Okay, blah, blah, blah, charity. Yes, the corporate monolith that is American Idol is either A. raising awareness and money for very good causes, or B. cynically wrapping themselves in a noble pursuit and extorting money from their sponsors to give the show and cultural phenomon a patina of relevance and selflessness. You decide. I know there are problems in the world. I also know there's a fast forward button on my Tivo, so we'll be skipping right past the heartstring tugging vignettes and moving right on to the performances.
When I first heard we were going do hear "life anthems" or "songs of inspiration," my head immediately began to hurt, as I thought we would be subjected to treacly nonsense about "hope" and "dreams." There was some of that, but mercifully, the song choices (and oddly, performances) weren't that bad, and consistently showcased some talent. I don't know if it's because the anchor that was Sanjaya is gone from the show, but all the vocalists came to play tonight. Some, more successfully than others. (And didn't Ryan mention Bono as a mentor in the opening? Was he supposed to help the singers deliver these life anthems? Or perhaps he was just going to give a tutorial on how to live like a rock start while criticizing the government?) Anyway, on with the show.
Chris started us off with Eric Clapton's "You Can Change the World." Definitely one of my least favorite Clapton songs, but certainly less maudlin than "Tears in Heaven." And I don't think this was the "nasally" Eric was talking about in one of his better songs, "Cocaine." But I'm surprised that Mr. Proboscis Vocal doesn't completely butcher the song, and I find myself tapping my foot along with his uptempo rendition. Definitely the most I've enjoyed a Chris song.
Melinda followed with another of her "master classes" on a Faith Hill number, "There Will Come a Day." What can we say at this point? She's clearly the best overall vocalist on the show (followed closely by a surging Jordin) and is more comfortable performing and taking deserved praise. She even looks better and should skate clearly to the finals. The only complaint I have with this version is that it begged to have a gospel spin on it, and of all people, I thought Mindy Doo would go that way. I felt a little like I was in church, but not in a good way, as in the James Brown as preacher scene in The Blues Brothers. Still, fantastic job from Melinda (again).
Blake thankfully left the beatboxing backstage again to tackle John Lennon's "Imagine." Now, don't get me wrong. I love, love, love the Beatles and much of Lennon's solo output. He's one of the best songwriters of all time (with his parnter, now known for being the gold-digging target of a legless dancer), and his vocals are often clear and sublime. But though "Imagine" is a hopeful song with a clear, simple medoly, it's a bit, well, simple. And superciliously saccharine, if you really think about it. Blake gives a poker faced performance, and leaves all his "isms" behind. The best thing about the vocal is that he (finally) projects sincerity, which Paula pointed out. (And is it just me, or is Paula bewilderingly lucid and observant this year?). Decent, but just not enough game raising to matter much or stand out from the rest of the performers tonight.
Lakisha comes out and screeches, belts and yells her way through Fantasia's "I Believe." Didn't she learn last week when slaughtering a former Idol? It's a typical Lakisha performance. She scowls. She screams. She hits big notes. She completely eschews all subtlety. Simon tells the audience "will you just shut up?" when trying to offer a critique, but he could have just as well been talking to Lakisha.
Phil takes last week's reprieve from the gallows to heart, and tackles a country song, Garth Brooks' "The Change." On one hand, it's a confident and personal vocal and much more in his wheelhouse, but oddly, he doesn't give it the "twang" it needs. He's okay, but I've liked him much better in previous weeks.
Jordin closes out the show with a showstopping "You'll Never Walk Alone." It's an old Rogers and Hammerstein tune, I think, and lyrically a bit simple and obvious. But Jordin's vocals and sincerity delivering the tune were simply outstanding. The only critique I could give was with her breathing technique, as we heard several "inhales" over the mic that sounded like me smoking while working the elliptical machine. Still, Jordin has proven herself the most versatile and appealing of the contestants, if a close second only to Melinda in vocal prowess. She's great, and, barring some huge mistake, should track to the finals with Melinda.
From here on out, I'll go to a "top 2 and bottom 2" for my evaluations, since there are only 6 performers left.
TNRLM's Top 2: Melinda, Jordin
TNRLM's Bottom 2: Blake, Lakisha
Tomorrow, the ridiculously bloated one hour results show expands to TWO FUCKING HOURS so various celebs can perform and make us all feel special that we have chicken nuggets, air conditioning and satellite TV. I'll liberally use the "skip" button on the Tivo, but still try to find a gold lining in that no matter how ham-handed and shamelessly self serving this "Idol Gives Back" pap is, there will actually be millions of dollars going to folks who may need it. And at the end of the day, that isn't so bad, is it?