Here’s a surprise. Almost every single performance blew away the judges on tonight’s American Idol. It was a great night of music, finally bucking the trend that began with 21st century music, ballooned with country, and then climaxed with Queen. I have to be honest. After the last few weeks, I had very low expectations. Plus, I’m just not crazy about when these kids sing old school music (tonight’s theme was the American Songbook). I also must admit that I pretty much hate Rod Stewart (with a few exceptions here and there. Who can deny “If You Think I’m Sexy”?). As you can imagine, this was all adding up to be a night for the mute button, but surprise, surprise. There was magic in the air. Or at least as much magic as American Idol can allow. Just about the only major dud was Kellie Pickler, but c’mon now. We could all see that one coming for a mile.Tonight’s show opens with a dubious image: Marilu Henner clapping in the audience. For a moment, I have bitter flashbacks to 1998 when her stupid diet book was all the rage. I swear, if she gets up on stage and talks to Ryan Seacrest about the virtues of floaters versus sinkers again, I’m giving up this show. Luckily, Marilu remains in her seat, and I’m able to enjoy the rest of the show (speaking of Marilu Henner, Idol becomes a lot more amusing when you imagine the Taxi song playing whenever the show’s theme music plays. Remind me to do that for Clipgasm sometime). By the way, here’s a fun fact: Marilu Henner’s real name? Mary Lucy Denise Pudlowski. Ha! She’s SO a closet Pudlowski!
Okay, enough Marilu Henner discussion. Let’s talk about the show. Ryan appears on camera with a mild stubble. It’s supposed to be trendy, but like many things with him, it just looks lame. Ryan then introduces the judges, and inexplicably, Ryan omits Paula’s name. Scandal! Oh wait. Upon further review, his microphone merely had gone dead. No scandal after all. Ryan then introduces the night’s theme by saying, “American Idol is going smart!” I believe that’s an oxymoron, but that’s okay. Anyway, as I mentioned earlier, Rod Stewart is the guest star, and he’s here to promote his American Songbook collection — something all fading musicians do when they no longer have a creative bone in their body. I guess I’d prefer a lame cover of a great classic instead of a tepid version of a new dud. But you know what would sound best of all? Silence.
Ryan then says “Rod Stewart is a rock legend.” Yes. And now he’s sold out. Wonderful! We then cut to footage of the Idol contestants standing around a piano and rehearsing. Rod walks in with his fiancé Penny and his newborn, Alistair. “I’m sorry we’re late,’ he says, “but we were making wedding plans.” How lovely. But guess what? WE DON’T CARE! You be prompt, Rod Stewart!
Anyway, we then see a montage of Rod being a total clown during rehearsals. He doesn’t seem to be helping at all. Barry Manilow is still the best teacher so far. But then again, we’ll have to see how the performances are before we say anything more.
First up is Chris Daughtry. He announces that he’s going to be singing “What A Wonderful World,” and I immediately begin to wonder if Live or Creed or Fuel have done a cover of this song. I don’t think they have. It looks like Chris will truly be heading into unchartered territory this week. Rod Stewart then tells us that he couldn’t imagine Ozzy Osbourne singing the song. “No disrespect, Ozzie,” he says, “but it’s a vocal push.” Wait a second. Are you insinuating that Ozzie Osbourne has no voice? That’s ridiculous!
With a random guitarist sitting on the steps, Chris then takes the stage looking sort of like an extra from Swing Kids. He’s all vintaged out, and surprisingly, he doesn’t sing the song like he’s yearning for a hernia. Instead, Chris is calm, controlled, and strong. It’s a great performance, and Randy and Paula love it. As for Simon? “I thought it was a GREAT performance.” Hey, that’s what I said. Simon also takes credit for the performance by saying it was because of him that Chris switched gears. Yeah, okay, whatever. You weren’t the only person who said that. Nevertheless, I’m glad Chris is back in top form.
Paris is next, and true to form, she’s changed her look. I thought she’d relish the opportunity to come out on stage in an elegant evening gown, but instead she’s wearing what appears to be a pink business suit. I know it’s supposed to be classy, but it just makes her look like a secretary. She and Ryan talk about Easter, and Ryan takes the opportunity to make a forced joke: “Simon dressed up in a bunny costume and laid eggs in my house on Sunday.” Honestly, that doesn’t even make sense. Just drop it, Ryan. Simon already asserted his zing dominance with that Desperate Housewives comment two weeks ago. You’re done for the season.
Anyway, Paris sings her song, and as usual, I’m stuck with mixed emotions. I really can’t stand Paris, but damn, she sounds terrific. Randy loves the performance. Paula says that if she made an album in this genre, it would blow up. And Simon says, “You bewilder me. You talk like Minnie Mouse… and yet you sing in that very grown up way.” Don’t worry, Paris fans. That was a compliment. He loves the performance too. For the record, Paris does not sound like Minnie Mouse (not to say that she doesn’t sound annoying. It’s just an inaccurate comparison). Ryan then takes the stage and looks in Simon’s Coca Cola cup. “Simon is sipping the happy fuel!” our host proclaims. In other news, Ryan is sipping the Not Funny Fuel.
Did Paris just sing or give a PowerPoint presentation?
Next up is Taylor Hicks, who’s still lovin’ the SNL parody from this past weekend. He tackles Sam Cooke for his song, and at first, he’s kind of boring. I’m a little shocked, quite frankly. I thought he’d excel this week. By the end of the song, however, Taylor gets into it and infuses the performance with sudden energy and life. He even hones his inner Tourette’s Syndrome and spastically undulates on stage. This makes Paula clap like the happy seal that she is. Sure enough, we’re batting three for three. Randy loves it, Paula loves it (“I applaud you,” she says. That’s her highest compliment) and Simon loves it so much that he even does the Paula clap. “It started, and I thought, ‘Okay, lame cabaret.’ And then, magic!” he says. Why does he sound like Rip Taylor all of a sudden?
