UPDATE: Results night was a doozy. I got the bottom two right: it was Alexis Grace and Michael Sarver and I correctly predicted Alexis would be going home. My only mistake was thinking Adam Lambert would get a scare. Instead it was Allison Iraheta, who handled the pressure gracefully, despite everyone's astonishment. Bye Alexis, your career may be beginning and at least you can take comfort in knowing you definitely left too early. Still, I don't think she would necessarily have blossomed into a challenger for the finale so the judges made the right call in not saving her. According to Marc Berman of Mediaweek, the Wednesday results show hit a 13.4 rating, which was down 14% from a season ago, far better than the 23% drop of the night before. As one reader pointed out, the overnight ratings do NOT include DVR viewing since obviously those figures aren't available fo 24 hours up to 7 days later. Once those viewers are factored in, the drop in ratings will definitely be less if no completely eliminated.
The night began on a disastrous note, with the entire Top 11 doing a group lip-synch-along to "T-R-O-U-B-L-E." Their voices were massed together in one indiscriminate mix, ruining the only reason for the group sing-along: the chance for someone to outshine and outsing the others. Why would a show built around live performances do a lip-sync? I assume there was some technical reason or perhaps wanting to downplay the stress on Megan Joy. Or something. But it shouldn't happen.
Then we saw the goodbye dinner held for each contestant going home, which includes the contestants, their families and FOX cameras to record every private moment. Everyone shares a testimonial, which must get more awkward as the group narrows down to the final few.
In chatting with the contestants, it was clear Michael Sarver was nervous and thought his number might be up. (Don't go online, Michael! No good can come of it for you.) His hand was shaking and his eyes filled with tears as he described his little daughter asking him, "Why don't you want to be with me anymore?" Good heavens, if he'd told that story the night before Michael would have been safe for sure. As it is, the sympathy he earned might ironically keep him away from home for a few more weeks.
They rushed through safe contestants and then faced off Allison Iraheta and Michael Sarver, only to bait and switch us by having BOTH be in the bottom three. A quick glance at the bottom row showed the last two seats were held by Alexis Grace and Adam Lambert.
Brad Paisley, one of the strongest country artists and certainly the funniest of the past decade, delivered his fine new song "Then."
Then we finally paired off Alexis and Adam. Randy threw in a reference to Adam having performed the Jeff Buckley version of "Ring Of Fire," as if that gave it more credibility. I'm no Jeff Buckley expert but I don't see it on any official release. Maybe it's on a bootleg somewhere? I thought perhaps I misheard and Randy said "Tim Buckley" but I don't see him covering it either. Any ideas, anyone? I wouldn't be at all surprised if Jeff HAD covered it and done some sort of Nusrat take on it. I just can't find it.
But Adam is safe anyway and the bottom three is Alexis and Michael and Allison. (I had Alexis and Michael and Adam with Adam being safe.) Allison is safe so at least I got the bottom two correct. I thought Michael's country crowd would have him just be safe enough, but I began to second-guess myself when reminded country should have been the genre on which Michael should shine the best.
Carrie Underwood and Randy Travis then came out and sang a duet on "I Told You So," a #1 country hit from his seminal album, Always & Forever. In classic country fashion, Carrie was dressed a bit dorkily, with an ugly black bow in her hair and a black sash with white roses slapped on a lovely red dress. But she's a lovely young woman and arguably the most successful recording artist to come out of Idol. Excepting Taylor Swift, she's also the biggest star in country music at the moment and another key reason why Idol has such credibility. And what a great performance: it's already cruising into the Top 20 on iTunes just hours after the show ended.
Finally, Alexis and Michael face off. The judges admit they would consider saving one of them and presumably they mean Alexis. And though Michael seems resigned to going home, actually it IS Alexis who got the fewest votes. Then Simon says they will indeed consider saving Alexis and it all comes down to this performance? Huh? Since contestants can't do another song or rework the song that was not good enough, how can they improve it? Plus, isn't the point of the Save to correct a mistake, either one by the contestant (in this case, Alexis, who did a poorly arranged version of "Jolene") or by the audience (which might assume someone is safe and not vote for them even though they liked the performance). In either case, re-doing the performance would be beside the point. The result was a very awkward, uncomfortable scene with Alexis almost desperately performing the same weak arrangement with a lot more pleading in her voice with the judges both huddling and talking it over while also pretending to pay attention to the performance that was supposed to decide it all. It's not; the judges are supposed to look beyond a bad performance because of general talent OR applaud a good performance that got overlooked by voters.
