With "American Idol" competing with "Lost" every Tuesday for the rest of the season, my reviews of the performance shows are going to come at irregular times, and usually not until the day after. But I'm awake, and since I don't do the song-by-song breakdown until the finals, anyway, I'll have some thoughts on the Top 12 women (or the female half of the Top 24, if you prefer) coming up just as soon as someone explains how we got three Beatles songs on a Billboard Hot 100 theme night...
Not a very impressive start for the women, was it?
I thought Lilly Scott was wonderful; even if it turns out she used someone else's cover of "Fixing a Hole," as David Cook so often did covers-of-covers during his season, I love her voice and stage presence. And there were several other songs that were well and confidently performed, even if they were all much more karaoke and therefore my enjoyment depended largely on whether I enjoyed that particular song or artist being covered (Crystal Bowersox doing Alanis(*), Didi Benami doing Ingrid Michelson) or didn't (Michelle Delamor doing the show's umpteenth Alicia Keys impression). There were also a bunch of performances that were all over the map, some of which I ultimately sort of liked (Haeley Vaughn's "I Want To Hold Your Hand" started off sounding like the version from "Across the Universe" and then got weird, quickly), some less so (Lacey Brown's "Landslide"). Overall, though, I really only care about ever hearing Lilly, Crystal and Didi again, preferably in some kind of all-guitars Top 4 with Andrew Garcia.
(*) I also give Crystal points for guts in devoting such a large percentage of a brief performance to a harmonica solo. Either that, or she just has no idea of what typically constitutes a successful "Idol" performance. Based on her confusion about the show's viewership numbers in Hollywood, I wouldn't be shocked if that was the case.
What was most interesting about the show tonight was the judges.
After seeming pretty lively and on point during our glimpses of her in Hollywood, Ellen was very flat tonight. She didn't do a lot of schtick, but she also rarely said anything of substance, and was particularly bad whenever she had to lead off the critique. (She seemed most confident when she had other opinions she could piggyback off of.)
Somewhat shockingly, the two sharpest judges of the night were Kara and, especially, Randy. When Randy began giving Haeley constructive criticism about her range and the type of songs she should sing, I was stunned. Where the hell had this guy been for the last 8 years? This is what they hired him for in the first place, not all the "dawg"s and "molten lava hot"s and "you can sing the phonebook"s. And after equaling Randy in uselessness last year (while adding a healthy dose of chip-on-shoulder), Kara was also fairly observant and coherent tonight. One-night aberration, or has Simon's impending departure - which will create a hole for a new alpha dog but could also lead to a wholesale judging shakeup - forced the two of them to get their acts together?
As for Simon, he's made it clear, both in interview comments and again tonight, that he wants a Taylor Swift type to win this season. When the judges start declaring performances in week one of the semi-finals to be too safe and derivative - case in point, Ashley Rodriguez, giving the exact kind of performance that would have gotten a tongue-bath from the judges a few seasons back - you know that the show is shifting directions, hard. Ultimately, the whole "you have to reinvent a song and make it your own" thing will start to feel just as derivative as the sort of stuff that was doing well before Blake Lewis, David Cook, Kris Allen and Adam Lambert showed up, but for now, it's what the judges (and the producers) want, so it's what we're going to get. So those who can write songs - or are at least good at searching iTunes for obscure reinventions of songs that match that week's theme - are going to be at a decided advantage over the pageant-y likes of Katie Stevens.
What did everybody else think?