Spoilers for tonight's "American Idol" coming up just as soon as I keep my wife a secret to avoid alienating the 'tween demographic...
Before we get into the song-by-song breakdown, a few general thoughts:
1. This was an incredibly long show. I'm not sure I've ever felt more exhausted by the end of a two-hour "Idol" episode, even though I started watching 45 minutes in so I'd be able to fast-forward through commercials and some of the judge blather. Thirteen performances is just too many, and after a while I feel like I lost the ability to tell who was good and who was bad, who might be in danger and who might not be, etc.
2. Simon's just telling the truth right and left this year. First we got the comment in the wildcard show about the importance of casting the season, and tonight he warned Scott, "It's okay being artistic -- just not on this show." I love the lack of pretense, but I'm also kinda scared that it may be because Simon is feeling drunk with power due to...
3. I'm really nervous about the apparent twist coming up tomorrow night. Seacrest called it "A surprise change to the rules that could alter the face of the competition," and said it "kind of changed the entire theme and concept of the show." And Simon said, "It involves us." I have to assume that they're going to borrow the "So You Think You Can Dance" / "Rock Star" format where the public's vote determines who's in the bottom, and then the judges decide who actually goes home.
I like how that worked on "Rock Star," and I don't watch "SYTYCD," but if that's what they're doing, I think it's a big mistake. You don't fundamentally alter the way the show works eight seasons in. You just don't. I don't care if it means a Jennifer Hudson or Chris Daughtry or whomever goes home "early" -- you've been telling people for seven years that they get the final say, and you don't get to change that now. It opens the show up to even more charges of being fixed than before, it'll make people feel less invested in voting (which is bad news for AT&T) and maybe in watching, and it's just not something they should be doing.
And, of course, if it turns out to be Seacrest overhyping something -- which he's never, ever, never asked to do on this show -- then I'll be more than happy to retract all that tomorrow night.
Now then, on to the performances, in order:
Lil Rounds, "The Way You Make Me Feel": One of a bunch of performances on the night that felt competent but not a whole lot more. Lil knows how to work the stage (albeit not as well as some of the people who followed her), but this didn't give her much of a chance to show what she can do vocally, and with the chaff from her semi-finals group cut away, her professionalism doesn't stand out as much.
Scott MacIntyre, "Keep the Faith": I think I am going to get real tired, real fast, of some of the judges (*cough*Kara*cough*) not even discussing his singing and instead talking about what an inspiration he is. Grading Scott on a curve because he's blind is patronizing and it's irritating, and if Scott didn't want to win the show as badly as everybody does, I'd like to think he'd be annoyed by it, too. I thought he was all over the map vocally, and the falsetto didn't sound good at all.
Danny Gokey, "PYT": Brilliant song choice. Brilliant. It's like he was reading all the press clippings from folks like me suggesting he was going to be David Archuleta 2.0 and decided to show a completely different side to his personality. Uptempo, growly, in total command of the crowd on the call-and-response, and just a lot of fun. He could use some work on his dancing (if Anoop sticks around, maybe he can help him), but that was pretty flippin' great. This is not a guy who's going to give the same boring performance week after week like Young David.
Michael Sarver, "You Are Not Alone": Another one to file in the good-but-dull category. Michael has a fine voice, and he sang it well, but I can barely remember any of it a couple of hours later.
Jasmine Murray, "I'll Be There": The most predictable song choice of the whole night. Of course our wannabe diva was gonna pick the one Mariah covered. She continues her Christina Aguilera impression, and that froggy quality is the only thing making it less forgettable than Sarver.
Kris Allen, "Remember the Time": As implied by the spoiler warning, I'm with Simon on that clip package being the kiss of death for Kris. I thought he started off fine doing the John Mayer-meets-Timberlake take on the song, but he went off the rails after a while. This is the only performance of the night where I was tempted to take off my headphones to make the hurting stop.
Allison Iraheta, "Give Into Me": I said after she sang Heart in the semis that it's hard to grade her, since the Wilson sisters have been so kind to past contestants. After hearing her turn "Give Into Me" into a Heart soundalike song -- albeit a good one -- I still have no idea how to grade her. Is she going to do this every week? Allison has the pipes to bend the themes to this particular style if she wants, but I'd like to hear some variation soon.
Anoop Desai, "Beat It": Dammit. I like Anoop so much, and want to see him stick around because I think he adds an element of fun to the show that few of the other finalists are capable of bringing. But if I'm not grading him on a curve (and I really can't after what I wrote about Scott), then that was every bit the karaoke bar take on Michael the judges said it was. No edge, not challenging himself vocally, and if he wasn't so comfortable working the audience, it would have been a complete disaster. As it is, I'm hoping personality saves him; like Simon, I'd rather have personality than a good-but-boring singer, like, for example...
Jorge Nunez, "Never Can Say Goodbye": I have nothing to say about this one. See Sarver, Michael.
Megan Joy, "Rockin' Robin": Where I reluctantly have to agree with the judges on Anoop, I think they're nuts on this one. (And that's not even factoring in Simon's pathological hatred of songs about birds.) I love the sound of Megan's voice. It has a unique character and clarity to it that took an incredibly generic song that ordinarily would have been dismissed as too simplistic for a group-sing, and she gave it personality and energy. And to make sure I wasn't distracted by the dress, or the dancing (which didn't seem quite as spazzy this week), I listened to it again with my eyes closed. There are better technical singers this season, but she and Gokey and maybe Alexis are the only ones so far where I'd be interested in buying a record.
Adam Lambert, "Black or White": As Dan Fienberg put it, Adam is gonna kill it on Guns 'N Roses night, because that was a seriously late '80s hair metal take on Jacko. I agree that very few contestants in the show's history work that stage as well as he did tonight, and he's definitely got a lot of range and ability. I'm just not sure I like what he does with it.
Matt Giraud, "Human Nature": He went to the falsetto pretty early and stayed there, but unlike Scott or Kris (or past ear-assaulters like Ace Young), his falsetto sounds pretty good. I don't know if he has anything other than the Robin Thicke impression, but this was decent.
Alexis Grace, "Dirty Diana": By this point, the exhaustion hit, and I'm having a hard time mentally separating her performance from Allison and Megan, in that it combined elements of both (the rocker thing from Allison, and the quirkier vibe of Megan). I think it was good, but two hours in, I throw up my hands a little.
Best of the night: He went early and may have been forgotten, but I really dug Gokey.
In danger: Hard to say, especially since two people are going home tomorrow night. Anoop and Megan took the worst beatings from the judges, but that may wind up mobilizing their fans, assuming said fans exist (they were both wildcards). But in a show this long, and with so many performances hovering around mediocre -- which is always the most dangerous place to be on "Idol," almost anyone but Danny and Adam could go home. My hope is that it's some combination of Jasmine, Kris, Michael and Jorge, but we'll see. If the twist is what I fear it is, and Anoop or Megan are in the bottom group, they're screwed.
What did everybody else think?