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.