Tuesday (March 17) night's "American Idol" finds the Top 11 singing songs performed by members of The Grand Ole Opry, a needless and barely clarified variation on what could otherwise just be called "Country Night."
Alas, we'll never know what Jorge Nunez and Jasmine Murray would have done under the tutelage of Randy Travis, nor will we know what anybody would do under the tutelage of Macho Man Randy Savage (guest mentor, I'm assuming, for "Songs of WrestleMania Night").
Whatever happens, it's sure to be Simon Cowell's favorite night of the season...
Full recap of Grand Ole Opry Night after the break...
Singer: MICHAEL SARVER
Song: "Ain't Goin' Down Til the Sun Comes Up"
My Take: Michael thinks this Garth Brooks track is a risk, even though it's an "American Idol" standby, previously covered by the likes of Joshua "The Marine" Gracin and Latoya London. He makes such a big deal about all of the lyrics, but he's so mumbly the words hardly matter. Does he get them all? I have no idea. Is he even sticking to the melody of the song? Not really. I'm too busy enjoying the harmonic player, who upstages Michael every step of the way. Can we invite Harmonica Man into the Top 10 and send Michael home? By the end, it isn't just Harmonica Man upstaging Michael. He's being drowned out by the band and outsung by the backup singers.
Lucy, Ricky, Fred and Simon Say: Check it out. You know what? It was a cool song choice for Randy, but he isn't sure it brought anything out of his vocals. Kara liked seeing Michael's personality, but she missed the big notes. She's impressed he remembers the words. Michael says that the notes were less important to him than having fun. Paula stammers something about fun, but no sentences come up. Apparently the words don't matter to her either. Simon couldn't understand a single word. "You could have been singing in Norwegian," he says. After Simon ends his criticisms, Michael snaps back, "If we were all perfect, we wouldn't need this show." Is that actually true? Either way, you didn't give me any reason to want to keep you around on this show, Michael.
Singer: ALLISON IRAHETA
Song: "Blame It On Your Heart"
My Take: Did they say this was a Linda Loveless song? Who knew the "Deep Throat" star had it in her? Alas, Heart has not been invited to the Grand Ole Opry, so this is going to bring out a different side of Allison. Or at least it's going to bring out a slightly different side. Allison doesn't have that much variation to her tone, but at least the effort is laudable. She's having a bit of fun and bringing a bit of twang to the song, though there's still more shouting than melodic nuance.
Lucy, Ricky, Fred and Simon Say: Kara thinks Allison could sing the alphabet and make it sound good. Since the alphabet is available as a song, is that such an achievement? I know that Kara's just trying to avoid the "singing the phone book" cliche, but this is as nonsensical as "You could sing 'Somewhere Over the Rainbow' and make it sound good." Paula calls it "rock solid," but urges her to show a little vulnerability in the future, just for fun. Simon thought it was a little bit tuneless in parts, and "verging on precocious." Randy didn't think it was precocious at all, since he doesn't know what "precocious" means. He thinks it was "dope."
Singer: KRIS "WHO?" ALLEN
Song: "To Make You Feel My Love"
My Take: Although he rehearsed with his guitar, Kris is all alone on a stool tonight. He isn't the most exciting of performers and his puppy dog sincerity shows minimal variation, especially on a song this treacly, but this is the first time we've heard a radio-ready tone to his voice. While acknowledging that this is Kris' best vocal of the season, to my mind, this was a pretty safe song choice and he could have taken more advantage of this week's theme. I wish we were dipping a bit further back into the potential country catalogue, but that's a genre preference of my own.
Lucy, Ricky, Fred and Simon Say: Paula's pleasantly surprised, calling it "honest, pure and vulnerable," though she acknowledges pitchy parts. Simon thought it was terrific and that Kris was completely in control of the song. You know what was cool for Randy? Kris went out on a limb. Randy loved the vulnerability and tenderness. It wasn't country for Kara, it was just beautiful.
Singer: LIL ROUNDS
Song: "Independence Day"
My Take: It's another "American Idol" standby and another song from the recent catalogue. Lil Round said she was going to respect the song and, indeed, she does. She delivers the lyrics clearly and with meaning and when the song gets big at the chorus, she does honor to the melody without any gratuitous runs or mannerisms. It's a simple and pure performance. Looking at the last three weeks, Lil has actually showed an unexpected amount of versatility. I'd wonder, though, if the judges want versatility out of her or if they just want her to be this season's Capital-D Diva.
