May 15, 2007

MUSIC: American Idol (choice night)

It just doesn't feel like a final three without Clive Davis lending his Cryptkeeper-ish presence to the event, but it's still a solid night, and each singer's strengths and weaknesses are clearly displayed.

The rundown, taking each singer's performances as a whole:

Jordin, "Wishing on a Star"/"She Works Hard for the Money"/"I Who Have Nothing" -- Jordin has tended to lean on the big ballads and love songs, and with "Wishing on a Star," Simon sets out to see whether she can groove. The results are inconclusive, as the arrangement allows Jordin to deliver a fairly smooth, laid-back vocal while the band does all of the serious funk work. The producers give her another chance with "Works Hard," and Jordin steps up, sort of. It doesn't have quite enough oomph, and Jordin can't pull off the tough-girl attitude the song needs. For her own choice, Jordin returns to her best performance of the competition, "I Who Have Nothing." This isn't quite as good as her first performance of the song, but she nails the melodrama, the big notes at the end are marvelous, and it's her best performance of the night.

Blake, "Roxanne"/"This Love"/"When I Get You Alone" -- Simon is correct to note, I think, that it's virtually impossible to sing "Roxanne" without it sounding like a bad Sting impression, and Blake can't avoid that trap. He does well enough with the angular melody and the odd rhythms, and should be grateful to Paula for choosing a song that forces him to simply sing. He's plagued, though (as he has been throughout the competition, and will be all night), by the mushiness of his singing; notes and words are blurred together, and the excessive echo on the mike doesn't help any. By the time we get to "This Love," even the individual notes are goopy slurs; listen to how long it takes him to get through the "ch" in "choice," for instance. (And for the love of god, stop with the beatboxing, already; it's neither interesting nor novel.) I confess that I can't adequately judge the performance of "When I Get You Alone;" I was so stunned by the fact that someone thought it wise to build a pop song around a disposable novelty like "A Fifth of Beethoven" that I couldn't really focus on the actual singing. But perhaps that's Blake in a nutshell: The song is always more compelling and attention-grabbing than the singing.

Melinda, "I Believe in You and Me"/"Nutbush City Limits"/"I'm a Woman" -- Randy's choice of "I Believe" gives Melinda a chance to show off her control. The opening is quiet without being just empty breath; there's a solid core to the sound, even in her lowest register and at low volume. The bridge builds gradually; she's not just suddenly shouting, as so often happens with Idol divas. (Hi, LaKisha!) "Nutbush City Limits" isn't much of a song -- the melody is limited, and what there is of it just repeats over and over -- but it's a sharper contrast to her first song than either of the other singers has had, allowing her to show off her stylistic range. The song is all about personality, and while Melinda may not quite be the force of nature that is Tina Turner, she gives the song everything she has and makes it work. Like Jordin, Melinda returns to one of her best moments with "I'm a Woman." (Not her very best moment, though; that was "My Funny Valentine.") The enunciation is a bit sloppy in spots, especially at the beginning, but it's stylish and funny, and it adds to her demonstration of versatility. When Melinda, the former backup singer, acknowledges and interacts with her own backup singers at the end, it's like a declaration that after a season of shyness and "who, me?," she's finally ready to claim the spotlight as her own.

For the night (and for each round): Melinda, Jordin, Blake.

For the season: Melinda, Jordin, Blake. The gaps separating #1 from #2, and #2 from #3, are clear and wide.

Should go home: Blake.

Will go home: Blake, setting up the best Idol final since Ruben/Clay.

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