Here's how to fix it. While the Save is in effect, determine the bottom two and have both of them repeat their performance, which everyone can give their polite undivided attention. Cut to a commercial while the judges debate whether they'd save either one. THEN announce the bottom person and get the judges ruling, with a quick huddle to confirm their decision.
Are you sorry to see Alexis to go or was it the right decision? In my opinion, we should only call it a truly wrong decision if we believe that person was going to make it to the finals. debating whether someone should have been sent home fourth or seventh seems silly to me.
It was a topsy turvy peformance night on Idol, with Simon looking bored, Paula providing some cogent analysis (again), a minor stumble from Lil Rounds and praise for Anoop. The show was a ratings hit, of course, scoring an 11.9 rating. But Marc Berman of Mediaweek points out that's a serious 23% drop from last season. Hollywood Reporter gives more info: Idol reached 21.5 million viewers up against serious competition from Dancing With The Stars. However, its rating was the lowest for a Tuesday since the show's debut season when it aired during the summer. There's no denying that Idol is the #1 show in the country and the audience will be there come the finale. But week to week people are not as focused on it, which is a shame since this season seems so wide open and the talent is good.
Ken Levine weighs in with his usual caustic commentary here. Michael Slezak of Entertainment Weekly offers his own obsessive comments here, while EW's Adam B. Vary describes the scene in the audience. Here's the AP roundup.
Randy Travis was a good celebrity coach -- you can only do so much in 20 minutes and he wisely limited himself to positive encouragement and small tweaks like suggesting people slow or raise the tempo of a particular song. On the other hand, for a man who was dogged by gay rumours for years (Travis was single until he married his manager Lib Hatcher -- she left her husband to manage him and they got married in 1991 just 12 weeks after a tabloid claimed Travis was gay), Travis might have been politer and less shocked by Adam Lambert, who he treated like an alien. Given the rumors that stalked him for years and cast aspersions on the most important relationship in his life, you think Travis would be more careful about ostracizing people for real or perceived differences. But what a voice -- it's one of the best country voices since George Jones and his last album has a stone cold classic, "Dig Two Grave" -- you can hear it here.
MICHAEL SARVER -- Sings the Garth Brooks ditty "Ain't Goin' Down Till The Sun Comes Up," one of 19 #1 country hits Brooks had. He's kept such a low profile for years, it's easy to forget how stunningly popular Brooks was in the mid 90s. He recorded lots of fun songs, but like Billy Joel's "We Didn't Start The Fire," "Ain't Goin' Down" is practically a novelty record with its rush of words and little opportunity for singing. Sarver ran out of breath and several points and the camera spent too much time on the harmonica player (backup singers and musicians should be seen once, at most during a performance). The judges were polite but mixed, except for Simon who came down hard. Worst of all, it was forgettable.
ALLISON IRAHETA -- Sang "Blame It On My Heart," a #1 country hit for Patty Loveless, whose favorite album of mine is probably Mountain Soul. Iraheta's vocals weren't overwhelming -- at times she got drowned out a bit by the band. But she looked and sounded like a pro. This tune -- like the Garth Brooks tune -- has a lot of words in it. The difference is that Sarver sounded like he was cramming all the words in while Iraheta was performing it. Really really strong and more and more a dark horse Kelly Clarkson type every week.
KRIS ALLEN -- Sang Bob Dylan's "To Make You Feel My Love," which appeared on Dylan's classic Time Out Of Mind album. I seem to recall Dylan specifically giving it to Billy Joel to record -- or maybe Joel released it as a single before Dylan's album came out? -- but in any case, it's not a Garth Brooks tune as such, though Joel took it only to #50 on the pop charts (his last single to chart) while Brooks took it to #1 on the country charts. The tune has been recorded by many others since then. I say all this to try and distract myself from Allen's dimples, but even when I replayed his performance and didn't look at the TV screen (where he was poised on a stool and looked sensitive and very Tiger Beat-ish, it was pretty terrific. Like almost everyone last night, he had a very rough time on the last note, which was the only flaw in otherwise excellent performance. Restrained is a word that rarely gets used when it comes to Idol but that's exactly what Allen delivered and it was great. Another one coming on strong.
LIL ROUNDS -- Sang the Martina McBride gem "Independence Day," which is practically a standard now, in my opinion. Her performance was also restrained but there's no doubting she seemed a little more tamped down -- until she got to the finale and belted out "DAYYYYYYYY!!!!!" with roof rattling force. But she looked good and the performance was solid. Paula wisely said Lil should not have performed two verses in a row, a good comment that Simon -- who seemed especially bored -- oddly mocked.
