It's country night on AI or, as I like to call it, just another laundry night. There are eleven people left in the competition but only ten will go on to sell tickets to that awesome traditional AI tour they'd have to pay me money to attend. If history is anything to go by, country night will separate the heirloom pumpkins from the genetically modified Jack O'Lanterns and the blood of hapless rock/folk/R&B singers will flow liberally on the stage. Who will drive their tractor straight off the farm with tonight's performance? But, more importantly, can we deal with an almost articulate and strangely verbose Paula? Onward.
The four judges make a dramatic entrance from the back of the stage and it looks like Simon went shopping because he's wearing a dirty dove gray T-shirt, a color we haven't seen on him in at least six weeks. Seacrest follows them by descending the big staircase like some god from Mount Olympus. A god in a polka dot tie and a somber banker's black suit. Lights, screams and music swirl as Seacrest the Banker wishes everyone a St. Patrick's Day after which he banters idly with the judges. After the Top 11 come out we find out that we're “celebrating the Grand Ole Opry”. A flag-waving montage of Opry history plays majestically on the big screen as I fold my socks and accidentally press the fast forward button. Oops, sorry about that. Moving on.
Lining the bottom of my sock drawer
Michael Sarver could have been mistaken for a Top 40 wannabe but he's from Texas and – did you know this? - he's an oil rig worker. I think we all did the math on him weeks ago. His pick is something called Ain't going down till the sun comes up which is a wordy thing that even Randy Travis – the mentor for this Country Week – thinks is just one missed yee-haw lyric away from total disaster. Michael messed with the song and thinks he's taking a real chance. Oh, yeah, and I'm Kelly Clarkson. He mumbles illegibly but valiantly about pick-up trucks and such but I'm more intrigued by the dude at the side of the stage playing the harmonica. Are they going to bring him on the tour if oil rig guy here makes the Top 10? Can they ask him to sing instead of Michael?
Randy calls it cool but is not sure whether he added anything vocally to the song. I guess he didn't notice where Michael messed with the melody. It's okay, neither did I. Kara liked harmonica guy too but wonders how Michael learned all the words. Paula babbles a bit then declares that Michael is a country boy. Simon didn't understand any of his words. He also calls the performance clumsy and country western karaoke and a 1.2 on the 1 to 10 scale. What's the .2 for, Simon?
Detergent with some dope
Blame it on the heart is the name of the song Allison is singing. Randy thought she has “the pipes for it” but didn't care for the cutesy dance moves she wanted to add. But didn't you know she's only sixteen, Randy? She does stuff that teens do even if she looks like a 46 year old fan of Clairol hair color shades not found in nature. He worried for nothing though, because aside from a bit of marching up and down the stage she gives a dance-free performance. I can't say I cared for the song and the lyrics about “double dealing cheating” hearts or some such but she gave it a bit of a rock spin and made it almost palatable.
The audience hollers, her mom weeps in the audience and Kara gushes about how Allison is getting better and being great. Paula is halfway lucid tonight but I'm not sure that's a plus. She says she liked the rock edge and thinks Allison is going into the music biz after the show so she needs to show more vulnerability. Because that's such a touchy feely industry. Simon is a bit perplexed by Paula, as always, but thought Allison was good except for the parts where she was tuneless and precocious sounding. Randy, always in possession of such sophisticated sentiments, thought it was dope.
Randy thinks Kris is a ballad crooner. I think Kris was tragically born too late to be in 'Nsync, but that's just me. He picked a song by Garth Brooks which gets the sultry Constantine treatment and the Kris treatment which amounts to Kris sitting on a stool and looking sad. I have no idea what the original To make you feel my love sounds like but this one was quietly boring. Or maybe I'm just having trouble getting in touch with my inner shrieking 13 year old. Paula is pleasantly surprised by the “honest, pure, vulnerable performance” and babbles on about pitchy parts. Simon felt it was terrific, smart choice and not over the top. He even says Kris has a shot at winning! Er, say what, Simon? Perhaps it's reverse psychology on his part and Simon wants to see Kris bite the dust. Randy gushes that he was surprised by “tender moments from [his] dawg, Kris”. I wipe away a tear as I fold my T-shirts. Kara didn't think it was country at all.
