Tuesday, March 31, 2009

episode 8-25 (March 31): Top 9 performances

iTunes Top Downloads... as a theme? Whatever pays the bills, Fox, whatever pays the bills. Are we to believe that all of these songs can be found on one "Top Downloads" list (before tonight, that is)? What single sales-based list could possibly include "Caught Up", "What Hurts The Most" and "Just the Way You Are" within a hundred places of each other? Really? How long is this list?!?!

Anoop Desai goes first for once, and chooses Usher's "Caught Up". (We see clips of him working with the vocal coach we haven't seen since Hollywood, which is encouraging for Rickey Minor because now he doesn't have to be the scapegoat when bad choices are made). He shows flashes of strength, but a song like this doesn't show off his smoothness. Yes, there's swagger (as Randy says), but this is the equivalent of Lil Rounds singing "Heat Wave" last week.

Lauryn Hill's (or perhaps Bob Marley's) "Turn Your Lights Down Low" is Megan Joy's choice of music to sleepwalk by. This may be a good song for her odd singing accent, but she needs some serious coaching in the "what the hell do I do with my hands" department. It actually doesn't sound half bad for what it is, but she looks like a marionette without the strings. Simon says that "the things we liked about you are disappearing," but Samantha and I are still trying to figure what her appeal was to begin with, considering all of the much better (and less distractingly quirky singers) they could have chosen from even during Hollywood week. (Kara suggests that Adele would've been a far better choice, which is spot on.)

Danny Gokey chooses Rascal Flatts's "What Hurts the Most". He annunciates the T's at the end of words, which is really distracting, but he holds on to the power in his voice all the way through. The ending was a bit odd, and the song felt very short, but this really worked for him. This guy knows how to connect with an audience; it quite uncanny. (Paula: It was strong from the beginning "to the cadence"? Um, which cadence? Coda, perhaps?)

Allison Iraheta makes a bold choice with No Doubt's "Don't Speak". (She "grew up with this song"? Good lord, am I old.) She also make the bold choice of dressing like an anime character by way of Wednesday Addams, which doesn't work to her advantage. She definitely makes the song her own vocally, but her guitar becomes more of a hindrance than a help as she speeds up like crazy.

Man, these song are so short tonight! I don't feel like we have much to judge from tonight.

Scott MacIntyre comes full circle with Billy Joel's "Just The Way You Are". We first met him in the cattle-call round, performing a beautiful understated "And So It Goes". His hair looks like late '70's Joel, but his voice reveals a whiny tone that doesn't work here. The judges, predictably, are gushing, but perhaps you had to be there. Being behind the piano does him good (SAT moment: Scott is to piano as Megan is to stool), but doesn't make him any less boyish sounding. That felt really odd. (Paula: it was a "legato performance"? Is that supposed to make sense?

The Fray's "You Found Me" is an interesting choice for Matt Giraud. His jump to falsetto at the end was really impressive, but overall it wasn't particularly effective. (Randy looked bored!) Playing a keyboard in the audience is a paradox: you're literally in the audience, so there should be a connection, but if you're stuck playing at said keyboard, you can't make a connection. It's like you're the anti-social guy who feels isolated at a crowded party, expect in this case everyone actually wants to talk to you but you've made it impossible because you're hiding behind a damn keyboard. (Unless it's a guiboard, of course. Or perhaps a keytar.)

Lil Rounds makes the outside choice of Celine Dion's "I Surrender". (I love the typos in the lyric sheet in the clip. Are they pulling them from a fan web site?) She channels Roberta Flack at the beginning, but then pulls out Jennifer Hudson and takes it home. Her conquer-the-song-by-half-steps passage was a bit dicey, but at least she hit the notes. And lordy, can she hit notes. I don't know why the judges are harping on the age of the song; if the song killed, why rain on the parade?

(Audience: Shut up. Seriously. Why are you booing compliments? Why are you booing half-sentences? Are you actually listening? Are people being paid to boo?)