Lucy, Ricky, Fred and Simon Say: Randy didn't think it was comfortable for her. It was just aight for him. Randy would have preferred if she'd chosen a country song that had already been R&B-ized. That answers my question. Randy wants Lil to do Whitney songs so that when she does Whitney songs, he can complain that nobody should do Whitney songs. Kara wanted more power, but gives her props for doing what she wanted to do. Paula thinks everything's coming up Lil tonight, but she has constructive criticism about the arrangement. Simon, calling her "Little," says it came over like she had been forced to sing the song.
Singer: ADAM LAMBERT
Song: "Ring of Fire"
My Take: If I'd picked any Grand Ole Opry song for Adam, it probably would have been "Ring of Fire." If I'd picked any arrangement of "Ring of Fire" for Adam, I'm not sure it would have been this version, which goes goes down Depeche Mode meets Ravi Shankar meets alienated arty Radiohead. It's bizarre and hilarious and goofy and it's the first performance of the night to deliver anything distinctive and individual-specific. If you hate it, I'm not going to begrudge you your opinion, but it made me perversely happy. There's a certain "Screw all y'all" bravado to the performance that I might compare to Blake Lewis' Bon Jovi week rendition of "You Give Love a Bad Name."
Lucy, Ricky, Fred and Simon Say: Kara is confused and she's rendered utterly useless. She can't get out anything better than "strange, but I liked it." Paula babbles for a while, mentioning "Kashmir"-Era Led Zeppelin. Simon gives a "Sorry, but I would never got to Nashville if I were you, because I think there are a lot of people throwing their televisions out the window," calling it "indulgent rubbish" and "horrific." Randy says it was like young and fresh and hot, comparing it to Nine Inch Nails doing a country song.
Singer: SCOTT MACINTYRE
Song: "Wild Angels"
My Take: Another bland, adult contemporary performance from Scott. He's one of those singers who can't hit notes properly immediately and has to pull everything into pitch. This song starts lower and is more in his comfortable range, but when it picks up tempo, it also rises higher and his voice gets thinner and thinner and thinner. Like Kris and Michael, Scott is already beginning to become monotonous. Unlike Kris, he doesn't have the voice to get away with the every-week sameness.
Lucy, Ricky, Fred and Simon Say: It was another lovely performance for Paula, who respects that he works harder than most singers. She warns him that the piano may become a crutch for him. Simon thinks Paula's criticism is stupid and that there's nothing wrong Scott sitting behind a piano if he wants to. Simon, though, wants him to choose better songs, though Scott says that he's lost a couple hat-picks. Do we figure the other contenders are lying to him and telling him he's picking a lower number? Randy wants more of the "hot, crazy, unbelievable vocals" from Scott. Kara also wants Scott to up his game. This is a hoot. It took exactly three weeks for the judges to get bored with Scott and realize that they pushed him through for reasons that had nothing to do with his skills. Randy, Scott never possessed "hot, crazy, unbelievable vocals," so it probably isn't fair to complain when they're missing. Just celebrate his heroism and noble spirit and be done with it.
Singer: ALEXIS GRACE
My Take: "Jolene" is perhaps my favorite Dolly Parton song, though I don't know for sure what my second and third favorite Dolly songs are. America's Nanny didn't do it justice last season and Alexis doesn't quite nail it tonight. Alexis feels the song more than Brooke did last season and conveys more of its yearning and pain, but it isn't quite there. There's an ineffective upper register bridge and several points where she yells the notes more than singing them. Alexis has the pipes, but there's something wrong with her technique that I can't quite put a finger on. Is it her breathing? Is it her phrasing?
Lucy, Ricky, Fred and Simon Say: There were a bunch of pitch problems for Randy and he didn't like the bluesy stabs. Alexis has lost her edge for Kara, who wanted something less flat (performance-wise, not pitch-wise). Paula found it more effective than the first two judges, but I couldn't tell you why, exactly. Simon thought it was "a little bit soundalike," but he wanted more originality.
Singer: DANNY "THE REDEEMER" GOKEY
Song: "Jesus Take the Wheel"
My Take: Danny went up-tempo last week, so he's back to quasi-spiritual mode this week. He's tremendously dull in the verses, slurring and mumbling until he gets to the chorus. The chorus, though, is in his wheelhouse, allowing him to overcome the normal deficiencies of genre-swapped songs on this show. I could have done without the bright white lights on top of Danny's bright white jacket. We get that he's this season's Heaven-approved "American Idol" contestant, but bathing him in a divine glow is just gratuitous.
