I was at the United Nations for most of this evening to attend the special "Battlestar Galactica" panel (to be blogged about tomorrow), and when I got home I raced through tonight's "American Idol," skipping over most of the judges' comments and other fluff and primarily just watching the songs. Song-by-song breakdown coming up just as soon as I catch the flu...
Michael Sarver, "Ain't Goin' Down ('Til the Sun Comes Up)": This theme should be right in the roughneck's wheelhouse, and if this is the best he can do on the theme, he should start packing his bags. This was karaoke Garth Brooks at best. Props for not running out of breath on some of the longer lines (which is more than could be said for the very next performance), but completely unmemorable.
Allison Iraheta, "Blame It On Your Heart": Okay, so she's not going to make everything sound like a Heart song. Presentation-wise, she was as cutesy and pageant-y as Randy Travis feared it would be. Close your eyes, and it mostly sounds good, other than the aforementioned breath control problems, but the overall performance was a turn-off.
Kris Allen, "To Make You Feel My Love": I want to commend him for doing a very simple, straightforward arrangement and a performance unadorned with runs and glory notes and all the other junk that gets Randy all excited. And this is the first time Kris has sounded like someone who could have a song on the radio. But it wouldn't be this particular song, which was fairly dull. I'd rather see this level of restraint applied to a tune good enough to need no garnish.
Lil Rounds, "Independence Day": I feel like we hear this one at least once or twice per season, and Lil's is one of the better renditions to date. She (mostly) reins in her tendency to shout, and she does it pretty straight. Not a stand-out -- which can be a problem on an episode this long, when you go this early -- but solid.
Adam Lambert, "Ring of Fire": Like David Cook last year and Blake Lewis the year before, Adam seems determined to bend the theme each week to his own skill set. Unlike those two guys, he can be really annoying when he does it. I don't object to the arrangement itself -- it's no more a reinvention of the song than, say, Johnny Cash's version of Nine Inch Nails' "Hurt" -- than the random, self-indulgent belting and wailing at the end. It's clear that Adam has one of the better instruments of the season -- not to mention stage presence to spare -- but I have yet to really like anything he's done with that instrument.
Scott MacIntyre, "Wild Angels": He's still picking bland songs -- though you'll note he makes reference to losing some "hat picks," which suggests the list of possible songs isn't as huge as the show sometimes wants us to believe -- and still struggling to hit the notes, but at least the judges are starting to lose patience with him. He's just not very good, and being graded on a curve because he's blind (when that's in no way an impediment to singing) is insulting to him and to the audience.
Alexis Grace, "Jolene": This started out wonderfully and then sputtered to the finish line. Unlike smiling Brooke White on last year's Country Night, Alexis gets the plaintive tone, and I love her phrasing, but when the song started to go high as it went along, it sounded pretty rough. Alexis is still one of my favorites, but she's been better.
Danny Gokey, "Jesus Take the Wheel": I really dislike this song, and Danny gives the kind of Archuleta 2.0 performance I feared from him after the semi-finals: sober, inspirational and snooze-worthy. The verses in particular had none of the gruff quality that made last week's "PYT" so great, and even though the growl returned on the chorus, the tune seemed a poor match for his voice.
Anoop Desai, "You're Always On My Mind": Apparently, the producers and judges have recognized that they've piled on Anoop too much the last few weeks with the comments and the number of times he's had to wait to be picked last, so he not only gets an apology of sorts from Simon, but the sort of split-screen production that the show usually saves for its favorite contestants. The vocal itself is very strong and soulful and totally worthy of the inevitable "Anoop is back!" woofing from the judges, and my only concern is that the last two weeks may have scared him out of having fun on stage. And what I want from the Anoop Dogg is fun, not above-average balladeering.
Megan Joy, "I Go Walking After Midnight": The snippet we hear her perform for Randy Travis sounds wonderful: sexy and yet goofy, with that Zooey Deschanel quality Megan has to her voice. What she does in the live show is more along the lines of her nervous semi-finals performances, possibly owing to the bad flu she's obviously suffering, and of course her movements are as spastic and amusing as ever. She desperately, desperately needs someone to coach up her stage presence, and hopefully she'll be around long enough to find that someone.
Matt Giraud, "So Small": In the interest of full disclosure, I should say that I randomly drew Matt in our office "Idol" pool, and in this economy I have a vested interest in him somehow making it to first or second place. I think he has too much of an uphill climb to get past obvious favorites Danny, Adam, Alexis and Lil, but this confident Carrie Underwood cover is a step in the right direction. Go Matt! Alan needs a new pair of shoes! Literally!
Best of the night: No one was transcendent, but there were a number of very strong performances. I'd probably go with Anoop, even though I don't want him doing this kind of song every week.
In danger: Now that the obvious cannon fodder is gone, it's time to start applying some of the traditional "Idol" formulas for failure, and on a night when no one was brilliant and no one was godawful, I suspect those who went early could be in more trouble, most likely Michael. Hopefully, either he or Scott are going home Wednesday night, but I don't have a strong feeling about the boot.
What did everybody else think?