Ryan’s keeping up the nice suits, so I guess his stylist is on the job again, and I won’t have to fear the flannel any more. The Big Announcer Voice introduces the judges again, once more denying Randy an opportunity to boo Simon. As they prowl the stage toward us, we notice that Kara is wearing a space-age silver lame dress, an entire hardware store around her neck, and the world’s cutest shoes; Paula looks lovely in a 70s garden-party floral-print dress (jumpsuit?) with a giant butterfly on the back and a soft, wavy hairstyle; and Randy, in a cardigan, and Simon, in a grey tee, are both wearing schlumpy jeans like they’d no idea they were going to be on camera from the waist down.
But, hey, it’s St. Patrick’s Day, and we get a cute little shamrock graphic on the big screen while the band game attacks a small burst of vaguely Irish-sounding music. Hm; the Irish lass in me thanks you, but it needs a little work, guys. I guess we’re not ready for Caepercaille Week, yet.
Tonight’s theme, we are told, is Songs from The Grand Ol’ Opry, and after the judges discuss the theme and how much Simon lurves country music, we are shown a video montage of the Opry, whose members include such luminaries as Patsy Cline, Dolly Parton, and Randy Travis, who recently invited American Idol’s “own” Carrie Underwood to join, and who is serving as tonight’s mentor. Randy, whom I will call RT to distinguish him from judge Randy Jackson, is apparently a fan of the show and is impressed with this year’s crop of finalists.
Opening the show is Michael Sarver, singing “Ain’t Goin’ Down ’til the Sun Comes Up”, a song with too many apostrophes in the title by Garth Brooks. Besides all the apostrophes, it’s also one of those songs like R.E.M.’s “End of the World as We Know It”, where one has to cram an insane number of words into every line until you just end up singing watermelon-watermelon-watermelon while looking earnest, like Michael Stipe does it. Anyway, seeing as how both it and he are country, Michael should be good at this, and he gets a vote of confidence from RT, but I find his performance very so-so, indeed. His singing seems pleasant and in tune, but he misses the beginning of the second verse, and he does not physically render the song’s energy: Where he should be strutting the stage, he merely wanders it, at one point plopping down beside the harmonica player. The whole thing sounds like a pile-up and looks like moseying around. Randy and Kara are fairly lukewarm about it, Paula finds it fun and right in Michael’s wheelhouse, and Simon says pretty much what I just did: should have been good; a mash-up; likeable guy but clumsy performance. Mike yaps back a bit much, which is almost never a good idea.
Allison Iraheta is up next with the Patty Loveless joint “Blame it on Your Heart”. In the video, she terrifies RT by threatening to throw a stupid little hoedown dance into the performance. She’s wearing an oxblood leather jacket that exactly matches the color of her hair, which is styled like she’s an extra from Saturday Night Fever, complete with sparkly fake flower in, once, again, the exact shade of her hair, so that it looks like some sort of strange side-bun instead of an actual hair accessory. She sounds pretty good. I’m not overwhelmed, but I guess I’m like Simon-country’s not my thing, so I’m unfamiliar with the originals of a lot of these songs and cannot compare them favorably or unfavorably. She probably did well; at least she didn’t so the stupid dance. I guess she impressed the audience, because they cheer the roof down, and the judges show her some love. Paula knows she can rock it, but suggest that at some point Allison choose a song that shows her vulnerability. Simon gets booed, even though the only word he offered up of very slight criticism was “precocious”, but the audience, and Randy, do not know what that means, so they followed their natural instincts to boo him.
Kris Allen is singing “To Make You Feel My Love” by Garth Brooks, who really does write a hell of a song. This ought to give the little girls chills! RT assesses him as “a strong ballad singer”. Even though Kris accompanies himself on guitar in the video, he eschews it for the performance, opting to go instead with a simple piano, augmented later on by light strings, and it is a very nice arrangement. Billy Joel recorded this song with a piano, also to good effect. Kris sounds good tonight, for the first time, in my opinion, although he does have an awful lot of echo on his mic-is that fair? Paula is just as surprised as I am, cautions him against dropping the low notes and appreciates the lack of guitar in favor of his connection with the audience. Simon praises the performance and says “for the first time, I am beginning to think you’ve actually got a shot at doing well in this competition”. The audience, who doesn’t understand this actually means “can’t possibly win, but might possible crack the Top 5, provided another contestant spontaneously combusts on stage”, cheers wildly. Randy bestows the nickname “Tender Dog” on Kris, which:sigh.
