Since "American Idol" has previous fit 10 performances into a single hour, Tuesday (March 25) night's two-hour Top 10 show, featuring the Music of Motown, promises to have ample banter, clip packages and dead air.
Let's separate the wheat from the "American Idol" chaff after the break...
Singer: MATT GIRAUD
Song: "Let's Get It On"
My Take: It isn't fair to discuss the hypothetical song preferences of the deceased. If Marvin Gaye isn't around to defend himself, let's not speculate on how much he'd love Matt Giraud, eh? Matt starts behind the piano, but he slides away from the ivories, awkwardly detaches his microphone and takes the stage sans instrument to try wooing with crowd. Wearing a tie and a button-down sweater, he looks like one of those white characters in a 1950s movie who, after being inspired by their wacky poetry teacher, meets their first African-American and soon finds himself drunk in a bar in Detroit singing soul. How does he sound? Fine. While Gaye made this song sound effortless, runs and all, Matt can't convince me that everything he's doing to embellish the song is worth it.
Leonardo, Michaelangelo, Donatello and Simon Say: Randy knows that there are some other frontrunners, but Matt's challenging them for the top spot. Kara nods and says that there were lots of women in the audience thinking they'd like to get it on with Matt. Paula liked Matt's "sexy, cool vibe" and raves about his "tasteful" riffing. Simon says the performance was cool and that this was the sort of song he should be singing and proclaims Matt one of the frontrunners in the competition.
Singer: KRIS "WHO?" ALLEN
Song: "How Sweet It Is"
My Take: After sitting alone on a stool to sing last week, Kris has brought his guitar back. Tonight's show appears to be about a reverse engineering process to strip the soul from the music of Motown. The arrangement for Kris makes the most of his adult contemporary stylings. This is a really proficient performance. Kris has an easy charm, delivers clean and clear vocals and plays his instrument gamely. It's a little bit bluesier than the James Taylor version, but blander than the original, which means that Kris has made it his own. It's weird that I can't praise Kris without insulting him, or sounding like I'm insulting him. I'm still not loving Kris, or even liking him all that consistently, but he's done enough to convince me that he's better than many of his fellow Top 10 competitors.
Leonardo, Michaelangelo, Donatello and Simon Say: You know what Kara loves about the performance? Kris did the song his own way, making his mark on the song. Paula's loving his comfort level and seeing him come into his own. Simon wants Kris to believe in himself, because he doesn't have the right swagger and confidence. Randy tells Kris that he "ain't doin' nothin' wrong," and he's "all good."
Singer: SCOTT MACINTYRE
Song: "You Can't Hurry Love"
My Take: Admit it. You thought Scott was going to do Stevie Wonder for sure, right? You're just judgmental. Get over it. And get over the fact that Scott just keeps on singing songs written for women. And get over the fact that Scott really isn't good enough vocally to be around anymore and that Matt Giraud has repeatedly showed him up on the piano. It doesn't matter anymore. His performance is monotonous and one-dimensional and he isn't immediately comfortable singing with the backing singers, who lean over the piano like they're trying to be the Rayettes. If the backing singers are going to be that close to the singer, there has to be some sort of interplay (again, see Ray and the Rayettes), but Scott is chilly and distant.
Leonardo, Michaelangelo, Donatello and Simon Say: Paula disagrees. She thinks the backing singers added new dimension to his performance, saying that when he feels it, the audience feels it, too. Because he's blind. Simon said Scott's piano playing was terrible, the backing singers were a mess and it was the wrong song. Randy agrees with Simon, calling a hotel type of performance. Kara liked the different tempo, but she didn't like the liberties Scott took with the melody. Since we have time to kill, a debate ensues about whether Scott should sing fast or slow. Simon keeps interrupting Paula, so she pulls out crayons and a coloring book. That felt really spontaneous. This is what happens when you have a two-hour episode with only three performances in the first 45 minutes.
Singer: MEGAN JOY
Song: "For Once in My Life"
My Take: I like Smokey Robinson's description of Megan as half-jazz/half-cabaret. I do wish, though, that the costumers would stop dressing her like she's some sort of curvy seven-year old. Did she steal her outfit and necklace from Wilma Flintstone tonight? And given her vocal persona, should she really be pacing around the stage? She's got a good enough voice that she should be bringing the audience in to her, rather than coming out to them. Megan has a problem, because the goofiness is beginning to detract from her musical capabilities. Shouldn't the "Idol" performance coaches be steering her in a less damaging direction? Last week, perhaps because she was too sick to do anything else, she performed within herself. She concentrated on the singing, on just getting the notes out. Tonight, she's concentrating on her heels, on her jaunt around the stage, on the camera, on the judges. Finding a melody and sticking to it is tertiary. The voters seem eager to eliminate women this season and this is the sort of performance that will certainly endanger her.
