May 17, 2005

TV: American Idol -- "choice" night

The weekly recap: There's a fourth judge on hand for the first time this season, as Clive Davis, whose record company will be stuck with the winner, joins in the critiquing. The theme tonight is "choice," and for Round 1, Clive has chosen the songs.

Vonzell, "I'll Never Love This Way Again" -- two weeks ago, I had Vonzell leading the pack, but she's been off since then. She seems very insecure on the verse, and her pitch is wobbly. The chorus improves, but it's still not great. Things get a bit better after the key change, when she gets to belt -- lord, these Idol girls love to belt -- but it's not a great performance.

Bo, "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me" -- there are some quieter moments in this one than we usually get from Bo, and they are very lovely moments indeed. This is a superb performance, and the song suits him far better than I'd have expected.

Carrie, "Crying" -- the song is so condensed that Carrie doesn't get to make the slow transition into the upper register that we're used to hearing, and her sudden jump up is a bit jarring. Carrie seems a little stiff, perhaps, but the notes are solid, and she does nicely with the song.

Round 2: The contestants get to choose their own songs.

Vonzell, "Chain of Fools" -- because it wouldn't be a season of American Idol if a black woman didn't sing "Chain of Fools." Vonzell gets to show off her power, and it's an entirely adequate performance, but there's something lacking; Clive says the "soulful essence" of the song is missing, and that seems as good a summation of the problem as anything.

Bo, "Without a Dream" -- sung unaccompanied, a gutsy move. The song isn't much to speak of, a collection of bluesy/gospely cliches, but Bo's performance is almost flawless. Most impressive.

Carrie, "Making Love Out of Nothing At All" -- again, the transition from low register to high has to be awkwardly rushed. I wasn't excited by the song choice, but the song turns out to fit Carrie's style surprisingly well. It's her best moment of the night, and the big money note at the end is very nice indeed.

For the third and final round, each of the judges has picked a song for one of the singers.

Vonzell, "On the Radio" (chosen by Simon) -- the slow intro is pretty, and there's a lovely break in Vonzell's voice that I hadn't heard before. This is her best of the night, but it hasn't been a good night for her; she's seemed distant and distracted throughout.

Bo, "Satisfaction" (chosen by Paula) -- let's face it, there's not much to this song. The melody is repetitious and confined to a narrow range; the lyrics are nothing special. The reason we love the original is that Mick Jagger gives one of the great iconic personality performances in rock history. Bo sings the song very well, with a nice moment or two of smirky attitude, but he ain't no Mick Jagger.

Carrie, "Man! I Feel Like a Woman" (chosen by Randy) -- the problem here is that this song needs to sit right on the edge of trampy sleaze, and Carrie just doesn't have that in her. I flashed back to her Elvis number from a few weeks back, when she was trying to convince us that she was "evil;" nope, not gonna happen. The notes are solid, and she's enjoying herself, but the song is all wrong for her.

For the night: Bo in a landslide, followed by Carrie, with Vonzell a distant third.

For the season: Overall, it's a tossup. They've all had fine moments; they've all had disasters. Anyone of them will make a perfectly competent album; none of them will have anything like the kind of success that Kelly Clarkson or Clay Aiken has had.

Most deserving to go home: Vonzell, who doesn't seem to have withstood the pressure of the final rounds as well as the other two.

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