Adam Lambert chooses "Play That Funky Music" and performs in a half-time arrangement (and in a haircut stolen from Sha Na Na). Finally, I have a reason to like this guy! This is the first time I've been able to hear vocal power from him without the distraction of Goth moodiness or "how slow can I perform this song and still appear original without inducing sleepiness?" Adam, interestingly, give RIckey Minor a shout-out, . (Kara: Studio... 57? Is that some crazy dance club where they pour ketchup all over each other?)

Kris Allen reveals that he's chosen "Ain't No Sunshine", which immediately sets off the alarm in my head: he's better sing the hell out of this song. The gimmick of bringing a keyboard and a string quartet on stage is manipulative, but it totally works in giving the illusion of a contrast of moods. Oh, and he happened to have sung the hell out of it. Interestingly, he doesn't change the tempo-- just the feel, which is tricky. But man, does it work.

Megan shows more energy being a goofball behind Ryan Seacrest while he's closing the show than she did during her performance. The girl needs a movement coach, a deep breath, to see herself on videotape, and to be in the bottom three by 12:25 AM Pacific time this morning. Please, screaming masses, send Megan, Megan's long locks and Megan's mysterious accent packing.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

episode 8-23 (March 25): Top 10 performances

Motown night! Can't go wrong with Motown, right? Right? Or maybe you can. Smokey Robinson looks good! He and Kenny Rogers had a competition going on for who could have the beadiest Botox-affected eyes, but apparently Smokey cried uncle.

Matt Giraud's rendition of "Let's Get It On" starts at the piano. Vocally he's very strong, and is adding some cool add9 and 9sus voicings on the piano. Samantha immediately said to me "The judges are going to tell him to get out from behind the piano." Eight measures later, sure enough, he's up! And... he's really, really unsteady. Obviously you're going to have a better overall presentation if you're up and moving about, but for some reason he lost the control in his voice. The judges were oohing and ahhing over him, calling him a sudden front-runner. Did I watch something else?

Kris Allen walks into Smokey's practice room with his guitar strapped on, and I got a sinking feeling. "How Sweet It Is" actual goes very well for what it is: a milquetoast and complete unpretentous song. His singing is nearly flawless, and he really looks like he's enjoying himself. But again, it's milquetoast and unpretentious. Kara is impressed with his artistry (i.e. not imitating James Taylor or Marvin Gaye), Paula says it was a good song, and Randy cryptically says "It's all good", but... it wasn't. It was a dull song that I certainly won't remember by the time he's eliminated.

Scott MacIntyre balladizes "You Can't Hurry Love". In the clip, Smokey says he likes how Scott has modernized it, but apparently Scott changed his mind, as it was rhythmically identical to the Supremes version with the exception of some throwaway brass stabs and an occasional inappopriate piano riff between sections). Alas, he's not only sounding reedy like an overeager musical-theater high schooler, but also out of vocal control (see Kara's comment on executing improvised lines). I didn't get this at all. (Flesh colored pants? The flesh of a salmon, maybe.)

Megan Joy did the watusi to the camera before the fade to commercial, so our expectations are a bit low. "For Once In My Life" is an interesting choice; a killer groove with a wide range. In the clip, It's a "good Megan song"? Is she referring to herself in the third person now? Oy. And back on live TV she fails to back this kind of arrogance, wailing bizarrely through the song. She's got power, but her voice is so... bizarre, like she's channelling Billy Holliday mid-fix. Randy even calls it bizarre, too. How in the world has she made it this far? Simon suggests that "whoever is advising you should be fired,"; hmmm, who's in charge here? A musical director, by any chance? Interesting, her speaking voice is just as odd; that's a problem. She's got a 90-year-old woman stuck in her throat of something.

Anoop Desai makes a fantasticchoice with "Ooh Baby Baby". And... sleepwalks through the first verse (Simon later agreed). The belted notes on the second verse sound killer, but this whole thing seems like it's running in slow motion. And the outfit... oh lord. A windbreaker, over a shirt & tie... it's like me in 6th grade. And I had terrible fashion sense in 6th grade. Kara makes a good point about the difficulty factor, and I do appreciate that holding those notes strongly for such an extended time is impressive; I just wish it weren't so damned slow.