Leonardo, Michaelangelo, Donatello and Simon Say: You know Randy has mad love for Megan, right? He does. But the song was a trainwreck for Randy. The boos from the audience are half-hearted. Kara wants to sing, so she launches into a version of "My Guy" that she thinks Megan should have done. Megan's beauty takes Paula's breath away. The camera loves Megan, but Paula does not. "The good news is you look good... The bad news is, it was horrible," Simon says, urging her to fire whoever's advising her. He warns that she may be in serious trouble after tonight's performance.
Singer: ANOOP DESAI
Song: "Oooh, Baby Baby"
My Take: Smokey Robinson is a very different mentor from Randy Travis. Last week, Randy was skeptical of every single performance. Smokey's instantly in love with whatever the Idols bring to him. This is Week Two of Anoop's "Don't Tell Me I Can't Sing" campaign, a mission that has stripped America's Most Popular Folklore Grad Student of his sense of playfulness. Perhaps this is the night's first performance to stray too close to the original? Because all I'm doing is thinking of how beautiful Smokey Robinson's voice used to be and how the combination of Anoop and the backing vocals isn't quite on the level of Smokey and the Miracles. Anoop is better alone than with accompaniment, which is odd for a guy with Anoop's group-singing experience. He's good enough that I don't think he'll have to worry about going home, but maybe, having proven his point, some of the old Anoop can return next week?
Leonardo, Michaelangelo, Donatello and Simon Say: Kara applauds the ambition of the song, even if she has quibbles about certain individual notes. Paula likes Anoop's "sweet and tender" phrasing and delivery, though she wants more confidence. Simon liked the vocal, but wanted a bit more animation from Anoop, more showmanship. Randy's had it with the Serious Anoop, but he wants the energy back. Get the running theme? I hope Anoop does.
Singer: MICHAEL SARVER
Song: "Ain't Too Proud To Beg"
My Take: What an appropriate song choice for a guy who also wasn't too proud to use his daughter as a sympathy prop last week. This is the most worried Smokey has been about a performance, which makes sense if Mr. Robinson watched Michael escape elimination last week. The song is about a man with a certain desperation, which Michael interprets by smiling serenely for most of the performance, snapping his fingers with mock urgency. Michael's carbon copy cover of this track makes Anoop look like he was doing dramatic changes to his song. This feels like a drunk guy at a bar singing along to his favorite tune, complete with shouting (not singing) when he wants to be heard over the music. But hey, it's better than last week and viewers didn't send Michael home then.
Leonardo, Michaelangelo, Donatello and Simon Say: This was a tough performance for Paula, who calls it "Old Las Vegas lounge-y" and says he didn't dominate the song. Her voice is cracking as she tries to bring herself to criticize Michael. Simon couldn't wait for it to end. "You are taking part in this competition," Simon says, "You have no chance of winning it." Michael admits that he tried his hardest, but that he knew it was below par. Randy thinks the song was too big for Michael. Kara says that they're looking for an artist and that she isn't seeing any sign of interpretation from Michael. The singer strongly suggests that the judges just aren't getting who he is as an artist.
Singer: LIL ROUNDS
My Take: Should Lil Rounds really have taken on the full emotional weight of Motown on her shoulders? Or did that have to be the story that "Idol" wanted to present? I like her wig and her outfit. She looks the part of a Motown diva, but the performance is more shouting than singing. It's too fast for her and she keeps getting breathless. Whenever she runs out of air, she has no choice but to yell to get the rest out. You always know that she's singing in a way that no other woman this season can sing, but she isn't making the right choices to just showcase her pipes. This show isn't easy. If you have a voice like Lil's, you don't want to do three or four straight weeks of big R&B ballads, lest you get pigeon-holed and criticized, but you also can't do three straight weeks out of your comfort zone (as she has) and expect people to remember the pigeon-hole you're trying to escape from.
