Wise men say only fools rush in to judge "American Idol," and I am nothing if not a fool. So curl up your lips and swivel your hips and let's get to Elvis Night.
Taylor Hicks, "Jailhouse Rock": Simon had it half right. It was an Elvis impersonation, but a pretty good one. Stick Taylor in a white spangled jumpsuit, and he'd be good to go. Not much to say: unless there's a Doobie Brothers Night or Joe Cocker Night, Taylor will never have a theme more in his wheelhouse than this. Actually, it may have been a little too in his wheelhouse, as he had no reason to stretch past the gimmicks that have taken him this far.
Chris Daughtry, "Suspicious Minds": Like Chris, this is my favorite Elvis song, and my old classmate Pete Yorn does a kick-ass live version of it. When I heard him in rehearsal, Chris sounded great, and my hopes were high, but the show performance didn't live up to it. He has a great instrument, and when you pair it with a song like this, it's hard to go wrong, but this could have been spectacular, and it was just... a solid Elvis cover. Part of it is also a personality thing, which was more obvious on his second number, but you don't want to be hiding your eyes behind sunglasses on a song this nakedly emotional.
Elliot Yamin, "I Can Dream": Usually, when you get one of those rehearsal packages that focuses on flubbed lyrics, they get flubbed in the live show, but Elliot clearly did his homework. The vocals had more vibratto than I like to hear in my Elvis, but Elliot's pipes are golden for the King's more gospel-y numbers. One of the night's two best performances.
Katharine McPhee, "Hound Dog" / "All Shook Up" medley: Hey, it's Katharine McPhee's rear end! The camera is practically chasing this hound dog's tail for most of the number. The lyric flub in the middle was about the worst I've ever heard on this show -- for a minute, the performance turned into that old "SNL" commercial for the album where the singers only know some of the words -- but other than that, I enjoyed it more than Taylor's opener. (Paula, champion of mediocrity that she is, actually praises Kat for turning her back on the audience during that fiasco. And she actually seems sober when she says it.) In general, I prefer Kat on up-tempo stuff like this than the ballads, but her pre-programmed daughter of a stage mom side came out more here than it usually does. (Oddly enough, the clip from the dress rehearsal was of her singing the exact passage she muffed here.)
Taylor Hicks, "In the Ghetto": As soon as this theme was announced, I think the entire audience could have pegged "Jailhouse Rock" (or "Hound Dog") and this as Taylor's choices. As one of Elvis' cheesiest songs, this could have been horrid, but Taylor sold the emotion of it; I actually felt bad for that mama who doesn't need another hungry mouth to feed. At the same time, I don't think the vocals were nearly as spectacular as the judges made them out to be. For some reason, I spent most of the performance imagining hypothetical versions by Joe Cocker and Michael McDonald, and both sounded more interesting in my head than what Taylor was doing. Like Chris on "Suspicious Minds," he hit the mark and not a lot more.
Chris Daughtry, "A Little Less Conversation": Would it kill Chris to pretend he was enjoying himself, even for half a second? This is one of the sillier, bouncier songs in the Presley catalog, and he just seemed bored throughout. Both the vocals and the moves were just Chris going through the motions, and this was his worst performance since that Creed number, if not in all the finals. This kind of number is why, for all of Chris' obvious talent, I have no interest in what he'll record after his inevitable coronation.
Elliot Yamin, "Trouble": And here's the other best vocal of the night -- although it's another one by Elliot where you really need to close your eyes to appreciate it. Elliot is not trouble, let alone evil; he's a nice, sweaty Jewish boy who cries a lot. But, damn, can he sing. With Chris and Taylor both coasting more than they probably should at this stage, dare I even suggest he has a chance to win?
Katharine McPhee, "Can't Help Falling in Love": And here Simon was right on the money, though I might have gone for an "everything but the kitchen sink" metaphor. This is one of the prettiest, most well-known ballads of all time. It doesn't need nearly the amount of garnish Katharine tried to spread on it, especially since she doesn't really have the lungs for the kind of belting she wants to do here. (Midway through the song she starts singing through her nose and sounding like a Celine impersonator again.) Meh. After "Black Horse and the Cherry Tree," I had hoped Katharine had finally figured out what worked for her and what didn't, but this wasn't it. Not as bad as, say, her "Against All Odds," but not remotely playing to her strengths, and not what I would have guessed as the show closer.
Should go home: Kat. And she knew it.
Will go home: Taylor's bulletproof on a night like this, and Elliot was so clearly better than the other three that he should be safe. Nothing would surprise me at this stage, but I'm thinking a Kat/Chris bottom two, with the McPheever finally getting a cure.