Our ears are still reeling from country night. It's not because the night was bad - it wasn't. The best way to describe it was a night of contrasts. Those who were good were really good. The bad were utterly and spectacularly craptastic. No, what left us in a rather cranky mood was that of the four butcherings of the night, two were of songs that have found comfortable residences in our personal music library. Few things annoys us more than having a song we are rather familiar with being mangled beyond all recognition in front of millions of people.
Let's start with the bright spots of country week. Melinda slipped a little before, but she came back in a big way this time. She's been the other big target of our "show versatility" meme, but unlike Lakisha's failed effort last week she delivered. It wasn't her usual material, but it was just as good. Her vocals were excellent, she connected with the song, and also showed some decent performance skills as well. It was even "fun" - a word that's not always one you'd use to describe her performances! There's not much - if any - to criticize this week. Weeks like this are exactly why she is one of the front-runners this season.
Phil has been extremely inconsistent all season long, so we were quite pleasantly surprised he did Where The Blacktop Ends rather well. While it wasn't quite the display Melinda put on later in the show, for someone opening the show Phil did very well. It's something we haven't seen in a while from him, and this was probably his best performance since Tobacco Road. Perhaps, it was even his best of the season. He also worked the audience well, which is always a good thing. Make no mistake, though: Phil is still in the hot seat. He's done well to get to the top six, but going further is not particularly easy.
As we said last week, with Jordin it's always about song choice. It was something of a calculated risk - with a lesser singer, it would have bombed. However, Jordin is supremely gifted, and there's no better coach of a Martina McBride song than Martina McBride. Wittingly or not, Martina's advice to just plant her feet and sing played to Jordin's strengths. She's a great singer with a good balance of power and control, but she becomes a little ordinary when she tries to go with a faster song and move around the stage. There was none of that on Tuesday; we were treated Jordin at her best. It was her best performance since British Invasion week, and she can challenge Melinda for best of the night if she gives herself the chance to do so.
As for the losers, the biggest disappointment is Lakisha. She's Reason #1 for this week's crankiness. It's no surprise she did poorly in the country genre, but we had no idea she would tank that badly. Of course, she did herself no favors with her song choice. Back when Gina did Alone in the top 20, we pointed out that doing a song that had been done well on Idol before was a risk. What Lakisha did was even worse than that. Jesus Take The Wheel is Carrie Underwood's signature song - and if you're going to do someone else's signature song, you'd better knock it out of the park. That goes double if that someone happens to be a previous Idol contestant. What on earth possessed her mind and made her think this was a good idea? To make matters worse, she wasn't anywhere near the kind of perfection needed. Heck, it wasn't even good. It was bad.
In the interests of full disclosure, we have to preface this by saying we're a Carrie Underwood fan. One of the things that makes her so good, in our opinion, is that she can combine both power and control so well. She can hit the power notes and be in full control at the same time. Jesus Take The Wheel is a perfect example of that. Unfortunately, Lakisha's control was shaky throughout the whole song, and when she tried to go for the power she lost whatever control she had. The second half of her performance frankly sounded like a giant scream-fest that would not end. It was a complete and utter disaster.
Many weeks ago, Sanjaya became a walking parody of himself. Maybe it began with the ponyhawk, but it culminated with him choosing Something to Talk About. Yes, he's been something to talk about - but for all the wrong reasons. Of all the songs he could sing, he chose that? After one week of flirting with decency, he went back to his usual form of being awful. It was the type of performance that would get anyone else booed off the stage by drunks at a karaoke bar. Even compared to his previous performances, it was listless.
We'll give Blake some credit. He's becoming the resident theme-dodger. Tim McGraw doing When The Stars Go Blue gave Blake just enough cover to justify twisting the theme beyond all recognition. Tim McGraw may have covered it once, but Blake's version was a lot more similar to the one by the Corrs and Bono. That exact one just happens to be one of our own favorite songs, and we were far from pleased with Blake's version. Andrea Corr and Bono both brought wonderfully restrained, but emotional vocals to the table that fit the song supremely well. Blake's attempt wasn't even close. The original was full of heartfelt emotion; Blake's had all the emotion of a dry legal document. Technically, it wasn't terrible, just average, but "average" does not a winner make. Neither does emotionless, almost robotic singing. We're getting a little bored with Blake, to be honest. He's sounding very one-dimensional of late - it's the second week in a row that he's taken what should be two good songs and "put his own style on it." To translate from Idol doublespeak, that means he drained whatever color the original had.
Many strange things have been said on American Idol, and Chris just added to the list with his statement saying "Nasally is a form of singing." Unfortunately, that was the most memorable part of his whole performance. Like Simon, we don't get what it was all about either. His vocals are still bad, but is anyone really shocked by that? Chris is, in many ways, is like Blake. Every song is sounding rather similar to the next one. It's not as boring yet, but only because it's more horrifying.
