May 22, 2007

MUSIC: American Idol (the finals!)

It's the finals, boys and girls, and though Melinda's absence leaves me with a major sense of anticlimax, we will soldier on. It's a night of no glaring errors, but it isn't hard to choose a winner.

We get three songs from each finalist tonight -- one they've sung before, one they haven't, and the winner of the songwriting competition.

Blake opens with "You Give Love a Bad Name." Of his previous numbers, this is the right choice ("Time of the Season" was really his only alternative); it lets him show off the beatboxing -- his only distinctive quality -- in a context where it's not too obtrusive. He seems nervous, a little short of breath in spots, and it's causing a few mild pitch problems. He's also distracted by the larger theater and the huge audience, and keeps turning his head away from the mike while he's still singing so that we lose words. It's not as good as his first performance of the song, but he does a reasonably good job of it.

Jordin presents her new song, "Fighter." It seems clear that after the disaster of Bon Jovi night, she wants to prove that she can do something with a harder edge; the impulse is understandable, but it's not a wise move. The key to Jordin's appeal is her sweetness; this song completely undercuts that. It's not a bad performance, though she has breath control problems on some of the long phrases in the bridge. In fact, it's probably the closest she's come to a good rock-style performance. But the song doesn't really suit her, and on finals night, she'd have been smarter to choose a song that she could nail. Round one to Blake.

Blake chooses "She Will Be Loved" as his new song, and it's perfectly in his comfort zone, so much so that I keep thinking "Are you sure we haven't heard him sing this before?" His phrasing is off, and he's breathing in odd spots mid-sentence. After the relative crispness of his first number, we're back to the mushy enunciation he's prone to, and in the 85 times or so that he sings the word "loved," not once does it have a final "d." Simon sums it up perfectly, saying that it's a safe performance that doesn't make much of an impact.

Jordin chooses to return to "A Broken Wing;" having revisited "I Who Have Nothing" last week, it was her only choice. And she delivers a top-notch performance. It's not the spine-tingler that it was on country night, perhaps, but there are no major flaws, and the big notes at the end are stellar. Round two to Jordin, who takes a narrow lead for the night.

Among the stated goals of the new songwriting competition was to find an Official First Single (OFS) that was different from the schlocky ballads of the first five seasons. From the moment we hear the title, "This Is My Now," it's clear that this goal has not been met, and that the song is going to be closer to Jordin's style than it is to Blake's.

The producers have done as much as they can to even that imbalance, though, with an arrangement that pushes the song as far into Blake territory as it can go. The semi-obligatory gospel chorus is absent; the beat is closer to adult contemporary pop than to R&B.

And Blake does all he can with it; the opening verse is very nice indeed. But as he heads into the big chorus, he hits a few painfully off-key notes, and by the time we reach the bridge, he's bouncing about in a weird dance that doesn't suit the song at all; it's as if he's trying to physically force the song into his comfort zone, and it just won't go there.

(Let us pause for a moment to imagine what this song might have sounded like in the hands of Melinda Doolittle.


Jordin, not surprisingly, has much better luck with the song. Aside from one "ow!" off-pitch note in the verse, it's a solid performance, and she's communicating the emotional journey of the song far better than Blake did. She hasn't made the song her own in the way that, say, Fantasia did with "I Believe;" it still feels like she's doing a cover version of a song by someone more talented. But when the emotion of the night (combined with the overly spot-on "my moment in the sun" lyrics)
overwhelms her, and she breaks into tears at the end of the song -- well, that's the moment that she wins the competition.

It'll be a close vote, and a Blake victory wouldn't completely shock me, but the win should -- and I think will -- go to Jordin.

No comments: