Ryan Seacrest strolled out with the Top 5 American Idol finalists Tuesday evening, ready to embark upon “Rat Pack Standards” Week. All — Adam Lambert, Kris Allen, Allison Iraheta, Matt Giraud, and Danny Gokey — were nattily dressed, as was expected, given the theme. He informed us there would be two phone numbers to call in our votes at the end of the night’s performances and that everyone who downloaded an Idol performance would also get a free autographed photo of one of the Idols. And with a clip showing of the Idols gathered in what can only be called the “mentor room” and the “Theme from the Pink Panther” playing in the background, Ryan announced that the guest mentor was Oscar and Grammy Award-winning star Jamie Foxx.
Apparently Tony Bennet passed away without my knowledge. Harrick Connick Jr. and Michael Buble must have been busy as well. Appearing in “Dreamgirls” and winning an Oscar for “Ray” must somehow equate to Rat Pack knowledge to the producers of American Idol. But while the star of “The Soloist” is in the room, might as well take advantage of his classical music training…
Kris Allen was first up. He sang “The Way You Look Tonight,” a song often performed by Frank Sinatra. During his mentoring, Jamie Foxx told him, “You’re an artist. If this don’t work out, we could do a record.” Foxx, in the commentary offset, told the American Idol audience that if Kris Allen sings like he he did for him, they were “gonna be blown away and not even know it.”
And it was a nice, played-down performance. Very clear on elocution. Kris Allen proved again why he was still in the competition. And just for a moment, with his Michael Buble-esque rendition, you could picture him singing alongside Sammy Davis Jr., Dino, or “Old Blue Eyes.”
And American Idol judge Randy Jackson felt it as well. He told Kris that it was his “best performance to date” and that he had “mad, nice vocals.” Kara DioGuardi said that he had “set the tech standard so incredibly high” and that he “truly was a dark horse.” Paula Abdul said that he had gone from the “adorable boy next door to the sophisticated gentleman.” He was “impeccable.” Simon Cowell said the performance was “good,” but “a little bit wet.” It was “safe,” but “quite nice.”
When Ryan Seacrest asked what he meant by “wet,” Simon said, “Not dry.” Ryan thanked him for clearing that up. He announced Kris Allen’s two numbers and told him to “go dry off.”
Allison Iraheta was up second. She told Ryan she turned 17 Monday. In keeping with her youth, Jamie Foxx told us that she seemed so “innocent.” He said “she is leaps and bounds ahead of her age.” Of her practice with him, he said, “If she does that, she’s going to shake the world.”
Allison Iraheta sang “Someone To Watch Over Me,” a George and Ira Gershwin standard that was a favorite of Frank Sinatra’s. Her husky voice gave the song with just enough angst and longing to make her the performance ring true. Ella Fitzgerald would have been proud. Her performance pulled emotion from the very air around her. It was beautiful and you could feel the emotion amplified in her vocals. Yes, it was that good.
Randy Jackson said she reminded him of Brittany Murphy and lot of Pink, with better vocals. He said, “That was the bomb and you did it your way.” Kara said that she used to feel a bit nervous when Allison performed, but she “ain’t nervous for you anymore.” Paula was unusually reticent, said she was proud of Allison. Simon said it was a great performance. Then he ruined Allison Iraheta’s moment by asking her if she felt she could win. Allison told him that she felt she had as good a chance as the other four. Simon said that he had a “horrible feeling you could be in trouble.” But he also felt her performance was a “bit mechanical.” Kara cried, “You are crazy.” While Ryan read her numbers, Allison Iraheta laughed, “I have to be more likeable,” a callback to something Simon had told her a few weeks before.
It was a heartbreaking statement. It is a sad testament to the American Idol contest that she should even think that way, however true it might be. What is even more sad is that Allison Iraheta, along with Kris Allen have been the most consistent performers in the contest going down the stretch. Even Adam Lambert’s great performances, because of their theatricality at times, cannot compare due to his professional training. Kris and Allison have no such training. And if one needs reminding, Allison Iraheta just turned 17 years old.
Matt Giraud was the middle man. He performed “My Funny Valentine.” He told Ryan Seacrest that he loved that they were doing Rat Pack songs, that jazz was his thing. He admitted that at Western Michigan University, when he took a jazz class, he made a ‘B’. In practice with Jamie Foxx, the actor asked, “What are you worried about?” To the audience, Foxx said, “If he sings it with his full voice, he might nab number one. That’s for real.”
And Matt Giraud did a great job with the Frank Sinatra tune. He seemed to gather in some jazzy vibes the further he went. Very smooth and nicely done. Given his usual style of soulful jazz, Rat Pack music was right down Matt’s alley. And he delivered.
Randy Jackson said it was “probably one of the hardest songs ever” performed on American Idol, but he found it “pitchy” and it “didn’t all come together” for him. (Was Randy confusing “jazzy” for “pitchy”?) Kara DioGuardi said she “appreciated all the runs” but didn’t get an emotional connection. Paula Abdul felt that the emotion was definitely there and that she loved “what you did with the song.” Simon Cowell said he would have to disagree (long pause…) with Randy. He said that, of the three performances thus far, Matt Giraud’s was the most “authentic” and “believable.” He felt as if there was some Nat King Cole (which is exactly who it seemed as if Matt was channeling) involved. “Brilliant,” he said.
