Thought last week’s round of American Idol was terrible? You ain’t seen nothing yet. Last night, the show tackled country music, and let’s just say, it was a snoozefest. Nearly every single song was forgettable and bland despite the performances. To me, it was an indictment of the genre more than anything else. Sure, it’s fun to two-step to some fiddles and general honky-tonk music, but contemporary country is just whiny and boring, and as a result, we were stuck with an hour of TV that had us itching for the fast forward button. Hopefully we’ve reached the nadir of the season because I can’t imagine it getting any worse. That is unless the producers opt for the all klezmer theme that I’ve been secretly wishing for.
As the show begins, we notice some regrettable fashion missteps right off the bat. First, Ryan Seacrest tries to be manly by growing something on his face. More than stubble but less than a beard, it’s kind of like the pre-pubescent 13-year-old of facial hair — not quite a child, but far from a man. Nevertheless, I think we can all appreciate the inherent symbolism of Ryan growing a beard the same week he appears on camera smooching Teri Hatcher.
Ryan’s not the only one with a fashion transgression. Mr. Randy Jackson manages to cause a few double takes with his bright red vest. I think it may have been an attempted homage to the country genre, but honestly, it looks like he simply took an old box of Valentine’s Day candies and fashioned some crude garment out of it. Ryan later says he looks like Cupid, but I don’t agree on account of Cupid having wings, a harp, a little white toga, and NOT LOOKING ANYTHING LIKE RANDY.
For this week’s country theme, the singers are lucky enough to have The Gambler himself provide a little advice. Yes, Kenny Rogers shows up to lend a hand, and dammit if he hasn’t gone all metrosexual on us. His hair is now short and layered, and he sports a youthful ensemble which I immediately hate. Carson Kresley: we want our old Kenny Rogers back.
That’s not going to be good for business.
First up is Taylor Hicks. I’ve never been crazy about this guy, but at least he always has fun with his songs. Not the case this week. Taylor seems off key and out of it as he plods through his country ditty. If Taylor can’t bring life to the music, I fear what the rest of the evening will have in store for us.
Our thoughts exactly.
Randy gives thumbs down to the performance, saying it was boring, and Paula starts her critique by saying, “You know I love you, Taylor.” In Paula-speak, that’s her way of saying, “You were really terrible and boring tonight.” Simon calls the performance “safe, boring, lazy,” and later, the zing-addicted Ryan goes for the yuk-yuk by saying, “Safe, boring, and lazy: Simon’s love life, ladies and gentlemen.”
Anyone else getting sick of Ryan’s bitterness? Hey Ryan. You’re just the host. SHUT UP. Simon being a dick = cool. Ryan being a dick = lame.
After the commercial break, Ryan starts to introduce Mandisa, but he’s thrown off his game when he hears a woman yell, “I love you Ryan!” Turns out it was Paula, and now Ryan is completely speechless. A few seconds of silence go by until Ryan finally stutters some lame response. But he’s still so confused that exec-producer and So You Think You Can Dance judge Nigel Lythgoe then has to chime in from the audience and say “I love you Ryan!” also. Unfortunately, this just rattles our metro-ragamuffin even more. Ryan utters some silly comment about whatever, but he’s thankfully cut off by the Mandisa video which the producers mercifully play.
This is awkward.
Mandisa comes on stage, and I feel an instant pang of embarrassment for her. Someone should have told her that horizontal stripes aren’t always a curvy girl’s best friend. Even worse, Mandisa looks like she rolled herself up in a Mexican tablecloth. But sartorial decisions are the least of her worries. Her performance is solidly okay. She’s not great, but she’s not awful either. Just blah. (Keeping in mind that “blah” for Mandisa is still about ten times better than almost anyone else.)
Looks like everyone gave Mandisa a standing ovation. Everyone except RACHEL BILSON!
The judges are only lukewarm to Mandisa this week. Randy says “The last five seconds were great,” which is really the height of backhanded compliments. Paula says that Mandisa has a wonderful voice (a.k.a. she hated it), and Simon pretty much disses the entire song. He calls it horrible, and when the crowd boos, Simon says he’s just trying to be “constructive.” A few second later, when Ryan has the floor again, he questions Simon about his comments.
“If you listened, I said I quite liked her. I just wasn’t crazy about the song,” Simon says.
“And if you read the dictionary, you’d know what constructive means,” Ryan replies. Again, unnecessary zing. And quite forced too. Well, Simon shows Ryan how it’s really done.
“Ryan, with respect,” he says, “I’m not the one trying to look like someone out of Desperate Housewives.” OH NO HE DI’INT!!! OH NO HE DI’INT!!! The crowd goes wild, and as I wonder if this is some reference to the whole Teri Hatcher thing, Simon then adds, “Lose the beard.” Oh, it works on so many levels!
With the crowd roaring, Ryan is again at a loss for words. He’s clearly lost this round, but he’s not gonna give up. He spews out some lame, tangled comment about Simon’s baby blue sweater, but no one’s listening and no one cares. It’s over Ryan. The zing of the night belongs to Cowell.
