Now I remember why I didn't recap the "American Idol" semi-finals last year. Way too much chaff, not enough wheat. But since I sat through the whole damn thing and took notes, might as well go forward. Don't know if I'll have the same stamina tomorrow night. Song-by-song reviews after the jump...
Rudy Cardenas, "Free Ride": I like this song. It's one of my favorite tunes in "Dazed and Confused," it had a regular place in my workout mix back when I was still working out, and it has absolutely no business being performed on this show. It's not a singer's song at all, and Rudy tries desperately to dress it up as one with trills and "WOO!"s and bad dancing, and I'm not having it. Plus, he completely biffed the timing on the last line. Simon makes the first of what will be a running complaint about the dated nature of the songs, and he may want to have a chat with Nigel and Ken about that before '50s Week, you know?
Brandon Rogers, "Rock With You": Is it wrong that, 10 seconds into this song, I started conjuring memories of the "Hey Love Soul Classics" commercial in my head? (And if you're too young to appreciate the meaning of "No, my brother! You've got to get your own!," I pity you just a little, so go here, and thank Matt Hunter for finding the link.) I like the tone of Brandon's voice, but I actually felt this was too understated and safe even with the runs that Randy and Paula were complaining about.
Sundance Head, "Nights in White Satin": I was really impressed when I heard the song title, not so much with the performance of it. Fine technical singing, I suppose, but completely lifeless. Hey, at least he wasn't shouting.
Paul Kim, "Careless Whisper": You know the director was yelling at his cameramen to make sure one of them was trained on the stage floor for the "guilty feet ain't got no rhythm" line. Much like Ron Burgundy drinking milk in August, the falsetto was a bad choice. The fourth forgettable and/or bad performance in a row. They can't send everybody home, can they?
Chris Richardson, "I Don't Want to Be": I always love when Randy -- whose only alleged value as a judge is his knowledge of the music industry -- completely gets a fact wrong like thinking this was Edwin McCain. Very boy band and an average vocal, but at least he's the first guy of the night who knows how to work the stage, and he's the first to hold my interest. He'll be around a little while, I think.
Nick Pedro, "Now and Forever": You know why Simon was so much kinder to this one than Randy and Paula? Because one of the bands that's recorded this song is Westlife, one of Simon's earliest creations. Very pitchy, very boring. Next.
Blake Lewis, "Somewhere Only We Know": Because Randy has a pathological need for contestants to stay in their box -- or, in this case, in their beatbox -- he's already whining that Blake didn't do his very special thing here. Shut up, Randy. You're more useless than Paula. I'm not a big Keane fan, but like Simon I'm in favor of any picking a song that belongs in this century, and outside of some problems transitioning into and out of the falsetto, quite nice. I like Blake's personality, and he can sing as well as do his gimmick. Go him.
Sanjaya Malakar, "Knocks Me Off My Feet": You're really tempting fate giving Simon the kind of easy insult when you choose a song with "I don't want to bore you" in the chorus, and like everyone else, I was struggling to stay awake. Sweet kid, good tone to his voice, but I feel like I've seen him give this exact same performance 80,000 times already, and it's only week one of the semis.
Chris Sligh, "Typical": Going to the Mute Math well, eh? Well-played, sir. It plays to the fans who know you're a Christian rocker, and it plays to the people who like to be told who you are through on the nose lyrics (see Bo's version of "I Don't Want to Be" in season four), and, like Blake, it sounds like something you could actually hear on the radio right now. I don't know how much range Chris has, but if nothing else he works within his limitations like a more self-aware version of Taylor Hicks.
But then, then, then... we enter the gayest moment in the history of "American Idol," one so awkward and fraught with innuendo that I kept expecting Seacrest to pull a George Costanza, turn to Chris and say, "Do you hear the way he talks to me?" The bitchiness was so overwhelming that I'm not sure anyone even noticed Chris mildly talking back to Simon. To quote Simon, "You've made this very uncomfortable, Ryan." And so did you, Simon.
Jared Cotter, "Back to One": Helpful advice for all the future "Idol" contestants reading this blog (and I know there are oh so many of you): if you made it to the semi-finals with zero screentime, you can't afford to play it safe, especially not in the first week. The best part of this was the falsetto, but he didn't get to it until the very end of the 90-second arrangement, and the rest was utterly forgettable. Even though other people were quite a bit worse, I think he's going home, because people had no reason to vote for him before and he gave them no reason here.
A.J. Tabaldo, "All My Love": What does it say about the performance that, an hour later, the only thing I remember about it is the reaction shot of Paula dancing enthusiastically while Simon and Randy share the same appalled expression?
Phil Stacey, "I Could Not Ask For More": Struggles with the lower register at the start of the song, but he has good presence even while standing still and opens up nicely at the chorus. Best of the night, but that's damning with the faintest of praise.
Based on tonight, Phil, Blake and the two Chrises are the only ones I ever care about seeing again, and none of them screams winner to me. So, um, go women?
What did everybody else think?