In his clip, Michael Sarver says he's going to "church it up", and explains that that means he'll "sing off the cuff." Because God loves unpredictability? In performance, he's brought back some of the charm and power that I loved in the cattle-call round. This is easily his best performance of the season; it's about him, and it's killer. His attempt at a run near the end hit a snag, but other than that (and, admittedly, a failure to his falsetto in the first chorus), it absolutely kicked my ass. Then Paula, Simon, take him to task for not bringing his game. If we make the assumption that what the judges experience in person is substantially different from what we experience at home, I think we should all feel cheated as a viewing public. Unless I'm really just crazy and, as Samantha suggested, I've lost my credibility. Have I? Somebody please comment and tell me why that performance sucked. I don't get it.

Lil Rounds makes an unfortunate choice with "Heat Wave". Her singing the hell out of it seems like a sure bet, but suprisingly she was quite unsteady. Part of the problem is that it's not that great of song. (*dodging Motown thunderbolts*) And then the song ended so awkwardly, like a bad variety show. (A worse variety show than this one, anyway.) I'm totally with Randy, Kara and Simon on this; she needs songs that lets her voice "breathe" (I thought that exactly), because her power is in... her power! A series of rapid-fire notes doesn't suit her.

Great. Someone else is turning a mid-tempo song into a ballad. Adam Lambert takes a lot of liberties with the melody of "Tracks of My Tears", and not all of them good. He's got a hell of a falsetto, which comes out in the bridge. But this transformation from freaky-goth to Extreme-meets-Dean-Martin doesn't work . Kara seems to have be swayed by the band on stage when she compliments his artistry. It wasn't bad, but a killer falsetto can't make you the best performer of the night, as Simon declared; otherwise, the "I climbed the frosty mountains" guy from season 7 would've made it to Hollywood week.

Danny Gokey makes some vocal missteps in the clip where he's preparing "Get Ready", which is otherwise a great choice. I thought, "this might be too high for him", and lo and behold, Rickey Minor did something useful and brought it down by a full step. Quite notably, he refrains from the ends of the lines in the verse, which left gaping holes in the melody. It otherwise was fantastic, and even when he strained to reach higher notes, something about his voice worked anyway. He's like the anti-Megan; everything Megan sings is wrong, and everything Danny sings is somehow right.

Allison Iraheta has a command of the stage well beyond her years. Just the way she plants her feet and stands still kicks my ass. That combination of intense focus and the depth of her voice is unreal. Absolutely unreal. Not only the best performance of the night, but perhaps, minute-for-minute, the best performance I've ever seen on Idol. That was so good, Sam and I watched it again. And considering how much crap on our DVR we have to catch up on, that's saying a lot.

Stevie Wonder schools Ruben Studdard tomorrow night. Humiliating fun for the whole family!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

episode 8-22 (March 18): Top 11 results

[Fox TV's video recap here.]

Tonight's group number-- "Trouble"-- sounds obviously pre-recorded. Right? It actually wasn't a bad idea for a song, and at least it _looked_ authentic, which is a rarity in these group numbers. But how sterile could this audio get? My goodness.

The Ford video-- "Here It Goes Again"-- sounds like Kidz Bop. You know, that production team that takes pop hits and replaces the memorable lead vocals with a dispensible chorus of children for no compelling reason? This was just like that, but with adults. Absolutely flavorless singing.

Ryan keeps bringing up the fact that the Top 10 (i.e. anyone who makes it part tonight) will go on tour. That said, Megan Joy (formerly Corkery) has no business going on tour. Allison Iraheta, Alexis Grace and Michael Sarver have ended up in the bottom three, and if Allison is at the very bottom, the judges _must_ save her. She's among the strongest of the contestants, and Megan is the last of the dead weight.

And Allison is rescued from the fake suspense machine! Yay! But the idea of Megan and her bizarre singing accent going on tour and not Michael or Alexis is outrageous.

Carrie Underwood and Randy Travis team up for "I Told You So". Carrie, like Kelly Clarkson last week, proves her pipes and then some, much as she did on last year's Idol Gives Back-- that rendition of "Praying for Time" was absolutely heart-stopping.

