With producer incompetence cutting a song from each contestant, we didn't get to see what sort of music Clive Davis might have thrust upon these three, nor did we get to see the producers try to sandbag somebody the way they did with Syesha and that silly penguin song last season. Just one choice from the judges, and one from the contestants.
Danny Gokey, "Dance Little Sister" (Paula's choice): Paula's made some really awful and/or cheesey selections for contestants in past seasons ("Satisfaction" for Bo Bice, "Roxanne" for Blake Lewis), but she makes a pretty good one for Danny, if you assume getting stuck with the most obscure song of the night won't hurt him. It's a fine match for his voice, and if it sounds like every other uptempo Danny performance, it at least showcases the more interesting side of his persona. He's basically a more vocally-gifted, younger-looking Taylor Hicks, which may be a bad thing for selling records but seemed to do Taylor just fine on the show.
Kris Allen, "Apologize" (Randy and Kara's choice): I love that those two got thrown together, because if you take gender, race and any physical attributes out of the equation, they're basically the same person, and equally useless to the show. What's really amusing to me is that, in all the discussion of whether Kris should or shouldn't have re-arranged the song, not one of the judges managed to point out how awkward Kris' falsetto sounded. I don't remember him showcasing that before, and certainly not to this extent, and now I know why.
Adam Lambert, "One" (Simon's choice): I was halfway through a Tweet making fun of the constant use of the blue spotlight for Adam performances when I had to pause and unironically appreciate Adam's vocal work on the opening verse, which is maybe the best he's ever sounded on the show, including that "Tracks of My Tears" cover a while back. Once he got to the chorus, it was into the upper register stuff I don't enjoy nearly as much, but when he's just singing a song straight without embellishment or showing off, he's pretty amazing.
Danny Gokey, "You Are So Beautiful": Hey, Taylor sang this! Danny's version is better than Taylor's (Taylor looked scared and confused as he sang it), but it also wasn't quite the "vocal masterclass" that Simon and the other judges tried to dub it. For one thing, a vocal masterclassman might have realized that a simple, plaintive, yearning song like this, in what to that point had been an appropriately stripped-down arrangement, didn't need that obnoxious power note at the end. For another, of all the times for Danny to lose the raspy tone in his voice, it would be on a song made famous by Joe Cocker? A solid performance (other than the one show-off note that went against the spirit of the rest of it), but not spectacular.
Kris Allen, "Heartless": Kris tackling a song that Kanye West auto-tuned within an inch of its life on a results show earlier this season was the biggest artistic risk of the night, and it paid off. Kris' mannerism was a little too peppy at times for a song about being destroyed by a heartless woman, but the vocals and the acoustic guitar were excellent, and it made me appreciate the song in a new way, which most "Idol" covers fail to do.
Adam Lambert, "Cryin'": What was that Adam was telling Ryan about not wanting to mess with the Aerosmith version? That bore very little resemblance to the Steven Tyler vocals, and seemed mostly an excuse for Adam to go wailing in six different octaves. If you listen to the Tyler version (or even to the one that Storm Large did on "Rock Star"), you'll realize that what makes the song cool is how Tyler starts off simply before building to those huge notes near the end. Because of the 90-second "Idol" performance slot, as well as Adam's own inclinations, there was no opportunity for a build -- just instant, annoying vocal gymnastics.
Best of the night: As an overall performance, Kris' "Heartless," though the opening half of Adam's "One" was the best section of a song I heard.
In danger: This oughta be interesting. Simon wisely warned the Adam fans against complacency, and I have to assume he's so far ahead of the other two that he'll make it into the finals. Danny seemed like the season's inevitable runner-up for a long time, but Kris has been gaining on him for a while. Kris had one of the night's weaker performances, but he also had one of its strongest, where I felt Danny was just solid both times. Really, at this stage, it comes down to fanbases, and I have a feeling Seacrest is going to be boasting about the thin margin between the second and third place contestants tomorrow night.
What did everybody else think?