Danny Gokey stepped up into the fourth slot. He sang “Come Rain or Come Shine,” another standard of Frank Sinatra’s. Jamie Foxx, after getting inches away from Danny’s face for some “real” moment or something, said that that was when Danny was his “purest.” He said, “If he channels that, that’s going to make him fantastic.”
And it started off as if it was going to be. Danny Gokey, who has slipped a few times with his song choices, seemed to have got it right for the first time in weeks. His husky sound went more toward a Sam Cooke feel, but it was working. Until he started shouting. Until he started moving around, dipping the microphone stand and yelling. Let’s call it “Gokey-fying” the moment, for want of a better term. Danny Gokey seems to have the knack of making his music look karaoke and at times sounding karaoke. And he ruined an otherwise near-perfect performance.
But Randy liked it. He said that he believed Danny Gokey was “the only one that could have an album of this stuff and be number one.” Kara said he had “swag.” Paula, never one to let her love of Danny Gokey to pass with more than one word, said, “One word: stellar performance.” (See?) She added, “You can see the finish line.” (See?) Simon said it was the best he’d heard from Gokey in weeks. He complimented the arrangement (“superb”). “Jamie brought out something in you,” he said. “Superb.”
And then the immaculately dressed Adam Lambert was the only contestant left to perform. He sang “Feeling Good,” the only non- Frank Sinatra tune sung all night. After hearing him rehearse, Jamie Foxx said, “That’s incredible.” Then added, “You don’t care who I am at all.” The multi-talented Jamie Foxx was seeing someone akin to himself, his self-deprecating self-tribute really only an acknowledgement of Adam Lambert’s vocal skill and presence. A cut to Adam in the intro film revealed that he was a bit nervous the entire time he was with the multiple award-winning actor and singer.
Adam Lambert could have stuck with the traditional. He could have made “Feeling Good” a bit more hip and louder, like Michael Buble did. But instead, he chose a more moody Muse arrangement, which is not far from the original — but just enough to be different. Add in the now patented Adam Lambert scream moment, which generally lasts until the nearest monitor cracks, and you have one solid performance. From his strut down the stairs at the song’s beginning to that beautiful sustained scream ending, Adam Lambert owned the stage. (He did have a bit of trouble in the bridge, it seemed, but not enough to hurt his overall performance.) But he was definitely feeling good come song’s end, sealed with the audience’s roar of approval.
Randy said that he (Randy) was “beginning to sound like a broken record” and that he thought that Adam’s performance was too “theatrical,” too “Broadway.” But, he said, Adam Lambert was “in the zone” and he liked it. Kara, proving she’s been hanging around Paula Abdul way too much, rambled, “You’re shocking in a good, confusing and shocking and sleazy and superb and way over the top but I like it!” Paula continued the craziness, saying that Adam made her “feel better than good,” that watching him was like being at the Olympics and seeing Michael Phelps. (Was this a reference to Simon Cowell’s wet comment to Kris Allen earlier?) Simon said that Randy’s complaining about Adam’s theatricality was “like complaining that a cow moos.” Simon told Adam that he had a feeling that he wanted to win.
And that was it. Five finalists. Five great standards. All done really well.
Personally, this writer was a bit disappointed. Nobody did “Sway,” that great sexy number made famous by Dean Martin. I was certain someone would do it but am really glad that it wasn’t Danny Gokey.
As far as the Rat Pack Standards were concerned, although it seemed as if the songs were Frank Sinatra heavy, it must be remembered that these guys all sang together and did thousands and thousands of shows — which only means that all three probably sung all of those songs at one point or another. The only other disappointment about the night is that there was too much of getting into the performance and not enough of singing and letting the song do the talking. That was a key element in that kind of music. The personality of the singer comes through the song. It’s subtle and it’s classy. Kris Allen came the closest to pulling off that laid back style associated with the Rat Pack sound.
Still, overall the American Idol Top 5 did a great job. Their performances were solid and well sung.
As for who is going home this week, it probably goes without saying that, although I personally believe Danny Gokey’s peformance was the worst and Allison Iraheta’s was by far the best, it is doubtful that Danny Gokey will see the bottom three and highly likely that Allison Iraheta will see the door after Wednesday evening’s results show. With five people left and Adam Lambert a shoe-in to never leave the safety of the blue couch, that leaves Kris Allen and Matt Giraud the only others to join Allison on the Silver Stools of Uncertainty.
But if one had to choose who should stay and who should go, in all fairness one would have to choose Allison and Kris to stay, simply due to their consistently well done and solid performances over the past few weeks. Unfortunately, however, Simon just might be right. Allison Iraheta may not be likeable enough. And in the end, isn’t that what being the American Idol is all about?
“American Idol,” Fox Television