ADAM LAMBERT -- Sang Johnny Cash's "Ring Of Fire." Sort of. On Idol, the worst sin is to be forgettable and Lambert certainly won't have a problem with that. No one will forget his bizarro rendition of this tune. I could have done without Randy Travis's "I don't even know what to say about the boy" comments. Really? He's been all over the world and is shocked by a dude with black nail polish? But Lambert's uber dramatic singing was ludicrous, to say the least. Paula made a good allusion to Led Zep's "Kashmir," but that's giving this take too much credit. Simon summed it up nicely by saying, "What the hell was that?" I've never been a big fan of Lambert so maybe his fans can weigh in, but to me it revealed his gimmicky vocals once and for all. On the other hand, when I played it back again, it's clear that Lambert is in control vocally and however odd his choices, he has the range to sing it. I assume it was too weird for him to be forgotten and get the lowest votes, but if he is I'm almost certain the judges would use their Save to give him another chance.
SCOTT MACINTYRE -- Sang Martina McBride's #1 country hit "Wild Angels," yet another in a string of "inspirational" tunes that places MacIntyre squarely in the Josh Groban songbook. MacIntyre simply does not have a good voice. He ran out of breath repeatedly, hit harsh notes, had wavering pitch, was drowned out by the music and had a very thin ad weak last note. There was also some lame falsetto somewhere in the middle. The judges were very mixed with Paula and Simon having a good back and forth about whether MacIntyre should always perform with a piano or not. Of course, I don't like Groban either (who can actually sing) and the audience lapped it up.
ALEXIS GRACE -- Sang Dolly Parton's "Jolene," Parton's second #1 country hit as a solo artist and her first tune to hit the pop charts (it went to #60 back in 1974). The song is a perfect fit for feisty Grace since it's about a woman fighting to keep her man from a temptress. My favorite cover is by the White Stripes.) But instead of feisty Grace, she decided to sing the song as if the woman pleading with Jolene had already given up. Parton sounded ready to claw the woman's eyes out and do whatever she had to to save her marriage; Grace sounded defeated. It was meandering and weak, a real shame since Grace has been one to watch. The judges were down on her and worst of all it was forgettable.
DANNY GOKEY -- Sang Carrie Underwood's signature tune "Jesus, Take The Wheel," a big hit with some terrible driving advice for people who skid on ice while in a car. I thought Gokey was fine on the verses and very good on the chorus, though playing it back a second time he seemed a little less focused and all over the place when wailing away. Still, strong and the judges loved it.
ANOOP DESAI -- Sang Willie Nelson's timeless "You Were Always On My Mind," the biggest pop hit of his career. (It reached #5 and was on the charts for 23 weeks, edging out the execrable "To All The Girls I've Loved Before," which also hit #5 but was only on the charts for 21 weeks.) Anoop had his game face on and -- remarkably -- actually delivered. Randy Travis proved his insight by rightly predicting that Anoop's performance would bring about a 180 on people's opinion about his singing ability. Simon said Anoop deserved to be in there and got a fist pump from Anoop (the contestants always know that Simon's endorsement is the most important of all). He really did deliver his own take on the tune without bastardizing it. The only stumble for Anoop was when Ryan asked him if he was surprised by the praise from the judges and Anoop said no, he always expects to do great. Dude, a simple, "I was thrilled" would have played much better.
MEGAN JOY CORKREY -- Sang Patsy Cline's first pop hit, the #12 tune "Walkin' After Midnight," which was a perfect fit for Megan Joy's quirky, Madeline Peyroux voice. Unfortunately, she was waylaid by influenza and even had to go to the hospital, which makes it impossible for me to udge her performance or predict how she'll do. Will audiences forgive her vocals and the dorky hip-shaking? If she's the lowest vote getter, will the judges Save her because of the illness or say that she probably wouldn't win it all anyway? Hard to say.
MATT GIRAUD -- Sang Carrie Underwood's #1 country hit "So Small." He gave, by far, the best performance he's delivered yet and the judges raved. To my count, that means Danny Gokey, Lil Rounds, Allison Iraheta, Kris Allen and -- given the raves generally from the judges -- Adam Lambert are all contenders.
The bottom three: I predict Michael Sarver, Alexis Grace and...Megan Joy? Adam Lambert? Scott MacIntyre? I'm gonna say Adam Lambert (to give him a scare), with Sarver and Grace the bottom two and Alexis Grace going home. What do you think?