Ryan asks Lil Rounds, who is dressed in a rose satin cocktail dress with hair nicely gelled (and honestly looking a trifle elegant for country music night), if the contestant get to spend much time together during the week, and she talks about all the great stuff they get to do at their big damn mansion. Ryan asks if she was afraid of the c word (“country”, folks; please!), and apparently despite living in freakin’ Tennessee, Lil has never been exposed to the genre “except in movies”. She plans to hold back on her R&B, which causes one to wonder with what, pray tell, will she replace it?
Just hearing that she plans to sing “Independence Day” by Martina McBride throws RT for a loop, but at least he makes a suggestion to slow the tempo. She does, and RT enthuses that Lil’s got “big pipes on the topping”, which sounds terrifyingly kinky to me. As she sings, I think she looks lovely and there’s no denying she’s got a great voice, but you’d think a song about a woman in an abusive relationship would occasion a little more emotion, and I am not getting this from Lil. Randy isn’t feelin’ it, either. Lil argues, and Kara tries to agree with both of them. Paula offers some technical advice that Simon pooh-poohs in a very dickish way, then proceeds to call Lil “Little”, because he thinks that is what Lil is short for. Could my British readers enlighten me here-do you not have any women in England who are named Lillian, Lily or Lilith? Are the women there named Little, instead? I know about Little Nell. Is Simon perhaps living in a Dickens novel? He goes to the wedding singer place, and Lil yaps back considerably. Look, Little; that is not gonna help you, okay? The top of your dress already looks like a tongue hanging out; don’t aggravate the situation.
After the break, Adam Lambert terrorizes RT with his slinky Middle Eastern sounds and his nail polish. Good night, Randy Travis has been in the industry for forever and has yet to run across a gay man? Seriously? In the music business for over a quarter century, and he considers nail polish on a dude a novelty? People, really; RT, really. Open your sweet, sheltered eyes! Anyway, Adam sings the Sitar Remix of Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” (written by June Carter Cash, thank you very much), and it is absolute awesomeness. It’s pretty much beyond my ability to describe, but I will try: sitar, silver jacket, giant necklace, guyliner, swirling camera motion, smoldering eye contact, octave-spanning sexual howling, Robert Plant, Axl Rose, Jeff Buckley, unbridled awesomeness. This was the first song of the night (and would turn out to be the only one) that I wanted to listen to again, and no matter what the judges say, iTunes is going to make a fortune off it. RT’s sour, bewigged wife does not even clap for Adam. Hater beeyotch.
As for the judges, Kara is weirded out but entranced, hopelessly ensnared by the smoldering guyliner. Paula loves how Adam stays Adam, liked the sitar and correctly sites “Kashmir” by Led Zeppelin, because she is much more astute than people give her credit for (and she definitely left Crazy Paula at home tonight, soaking in a bubble bath with a Vicodin martini). Simon suggests Adam not go to Nashville (“No plans!” Adam returns, off-camera), and calls it “indulgent rubbish”. He seems to be criticizing Adam for not singing it Kentucky-Fried enough, even though he just told Lil she should have taken her song and Mary-J-Bliged it to death, but this kind of bullshit inconsistency is a hallmark of the show, so what ya gonna do? Randy says it’s current! Young! Fresh! Hot! RT is still trying to get over the nail polish, but Bat Canary liked it. So much.
