The seemingly pre-determined narrative arc of this season’s American Idol was kept nicely on course last night, with the judges continuing to heap unwarranted praise on Danny Gokey and Adam Lambert while treating Kris Allen like a monster who arrived in the Top Three by murdering someone — until the very end, that is, when Kris cold rocked an acoustic version of “Heartless” by Kanye, and they had no choice but to acknowledge, however briefly, that maybe he deserved to stick around. Full report after the jump.
The Judge's Picks:
Kris Allen — "Apologize" by One Republic: This was a joint pick, from Kara and Randy, and the performance was, admittedly, nothing to get too excited about. He played piano and stuck pretty close to the original, adding a few vocal runs here and there. The judges' reactions were, not surprisingly, harsh. They said they'd chosen the song because it seemed to be a style that suited him perfectly, then they took him to task for... not doing it in a different style? It was odd, and Simon dutifully called them out on practically sabotaging Kris. Simon wasn't terribly impressed either, of course, which led to one of the more awkward sequences in the show's history, with Ryan begging the camera operators not to focus on the judges because, judging from the sound of it, Simon and Paula were definitely either wrestling or screwing.
Danny Gokey — "Dance Little Sister" by Terrence Trent D'Arby: Yes indeed, Paula had Danny sing a song by Terrence Trent D'Arby, and it wasn't "Wishing Well." In fairness, Danny delivered exactly the kind of performance that people who like him are looking for, and exactly the kind of performance that people who think he should be sent home cite as evidence. His voice was characteristically strong, but he indulged in too much of that put-on guttural tone he likes to go to for affect; he was energetic as always, but also completely awkward and in shockingly poor taste. His post-performance convo with Ryan was business as usual as well: smug, pleased with himself, etc. Aside from Randy apologetically mentioning the terrible dancing, the judges thought it was wonderful.
Adam Lambert — "One" by U2: Simon's choice led to the single worst performance of the night, and, of course, the one the judges thought was the best. Yesterday morning, for absolutely no apparent reason, I'd been thinking about "One," and I'd come to the conclusion that it's my favorite U2 song (original, I know) because in a lot of ways, it's probably the smallest song they've ever written: there are no tricks — no huge volume changes. or dramatic build-ups. And yet when performed live (or, hell, even listened to on tinny headphones), it feels enormous, because everything that's there, which really isn't much, is just perfect. I've always wished they could make that happen again, but they've relied far too heavily in recent years on studio trickery and senseless stylistic diversions. Anyway, I mention all of this because Adam's performance, despite everything the judges said about it, indicated such a clear, borderline offensive lack of understanding on his part of what makes the song good. If he'd handled it differently (like he has with some of the ballads he's performed this year), it could have been great. Instead, he messed around with a new arrangement, completely abandoned the melody, screamed and screeched like an idiot, and did the totally cheesy camera-stare that all the worst contestants always do. Then Paula told him he was going to be this year's American Idol.
The Contestants' Picks
Danny Gokey — "You Are So Beautiful" by Joe Cocker: Honestly, I don't even remember this performance. I think I may have been playing Papi Jump Cave on my iPhone. I vaguely recall that it sounded exactly how you think iI thought it would sound. Boring, cheesy, etc. Surprise, surprise, the judges loved it.
Kris Allen — "Heartless" by Kanye West: For my money, this was the best performance of the night. He started off mostly a capela, and for the first 20 seconds or so, I was scared to death of how he was going to pull of the verses, which are slightly more rapped than sung. But lo and behold, he managed to pull it off without hiding behind irony or even overselling it with misplaced big notes everywhere. His delivery was understated and rhythmic, and as opposed to Adam, he managed to put his own slant on an amazing song without undoing everything that made it an amazing song in the first place. To my (and their) surprise, the judges agreed, and Simon eve begrudgingly admitted he was wrong to write him off.
Adam Lambert — "Cryin'" by Aerosmith: In his pre-performance sit-down with Ryan, Adam said he wanted to do Steven Tyler proud and that he wouldn't stray too far from the original version of the song. And for the first verse, he didn't. Then, as he did with "One," he let his voice get away from him, and he completely ditched the melody, and his timing seemed to suffer because of it. There was also a strange backing voice coming mysteriously from the balcony, I guess, and while I'm willing to acknowledge the possibility that it was more a problem with the mix on TV than it was in the theater, I couldn't believe the judges didn't mention it. They thought he was great, obviously, and Simon went so far as to take a step back from all the praise, and speak directly to the audience at home, urging them to vote for Adam and not just assume he doesn't need their help. Not that he's playing favorites or anything.
So what's gonna happen tonight? Well, after Jordin Sparks performs the worst song ever, Danny and Adam will probably advance to the finals. It won't be fair, but what is?