April 03, 2007

MUSIC: American Idol (Tony Bennett / standards)

What did we learn tonight, boys and girls? We learned that while our little wannnabes may have the interpretive chops to handle the lyric complexity of "Hey Baby," they are utterly at sea when given songs where the words actually, y'know, mean something. You had to feel for poor Tony Bennett, trying desperately (and failing miserably) to get his pupils to pay attention to the lyrics.

The rundown:

Blake, "Mack the Knife" -- Blake's pitch gets progressively worse as the song goes on, but that's not really the problem. Blake's not singing about a gangster, he's singing about his pal, "good ol' Mack the Knife." We should be nervous to hear that Mackie is back at the end of the song, with images of switchblades dancing in our heads; Blake's Mack is so mild-mannered that I'm seeing picnic baskets and frisbees.

Phil, "Night and Day" -- the arrangement is too damned slow, and utterly lacking in rhythmic energy and forward propulsion. The song is about obsessive love, and it needs a momentum that feels uncontrollable.

Melinda, "I Got Rhythm" -- I am a little nervous during the slow intro; surely she isn't going to plod through the whole song like this? But then the drums kick in, and Melinda is back on track. Here's what really amazes me about her: It's like we're listening to a different singer every week, and they're all brilliant. She gives us an astonishing variety of tone and style from week to week. I'm also very happy to see her looking a bit less timid and shocked than usual when receiving the judges' praise.

Chris, "Don't Get Around Much Anymore" -- this is an awfully tricky melody, and Chris does a little wandering in the desert at the beginning. But by the bridge, he's much improved, and the last verse and coda are quite good. There's a little more power in his voice than usual, and a lot less whining. Most important, he actually seems to have thought about the words and to understand the mood of the song.

Jordin, "On a Clear Day" -- I don't think this was the best song choice, and the arrangement feels like something from The Carol Burnett Show, circa 1971. It's an oddly bouncy interpretation, too; there's a subtle difference between optimism and joy, and Jordin's approach to the song leans too much to the latter, I think. As always, though, Jordin's got a lovely voice, and there are no serious technical flaws.

Gina, "Smile" -- two strong performances in a row from Gina; I'll have to stop being surprised by her. Her tone is lovely, she's solidly in control of pitch and dynamics, and she's totally connected to the emotion of the song.

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

Haley, "Ain't Misbehavin'" -- Tony's pre-song comments hint at what's to come, but it's still a shock. Between the dress and the prancing about, this is the sluttiest "Ain't Misbehavin'" on record. The singing is good enough -- a bit too musical theater, still, and a few off notes -- but she's completly missed the point of the song. It's not impossible to conceive of a mildly flirty version that works, but Haley's crossed the line from flirt to hooker.

LaKisha, "Stormy Weather" -- the LaKishaBot hits all the notes, and the big loud ones at the end are impressive, but she's making some very odd vowel sounds along the way, and the big drop on "weather" at the very beginning isn't pretty. She's the coldest stage presence of the night; other singers may have been communicating the wrong message, but at least they were communicating something.

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

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

Should go home: Sanjaya, of course. Will go home: Phil, whose last-minute "I was thinking of my wife" audience suckup will not quite be enough to save him.

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