The theme for Tuesday (March 31) night's episode of "American Idol" is Popular Downloads on iTunes, which means absolutely nothing.
I guess it's always nice to plug for your sponsors, though. But why not "Songs to Sing While Cruising in your Ford"? Or "Songs that Would Make a Great AT&T Ringtone"? Or "Songs as Refreshing as a Cool Coca-Cola"?
Find out what the night's theme meant to the "American Idol" Top Nine after the break...
Singer: ANOOP DESAI
Song: "Caught Up"
My Take: Tired of two straight weeks of being praised by the judges for his voice, Anoop turns his attentions to an Usher song that mostly lets him hide (literally for a while) behind four backing singers and a loud, aggressive arrangement. The same stage mannerisms he brought to "My Prerogative" and "Beat It." He has a very set idea of what "defiance" looks like on stage and how you perform it, so from the clenched jaw to the his stance to his outstretched arm, it's repetitive. If he's having any fun with this performance, I'm not seeing it.
Michigan State, Villanova, North Carolina and Simon Say: Check it out, baby. You know what's interesting for Randy? Anoop picked up his swagger, even though Randy didn't think it was a very good choice of songs. Kara wanted to see more riffs and crazy stuff, suggesting that a group of frat boys may have dared him to sing Usher. Paula wanted to see more of Anoop's stage presence, urging him to take more liberties. Simon thought it was "a complete and utter mess." "You came over as a wannabe," Simon says. We're only 10 minutes into the episode and Simon has a headache. Anoop disagrees with the judges' criticisms, grinning with the sort of smugness I wouldn't necessarily have recommended.
Singer: MEGAN JOY
Song: "Turn Your Lights Down Low"
My Take: Megan says this is a song that she actually likes, taking the Lauryn Hill version of this Bob Marley standard. Dressed down, in jeans and turquoise top and bedecked in countless chains and ropes, she looks pleasantly casual and low-key. I like it. She doesn't try to dance. She doesn't try to perform. She isn't playing the fool tonight, she's just doing an interpretation of a song. It had become uncomfortable to watch her for at least two of the past three weeks. Tonight it's just dull. The arrangement of the song is so limited that it doesn't require any vocal range and Megan's normal attempts at nuance don't add much, though I can hear her trying.
Michigan State, Villanova, North Carolina and Simon Say: Kara likes Megan, but she thinks she's in trouble. She has a list of songs Megan should have sung instead. She gets booed and catcalled into silence. Paula wants to be surprised at this point in the competition and she doesn't think Megan surprised her tonight. She has a long suggestion that's 95% what Megan did. What she was missing, was a chair. Simon fears Megan's becoming indulgent and boring. Randy comes it to watching paint dry. "You can love a song, but that doesn't mean you're gonna sing it great," Randy says. Megan disagrees with the judges. I'm detecting a trend already tonight.
Singer: DANNY "THE REDEEMER" GOKEY
Song: "What Hurts the Most"
My Take: Before performing, Danny makes excuses for last week's performance. Following after Anoop and Megan's lip, I'm feeling like we're getting a lot of back-talk and self-justification. Anoop and Megan chose stupid songs. Danny didn't pick a song that I especially like, but he did choose a song that requires a bit of range and lets him do some things. The higher notes sound sharp and nasally, but his overall tone is solid and radio-friendly and as good as the violinist is, I'm listening to Danny.
Michigan State, Villanova, North Carolina and Simon Say: The audience is appreciative. Danny left Paula wanting more. Simon calls it Danny's best performance of the whole thing. "It was like two snails competing with a racehorse," Simon says, comparing Danny to the people who came before. Randy feels like the show starts here. Randy, does, however, urge Danny to keep it moving. Kara was moved emotionally and implies that everybody else was similarly moved. She had goosebumps.
Singer: ALLISON IRAHETA
Song: "Don't Speak"
My Take: I have no problems with Allison choosing this No Doubt track, but why was this the right song for her to bring out her guitar? She doesn't play all that much, but it's just distraction from the dead, spray-painted pink poodle on her head. You'll be surprised to hear that Allison's a bit unsteady on the verses, which start off too low for her, but when she gets to start her wailing on the chorus, it becomes much more dynamic. It's the exact same performance she's given every single week now. How many other singers have been criticized this season (and in seasons past) for being repetitive? It doesn't matter if you're good, if you're good in the same way regardless of theme or song choice. Allison's become predictable and I'm a week or two away from getting really bored with her.
Michigan State, Villanova, North Carolina and Simon Say: Randy tells Allison that she has a voice. He hedges for a while on her performance before asking what's with her outfit. "The rock in you comes out of you no matter what you're wearing," Kara advises her, calling it good, but not Allison's best. Paula says Allison's vocal prowess rivals singers twice her age. Is that relevant? How about three times her age? Can she compete with the 48-year-olds? "Tonight's theme is Halloween," Simon says. Who let in tonight's audience? They're really obnoxious. Simon also adds that Allison shouted the song. That's close to what I wanted.
Singer: SCOTT MACINTYRE
Song: "Just The Way You Are"
My Take: On his current tour, The Piano Man has been fighting accusations that his voice is shot. So maybe Scott thought the time was right to take on Mr. Joel. After all, Scott's voice is pretty thin at its best. His phrasing is dreadful, as he keeps pushing out glory notes at the expense of both melody and the song's natural rhythms. Scott has been very proud of his arrangements this season and is arrangement of this song seems to have been to make it a showcase for shouting and noodling. It's lethargic and searching. Credit to Scott, though, for just hitting the stage with his piano, without additional accompaniment. This is the first time we've really been able to hear him playing the piano.