Lucy, Ricky, Fred and Simon Say: Kara didn't like the front half either, but she says when he finds his groove, it's a connection unlike any other. Paula, at her least coherent this season, thinks Danny was brilliant straight through, that Carrie Underwood would go out and buy the record. Simon's only problem is with Danny's attire. Randy agrees that the verses needed to be supported a bit better.
Singer: ANOOP DESAI
Song: "You're Always On My Mind"
My Take: Sigh. The judges made it clear to Anoop next week that they no longer want him to be fun. I disagree, but there's nothing wrong with Anoop stripping the showmanship down and just spending a week singing. And, indeed, he does that. This isn't "It's My Prerogative, Gonna Do What I Wanna Do" Anoop. It's "Last Week They Told Me I Didn't Deserve To Be Here And I'm Not Ready To Go Back to Grad School" Anoop. It's a defensive maneuver rather than an offensive maneuver, but at least he succeeds.
Lucy, Ricky, Fred and Simon Say: Anoop is back for Paula, saying it fit him like a glove after last week the glove didn't fit him. He touched her heart. "You've just managed to go from zero to hero," Simon declares. Gee, Simon did you come up with that yourself? Simon's happy that Anoop took their advice from last week and bent over backwards for the judges. Randy liked the arrangement and the performance. Kara says the song is nearly untouchable, but Anoop touched it in a special place. Wait. That sounds bad. It was good touching, not bad touching.
Singer: MEGAN JOY
Song: "I Go Walking After Midnight"
My Take: Last week, Megan went pure goofball. This week, she's right on the verge of burlesque and not just because the containment of her bosom is architecturally interesting, to say the least. But burlesque isn't a bad thing for Megan. Last week she was too broad and too open, playing to much for a cheering crowd. She's never going to be a singer who will do well in stadiums, but if you put her in a club or even a darkened theatre, performances like this would draw in a certain audience. Some of the twists on the melody don't sound exactly right and the high and low extremes sound rough, but she did make the song her own.
Lucy, Ricky, Fred and Simon Say: Randy thought it was going to be a trainwreck, but he was impressed and that it worked. It's all perfect for Kara, who praises Megan for fighting through the flu. Ah. That explains a lot. Megan just stands there coughing away, looking on the verge of passing out, which some cynics will call a plea for sympathy. Paula urges her to just keep being sick. Simon tells her she should have the flu every week and that she looks gorgeous. Ryan brings Megan tissues and diagnoses her with Influenza B.
Singer: MATT GIRAUD
Song: "So Small"
My Take: I said this last week, but I keep repeating it: When Matt plays the piano, he's strong enough to musically drive the arrangement, while Scott invariable gets drowned out. The boy's got piano moves and nobody's going to tell him to ditch the piano for a while, because it helps him, rather than just propping him up. In fact, I continue to like him more as a pianist than a vocalist. Matt's got the gruff thing and the rough falsetto thing, but not much else. He's better tonight than last week and he absolutely redefines the Carrie Underwood song.
Lucy, Ricky, Fred and Simon Say: "There ain't nothing small about you," Kara leers. If Paula said that about a male contestant, we'd call in the authority. Paula doesn't praise Matt's girth, but she does say he pierced her heart. Simon says Matt deserves more credit for his vocals and says that Matt outsang Danny tonight. For Randy, it was his favorite performance of the night. You know what's interesting? Matt's got it going on.
TONIGHT'S BEST: I'm never a fan of Country Night, especially if it devolves into one Carrie Underwood and Garth Brooks song after another. On simple vocals, Anoop may have been tops. On performance ridiculousness, Adam's unbeatable. I was OK with Lil and Matt and Megan and Danny.
TONIGHT'S WORST: Michael was the worst and least memorable performer of the night. Nobody else was even close, though I have no praise for Scott. Most everybody else was in a forgettable middle ground.
IN DANGER: Michael will be in the Bottom Three and I don't see why he wouldn't get sent home. The other bottom slots might be interesting. Will Allison be there because of how early she went in the show? Will Lil get penalized for not doing a bigger song? Will Adam have turned off some of his fans? Will Kris' blandness impact his vote total? My Bottom Three guess? Michael, Kris and Lil.
Who stood out for you? Who's in danger tomorrow? Who's going home?
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