Earlier this week, our cable box broke and we weren't sure if we could catch Idol this week and file this week's article on time. As it turns out, though, we wouldn't have missed much. It was as close to a total disaster as we've seen this season so far. Of the 673 songs they could have chosen from this week, it was almost like they chose the eight worst ones. It was that bad.
We have to give the title of "best" this week to Jordin. To Love Somebody had reasonably good vocals - she delivered the power notes without sounding screechy, which is not always a given with Jordin. However, it wasn't anything we hadn't heard before from her. We already knew she was good at the slow power ballads, and this wasn't even her best go at that kind of song. Woman in Love was far less impressive; to us she sounded screechy in a lot of spots. It didn't do too much harm to the overall performance, but overall it was just okay. It's saying something that one good performance and a middlingly mediocre one was good enough to get Jordin on top of the heap this run around.
Melinda is next, but only just. Both songs were well-sung, but that's practically Melinda's trademark. However, Love You Inside Out made zero impact with us. Our reaction after that song could have been summed up as okay, now what? There was nothing good or bad to take note of; it was pretty forgettable. How Can You Mend A Broken Heart got off to a rather insipid start as well, but it improved to become at least acceptable by song's end. Like Jordin, though, this was nothing we haven't heard from her before, nor was it any good.
Blake's first song was You Should Be Dancing. How about just singing, for starters? It was horrendous beyond words. It was so bad, it was almost enough to make us wish Chris or even Sanjaya were still on the show. Blake's falsetto resembled that of a cartoon character who'd just been kicked in the nuts. The beatboxing seemed out of place, and do we even have to mention Blake's attempt to become the Human Sound Effect Machine? Even his physical appearance was bad. The white highlight on the hair was ridiculous, and the jacket looked to have been stolen from Dr. Evil's closet with a weird pattern sewn into it. One of the worst performances this season.
As for This Is Where I Came In, it wasn't quite a complete mess, but it was still awful. His vocals are by far the weakest in this group, and that was exactly what the song highlighted. Paula made liberal use of the "contemporary" tag which, as we said several weeks ago, isn't a compliment in our book. We understand what Randy was trying to say with his beatboxing comment - if Blake is going to beatbox, he must make sure that it fits the song. To us, it seemed like the beatboxing was like a poorly conceived addition to a house - it just didn't fit. It was as if Blake took the song and asked himself "where can I beatbox in here?", ignoring whether or not his performance would be helped by it.
In her own way, Lakisha was just as bad as Blake. Did she really think any good could come from singing Staying Alive? Once again she was given good advice (go up in pitch), and she ignored it. It would have been fine in a karaoke bar, but this is the final four. It wasn't anywhere near good enough. It would have been the worst of the night, had Falsetto Blake not decided to show up. Run to Me was just okay, but it was still not what we'd expect this far along in the season. On a night when she had to be outstanding to survive, Lakisha was mediocre. It's no surprise she got the boot.
Is anyone really surprised?: Lakisha's boot this week was fully expected. She started out strong, but it soon turned out that she was very limited in what she could do. If she stuck to her comfort zone (mostly slow ballads), she was as good as anyone, but outside of it she had a tendency to fail, sometimes spectacularly. Staying Alive was only the most recent example; other notable ones in our book include Jesus Take The Wheel and Conga. We're tempted to say she went a bit too far, but if you look at the rest of the field you can't say that either. You have a hard time pinpointing just who really deserved to go that much further than they did. Any other season, Lakisha would be further down the order, but taking everything into consideration she made her exit right where she ought to.
That all you got?: We've spent plenty of space commenting on what seems to be the substandard quality of this season. We're almost at the logical conclusion of that chain of events: we now have three contestant who all bring something new to the table, but also have some sort of flaw that would have been fatal to their chances any other year, or may cause problems post-Idol. This is a situation that may well be unprecedented in Idol history.
Jordin may well be the best teenager we've ever seen on American Idol. She's got amazing power, and as we're constantly reminded, she's only 17. So what's the problem here? Plenty. For one, she doesn't quite have the kind of control and precision that's especially important if you've got the power she has; otherwise you can sound like you're shrieking (as she did in some parts of Woman in Love).