Michigan State, Villanova, North Carolina and Simon Say: Kara thinks Scott made some smart decisions. She calls it moving and honest and raves about Scott's new look. Paula says that of all of the singers on the stage, she's most proud of Scott, then she says it has nothing to do with his challenge. Really? What, then? Simon calls it Scott's best performance by a country mile. Really? Randy calls it "one of the best of the night." Apparently I'm incorrect and I need to learn to love the tuneless mess.
Singer: MATT GIRAUD
Song: "You Found Me"
My Take: The last time Matt went current, his Coldplay cover got him temporarily booted from the competition. The Fray isn't a much better fit. He's growling and yelling when he ought to be singing. It's odd, because Matt has a gravelly voice, but he doesn't have a gruff voice. There's a difference and when he tries the latter, he really falls on his face. Also, why is he sitting at a keyboard smack in the middle of the mosh pit? Why was that a good staging decision. He looks cramped and uncomfortable.
Michigan State, Villanova, North Carolina and Simon Say: Paula missed the riffing (again) and she compares it to his Coldplay performance. The audience boos. "You should be happy, Matt, because we don't like you this week," Simon says, adding, "This was just uncomfortable." Randy wanted something Justin Timberlake or One Republic instead. Kara wants Matt to commit to either the rock side of pop or the R&B side of pop. She tells him he doesn't deserve to go home. This confuses me. Kara natters on and on about wanting the singers to be contemporary. Well, every time Matt has tried to be contemporary, he's stunk. Why doesn't he deserve to go home, then?
Singer: LIL ROUNDS
Song: "I Surrender"
My Take: Lil is sick of being told to sing more ambitious diva songs. She attacks Celine Dion with something to prove. Perhaps because of the deafening arrangement, there's a lot of shouting going on. But what are you going to say? The judges wanted big and complained about it for three weeks and darned if Lil didn't do what they wanted. Guess what, though... This isn't what she should be singing either. Poor Lil. She can't win.
Michigan State, Villanova, North Carolina and Simon Say: "For me for you, this would not have been my song choice," Randy says, though he says she sang it well. Kara wanted Mariah or Mary, but she still saw signs that Lil can blow. Paula wants more joy and less adult contemporary. Simon says this was Lil singing to stay in the competition. He actually calls the song "too soft." Lil's kids, in the audience, don't come to their mom's defense, though her middle daughter gives Randy a big hug. It's a very cute moment and Lil is in tears.
Singer: ADAM LAMBERT
Song: "Play That Funky Music"
My Take: Wow. This is a song choice, alright. I mean, every song available on iTunes and you're picking Wild Cherry? It takes a certain sort of mind to think that way. That's why I like Adam. He thought this was a good idea, so he did it. Of course, it's a ridiculous idea and if you tuned into "Idol" for the first time, you'd have no idea of what to make of Adam. And you've be right to being baffled. He's the first person tonight to entertain me. This is a problem with this season's "Idol" crop. Too many mediocre singers aiming for safety and boredom. Adam looks like a brilliant mad scientist compared to them. Every week, you wonder what he's going to do next. Is there anybody else this season whose choices and performances are even vaguely worth looking forward to?
Michigan State, Villanova, North Carolina and Simon Say: Paula compares Adam to Mick Jagger and Steven Tyler. Simon calls it brave and praises him for clearing out the karaoke nonsense. Adam was in the Star Zone for Randy. Adam gives props to the band. Kara says it was like Studio 57. I'm not instantly sure what Studio 57 is. I know Studio 54. I know Area 51. I know Heinz 57. So Adam's performance was like a mix of Studio 54, Area 51 and Heinz 57? You know what, Kara? You're brilliant.
Singer: KRIS "WHO?" ALLEN
Song: "Ain't No Sunshine"
My Take: I'm not kidding. When they said that Adam was performing eighth, I stopped and thought, "Wait. Who does that mean they gave the pimp slot to?" I scratched my head for two or three minutes and couldn't remember that Kris was the only person who hasn't sung yet. Kris thinks he's on the verge of One Of Those Moments. Other than a few fun synth-pop vamps and the string accompaniment, it isn't the revolutionary reinterpretation of the song Kris seems to be hinting at. It sounds a lot like the original to me, but that doesn't mean that he doesn't do it well. Kris has never boasted about his piano skills or trying showing off, but tonight he blew highly vaunted Piano Men Scott and Matt out of the water at their own game.
Michigan State, Villanova, North Carolina and Simon Say: Randy cals it creative and cool and says he's in the zone. Kara says she has three words, "That is artistry." At least she got the right number of words this time. Paula calls it his best performance to date and Simon agrees.
TONIGHT'S BEST: Adam, followed by Kris, probably. Danny's a step back.
TONIGHT'S WORST: The judges disagreed with me, but I didn't hear anybody tonight worse than Scott. Matt was probably the second worst of the evening with Megan third.
IN DANGER: Smart money says Matt's close shave last week saves him this week. I think Anoop, Scott and Megan are the bottom three tomorrow. I've predicted several weeks of eliminations for Megan, but maybe this'll be the one.
Agree? Disagree? Who'd you love tonight? Me, I've got a fantasy baseball draft to do...