You can always tell who is being pimped by the amount of time Seacrest devotes to idle banter with them or when he sits down with them for a bit of Q&A. Lil Rounds gets the scripted Q&A which means America is supposed to vote for her. Will America notice that she had a haircut and those weird floppy odd colored sideswept bangs are gone? She is now ready for the prom in a deep pink dress and matchy-matchy jewelry. She also wants to do Independence day by Martina McBride straight up, without any R&B shenanigans, because, get this, she wants to honor the country spirit of the song. Randy thinks it's a big song but wants her to slow it down a bit so we can get the lyrics. Every time I hear this song, which is rarely since I don't listen to country, all I can think about is Will Smith and Harry Connick Junior dragging that alien's squishy body through the desert and delivering funny one liners. Sorry, can't help it.
This is a good song for Lil because it provides a chance for her to scream loudly right in the middle of it and at the end. Randy didn't feel it dawg, thought it was uncomfortable for her. He wanted her to do something by Dolly instead. Kara missed the screaming at the start of the song, Paula thought she was good but thought she should have started with the big notes earlier. Simon argues that she sounded like somebody delivering a request at a wedding. Loud boos ensue as Lil responds that she just wanted to show America that she can grow but will pick only obvious songs from now on, or something like that.
A capful of Cheer
I bet Adam Lambert would rather be painting his toenails or getting a new piercing than singing country, but here he is nevertheless engaging in sweet chit-chat with Seacrest and reminiscing about his encounter with Randy Travis. Adam wants to do a Middle Eastern spin on Ring of fire. Randy is speechless and stares into space in total confusion as much over Adam's black nail polish as his spacey version of the Johnny Cash classic. I can totally understand that. Black nail polish is so fall 2008! Now we're on to deep purple and steel gray. Get with the times, Adam!
The performance is pretty much crap but if I think of it as a parody it completely works. From Adam's cliched snakeskin country boots, green hair, black gloves to his tragic screams accompanied by weirdly tortured over-the-top facial expressions, it's pure comedy gold and I'm digging it. This guy may just push me to break my habit of never voting for this show. The look on Kara's face is priceless as she struggles to find words to describe the craziness. Paula throws out a thought that it was like a Kashmir Led Zeppelin thing, which is actually an inspired critique, very rare from Paula. Simon goes straight to the core asking “what the hell was that?”. He thinks it was indulgent rubbish, which is just another way for Simon to say that Adam is going to make the final two. Randy says it was like NIN doing country. I'm telling you, they all got the comedy angle!
The delicate cycle
Randy Travis didn't think Scott McIntyre should be singing Wild angels by Martina McBride. His advice is to speed up the song a bit, perhaps because he fears that people might doze off. Did Scott listen to him? Well, he's sitting behind his shield, er, I mean, his piano, crooning earnestly about miracles and love and he sounds mind-numbingly generic. I don't think he could be more plain vanilla if he tried; he's the reason my DVR has a fast forward button. I don't see why the audience is cheering so loudly and why Paula is impressed again. She does think that the piano is a crutch for him and wants him to bring out his inner showman. Simon thinks that's stupid because even Elton sits behind a piano all the time. They bicker about it, which is funny, but Simon finally says that Scott picked another forgettable song. Randy didn't hear any hot vocals, although he wanted to. Kara wants him to deliver more high notes. Why? Doesn't Lil Rounds scream enough for everyone already?
Seacrest wants to know whether Scott will ever ditch the piano crutch and Scott says that if he makes it to the top 10 he might at some point surprise them and appear without it. Might being the operative word here. Gee, can't wait.
According to Alexis Grace, everyone in the South loves country music and she is no exception. She picked a Dolly Parton song called Jolene which I wouldn't know except I think that blonde chick, the Carly Simon imitator, sang it last year too. But I may be wrong. I usually honor Country nights by doing laundry, so I miss a lot. Randy thought she was perfect in rehearsal which pleases Allison. The performance, however, is weak, dull and weird. Her voice quivers badly in places and all that whining about this Jolene person sounds odd coming from her. The audience response is tepid. Randy points out the pitch problems and the odd bluesy tilt which he found unappealing. Kara feels Alexis lost her edge. Paula heard something else because she saw an artistic departure from rock chick. Interestingly she is not bothered by her pitch problems. Kind of selective that way, isn't she? Simon rolls his eyes and says it was forgettable and unoriginal. In hindsight, Allison would have injected some dirt into the song and promises that she'll do so promptly as of next week if she makes it.
