April 17, 2007

MUSIC: American Idol (country / Martina McBride)

There are always one or two surprises on country night -- front-runners tripped up by music that's not as simple as it looks, back-of-the-pack types who turn out to be country boys and girls at heart -- and while the best and worst of the night are about as we've expect, there are some unexpected turns in the middle of the pack.

The rundown:

Phil, "Where the Blacktop Ends" -- Phil gets off to a good start, which as Paula correctly notes, is a novelty for him. He sounds relaxed and comfortable, and even looks less creepy and stalker-y than usual. I can't say it's a particularly memorable performance, but there's nothing glaringly wrong with it, and it's a big step up from Phil's usual work.

Jordin, "A Broken Wing" -- this is something special. Jordin has taken to heart everything Martina McBride has been saying about country music. It's a performance of great simplicity and purity; she's telling a story, and every emotion is crystal-clear. I think this is the best performance we've seen since the finals began.

Sanjaya, "Something to Talk About" -- He tried his hardest. It wasn't very good.

LaKisha, "Jesus, Take the Wheel" -- I believe this is the first time an Idol contestant has sung a hit song by a previous Idol contestant. Unfortunately, it's not much of a song; it's a pickup truck and a dying puppy away from being everything that people hate about country music. And it's not a song that suits LaKisha very well, either; the judges are correct to note that there are so many country songs that are full-on gospel shouts and would have been right in her comfort zone. But here, she's shouting uncomfortably at then end, and she's still not communicating an ounce of emotion through those cold, dead eyes.

Chris, "Mayberry" -- the reediness in Chris's voice is not exactly alien to country, and could have worked really well here. But the pitch problems that he seemed to have under control in recent weeks are back, and they make his voice sound even whinier than usual. He knows, I think, that it didn't go well, and tries desperately to suck up to the audience with a rather ill-advised Virginia Tech reference.

(As tacky a moment as it was, Simon's eye-rolling response looked even worse, and clearly the producers knew it, as Simon would later trot out an awkward "we judges feel bad too" speech.)

Melinda, "Trouble Is a Woman" -- this song is only eight years old, which makes it the newest song Melinda has sung on Idol by roughly twenty years. And as usual, she's a joy to watch. She doesn't have a country singer's voice, but the song is close enough to the blues that she can make it work for her, and she gets the inflections of country right -- the bends, the slides, the scoops -- without them sounding like foreign affectations.

Blake, "When the Stars Go Blue" -- a smart song choice, really, as this is Tim McGraw at his poppiest. But Blake is not in good form tonight. His pitch is off, especially in falsetto, and the transitions in and out of falsetto are not graceful at all. Of all of tonight's singers, Blake is probably the one to whom country music is most unfamiliar, and he's not able to adapt his style to suit; this sounds like a bad rehash of every Blake performance to date.

For the night: Jordin, Melinda, Phil, LaKisha, Blake, Chris, Sanjaya.

For the season: Melinda, Jordin, Blake, LaKisha, Chris, Phil, Sanjaya.

Should go home: Always and forever, Sanjaya.

Will go home: I think we might actually get rid of Sanjaya this week; if not, it'll be Chris.

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