Something to talk about over and over again: it took nine rounds of voting before Sanjaya went home - a lot more than it frankly ought to. The story isn't why Sanjaya left now - it's how he got this far in the first place!
A lot of it had very little to do with what Sanjaya did, but with the mistakes everyone who was eliminated beforehand made. They either strayed from who they were musically, weren't that good in the first place, had the misfortune of splitting votes with someone better, or were just unable to gather a big enough fan base to keep them safe. They all made mistakes that left them vulnerable to someone who didn't make those kinds of mistakes. Did they have, theoretically, more talent and potential? Sure, but potential is just that: potential. What matters is what they actually do on the stage, and some proved not to be up to the challenge.
Of course, how did Sanjaya avoid making those same mistakes and not get voted off before he did? Actually, he did. All of his performances from the top 12 onwards were bad enough to merit getting booted. Sanjaya, however, was blessed to have a fan base that may well be the most fanatical in Idol history. We're not talking about Howard Stern and his ilk; we're talking about the tweens who made up the core of his fan base. It was a group that voted for Sanjaya despite how badly he did. How he got that fan base, we don't know either. No matter how he got it, he had it, and it took him this far.
What ultimately did him in was his own notoriety. Everyone else in the final seven either had respectable fan bases, or were buoyed by an exceptional performance. None of those groups had any interest in seeing their bet become the next unfortunate soul to become Sanjaya's next victim, so perhaps they all worked harder this week compared to past ones. Casual fans not tied to any particular contestant may also have decided enough was enough and voted for anyone, so long as it wasn't Sanjaya.
Every season has someone who gets too far in the competition. Fifth to seventh is usually where they place. Consider the following three contestants, who all fit into their roles in their respective seasons:
John Stevens - Season 3, finished sixth
Scott Savol - Season 4, finished fifth
Kellie Pickler - Season 5, finished sixth
All things considered, Sanjaya can be considered a fairly typical case of the over-achieving contestant. Sanjaya will become notorious because even among the "bad" contestants he was exceptionally bad. After all, he made us establish the Sanjaya Zone in his "honor."
The road to the Kodak Theatre nears: with the top 12 now cut in half, it's worth taking a look at who among the six contestants left have a good chance of actually making it to the Kodak Theatre. Of course, you never know what's going to happen, which is why, as they say in sports, they play the game - or, in this case, sing the songs. Still, we can speculate what is likely to happen. Besides, if we couldn't do that, then we'd be out of a job, wouldn't we?
Lately we've had someone in every season that seems to be destined to make the finale. Melinda's in that role this time. She's been superb right from the get-go, and no one else in the top six can realistically challenge for that. The only potential trouble could be some sort of vote-splitting between her and Lakisha, but enough to knock her out before then? I doubt it. Honestly, we can't imagine a scenario where Melinda isn't in the final two.
Still in it
Realistically the fight for the other finale slot comes down to Jordin and Blake. For Jordin to win, she needs to become more consistent, play to her strengths as a singer, and avoid the kind of mistakes that led her to pick such mistakes like Hey Baby. Ordinarily, Blake wouldn't even be in the running for a final two slot, but with the utter hopelessness of fully half of the remaining field he does this time. Even then, there's very little he can do to help his cause. His best opportunity may well be if Jordin makes a serious mistake. The odds favor Jordin heavily, but Blake still isn't completely out of it.
Snowball's chance in hell
Fully half of the top six have no chance to make it to the finale. They all have some sort of fatal flaw that will stop them from getting that far. If anything, they ought to be more concerned with not getting eliminated next than getting to the finale.
Phil has not shown any consistency either in skill or style. This week, he was good, but can he sustain it? We're unconvinced. More importantly, his lack of consistency means he has probably been unable to build up a core of fans that will vote for him through thick or thin. He needs to be excellent just to stay in it. He could end up in the final four, but even that's a longshot. A boot in the next two weeks is more likely.
The only question is who will leave first: Chris or Phil. Our money's on Phil. Chris's vocals have received a lot of fire from the judges, and rightly so. He's been relying on performance skills to escape the boot up to this point (along with even weaker singers below him going first), but now he's in the hot seat. Chances are, he goes next - unless he brings us an out-of-this-world experience. We're not holding our breath for that.
Two singers from the same genre have never made it to the finale - that's the hard fact that Lakisha is facing. She's not as good as Melinda, and any vote-splitting is hurting her more. It's not beyond the realm of possibility that the might not make top four, although because Chris and Phil are relatively weak her chances aren't too bad overall. An excellent comparison would be Season 3: two singers with very similar styles went up against two others who were not as good, but had their own physical style. We know how that turned out - LaToya London went out fourth and Fantasia Barrino went on to win. The scenario seems to be repeating itself.
Next week: Idol gives back. Can we have the time we wasted on this season back? If yes, please PM us.