Leonardo, Michaelangelo, Donatello and Simon Say: Randy didn't like the song, accusing her of rushing through (this is what I meant by the breathlessness). Kara leads with "You look great," which is never a good sign. Kara says that this should have been Lil's week. Can we stop and wonder if Kara could have coded this race-based observation anymore? I mean, she didn't tell Michael Sarver that he should have nailed last week, as a Texas white boy. Paula disagrees with Randy and Kara, saying it was like she heard the song for the first time. Simon calls it an authentic tribute, but that he'd have chose a better song and that she missed her chance for a Moment. Lil is diplomatic and promises that she'll do some slowed down vocals next week.
Singer: ADAM LAMBERT
Song: "Tracks of My Tears"
My Take: Hair slicked back, natty light suit, under-played guyliner, accompanied only by an acoustic guitar and and a standing bass, this is Adam Lambert Unplugged. He singings most of the song in a pure and unwavering falsetto, which is rarely something I enjoy. But Adam gets away with it because his falsetto is tremendous. Like you get the feeling that Scott and Matt hear Adam in rehearsals and think that what he does is easy and they try adding upper register stuff of their own, with much less success. Smokey gives him a standing ovation and, indeed, this is the night's first fully defined performance. My caveat: The director knew that this was a great performance and he spent too much of the time in a "Check out his Emotions!" close-up on Adam. Had the director showed the same restraint as Adam and just let the song unfold in a simple two-shot, given it a little space and room to breath, it might have been the season's first performance for the books.
Leonardo, Michaelangelo, Donatello and Simon Say: Kara has six words for Adam: "One of the best performances of the night." Kara isn't so good with math. Or with planning out her criticisms. And she says it as if it's some sort of big deal. I thought she was going to say it was one of the best of the year. Or one of the best ever. But just one of the best tonight? Was there competition? Paula's excited by Adam. Simon clarifies Kara's comment, calling it the night's best performance and says Adam has emerged as a star. I don't know what Randy says, but he ends with "unbelievably hot, da bomb."
Singer: DANNY "THE REDEEMER" GOKEY
Song: "Get Ready"
My Take: Unlike Lil, Danny is playing the game correctly. We think he's all about the big inspirational anthems and he does a couple of those and we start getting bored. Then he goes up-tempo and he suddenly becomes likable again. I prefer Up-Tempo Danny to Anthem Danny, but I like that he's willing to play the two sides off each other. He's also the night's first contestant to seem absolutely at ease with the backing singers and not just because of his charmingly clumsy little dance move with them. Vocally there's nothing remarkable here and it's a little shout-y, but this isn't one of those instances were Danny's trying to impress us (like Adam just did). He's just aiming to entertain.
Leonardo, Michaelangelo, Donatello and Simon Say: Paula's happy. Simon, though, though it was "clumsy and amateurish." Randy loves Danny's energy and feeling. Kara thought it was good, not great. How is it possible that in a two-hour show, we're in a rush with 15 minutes left.
Singer: ALLISON IRAHETA
Song: "Papa Was a Rolling Stone"
My Take: It's an Allison Special. It seems to start too low. You start to worry she might fall over the edge. Then it gets big and she just lets loose. Her last few notes are impressive. Very impressive. Smokey's concern for Allison's ability to retain the lyrics had me listening extra carefully and I don't think she messed any of them up. I'm not sure, though, because her tendency is to bulldoze her way through the words as she picks up steam. My concern that Allison might fall flat if she got a tough theme hasn't come to pass, but I'd love to see if she can do a song that requires any finesse. She has a blunt instrument, but does she have the capacity for finesse?
Leonardo, Michaelangelo, Donatello and Simon Say: Randy dubs it "blazin' hot." Kara doesn't understand how Allison was in the Bottom Three last week, that she has a voice from God. Paula, sporting a crayon mustache, calls her awesome. Simon calls Allison a survivor and says that after a terrible week last week (not on the episode I watched, but OK), she had one of her best night tonight.
TONIGHT'S BEST: Adam was the standout, by a good distance. Allison, then Danny and then Matt and Kris probably followed.
TONIGHT'S WORST: Scott and Michael continue to hover at the bottom, though Megan was right there with them.
IN DANGER: I can imagine that group of the night's worst being the Bottom Three. Sarver should be done. Again. But his conversation with his daughter may keep him around. Honestly, at the rate we're losing women this season, I'd expect Megan to be done.
Agree? Disagree? What'd you think of Motown Night?