Tuesday's American Idol featured Gwen Stefani as the special guest coach, and a focus on the "pop music she's performed and that inspired her." Gwen looked demure and gorgeous (as usual) and gave solid advice to the contestants, that some followed and some didn't. We didn't see any coaching on how to marry a 10 minutes ago rock poseur with a secret baby, annoyingly insert rap into a pop song that would be just fine without it, have four Japanese indentured servants follow you around to help kick start your clothing line or maintain perfect washboard abs. Perhaps that was edited out.
Lakisha started the night off with Donna Summer's "Last Dance." I'm a huge Donna Summer fan and remember the first time Sam brought her "Love to Love You Baby" record (remember those?) home and played it. Bettye asked why anyone would think that a 20 minute orgasm was a song. Nevertheless, we all became huge fans of the disco diva, and while the songs themselves are simple enough, you've gotta have serious pipes to pull them off and do the original justice. (This is one of the few times Gwen said something nonsensical in her intro package: that the music that inspired her didn't require "big voices" to perform. Sure, Robert Smith and Chrissy Hynde - and maybe even Sting - have unique and personality driven sounds, but Donna Summer? Was there a bigger voice in the 70s and 80s? I think not). Anyway, Lakisa performed it competently, but I wasn't that crazy about it. It was a safe choice for her (does she only perform songs by black females?) and did infuse her choice with a tad of (comparative) youth.
Chris S was up next, performing the Police's "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic." I love this song, but I can understand the difficulty in performing it. The Police were known for their punk/ska/reggae/pop infused sound, characterized by challenging, unconventional rhythms. Gwen warned Chris about keeping with the tempo, and he did not pull it off. His tempo was all over the place and this was a total mess. Kudos to him for realizing it and taking the criticism well.
Gina was the biggest surprise of the night. I've enjoyed her performances thus far in the final 12, and think the judges have been much harder on her than I would have been. But to get back in their good graces, she needed to raise her game and indeed she did with a stellar performance of the Pretender's "I'll Stand By You." Not one of my favorite songs, but Gina was technically proficient and emotionally connected to the song.
Sanjaya. By picking a song by the judge and going with the mohawk, has he simply realized he's the biggest crime perpetrated against the viewing public since the Pussycat Whores drew better ratings than Veronica Mars? Is he on the joke? He's simply awful. He. Must. Go.
It didn't get much better with Haley. The only positive things I can say about that performance: short skirt and high heels.
Phil did a poker-faced version of "Every Breath You Take," and was quite good. Best I've seen from him. Nothing over the top, but perhaps not transcendent enough to move him from the bottom to mid level of the pack where he seems to be stuck. But a sold version.
Melinda took on another tune from Donna Summer, "Heaven Knows." Melinda, as she has done all season, delivered an impeccable vocal. She simply has a great voice. I did question her choice of wearing a dress made out of The Ropers' living room drapes.
I think we're going to see a trend with Blake. Each week, after the first performance with the judge, Blake is going to hear "er, dude. What the fuck with the beat boxing? You need to tone that shit down." And then Blake will get onstage and do a less beatboxy, interesting twist on the original version of the song, and do it very well. I'm a huge fan of the Cure's "Love Song," and I wasn't enamored with Blake's down tempo version, but it was unique, well performed and should keep him, as Simon pointed out, at the front of the male pack.
Jordin, despite wearing a top cut from a Shakey's Pizza tablecloth, took a not too challenging No Doubt song ("Hey Baby") and delivered it with energy, confidence, powerful vocals and smiling enthusiasm. Great job.
Chris R performed my favorite No Doubt tune, "Don't Speak." I'm just not feeling the Chris R vibe. It sounded like a bitter, angry song performed by the Mickey Mouse Club, shallow in the connection to the material and a complete dishonor to the judge (who wisely warned him to stick to the song straight up).
Overall, helpful hints (not followed, at the peril of the contestants) from Gwen, decent song selection and some powerful performances from unexpected sources.
TNRLM's Top 3: Jordin, Gina, Melinda
TNRLM's Bottom 3: Sanjaya, Haley, Chris S