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Wednesday, April 18, 2007

 

American Idolatry: Bucky Covington, Where Art Thou?

While just the idea of "Country Night on American Idol" is more than enough to put me off the feed, it is a useful evening of television excretainment in one important way: country music is difficult to pull off, and the electric slide guitar is a harsh mistress. So I looked forward to last night's episode, with guest advisor Martina McBride, as a chance to separate the wheat from the chaff...and I was not disappointed:

Phil Stacey: Not to overstate the case, but if Phil Stacey was ever going to knock one out of the park, country night is the night to do so. Not only because he's in mortal danger of disappearing this week, or because he likes country...but because his big, broad voice is suited to a certain kind of texas twang, a Toby Keith kind of thing. Sadly, it didn't pass muster. While his interpretation of Keith Urban wasn't terrible, it wasn't earth-shattering...more than pedestrian, less than entertaining. The judges, sensing that Phil would be an easy dismissal for the voting public, gave him some forced praise (Simon even made a sour face while doling out a compliment.)

Jordin Sparks: Taking a dangerous gamble by singing McBride's own anthem "A Broken Wing," Sparks kept the movement restrained, focused on the vocal...and came up with pure gold. She showed off some serious control on her lower register in the beginning -- something that LaKisha, for instance, would have had serious trouble with -- and then opened up to some beautiful big notes in the chorus. Simon told her that he now believed she could win American Idol; I'm not ready to go that far, but I love that she is back to bringing her A-game.

Sanjaya Malakar: I hate this cocky sonofabitch. He stated slyly in the b-roll prior to his performance that he picked Bonnie Raitt's "Something To Talk About" because he's such a scintillating conversation piece. Clearly, Sanjaya has begun to believe his own hype. Why, then, won't he learn to friggin' sing? Raitt's song is so easy to skate through that every karaoke bar in the country hears it twice nightly; it's got a middle-register melody that requires no serious vocal dexterity. Translation: he picked an easy one, and still blew chunks. It doesn't matter, though...he'll get another pass from the idiots in middle America, I'm certain. Hey, this week everyone can sing along! And another thing: when the judges (thankfully!) called Sanjaya on the bullshit performance, Ryan Seacrest came rushing from backstage to his defense; if you ever doubted that the producers are artificially pumping the Sanjaya controversy, this should end your doubt. Bring back the crying little girl from a month ago! (Actually, she's the one who started this whole mess...)

LaKisha Jones: The contestant most unsuited to tonight's genre chosen to emulate another idol, singing "Jesus Take The Wheel" from season four winner Carrie Underwood. LaKisha avoided most of the song's countrified roots, choosing to belt the thing like Whitney Houston on a cocaine bender. Okay, maybe that's unfair...but the heavy-guitar arrangement didn't help, forcing her to shout the last eight bars of music. After weeks of less-than-stellar performances, I think LaKisha may officially be in danger. If not this week, then soon.

Chris Richardson: I'm as shocked as you are...on a night dedicated to country music, our little Timberlake clone actually did a pretty good job. He dropped most of his R&B affectations and exhibited a breath control that he hadn't previously been in evidence. I'll grant the judges that Chris didn't pay much attention to lyrical content, but it was more of an audience-pleaser than they realize...maybe it played better on television than it did in the studio. (Chris was also the first, and only, contestant to give a shout-out to the students of Virginia Tech. Was that a good move? Will audiences see it as respectful, or a craven attempt to get votes? My guess is that they'll give him the benefit of the doubt.)

Melinda Doolittle: Song choice is probably the defining element of American Idol, and Melinda knocked it out of the park this week -- the bluegrass stomper "Trouble Is A Woman" was a perfect match for her voice, finding that line between gospel churchin' and dancehall joint. She looked at ease, comfortable...the consummate entertainer. The judges were dutifully fawning...Simon even compared her to Tina Turner. If she'll do this every week, she'll cruise into the winners circle. No contest.

Blake Lewis: Blake's not the most accomplished balladeer, and Tim McGraw's sudsy "When Stars Go Blue" doesn't necessarily play to our blond beatboxer's strengths. But he faked his way through it...he looked very much like a boy-band singer from the late 90's, but considering the voting demographics, maybe that's not a bad thing. (Is it cool to like The Backstreet Boys again, as a camp relic of the decade?) Definitely, he'll get a pass on this one into next week, where he'll be on surer ground.

Best of Night: Melinda Doolittle
Bottom Three Prediction: LaKisha Jones, Sanjaya Malakar, and Phil Stacey
Getting Cut On Wednesday: Phil Stacey
Previously on ModFab: Simon Says, Women Who Wowed, When Goth Chicks Ruled The Universe, The Sanjaya Conundrum, You're A Heartbreaker, Bye Bye Barba!, Gender Blending, To Simon With Love, Not Feeling Hella Good, Mack The Knife, Haley The Slut, Livin' La Vida Loca

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