Idol began country night in subdued fashion, mentioning the horrific tragedy at Virginia Tech. Later, a clearly shaken up Simon Cowell also mentions the senseless incident on behalf of the judges. It's always odd when real life intersects with such a fluffy show, and disturbing that such comparatively trivial topics like Sanjaya and Don Imus take up more of the nation's consciousness. But, we're here to discuss the fluff that is Idol, so on with the show.
First, it dawns on me that we're going to be deprived of Haley's legs for this hour, and a sadness sets in. Then, it dawns on me that we're going to be deprived of Haley's singing for this hour, and the sadness starts to vanish. Besides, Pac-Man Jones is probably "making it rain" for her somewhere, so we can't feel that bad.
We get to meet the grace and talent that is Martina McBride. Say what you will about Idol, but this year they've done a wonderful job selecting guest mentors. Not only is Martina an indisputable country superstar with one of the best voices of her generation, she's sweet as pie and ultimately offers very sound, very constructive advice. Plus? She's gorgeous. She has absolutely the most beautiful eyes. Her overall advice to the gang of 7 goes to the heart of country music: tell the story. More than any music form, country music is almost always about telling the story and selling it with conviction. Some of our contestants will fare better than others with this advice.
Phil bats lead off, performing "Where the Blacktop Ends," by Keith Urban. I haven't heard this song before, but I wonder if it's something he's written recently, that might touch on attending AA meetings and complaining that his wife's face doesn't move anymore. Or having to explain to his stepkids why their daddy believes in evil aliens named Xenu and likes to jump on Oprah's couch. Sadly, it addresses none of these subjects. Martina tells Phil he can be "stiff" to begin with, but hits the power notes at the end. Good observation, Martina. And here we go again. Phil does (for me) a great job with the song, injecting personality and life into it (hard to do when you closely resemble a ghoul) and I'm duly impressed. But then again, the last few weeks I've been rooting Phil on because (IMO) he's delivered great vocals and been slammed by the judges and voters. But everyone finally agrees with me, and Phil gets some love.
Jordin is up next, and makes the bold move to sing one of Martina's songs, "Broken Wing." Martina tells her to plant herself, be "still" and deliver the emotion of the song. Jordin follows that advice and knocks one out of the park. A beautiful, controlled performance that slowly builds and even moves Simon to say that she could win the whole thing. Is there any genre that Jordin can't do? Great, great moment for her.
Next, our national nightmare, Sanjaya, performs "Something to Talk About." After a couple of weeks of elevating his game out of horrific to passably mediocre, Sanjaya hits a new low, even for him. Martina told him to sing stronger and project, but Sanjaya will have none of it. He whispers and gasps his way through the song, and his "charms" as they are, fall flat. With a huge thud. This could quite possibly be the worst top 12 performance ever.
Lakisha is up to sing Carrie Underwood's "Jesus Take the Wheel." Hey, y'all, did you know that Lakisha is a single mom with a kid? Ever heard that? Really? I am so sick of listening to this drivel and obvious plea for sympathy it predisposes me to dislike what she's going to belt out. Fortunately, I don't have to let my dislike for her reproductive obsessions cloud my judgment, as she screams and butchers the song. And just a thought: if you really did let go of the wheel and let Jesus take it, odds are you'd wind up like Dale Earnhardt Senior. Just sayin'.
Chris does Rascal Flatts "Mayberry," and on one hand, it's a good choice because Rascal Flatts' lead singer in unbelievably nasal and whiny. But Chris brings the septum sound to a new low (high?). Again, here's one where I seem to find myself on an island, like with Phil, and disagree with popular sentiment. I can't stand Chris. For this, he sounds like Disney's "High School Musical" in Hazzard County. Awful. To make matters worse, he sasses Simon telling him that "nasal is a form of singing." Ugh. He gives a shout out to Virginia Tech, which on the surface seems like an inappropriate cry for sympathy, but I'll give him the benefit of the doubt since he's from the area. But his singing? No benefit of the doubt there. He's terrible.
Melinda is up next, doing a song I've never heard called "Trouble is a Woman." Based on the title alone, I think I'm going to like this. Not much to say here, other than Melinda does her usual spectacular job. She was fun, connected to the song, hit all the notes (like usual) and even looked good. Whatever she did with her hair effectively disguised her lack of neck. (every week, I always think about the crowd participation from The Rocky Horror Picture Show, where the audience shouts "Where's your fucking neck?") Simon chides her about the whole "false modesty" bit, but that's quibbling when she can consistently deliver such skillful vocals.
Closing out the show is Blake, going with "When the Stars Go Blue." Thankfully, there is NO FUCKING BEATBOXING IN COUNTRY MUSIC. Blake can still appear distant and emotionally disconnected from the material, but for a genre completely out of his wheelhouse, he puts forth a sincere and controlled vocal, and effectively uses his falsetto where the song calls for it. Very, very solid performance.
The Idols obviously did more with country than they did with Santana/Estefan (er, "Latin" night), though both nights featured sweet, charming, helpful (and smoking hot) mentors.
TNRLMs Top 3: Phil, Jordin, Melinda
TNRLMs Bottom 3: Sanjaya, Lakisha, Chris
I know there's a whole "cult of bad" surrounding Sanjaya, so it wouldn't be surprising to see him skate yet again, even after delivering one of the most horrific performances ever. Still, it won't terribly upset me if Lakisha (and her kid) or Chris pack their bags.