Back from break, and Ryan’s in the “mosh pit”, if “mosh” means “tanned, cute, enthusiastic young white people”. He dithers and faffs around and the video just ignores his nonsense and starts playing without him. When Scott MacIntyre tells RT that he is going to perform “Wild Angels” by Martina McBride, RT is taken aback, but ends up liking it after all. This seems to be an ongoing pattern with Randy Travis: initial negative reaction, then acceptance. Why not just keep an open mind, eh?
Scott accompanies himself on piano and sings fairly well, but still not like someone who would actually be offered a recording contract. He’s great on the piano, of course. Paula calls the performance lovely but fears the piano sets him apart from the audience. “We can move it closer,” he adorably returns, cracking her up but not dissuading her from the point that he might benefit from changing things up a bit. Simon, who obviously can’t see beyond Scott’s visual impairment, seems afraid that if left to his own devices on stage, Scott would inevitably take a header into the mosh pit on live television, starts an argument with Paula about who’s being disrespectful and then fusses at Scott for his song choice yet again. Scott gets defensive, Simon and Paula argue again, and Randy and Kara try to cut through the noise by advising Scott to up his game. For his part, Scott tries to keep himself in the competition “week after week” by promising to ditch the piano at some point. Um, that’s all you’ve got for us, man? The whole better singing/ better song concept not working for you? Oy.
Ryan’s having a sit-down with Alexis Grace, who has been told she looks like Dolly Parton, probably when she visited the visually impaired/ brain-damaged patient ward of the hospital. She is wearing a sparkly black cocktail dress and elegant crystal earrings that don’t really say “country”, either. Dang you, Shania Twain and Faith Hill, for bringing the haute couture to country music! Ryan tries to psych her out by going on about the tension onstage and the Paula-Simon fight. Way to help a contestant keep her cool right before she has to perform, Ryan, you bitch. He apparently realizes what a jerk he’s being and attempts to backtrack by saying, “you’ll be fine-it’s country!” and Alexis is all, “yeah, I’m from the South-we all like country!” Lil Rounds did not get that memo, Alexis. Cowboy Troy and Darius Rucker aside, country, much like speed metal, seems to be a one-race genre.
Anyhoo, Alexis is singing “Jolene” by Dolly Parton. RT approves of the song for her and notes her emotional interpretation. He also has no advice for her, and she’s like, “Um, thanks for nothing, then, I guess”. She has picked the song to show the softer side of herself; no doubt she’s sick of being shoved into the “Dirty” box, pushed by the judges into being this bluesy, gin-soaked rocker chick that she clearly isn’t. Her performance, however, isn’t that great, unfortunately. Her timing is a little weird, she’s noticeably flat a couple of times, and the overall effect when she finishes is meh. I have heard both the Dolly Parton and Olivia Newton-John versions of this song, and they both roll over Alexis’s, although I love her and I do think she made the emotional connection to the song that Lil missed. Now, my husband, who has also heard both versions that I mentioned, really liked it, so your results may vary. The audience claps but remains seated. Randy finds it not great. Kara tries to push her toward “edgy” again, and you can see the unhappiness on Alexis’s face. Paula is more sympathetic and praises her attempt to show a different side. Simon thought it was okay, but copycat and forgettable. Alexis dutifully promises to Bring Dirty Back if the audience votes to keep her. Sigh.
Danny Gokey is up next, wearing some sort of mountain-climbing parka. He will sing Carrie Underwood’s “Jesus, Take the Wheel”, which he messes up a thousand times in front of RT, who still has awe for the soulfulness of the Danny Gokey vocal instrument. Danny’s performance on stage, however, is screwup-free. He tells the story nicely, then tears into the chorus with that gravelly growl and throws down. This was definitely a “wow!” performance, only the second in the whole show alongside Adam’s, which was admittedly also kind of a “what-the-hell?” performance, as well. The crowd is on its feet, and Kara tries to speak but they won’t shut up until he thanks them. Kara didn’t care for the verses but was transported by the chorus. Paula appreciated the build-up, and Simon agrees with Paula but disses Danny’s “polar expedition” gear. Randy predictably agrees with Kara, because Randy doesn’t understand why verses even exist-everything should be screaming, thundering choruses all the way through the song. Well, Randy was in Journey, after all. Steve Perry can blow, y’all. Or maybe he has big pipes on the topping? Only RT knows for sure.