Hey, how did Igor get on this show?
Back to the singing, Elliot performs a Garth Brooks song quite nicely. At least, that’s what I think. Randy likes it, Paula likes it, but Simon thinks it’s sort of bland. Again, the country effect. Elliot then reveals that he was nervous. Elliot? NERVOUS?? Stop pulling my leg!
Paris has always been incredibly annoying to me, but her undeniable talent for knocking songs out of the park has always saved her. Well, tonight, she’s annoying AND off-key, which means she has no redeeming qualities this week. This is definitely her worst performance. It’s a boring rendition of an already boring song (“How Do I Live” by LeAnne Rhymes or Trista Yearwood, whichever you prefer). Randy and Paula both pan the performance, and in a shocking development, the crowd actually boos Paula. But even weirder is Simon who actually praises the performance. I tend to think he just wanted to earn a few cheers over Paula’s boos because there’s no way that anyone could truly enjoy’s Paris’s singing this evening.
If there’s one thing we can depend on, it’s Ace Young and his nasally generic performances. I can hardly even remember the delicate love song he whines through tonight. Randy has a mixed reaction, literally, when he says, “It was nice. It was really boring for me.” Make up your mind, dawg! Paula, of course, is still coasting off the contact high she received last week from seeing Ace’s scar. She tells him that he’s great and has a knack for choosing proper songs. Well, if Ace’s goal is sound like a tire slowly deflating, then yes, he does choose the right songs. Paula also loves his little falsetto and says, “That’s your signa– signatu– signatURE.” Whatever, Slurry McDruggerson.
Before she even opens her mouth to sing, Kellie addresses the mild controversy swirling around her. Is she really as dumb as she seems? Or is it just an act. No, she really is that dumb. Kellie defends her idiocy, proudly saying that she had never heard of calamari and that she thought she should pronounce salmon like “sal-mon” because there’s an “l” in the word. Kellie, I’m going to break this to you lightly: just because a word has a letter doesn’t mean you have to pronounce it. I’d really hate to see her tackle “Colonel” or “Worcester” or any word feature “gh”.
Anyway, being that it’s country night, Kellie of course excels. I think she’s pretty good, but she seems a little dead in the eyes and stiff in her performance. Whatever. The judges give her high marks, and that’s all that really matters, right?
Next, Ryan takes us through the audience and brings us to the aisle of black Oscar hosts past. Yes, Whoopi Goldberg and Chris Rock are sitting in the crowd, probably wishing they hadn’t come on stupid country music night. Chris Daughtry then takes the stage and sings a slight but surprisingly effective ballad that all but erases any bitter after taste from that putrid Creed song last week. Even though Chris’s choice tonight isn’t crazy or showy, he manages to connect emotionally and bring this little tune to life. Randy and Paula both enjoy the performance. Simon says that he enjoyed seeing another side to Chris but that the song choice was hideous. In the midst of this, Paula drops her head down on the table. She claims it’s out of frustration, but I’m pretty sure it’s just the first signs of painkiller withdrawal.
Aaaand she’s down.
With Paula’s antics hogging the spotlight, I nearly miss this pseudo-Christina Ricci making eyes with some person — perhaps Seacrest — off camera.
“You see these eyes?”
“They’re on you, Ryan.”
“Tee hee! I’m clever!”
Katharine McPhee gets on stage next and sings a song about bringing out the Elvis in her. It’s a very up and down song, and I think it works in its own way. Again, not the best, but certainly better than most of the dreck we’ve heard tonight. Simon doesn’t know what to say about the song. He calls it “peculiar” and then stammers a bit before Katharine tells him it’s okay. He can just confess to hating country music — which he does. Simon immediately becomes public enemy number one for every trailer home across the nation.
Last is Bucky Covington who I assumed would rock the house with a rousing country anthem. Instead, he goes the softer route by singing “Best I Ever Had,” which is actually one of the few songs I know this hour. I think it’s odd that when the show finally focuses on country, Bucky chooses a cover of a late ’90s rock ballad by Vertical Horizon (although, apparently the song’s been countrified in the past year by a guy named Gary Allan). Anyway, I’m just babbling now. Bucky does a decent job with the song. His staging – well, that’s another story. After walking around the stage for most of the song, Bucky then engages in one of the most labored “sit-downs” ever on the show. He pauses at the staircase and then slowly lowers his butt to the top step, almost as if to say, “Okay, ladies and gents. I, Bucky Covington, am sittin’ down.”
All three judges give Bucky quick, light praise that feels somewhat perfunctory. They seem like they just want to get out of there and put this awful night behind them. Amen to that. Never again, Idol. Never again.
Now that I’ve insulted all country fans out there, what do you think? Were the singers shoved out of their comfort zone by the country music? Or were they undermined by the limits of the genre? And who do you think was best/worst?