Another problem we have with her is this curious disconnect between her singing and non-singing personas. Like most teenagers, she has this bubbly, energetic personality. Yet when she goes out to sing, she's at her best with the slower, older songs. When she does try something more uptempo, or more recent... it doesn't seem to fit. Go back a few weeks and look at Hey Baby. She wasn't impressive. Sure, Jordin can win. What happens to her when it's time to start recording the album? With most Idol contestants, we know what they're going to sound like when they cut an album. Consider, for example, Carrie Underwood and Chris Daughtry (the biggest commercial successes from the past two seasons.) They didn't have the kind of contradictions that Jordin has. We're pretty sure she'll be signed to a record deal, no matter how she does on the show. It'll be interesting to see what the end result will be.
What about Melinda? On technicals alone, we've said many times she's as good as they get. It's not her singing that's the problem; Randy loves to refer to her as the "resident pro". There, though, lies her biggest problem.
We doubt there are that many boxing fans among our readers, so humor this comparison. For many boxing aficionados, what they want to see is both fighters bring it all out in the squared circle, exchanging blows and leaving nothing in the tank, not caring about whether there'll be a tomorrow or not. The same can be said for all sports fans - and Idol fans, to boot. It's not enough to have the skills; you need to tell the people at home, "I'm giving it my all because this is what I want to do, I'll be damned if I don't do the best job I can, I don't give a crap about what happens after this."
Yet all too often we don't see that from her. Yeah, the vocals are there, and we know she is trying her best. However, that's something you almost never see from her performances. They're always well sung, but there's that special factor that just isn't there. The fire, the desire to be the best... it's just not there. Early on, we were wowed and impressed by her vocal prowess, but as the season went on that was no longer enough. Lately, our reactions have been: "okay, you can sing well. Now what?"
Why doesn't Melinda have this ability? If we had to guess, it's because she's spent her professional career as a background singer. Contrast Melinda with Taylor Hicks, who did have that ability. We knew he was working his butt off every week, leaving it all out there for his fans. And it worked! Melinda learned her craft in the shadow of others; Taylor learned his in clubs all around the South. When your success as a performer is tied to the reaction you can get from a crowd that may now know who you are, or may not even care about you that much, you quickly learn how to grab their attention and impress them. Melinda, as a background singer, never had that chance; if anything what she's learned is the exact opposite - not to stand out, not put yourself on the line because it's not about you. It's a quintessential case of Background Singing Syndrome. She's shown signs of snapping out of it, but when push comes to shove she tends to revert to her old ways.
Blake is both defined and confined by his beatboxing. He has forgotten that beatboxing, like hitting glory notes, is a means, not an end. Just because you can add it to a song, doesn't mean you should. We're surprised no one has used the "indulgent" tag on Blake, because that's what he did this week. More to the point, no matter how hard Blake tries, you can't beatbox through an entire song. It will always be a seasoning to the main dish, As it is, his fundamentals are weak. When he tries to just plain sing, he's horribly outclassed. It's like bringing a spork to the O.K. Corral. He has some musical knowledge and creativity, but that's more useful if you're a producer, not the singer. All the creativity in the world can't make up for a weak voice - you're either born with it or you aren't. Blake got this far with a very unique tool - his beatboxing - but beyond that, he doesn't have much to offer. Like Jordin, one has to wonder what will happen when the album recording sessions begin.
In the short-term, the effect of having this group make up the final three is that the finale spots are pretty much wide open. Most final threes have an obvious laggard, and while vocally Blake fits that role he has a strong hardcore fanbase that will keep him in the mix. Melinda's vocal abilities should be enough to get plenty of votes from more casual viewers, offsetting her relatively weak fanbase. Jordin is somewhere in the middle, good enough to get casual votes yet having a sizable base that will vote for her, no matter what. It'll make for an interesting study in song choice, particularly since they'll get to pick one of the three songs next week, with the rest in the hands of Clive Davis and our judging panel.
The Idol Guy Mailbag: with the finale week coming soon, it's time for an announcement. When the finale is done and over with, we'll have not one, but two articles. One will look at that week specifically, but the other will be a season in review. So I'd like to ask you, the reading public: what do you think are the trends or moments that define this season? There are some obvious ones - the (lack of) quality talent, Sanjaya - but is there anything else you think will stand out from this season? If you've got any suggestions - let us know either in this thread, or via private message.
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