Anoop Desai is up after the break. Despite RT’s initial skepticism (really?), he impresses the hell out of Mr. Travis with his rendition of “Always on My Mind”, which Ryan introduces as having been recorded by Willie Nelson and also by Johnny Cash (uh, I guess Elvis Presley was not an esteemed member of the Opry). Anoop completely brings it! He’s dressed like a total college kid in a green-and-purple diamond-pattern hoodie under a jacket, but he delivers a lovely vocal. His family doesn’t stand up to cheer, but Paula sounds close to tears as she praises him. Simon, similarly impressed, pronounces, “You’ve just gone from zero to hero”, which: exactly. Coming into tonight’s show, I was fully expecting ‘Noop Dogg to be the chosen outcast, but now there’s not the slightest chance of his even being in the bottom three. Nice save, kid!
After the break, Megan Corkrey will sing “walking After Midnight” by Patsy Cline, a song that I think is absolutely perfect for her, vocally. RT does that hesitant-then-fully endorsing thing we’ve come to know, then she appears center stage in a goddess gown with goddess hair and generally looking pretty goddess (gorgeous; not so reminiscent of Patsy Cline, but she was a normal-looking gal, you know). The start of the song sounds nice, but after the key change, everything seems to get away from her a little bit. She finishes the song without too much vocal tragedy, though, and then immediately dissolves into snuffles and hacking, whereupon we find out she’s been indeed quite ill with the flu. Paula mentions that she even had to miss the run-through on account of having been at the hospital. All of the judges highly praise her performance, even Simon, although he thinks she looks too lovely, because that is probably a giant threat to the dark powers with whom he’s made his contract for success in this life.
Matt Giraud is in the pimp spot tonight! He plans to sing “So Small” by Carrie Underwood, and amazingly, RT is unsure about Matt’s choice. And, shockingly, he ends up liking it! Paula appears to be smelling Simon’s arm as Ryan introduces Matt, seated at his Billy Joel piano in a Billy Joel suit, but still with the Justin Timberlake head and voice. Goodness, I suppose there are worse fates for a singer than to have crazy piano talent and mad vocal skills. I have never heard this song before, but as far as I’m concerned, it’s Matt’s. He brings the lovely voice, the soul, the runs, the fine piano playing. He gets a little vibrato-heavy on the power notes, but his performance is overall quite fantastic. Kara loves it, Paula praises his authenticity and the piercing of hearts that he does, Simon says he outsang Danny tonight and compares him to Michael Bublé (sigh), and Randy seconds the Bublé and raises a Timberlake.
So, who’s going home? That is honestly a very tough call, tonight. The only singer who really didn’t sound good was Scott, who is the least talented vocalist remaining but who is lovable. Alexis and Megan both had a pitchy spot or two, but they were very isolated in otherwise acceptable performances; however, Alexis has a fan following, and Megan doesn’t seem to have clicked with voters as much. Neither Lil nor Michael was very impressive, and both back-talked the judges. Since everyone else did either fine (Allison, Alexis), awesome (Danny, Matt, Adam) or surprisingly well (Kris, Anoop), I believe three of these four (Scott, Megan, Lil and/or Michael) will be in the bottom three, but I can’t call who is actually the deportee for this week. If it were a singing contest, it would be Scott. If it were a sweetie-pie contest, it would be Lil. If sympathy for Megan’s suffering doesn’t overcome her prior lowish standing in the voting, out she goes. If we realize that this was probably going to be Michael’s best night, buh-bye, oil guy. The judges will use their save only for Lil; the rest would be history.
Bat Rankings (tonight’s performance)
1. Adam Lambert
2. Danny Gokey
3. Anoop Desai
4. Matt Giraud
5. Allison Iraheta
6. Kris Allen
7. Lil Rounds
8. Megan Corkrey
9. Alexis Grace
10. Michael Sarver11. Scott MacIntyre