Michael, despite his poor showing last night, is also rescued from the fake suspense machine, leaving Alexis in the incredibly awkward and miserable position of singing specifically to impress four people who are huddled and barely paying attention to her. Even creepier, she's singing "Jolene", which is a dark, desperate plea to someone not to ruin her one chance. And now she's crying while she's singing, because, well, she's essentially been rejected and is desperate to impress the judges.

Again, this is just so, so creepy, and jarringly fake. I've made a point on other Internet boards of trying to bridge the gap between the music-ed naysayers and the music-ed fanboys, by suggesting that if one uses Idol as a tool in the classroom, one should wait until Hollywood Week and the live rounds, because that's where the auditions become legitimate. Unfortunately, tonight has ruined all of that.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

episode 8-21 (March 17): Top 11 performances

The Top 11 are coached by Randy Travis, who seems to open every pre-performance video with some variation on "I heard he/she was going to sing [name of song], and I thought, uh-oh, I don't see how that's going to sound good," and ends every video with some variation on "Wow! That turned out to be a great idea after all!" You'd think he'd be a little more open-minded after, oh, the sixth or seventh time.

[Fox TV's recap here.]

Michael Sarver sings Garth Brooks' "Ain't Goin' Down". I was crazy about him during the cattle-call rounds, but now his Kenneth-the-page side is coming out, and it's getting annoying. We get it, you're earnest; now please grow!

Alison Iraheta sings "Blame It On Your Heart". Finally, some big notes! And a great vehicle for her personality. Man, that was a workout watching her! For once, I'm in disagreement with Simon; I didn't have any problems with her performance.

Kris Allen smoothes his way "To Make You Feel My Love". Someone explain to me what makes this particularly country-esque. Sam, sitting at my side, called it "dullsville"; not that it was bad, but there was nothing to recommend it. Paula says it was a good choice, and Simon called it "terrific", which is partly true; it was well sung, but it wasn't a good song. Kara says she'd forgotten it was Opryland Night as though it were a good thing; what's the point of Opryland Night then?

Lil Rounds tries to power through "Independence Day", but its way at the bottom of her range! Why why why?! Like Randy, I found the verse is a waste of time; when she hit the chorus, I finally woke up. The last note was great, but what about the rest of the song? Lil is really doing too much justification to try to counter Simon's critique; this "I'm an artist, therefore my choices can't be bad" attitude is spreading like a fungus amongst the competitors.

Adam Lambert brings us "Ring of Fire", as performed by Soundgarden by way of Jefferson Airplane. Adam, can you feel me? (Sam got nauseous from all of the swirling camera work.) Kara says "Adam does country music!" Um, no he didn't; he took a country standard and turned it into a decidedly non-country acid trip. Paula commended him for "standing his ground as an artist", but what's the point of a country night if it the music doesn't resemble country? Are there any rules in place here? While it was impressive in terms of ideas, it was, as Simon says, incredibly indulgent.

Scott MacIntyre, in singing "Angels", has chosen yet another song that's too low in his range. Why why why?! And why isn't Rickey Minor, or these oft-mentioned vocal coaches, doing a damn thing about it?! The bridge kind of works, but it's all kind of milquetoast. Paula thinks the piano is a crutch that's separating him from the audience (to which Scott give a brilliant comeback); I think it does him good, in that he's awkward standing by himself. Kara's absolutely right; he needs to "up his game" and pick material that makes him stand out, not pick material just for novelty's sake.

Alexis Grace makes a bold choice with Dolly Parton's "Jolene". The beginning felt very unnatural and overly precise, almost like a Renaissance-era motet. This is the shakiest vocal performance we've seen from her; she tried too hard to make non-edgy notes edgy, and the song doesn't show anything we need to see. She certainly committed to the performance, considering the darkness of the lyrics; the emotional performance, in fact, is what saved this. (Alexis has a Kelly Pickler moment. A "sound-alike" is when you, um, sound alike.)

Danny Gokey would seem to be a shoo-in in this competition. Then he showed up ready for a day at the slopes, and I got very distracted. This verse of "Jesus Take The Wheel" is way too wordy for him; he's not a recitative-style singer which seems so prevalent in country nowadays (think the verse of Underwood's "Before He Cheats"). Thankfully, the chorus was fanastic. Kara hits it on the head, wishing he's given us in the first half more of what we saw in the second half. Why sabotage one's self with mediocrity when elimination is on the line? I don't get it.