Dry on low for 20 minutes. Cool iron if needed.
That Gokey is such a rebel. In a bid for total chaos and utter originality he decided to take on Suicide Solution by Ozzy Osbourne. Will America still like him after he strums a banjo while singing “Evil thoughts and evil doings / Cold, alone you hang in ruins”?
Just kidding. Gokey wants to sing that Jesus at the wheel song by Underwood, but rehearsals with Randy are somewhat tragic. He can't read off the lyrics page, he can't sing in tune, he keeps laughing it up while Randy is staring stone-faced. He hopes Gokey can remember the lyrics on show night. Speaking of the lyrics, I've never actually listened to them before but apparently this song isn't about Jesus getting his driver's license as I previously thought. It's about some dumb chick with a baby in the backseat who starts speeding, spins out, throws up her hands then asks Jesus to take over. 'Cause that's safe! I liked the driver's license scenario much better. What can I say, not my cup of tea. Oh, yeah, Gokey belts it out as loudly as he can and the audience predictably laps it up.
Kara didn't like the first half but she thinks he turned on the Danny in the second half. Paula liked the buildup and keeps talking about how brilliant he is. She thinks Carrie would go out and buy his cover of this song. Simon doesn't think so but agrees a bit with Paula about the buildup. He quibbles with Gokey's snow white jacket though. Randy wanted less of the pitchy parts.
I don't know about you, but when I think country, I think Anoop. So it's no surprise when he picks You are always on my mind. Randy Travis had his doubts but is amazed by Anoop's delivery of the song. He shouldn't have worried. Anoop lays out an strong but understated perfomance which is nuanced and almost too pretty. The live audience cheers, Paula says he's back and she's proud of him. Simon says he went from zero to hero with a good choice of song. It was one of his favorites of the night. Randy feels he proved his worth with this song and thought the arrangement was dope. Kara was amazed that he put a great spin on an untouchable song. Anoop is not surprised by the great reviews. No ass kissing humility here! Hell, I like that!
Megan Joy – formerly Megan Corkery – who might never live down Rockin' Robin, goes for another one of those songs that even Randy Travis can't see a way to refresh. Her song is I go walking after midnight which she twists to fit her style. Randy politely says that she nails all the changes she made which is not a glowing endorsement but will do. I'm too lazy to find a video of the original for comparison purposes but Megan's version is full of jazzy riffs and loads of falsetto which is annoying. Randy expected a train wreck but was impressed that it sort of all worked in the end. Kara felt it was the perfect song and delivery especially since poor Megan has the flu. Paula thinks Megan should keep being sick and Simon concurs except he's not a fan of her tie dye brown and blue prom dress.
Did you notice that there were two Garth Brooks songs, two Martina McBride songs and two* Johnny Cash songs so far on the show but only one by Carrie Underwood song? Here to remedy that gross imbalance is Matt Giraud who wants to take on a song called So small by Underwood. Again, Randy is confused by the song choice but then he is surprised about how good it is in the end. Did you notice that Randy was pretty much shocked by every song choice so far, only to be pleasantly surprised later. I'm thinking he phoned in this whole mentor thing. Matt wants to be heartfelt and to this end he sings and plays the piano. After the first 20 seconds I had to run and empty the dryer so I kind of heard him from afar. He sounded bland and like some filler you might hear on a light FM station. Kara thinks he's a true artist and a true talent. Paula trips over her tongue praising Matt's cheesy delivery. Simon thinks he hasn't been getting enough credit and thinks he out-sang Gokey in a Michael Buble kind of way. This was Randy's favorite performance of the night.
Now that all my laundry has been done, folded and put away we can stash country night into the bottom drawer as well. Who will survive the spin cycle Wednesday night and who won't see another wash? Ironing expert and my fabulous recapping partner MotherSister will be here to put the starch into the elimination proceedings. Don't miss it!
*One, I meant one.