By Chaz Lipp
The weird, final season of American Idol speeds along with the top six now revealed. This “farewell” season, it’s become clear, is really just an excuse for the producers to glad-hand about Idol‘s various triumphs over the years. The actual contestants are being treated almost as an afterthought. It’s pretty obvious that with ever-declining ratings and a general sense of public apathy, Idol has been streamlined (less than a month until the finale already!) and voters’ influence has been minimized. Who was actually voted off? We’ll never know – the judges have the final say after the bottom three perform. The season is feeling very offhanded.
First up, the remaining eight are paired off for a series of four duets…
La’Porsha and Trent – “See You Again” Far and away the best duet and one of the best performances of the night. Both vocalists are on the money, with the bar being set so high from the outset that none of the other duets can match it. Harry Connick, Jr. called it “a great way to start the show.”
Avalon and Sonika – “Rise Up” Strange song choice, but both gals gamely make the most of it. Both of them are revealed to be in trouble later on, but here they sound strong. All three judges praise them, with Jennifer Lopez calling their voices “angelic” (perhaps an overstatement) and Keith Urban complimenting Avalon for her “natural” singing.
MacKenzie and Dalton – “I Want It That Way” Things go south with this wan take on the Backstreet Boys’ hit. The judges stop short of blaming the singers – apparently it just “wasn’t the right song.” Anything can be the right song if it’s sung well. Neither of these guys seems emotionally invested. Harry accuses them of not even knowing what the lyrics were about. After asking them directly, their clueless reactions (to be fair, at least Dalton looked embarrassed – MacKenzie just grinned blankly) backed Harry’s accusation up. Way to phone it in, guys.
Tristan and Lee, “I Don’t Wanna Miss a Thing” Lee’s wobbly from the very start. The song’s just too big for him. Tristan, on the other hand, sounds pretty great. Harry didn’t like the arrangement, but I don’t think that was the problem. This was an odd pairing, but the upshot for Tristan is that it might’ve won her some new fans.
Onto the solo performances…
La’Porsha Renae – “Come Together” This was the right performance at the right time for La’Porsha. After threatening to slip into predictable balladry, she stalked the stage with great command while tearing into the Beatles’ classic. The melody certainly didn’t test her range, but it was an energetic performance. I can’t imagine anyone else winning this season. (Well, I can actually, but if there’s any justice La’Porsha will be the last one standing.) Grade: B+
MacKenzie Bourg, “You Are So Beautiful” Uh, yeah. Think back to top ten week when MacKenzie wowed everyone with his original song “Roses.” My concern was, how will he fare with songs not written directly to enhance his strengths? This is what happens. A Billy Preston song is so simple (both melodically and lyrically), it takes true emotional investment to make it memorable. That’s what Taylor Hicks and Danny Gokey did with it in seasons past. MacKenzie is fast revealing himself to be a one-trick-pony. He did himself no favors with this thin rendition. Grade: D+
A quick intermission for last year’s champ, Nick Fradiani, to sing his new single.
Trent Harmon, “Stand By Me” I guess I might as well fess up – I’m not a big fan of any of the guys this season. But Trent, as much as I think he has a goofy, awkward stage presence, is probably the best singer of the guys. Harry felt he wasn’t strongly in “sync” with the song’s rhythm, but overall the judges had positive things to say. This felt like a pretty fresh take on an overused warhorse. It wasn’t exciting, but it was competent. Grade: B-
Tristan McIntosh – “A Broken Wing” Following her great vocal during the duet earlier, Tristan delivered a soggy solo. The judges seem intent on hammering home that she really is a country singer. I don’t get it. She seems like a pure pop singer to me. Anyway, this wasn’t her best moment necessarily but she was mostly in strong voice. Grade: C+
Dalton Rappatoni – “Eleanor Rigby” Another strong Beatles performance, Dalton delivered his season best with this dramatic, rock-oriented interpretation. I was starting to think all we’d get from Dalton was fake “rock star” posturing. But he stepped up his game this week. The judges loved it, with Keith praising the “dark undercurrent” Dalton brought out in the song. Grade: B
Bottom three sing for for their life…
Avalon Young, “P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)” I’ve liked Avalon from the start, but she earned her ticket home with this lifeless take on a Michael Jackson hit. Harry says, “I want to see you move more.” Really? Not after that halfhearted little spin she did and her uncommitted attempts to instigate audience participation. My theory (completely unfounded): on some level – perhaps subconscious – Avalon was feeling overwhelmed by the competition and has avoided truly committing. Her inexperience as a performer has never been more apparent than tonight (and she’s never had as many pitch problems, either). Grade: D
Lee Jean – “Let It Be” Speaking of inexperienced… Lee has a great personality and is developing his skills as a singer and performer. But this hasn’t been his year, that was clear from the beginning of the season really. Third Beatles song of the night is not the charm, as Lee struggles mightily to bring some emotional heft to a song that’s not quite within his reach. Grade: D
Sonika Vaid – “I Have Nothing” Though part of me wanted Avalon to get one more chance, unsurprisingly the judges select Sonika for what is quite obviously the most assured performance of the bottom three. Harry “loved it,” JLo thought she did “a good job,” and Keith praised her “gorgeous voice.” Sonika seemed to know what was at stake here and proved her worthiness with a strong take. Grade: B