Anoop Desai in turn channels Danny, and turns "Always on my Mind" into his best performance yet. A song like this could've easily devolved into boredom, but he kept engaged throughout and kept me engaged as well. If he makes it to the final episode, this could be the turning point.

What's up with the newly re-christened Megan Joy's accent when she sings? Is she possesed by a drunk Amy Winehouse? Did her standard American accent run off and elope with her ex-husband's last name? Patsy Cline's "Walkin' After Midnight" is a stationary disaster. Not only are movements awkward, she sounds odder and odder every week; aside from gems like "Searching' for yoo-oooooo", she's sounding like an elderly woman in a teenager's body. Influenza aside, could the show be taking a physical toll on her in the larger scheme of things? And how is this possibly the perfect song for her, Kara? This song showed up us nothing. Are the judges watching the same performance? This is was a side-show, not a full-on performance.

Matt Giraud is Sam's sentimental favorite ("Shh! The dueling piano guy is on!"), but his Five-For-Fighting-ization of Carrie Underwood's "So Small" is too much. He's spending way to much time looking at his hands as he's playing (not just checking occasionally but full-on looking), which is odd considering how much of his hype has been piano-centered. Paula had an issue with Scott using the piano as a crutch, but Scott made much more of connection behind the piano than Matt did. Look up once in a while, please! He certainly didn't outsing Danny, and he certainly was not as comfortable as Michael Bublé. Are the camera operators doing so poor of a job that we can't get nearly the same impression that the judges are?

Tomorrow: We likely lose yet another singer to the fickle tastes of the thirty industrious people who vote a million times each.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

episode 8-20 (March 11): Top 13 results

A twist? Ah, a Judge's Save! Fantastic idea... or is it?

[Fox TV's video recap here.]

While Ryan is explaining the Judge's Save, the Top 13 are holding those impossibly shiny microphones. I momentarily forgot about the mandatory group number coming up and just thought it looked ridiculous.

Something about the mix of men's and women's voices sounds inherently Disney to me. When they go into harmony for the first time, I was immediately reminded of a recording that a chorus teacher in high school played for a class; it was the cassette (hey, it was 1990) that came with a choral arrangement of "Stairway to Paradise". The professional singers on that recording were like nothing I'd ever heard before-- so clean and precise, yet they sounded so goddam happy.

While appreciate the work that obviously went into putting this number together, it's much ado about nothing. It's not much better than overblown nonsense like this. Thanks, rural high-school music teachers! (That's right. I went there.)

Oo, it's the first Ford video, and it's-- Aggghhhh!!!! Attack of the 40-foot CGI Projections!!!! That was... pointless. Except for paying Idol's advertising income, of course.

Jasmine is given the first boot, and now the Judge's Save becomes terribly awkward. Jasmine has to literally sing for the judge's pleasure, and has to flagrantly play up the qualities that the judges said she lacked last night... and the judges have the uncomfortable duty to reject her a second time. Wow, this is painful. The other odd thing is that the judges are asked to consider the bootees one at a time, so if there are two bootees, a judge may not want to "waste" his/her Save on whoever happens to be the first to get booted that night, in the event that suspect another better singer might also be at the bottom. Kind of makes the judges have to play some gamesmanship, negating the positives of the Judge's Save, no?

Kanye West, who is arguably the greatest recording artist of the decade ("Champion", for one, is an absolutely brilliant adaptation of an already brilliant song), performs an OK if repetitive song with far more pitch-correction than necessary-- a painful amount, in fact. I'd much rather hear a great entertainer singing mediocrely for real, rather than something so unncessarily artificial.

Kelly Clarkson continues to validate her first-season victory with her killer pipes. "My Life Would Suck Without You" kinda sounds like its own dance remix.

Jorge gets the second boot, alas. Ryan says "Jorge will sing while the judges are deliberating." And... Paula gets up and cheers him on, and Kara claps along, while Randy and Simon chat. As I really liked Jorge last night, I was rooting for a Save, but that was unlikely this early, and admittedly Jorge (and Jasmine for that matter) weren't going to win this competition anyway.

