls Melinda the resident pro. Paula compliments her song choice, and Simon calls her Tina Turner. All justified. Simon also tells her to lose the meek bit, and she responds by smiling diffidently which is just perfect. You keep doing you, Mindy. I’m sure you’ll know when to take credit for being awesome. (And if you aren’t sure, I’ll just tell you; it’s right around the time Simon and Clive start saying they made you.)
Argyle Is the New Mistake
All the girls in the house say “Yeah!” Unless you don’t like Blake, in which case you can just sit with your hands folded neatly in your laps. Blake is singing “When The Stars Go Blue,” and I can’t figure out what that means. But Martina is happy he’s singing it anyway. Until he starts to sing that is, and she gets a look of concern that may haunt poor Blake in his dreams. She urges him to tap into his falsetto instead of straining so on the longer high notes. He obliges. And there’s not much of a difference in the end. But still, isn’t he cool though? Look at the way his hair is blonde and spiky, and his t-shirt always says something. And he wears argyle sweater vests that would make your Uncle Arnie angry with jealousy! He wins. The vocal isn’t anything very good or very bad. Randy likes the arrangement, Paula calls him the whole package, and Simon echoes me by saying he wasn’t jumping out of his chair. Also, Simon chooses this moment to oddly interject some condolences of his own on behalf of the judges for the families of Virginia Tech, which just doesn’t sit right amid all the Blake fan girls squeeing and screaming.
Seeing as my DVR cuts off right at this point, I guess that’s our show! There were bright spots and a couple of trusty pillars of suckitude, but like the rest of this season, Country Night was a bit of a non-event. For once I’m at a complete loss as to who is going to be making the long trip to Bottom Tree Land. Yes, there were some clear bombs tonight, but one of them was Sanjaya, so there’s no telling what’s going to happen. I’m actually still in the dark about the results, so I’m feeling a little scared. Also vicious, because if Sanjaya manages to outlast LaKiki? Oh, it’s on.
Any watercooler moments I missed in those last two minutes? Did Sanjaya finally shave his head? PM me and let me know.