Boy, am I glad I wrote my "Where's this season's 'American Idol' Moment?" column yesterday, because as far as I'm concerned, last night we got it in spades. Then again, I may be in the minority on this one, since most of the other "Idol" recaps I've read (including Fienberg and Kim Cosmopolitan) were lukewarm at best on the one I was wowed by. But we'll get back to that at the end (hint, hint). In order...
Elliot Yamin, "On Broadway": And here's Elliot in his comfort zone. As always, when you close your eyes, he sounds great, throwing in enough scatting, vibrato and melisma to impress the gimmick-happy judges, but also with that great pure tone. But I really only like him when I close my eyes, not because of anything about his physical appearance (at this point, he's at least as handsome as Taylor), but because he still has almost no stage presence. For all the talk that this is a singing competition, it really isn't. Presentation counts for a whole lot, and Elliot's weakness in that area is going to send him home soon, maybe even tonight.
Paris Bennett, "Kiss": The Songs From the Year You Were Born theme forces Paris to abandon her Great Ladies of Jazz persona, and she has fun with a little Prince (is she the Princess?), but there's not much to challenge her vocally. A little too far in the opposite direction from Elliot.
Chris Daughtry, "Renegade": Every time I hear this song now, my mind flashes back to that scene in the "Freaks and Geeks" pilot where Bill and Neal confront the bully. This was one of Chris' best efforts, combining the usual Nickelback intensity with enough sonic variation to keep it from being a snooze. But here's the thing with Chris: he's David Caruso. Caruso is always my quintessential example of a performer who does only one thing (in his case, that whisper-voiced intense glaring), but does it exceptionally well. For a while, the power of that one trick seems impressive, but after a while, it devolves into self-parody. Chris on that Fuel song was in "NYPD Blue" territory, but the more he repeats this one style of performance, the closer he edges towards "CSI: Miami." He's going to win, and he's one of the more talented finalists they've ever had, but I'm just bored with him. (And I'm going to repeat that criticism as long as he keeps repeating the same performance with slightly different lyrics.)
Katharine McPhee, "Against All Odds": Why, Katharine, why? I had just mentioned this song yesterday as being part of one of the worst "Idol" performances of all time (Corey Clark, season two), and no matter how many times some naive finalist picks it, it never works. (Hell, the best one to try was Scott freaking Savol.) While I liked the more intimate opening, the beat gets away from her, she duffs several notes completely and tries to compensate halfway through by turning it into a Celine Dion impression, complete with Quebecois accent. Plus, she's wearing, as she put it, a trash bag (bound with electrical tape to prevent another wardrobe malfunction). No good can come of any of this.
Taylor Hicks, "Play That Funky Music White Boy": I laughed and laughed and laughed through this entire performance -- and in a good way. This right here was quintessential Taylor Hicks: upbeat, silly, self-aware, and yet making room for the growly quality to his voice. This is the first time since "Living for the City" where he was able to move and still sing interestingly. After thinking he'd peaked in the semis, I started sounding like Randy and saying, "So check this out, check this out: Taylor's back!"
Elliot Yamin, "At Home": Some enterprising college senior should do a senior thesis examining whether there's a common lyrical thread to songs sung by "Idol" contestants on the night they get the boot. More often than not, they seem sadly prophetic, and Simon was right about this. Elliot sang this really well, but Michael Buble puts me to sleep, and so did this. (Marian, on the other hand, loves Buble and she was beaming throughout.)
Paris Bennett, "Be Without You": If the goal of the theme is to show what sort of album the winner might put out, this was a great showcase for Paris. While I thought her Beyonce cover had that whole dress-up quality to it, this was really very good. (On the other hand, I knew the Beyonce song and have never heard this one, so for all I know, Mary J. blows Paris out of the water.) On paper, Paris' versatility should make her much more popular than she is, but "Idol" voters tend to get confused by someone who doesn't look and sound the same every single week. If she doesn't get sent home tonight, I think this is about the best persona Paris could adopt for the rest of the season.
Chris Daughtry, "I Dare You": Much like Taylor's first choice, the title and the tune are way on the nose. And look, it's the Burger King flames again! Woo-hoo! I think we already know what kind of album Chris would want to put out, but this was much more monotonous than the Styx cover, and his voice sounded shredded by the end. Might Chris' presdestined win be ruined by a case of George Huff Syndrome? (For a few weeks there in the middle of the season three finals, George looked like he might have the stuff to outlast the Three Divas and Diana, but then he lost his voice and was sent packing.)
Katharine McPhee, "Black Horse and the Cherry Tree": I and others have compared Kat to Kelly, but after watching this, I'm thinking the more apt parallel is with Fantasia -- and not just because Kat delivered her best performance to date while lying/kneeling on the floor barefoot. Kat wants to be a belter, but she doesn't have the voice for it. She's best either when she's having fun with up-tempo numbers or more intimate torch songs that don't require an inner Whitney. This was very cool, interesting to both watch and listen to. (Out of curiosity, how faithful was it to the original? New York radio is so pathetic that pretty much the only music I hear anymore is either on my iPod or on this show.) Second best of the night, after...
Taylor Hicks, "Something": Yes, he cheated the theme, but everybody cheats themes in one way or the other (Chris in '50s week, Elliot singing the George Benson version of "On Broadway" to qualify tonight, even Fantasia on "Summertime," which was technically in a movie but is really a showtune). But this... this was... wow. I actually choked up during this. I know some of it is just my love of "Something," which is one of the greatest love songs ever written (even Frank Sinatra raved about it, and he hated those long-haired hippie freaks), but Taylor's performance really moved me. Unlike his "Levon" or "Living for the City," he didn't beam his way through a bittersweet song; both his face and his voice captured the emotion of it. Just superb.
If I were a conspiracy theorist (which, considering the number of times I trot out that phrase, maybe I am), my eyebrows would be raised by the fairly tepid praise for what was, in my opinion, far and away the best performance of these finals, and the best performance on this show since Bo did his a capella thing last season. Like, why bother letting him close the show with this amazing number and then let the judges spend most of their time marveling at his ability to sneak a Beatles song into the theme? Then again, as I've said, other people without a stake in who the winner is were also not crazy about the performance, but for me, this was the Moment.
Should go home: Huh? When you have five contestants this relatively talented left, it's hard to say. Katharine had the worst performance of the night, but she also had one of the best. Frankly, I'd like to see Chris go home, both because I'm tired of him and because I don't think he deserves to be saddled with the 19 Entertainment songwriting team. But I'd probably be disappointed whoever leaves.
Will go home: The safe money's on either Paris or Elliot, who have always had the thinnest margin of error. Paris was better and more memorable last night than Elliot, so... ah, after Pickler went home ahead of the usual schedule, I have no idea anymore.
In other news, I watched "Scrubs," which I'll get to later today, and I've seen both halves of the "House" two-parter, which are blending together in my mind so much that I think I'll save any comments for tomorrow. "Gilmore" will be watched tonight, and "Veronica Mars" was pre-empted locally, so I'll get to it at some point later in the week, either by Torrent, a mailing from the studio, or UPN's Sunday night airing.
Oh, and blog as column idea incubator, take 7482: "The Office" makes the leap.