Next week: Top 11. Gokey in '09!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

episode 8-17 (March 4): Top 36 - group 3 results and wild-card reveal

I won't go into detail about the reveals tonight, except to say I audibly cheered when Anoop squeaked in at the last minute.

[Fox TV's video recap here.]

Again, my biggest interest in the results shows is in the group numbers. I loved the Ne-Yo group number last week. Even if that song was used out of licensing obligation, it was still a killer choice, and the movement was tasteful. It remains the only group number I've ever seen on Idol that I truly liked.

Too bad I didn't blog about that one. Instead, I have the unfortunate task to blog about this one, set to Katy Perry's "Hot and Cold". The whole thing definitely reeked of licensing obligation, given that, well, it's a pretty crappy song. The women descending the stairs one step at a time en masse was actually quite arresting, but the guys all looked they were on different planets. Nathaniel Marshall, in all of his "I'm so individualistic I could just pee" glory, is actually playing up the song to the camera very well. Meanwhile, Scott MacIntrye stilll has that deer-in-the-headlights looks and is incredibly awkward with his hand-gestures, which I imagine we're supposed to dismiss in deference to his vision issues but shouldn't as there's no real connection there; he just needs serious coaching on how to look more casual in performance. (This stiltedness is surprising, considering how relaxed and dreamy he looks in the publicity photos.) Alex Wagner-Trugman also needs serious coaching on how to conduct one's self in a public performance in general; his shifting focus reminds me of myself, and that's super uncomfortable. (That thing I said about social holding his own in this show's cast? Still standing by that.)

Tomorrow: things get wild (card).

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

episode 8-16 (March 3): Top 36 - group 3 performance

No need for formalities; this show is long enough. Every time the bumper comes up to lead into the show itself, and the voiceover says "Get ready for two all-new hours of American Idol!", I really do feel the need to brace myself.

Von Smith does his best with Marvin Gaye's "You're All I Need To Get By" The opening reminds me of George Michael singing the opening of "Father Figure", in the sense of getting really breathy in the bottom of his range. The comparison falls apart beyond that, though, as his struggling on the opening verse was uncomfortable. He hits some killer high notes in the choruses, including some solid falsetto parts, with less "shouting" that we saw in Hollywood. Kara thinks he's "coming into his own," but I'm not convinced there's a ton to come into beyond this. That said, he really put his all into this, and I can't begrudge him his performance, which was electrifying at key moments. He probably won't go far compared to others, but he can be proud. Paula says off-the-cuff that he was pitch-perfect, which is not quite right either, but it was surprisingly solid. (Simon draws a comparison to Clay Aiken, although Rick Astley came to mind for me.)

Taylor Vaifanua does the breathiest version of Alicia Keys' "If I Can't Have You" I've ever heard, and by "breathy", I mean that she was breathing after every word. Also, why is she being put in the position of being so low in her range at the beginning? Rickey? (I do like the reharms that band is doing.) Ultimately a very forgettable performance.

I'm going to call Alex Wagner-Trugman "Chris Griffin". Why? Because he's "soooooooo awkwarrrrd." Or maybe Quagmire; "allllrighhhht." "I Guess That's Why They Call It The Blues" starts way to low for hi, and the opening verse is very unsteady at the outset, exacerbated by the ridiculous growling that doesn't sound good to anyone but himself. Then it starts to grow! And then it collapses. What a rollercoaster this verse is! He's trying so heard, he sounds like he's actually sick. All of this stylizing is contrary to what endeared him to the judges in the first place. Rule no. 3!

3) Chose a song that is good for you.

He's so awkward it hurts. It's not a dig on him personally, but he's... so awkward. (Paula didn't really even critique him; she's come down from the lucidity she'd shown in the cattle-call episodes.)

Rickey Minor: Was that modulation necessary? Could you smooth out the groove of the song any more? Seriously? (Well, at least Alex ended up in the right key.)