Elliot’s up next. He sings “It Had To Be You” in his typical soulful way. It’s an okay performance, but it definitely comes alive by the end. Again, Randy and Paula love it, and hey! There’s Mimi Rogers! Three cheers for Scientology! (Oh, forgot to mention that earlier, we saw LaToya London in the audience. Not that she’s a Scientologist. I’m just saying that I forgot to mention her.)
Anyway, Paula tells Elliot, “You are contemporizing a genre.” And you, Paula, are butcherizing English. Simon, meanwhile, thinks the vocals were good but feels the personality was lacking. Could be a problem. I agree. Ryan then takes the stage and does some weird thing with his eyes. It doesn’t make sense to me, and I don’t want to figure it out. Let’s just move on.
Wow. Ryan really is short.
Next is Kellie Pickler, and if there’s anyone capable of ruining this evening’s flow, it’s her. In the rehearsal video, her idiocy is at full power as she says one dumb thing after another. At one point, she says that she needs to get the words for the song, causing Rod Stewart to reply, “Get the words and the lyrics.” He then chuckles and adds, “A little joke there.”
Kellie, meanwhile, looks at him and says, “Huh?”
“The words and the lyrics are the same thing,” Rod explains.
“They are, aren’t they?” Kellie replies. Oh my god. She is borderline retarded.
Rod is polite and tells us that she has “a lot of personality.” It’s true. One thing she doesn’t have much of? BRAINS. The rehearsal ends with Rod telling her that she did good. “Well, you took a load off my chest!” she says. Oh dear…
Surprisingly enough, Kellie starts her song and doesn’t sound half bad. I’m actually surprised at how good she sounds. But then suddenly, she loses it. She becomes shaky, nervous, and self-conscious. By the end of the song, she’s mostly off-key. Well, when all else fails, charm ‘em with that Southern naiveté. “I butchered it!” she admits right off the bad. Randy says it wasn’t that bad, but yeah, it was pretty bad. Rather than focus on the terrible vocals, Paula instead says that Kellie’s fashion is great and that she can’t wait for her acting career takes off. Yes, Paula said that. It’s like telling someone “You have a face for radio.”
“When all else fails, you better have great shoes, right?” Kellie then says. It’s probably the first halfway clever statement she’s ever said, but it’s still pretty stupid. Simon reiterates what the other judges have said, and he kindly tells her that she sucked. She apologizes many times, and even I start to feel badly for the girl. Later, Ryan says that she must wish she could do it again, but the self-effacing Kellie replies, “I won’t put you through the torture.” Now that’s how you pander for pity votes!
What’s up, 1994?
Speaking of pity, I pity the fool that told Ace to pull back his hair tonight. Yes, Ace is up next, and he comes to us dressed in a suit with his hair all tight and pulled back into a pony-tail. He looks sort of like a Long Island mafioso. Actually no. He looks like John Travolta in Pulp Fiction. Whatever it is, it’s dumb. And here I thought his normal hairstyle was bad enough. Anyway, true to form, Ace takes a song and adds his lame pseudo R&B touch to it. At times he sounds flat. At times he sounds sharp. At times he sounds shaky. And at times he sounds off-key. Ace has really exhausted my patience. I’m ready for him to be gone. And when he busts out the falsetto that everyone seems to love so much, I just want to cover my ears with pillows. Believe it or not, all three judges like it (and so does Michael Rappaport who gives a rousing ovation from the audience). Simon even says “It wasn’t bad!” He then calls it nasally but charming. I don’t know what he’s talking about. Hopefully America will just do away with Ace once and for all.
Last but certainly not least is Katharine McPhee. Tonight’s genre is totally up her alley. If she doesn’t nail this, she’ll be a total failure. Well, guess what? She nails it. I’ve officially caught the McPheever after tonight. She commands this song from the very first note. Plus, she works the camera like nobody’s business. It’s not easy to survive the extreme closeup, but Katharine succeeds with flying colors. All of a sudden, I too can see her star power, and it’s not unthinkable, as Simon said a few weeks ago, to see Katharine following in the footsteps of Kelly Clarkson.
Anyway, Katharine brings down the house with her perfectly controlled song. We then cut to a random, scary tattooed woman going nuts in the audience. She LOVES Katharine! Randy has nothing but high praise (and thank god, by the way, he didn’t invoke the dawg pound at all tonight). Paula is so happy that she reaches new levels of incoherence: “Tonight, I feel like I’m watching for the first time falling in love with the essence of who you are. This reminds me of Mr. Holland’s Opus.” Huh? What? Make sense, woman!
Simon also applauds Katharine by saying, “It was in a completely and utterly different league.” He also notes that she made the others sound like very good amateurs whereas she sounded like a returning pro. Simon is then interrupted by Paula who praises Rod Stewart for the work he’s done with the kids. To be honest, I’m not sure how much credit Rod deserves. We really didn’t see any indication that he was doing anything other than dancing around and being a general goofball. I’d like to think the timelessness of the songs and the fact that they really showcase vocals and emotion is what elevated the performances tonight. I mean, these tunes were certainly more impressive than the bland country songs or lame 20th century music we heard a few weeks ago (I won’t bash Queen, but I do think the band’s music is not an easy fit on a show like this).
What do you think? Does Rod deserve credit for elevating everyone’s game? Or was it the effect of the music? And who do you think was best? Who do you think is going home?