One of my longstanding complaints about “American Idol” is that it attracts contestants who have little knowledge about popular music and there are times when that ignorance harms them, especially in song selection and when interpretation requires a delicate touch. Tuesday’s night theme of music that “inspires” was overwhelmingly soulless in the perfs and the selections were generally short-sighted.
First off, it should be illegal to sing “Imagine.” Even in the Broadway musical “Lennon,” they realized the power of the original could not be touched and they used a clip of John singing the tune rather than have any, or all, cast members sing it. Blake Lewis could not have looked more disaffected — he seems to have only one expression (doe-eyed) when he sings — and his blandness teetered on the offensive.
Phil Stacey played to his strength again, but unmemorable on two counts: the song and his interpretation. And as potent as Melinda Doolittle was, one does have to wonder why choose a Faith Hill song? Just because it was sung for Sept. 11 victims and rescuers does not make it inspiring.
Kudos to Jordin Sparks for diving into the Rodgers and Hammerstein book for “You’ll Never Walk Alone” and steering it clear of high school musical schmaltz. This was a winner that helped separate her from the pack in terms of raw, untapped potential. (I dare one of the guys to try to tackle “Soliloquy.”)
Meanwhile, in the land of conspiracy theories…. Chris Richardson once again sings off-key, this time on the trivial “Change the World,” and the judges absurdly praise him. LaKisha Jones, violating the “no Idol songs if you want to succeed” rule for the second straight week, hears hemming and hawing from the judges for her reading of Fantasia’s hit “I Believe.” Who might they want booted?
Has there ever been a year in which the judges agree so often when telling a performer they did not do well?
KATHY LYFORD: I’d say Randy has remained constant, recycling the same two comments since season 1: “Dawg, you did your thang” or “What’s up dawg? For me, for you, that didn’t work.” Paula has suddenly decided this year to offer some constructive criticism, although she doesn’t always articulate it well and Simon has begun to praise marketable singers who can’t really sing. Simon, couldn’t you be honest about Chris’ off-key performance? You couldn’t blast Blake for tackling Lennon? We count on you!
JOSEF ADALIAN: I try not to get into “Idol” conspiracy theories, but it seems pretty clear there’s a let’s-get-LaKisha-off-the-show mentality working among the judges this year. She hasn’t helped herself with her stunning inability to display any real personality, and when I heard she was doing another tune from the “Idol” songbook, I immediately thought, “Does she want to get voted off?” Still, she remains head and shoulders above Chris and Blake. But the judges want who they want — just ask Jennifer Hudson, who was unfairly criticized by judges who didn’t deem her “Idol”-worthy.
GALLO: If “Idol” were not busy pumping up its charity efforts, how would they have filled the rest of the show? Oddly, I haven’t become jaded watching the singers dole out advice; there are moments when you see how far an artist comes in their interpretation of a song. I missed that.
LYFORD: I definitely missed the coaching. Bono couldn’t spare two nights for a show that’s going to raise a gazillion dollars for his pet charities. Left on their own, each contestant made errors.
ADALIAN: I was excited when Ryan Seacrest announced Bono was the week’s mentor — but then, nothing. On the positive tip, Celine Dion might have been the producers’ choice to coach “songs of inspiration.” If not having a mentor spared us that, then I’m happy.
GALLO: While Seacrest talks about all the orphans and News Corp. delivering a dime per vote, isn’t it a little bit odd that “Idol Gives Back” has never gone into specifics? They have yet to say what organization will be receiving the money or how it will be divided between the two continents. And while they are specific about Atlanta, Louisiana and other areas in the South, they never spell out where they are in Africa with these orphans. Amnesty Intl., Live Aid, No Nukes — those had specifics. Do you feel inspired — either by the perfs or “AI’s” intentions?
LYFORD: I thought they handled it well without being too preachy, and God knows they’ll do good for many people, but I was beyond insulted by the constant surprise on the part of the judges and Ryan that there are people in America starving. Are they really so isolated and privileged that they don’t know what’s going on in their own backyard?
ADALIAN: I’m gonna take a pass on the politics. As for the singers, Tuesday night marked Jordin’s official arrival as the new front-runner in this competition. Melinda remains, far and away, the best singer of this competition, as well as my personal choice to win it all. But in less than two minutes, Jordin’s take on “You’ll Never Walk Alone” managed to erase decades of Jerry Lewis’ assault on the song — and establish her as the hip, young choice the “Idol” brain trust desperately wants to win (and sell lots of records). Melinda’s got a career as the next Anita Baker, but sadly, it’s clear she won’t be the next “Idol.” As for Blake’s take on “Imagine”? What Phil said.
GALLO: Tonight could be one strange juxtaposition. Obviously they will save a superstar moment for the end or near end of the telecast from the Idol set and Walt Disney Concert Hall. So after Bono sings “Imagine” — or whatever the finale is — will we really see Seacrest tell LaKisha, Chris or Blake they are going home? I have a feeling it’s LaKisha. That will be a bummer on many counts.
LYFORD: They will probably do Bono’s group song, then the elimination, then the gala? It’s going to be weird. I think we’ll say goodbye to LaKisha a little too soon. And Chris will be saved by the judges’ false praise.
ADALIAN: LaKisha’s a LaGoner, sadly.