Arianna Afsar has the cojones to take on ABBA's "The Winner Takes It All". It sound like she's in a decent place in her range, and then... the chorus is suprisingly weak. Now, the second chorus is absolutely killer, but she's didn't so enough of the strong material to justify moving on. Not terrible across the board as Simon insisted, but why isn't the whole song this good. Arianna's own note that she was trying to contemporize this song, after an Anne-Murray-esque performance straight out of the late '70s, indicates a lack of reflection on her part that's going to bite her back if she doesn't get guidance from the producers.

Ju'not Joyner reprises his ballad rendition of "Hey There Delilah", which I loved during Hollywood Week. He's got great control in the lower part of his range. "World" high note was a cop-out. (Rickey: thank you for _not_ modulating. That was a close one.) Interestingly, I was more interested in the arrangement than the performance. Unfortunately, his leather jacket and jeans comes across as cheap. Is it a size to large? When they did the sweeping camera shot, it was like watching the Michelin Man.

Kristen McNamara brings us a cheese-drenched uptempo "Give Me One Reason". (Ricky Minor piles on more cheese, with pointless modulations and... oh God, that awful brass patch.) She's just holding onto the mic for dear life at the beginning, but really comes out of her shell by the end. Hello, screaming head voice! Most of the judges complimented her on her range but questioned the song choice, and I agree.

Emo Boy is back! Nathaniel Marshall looks like Billy Idol meets Boy George meets a rare species of bird. What we've learned from previous auditions is that he's a jerk-ass who also happens to have a killer high baritone. This whole thing is so mid-'80s, from the arrangements to his vocal style to his outfit, and his tone reminds me of a high-school boy auditioning for a school musical in a voice that he thinks is appropriate, which is a shame consider that we've heard him sing the hell out of things. There's definitely raw talent there; if he gets through to the Top 12, millions of teenaged theater geeks will have reason to hope. (How annoying is the extra exposure he's getting afterward?)

Idol's resident bullet-dodger Felicia Barton presents the second(!) Alicia Keys song of the night, "No One". I heard this song on the radio a couple of days ago, and I still can't figure out why it was a hit. And then Felicia hits this out of the park. I think I like Felicia's performance better than Keys', her glitch in the first chorus notwithstanding. Holy crap is she lucky she got back on the show; she's better than most of the folks we've seen.

Scott MacIntrye chooses "Mandolin Rain", and it's an awful awful awful choice for him. His voice in this bottom part of this range isn't under as much control as we'd seen previously, like when he nailed "And So It Goes" in the cattle-call round with that amazing breathy tone. Higher up it's strong, but it all seems... so... earnest. He doesn't have an inherently powerful belt voice. Alas, he's moving in ways suggesting that no one's advising him on how he looks; his movements remind me of a high-schooler trying to do what he thinks an entertainer would, and failing at it. He needs to stick to ballads that play to his strengths. Rule No. 3 truly rules the live rounds.

It must be said, the judges (and producer, I presume) are appearing to give McIntrye a lot of leeway where physical presence is concerned. It would be a shame if continued on in the competition and continued on with a sympathy vote, as opposed for a strong performance.

Kendall Beard squeals her way through "This One's For The Girls". She's got serious power, but she completely loses control on moving passages. Looking like Kristen Chenowith but singing with poor intonation won't get you far in this competition. I'm with Simon, in that halfway through it I really was wondering when it would end; it felt like one level all the way through.

Jorge Nuñez has the cojones to sing "Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me". And lo and behold, he's got serious power. This could have been a cheesefest, but he nailed it, Puerto-Rican accent and all. Wow. This guy was portrayed in earlier rounds as the clown, but he's suddenly one to watch. (I could have lived without the the gratuitous split screen. Is the Fox or Fox News?)

Lil Rounds absolutely brings the house down with Mary J. Blige's “Be Without You”. She's got a strong presence and just takes over this song from the get-go. (It doesn't hurt that it's a R&B song with juicy chord changes.) Wow, does she own the camera. That was the most powerful performance we've seen in the Top 36 so far, perhaps even surpassing Danny Gokey. Randy puts it best: swagger, like she owns the place. Which she does.

I'm rooting for for Lil, Felicia and Jorge to make it through tomorrow night. (Alas, I'm never home in time to vote, so I'll never be able to put my 10¢-per-message where my mouth is.)