American Idol – Week 17

Props to Randy Jackson for recognizing that Barry Gibb has supplied the world with some great songs. (God that sentence would have pained me in the '70s when disco was about the nastiest description one could use for music).

Props to Randy Jackson for recognizing that Barry Gibb has supplied the world with some great songs. (God that sentence would have pained me in the ’70s when disco was about the nastiest description one could use for music). But here were “American Idol’s” four finest and not one of them could display command of a BeeGees tune, whether it came from the ’60s, the ’70s or the ’90s.

Gibb was bolstering Jordin Sparks a bit much, suggesting she had the goods to be one of America’s finest recording artists, but it’s as if he has never heard Janis Joplin’s version of “To Love Somebody”; she seemingly left her version of “A Woman in Love” in the musical version of the cutting room floor, the rehearsal studio.

On top of that, Melinda Doolittle would have been smart to study Al Green’s version of “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart” to get a soulful base in her phrasing.

Actually, everybody on the show should study Al Green for their own good.

“Idol” has demonstrated in two consecutive weeks how difficult it is to cut a distinctive figure in pop music. Jon Bon Jovi is hardly world class but his narrow range proved impossible for the Idolists and the music of the Bee Gees – wide-ranging, full-bodied, and filled with harmonies and other musicians’ interpretations – was an even bigger stumbling block.

The amateurs fare much better when the pros — Jennifer Lopez, Gwen Stefani – don’t really have pipes or an organic development of their material. Sparks may be a pop star in the making but it wasn’t in evidence this week.

Blake Lewis went to the beat box three or four times too many. Oddly enough though, it felt like it belonged in part of “You Should Be Dancing” but he ultimately overdid it. Regardless of how one may feel about his singing talent, it seems like he has done better than any other contestant with a gimmick, whether it be a mastery of a style or a vocal twitch.

KATHY LYFORD: Funny you should say twitch because when he performs all I can think of is that he may have some kind of nervous disorder that requires medication. I much prefer a distinctive style that’s not so affected and annoying – a style like Fantasia brought to season three or Carrie Underwood’s country flavor she added every week.

JOSEF ADALIAN: I think it’s been a major mistake to make the contestants sing only the songs of Bon Jovi or Barry Gibb. Gibb’s got a great track record, but his songs don’t lend themselves to interpretation (at least not by this bunch). In years past, Gibb’s presence would’ve been tied to disco or ’70s night.

Imagine how much more entertaining the show would have been had Melinda been able to belt out “Don’t Leave Me This Way.” That said, I thought the final four did much better than the judges (or Phil) give them credit for. Given the limitations of the night, Jordin, Melinda and LaKisha all turned in credible performances. But if Blake beatboxes one more time… the beat(box) must not go on!

GALLO: Show was really rushed — the judges didn’t get to speak their minds and Ryan Seacrest was less than relaxed. They had better get the timing of the show down or I think people will start to be turned off. Aren’t the opinions a reason to tune in?

LYFORD: Tonight definitely felt rushed, as if they didn’t really allow enough time for two songs per contestant. And I’m not sure what the judges want this year. If someone tries to add originality they get a comment like “That song doesn’t need all that added stuff” but if they sing it as written, they are told it’s “too Karaoke.” These poor kids can’t win.

ADALIAN: A reason, yes, but it’s all about the singing. I could use with less nonsense from the coaches, especially since this week, all I could think of was Jimmy Fallon talkin’ it up on “The Barry Gibb Talk Show.” Still, a succinct Simon can be a good thing. As for Paula and Randy, do they really need more than five seconds to offer their banter?

GALLO: Boy, do I long for Kelly Pickler. There’s no personality on that stage. At least when Sanjaya was there you could make fun of someone. And the clothes were like the singing Tuesday – not quite right, but not bad enough to crack jokes.

LYFORD: Well, I could crack a lot of jokes about Jordin’s dress over jeans ensemble and Blake’s goofy Nehru jacket. As far as personality, I long for a Pickler, a Jennifer Hudson, a Kelly Clarkson. I’d even take Taylor Hicks at this point. This is probably the blandest top four ever.

ADALIAN: These guys all have their game faces on.

Nobody wants to crack the wrong joke or wear the wrong outfit and risk alienating voters– not when victory is this close. But yeah, compared to some other years, these folks are pretty dull.

GALLO: Reprise/Rhino Records issued the first three Bee Gees records earlier this year in a great package and it was real treat to hear some of the singers tackle those earlier hits. The judges, too, seemed to respond better to the earlier Bee Gees tunes, many of which haven’t been heard much since their disco tunes reached the point to qualify for oldies radio. Will the fact that more people know the “Saturday Night Fever”-era material better help Blake and/or LaKisha?

LYFORD: I should probably reveal that I liked the Bee Gees even when baseball stadiums full of fans were destroying disco records. But I’m not sure song choice will have much bearing on the voting at all. With that amazing catalog of songs they had to choose from we somehow end up with the worst show of the season – awkward, boring and dragged down by mediocre performances. And yes, since you asked, I do recall how bad Latin music night was. This was worse because it had so much more potential and still we were never wowed.

ADALIAN: I was bummed that nobody embraced their inner Bee Gee. No white suits. No finger pointing to heaven. I do think the more well-known songs will likely go over less well with audiences, simply because people like the originals so much. (For what it’s worth, I actually enjoyed LaKisha’s “Staying Alive,” screams and all).

GALLO: I’m saying “gimme the beat boys to free my soul/I wanna get lost from American Idol.” Blake’s a goner.

LYFORD: Being the only boy will save Blake. I think LaKisha is leaving tonight. Too bad she could never recapture that magic from the round of 24 when she gave us chills with “And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going.”

ADALIAN: Blake should be dancing…off the stage. It depends, however, on how deep the pre-teen girls’ love is for him. It would be tragedy if LaKisha went home, one that would prompt plenty of emotion here, but I could see it happening.

Bottom 2: Blake Lewis and LaKisha Jones

Voted off: LaKisha

Kathy Lyford is a managing editor of Daily Variety; Josef Adalian is a TV editor. Both are “AI” fans.

American Idol - Week 17

Fox, Tue., May 8, 8 p.m.

Production: Taped in Los Angeles by 19 Prods. Executive producers, Nigel Lythgoe, Ken Warwick, Cecile Frot-Coutaz, Simon Fuller; director, Bruce Gowers.

Crew: Running time: 60 MIN.

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