Notes about the show after the jump ...
(Tonight, the show had some standout performances and a lot of comments that seemed designed to blunt a recent news report about which contestants the producers favor. Details from during the show below.)
Usual bloat at the beginning, and I really dislike this deal of having the judges enter onstage. St. Patrick's Day lighting for a moment; wouldn't today have been good for an Irish week -- say the Van Morrison catalog? Nope, still country. Country clip and Randy Travis the mentor. He thinks it's probably as strong a group as he's seen in his years watching "American Idol." And which years were those?
Michael Sarver starts. "Ain't Goin' Down Till the Sun Comes Up." Ah, all-purpose Garth. Randy warns about handling the lyrics but also praises. Actual song: Wobbly vocal (harmonica player accompanying onstage) and he's walking delicately through the lyric, trying to be sure he doesn't mess things up. Not all that impressive, though. C. Randy says it was a cool song choice but wasn't sure if it showed his "vocal capabilities." Kara liked seeing his personality but missed "the big notes," but was impressed that he remembered the words. Sarv says "country music is about havin' some fun," which doesn't really address anything Kara said. Paula had fun and thought the harmonica player "added charm." Simon says it should have been good but he couldn't understand a single word. "You could've been singin' it in Norwegian," he says, and it was "a bit clumsy." Says the competition right now is "about you coming across as a star." Sarver gets a little mouthy.
Allison Iraheta. "Blame It On Your Heart." Love that Patty Loveless song. Randy says she could do well with just about anything, and likes the maturity in her voice. Warns her "don't try to be too cute." Performance: You know, there's a little bit of Brenda Lee in her -- young, rockin', "Jump the Broomstick" Brenda Lee. But I'm not sold on this. Still, C plus. Kara thinks she could sing the alphabet well; isn't that Randy's kind of line? Paula calls it "another rock-solid performance" and likes her "rock edge." And some other things, but Paula is having trouble completing sentences tonight. Simon thought it was good but "a little bit tuneless in parts" and that she was struggling to remember the words; AI says she's known the song since she was 8 years old. Randy thought it was "dope."
Kris Allen. "To Make You Feel My Love." Another Garth song. [As Gus notes below, also a Billy Joel song. And originally a Bob Dylan-penned tune.] You may recall that in a post last week I mentioned that Garth was one of the people who gave the singers a lot of wiggle room. Randy likes that Kris didn't just copy Garth's version. Performance: Very easy-listening. That face, the girls are lining up at iTunes now for this. But I find it no more than pleasant. C/C plus. Paula says she is "pleasantly surprised" and that it was honest and pure and vulnerable, but warns about some notes not being on pitch. Simon thought it terrific and a "great, great choice of song," and that he now has a shot at doing well in the competition. Randy thought he went out on a limb and "wow, tender moments from my dawg Kris." Kara didn't even know the song was "Opryland."
Lil Rounds. Chatting with Ryan, she says she's going to hold back to honor country. "Independence Day" from Martina McBride. Which you don't have to hold back too much. Randy advises her to slow down parts to get the space in for the licks she does. But also says she has "big pipes on the top." Performance: Weak start. She's trying to cling to the melody, and can't quite get there. Gets better at the chorus (with backing vocals supporting) to remind people she can sing, even if this song isn't the one for her. So C on the first part, B minus on the finish, C plus-ish overall. Randy notes she didn't hit her power zone until the chorus but it didn't feel comfortable. She says again she was trying something, to show R&B isn't the only thing she can sing. Other songs are suggested, including "I Will Always Love You," which if she had done would have been attacked for overusing a warhorse. Kara said Lil did what she felt and part of being an artist is "standing your ground." Paula sounds as if she has been crying, says Lil should have done one verse instead of two and spent more time on the chorus.
Simon calls her "Little," other judges object; he insists "Lil" is short for "Little." She's not Lil' Kim, for cryin' out loud; it could be from Lillian. And he objects to her work. Lil tries to disagree; Simon gets peckish about not getting to talk.
Adam Lambert. "Ring of Fire." Using a "Middle Eastern" kind of version. Randy T: "I don't even know what to say about this boy." Didn't Chris Daughtry do an odd "Ring of Fire"? [Nope. Checked. He did Live's rendition of "I Walk the Line."] Randy still thinks he's a great singer. Performance: Blah. Operatic and more than a little creepy. D but the judges will probably wet themselves. Kara calls it "very interesting" and "I don't know what to make of that. ... It was strange but I kinda liked it." Paula finds it "truly amazing" that Adam is true to who he is as an artist and "great song." Simon thinks a lot of people are throwing their television sets out the window and it was "absolute, indulgent rubbish." Randy calls it young and current and fresh. And Adam continues his task of being an incredible lightning rod that gets people arguing every week and presumably tuning in to see what he's up to.
Scott MacIntyre. "Wild Angels" by Martina McBride. Randy thinks it's not a good choice at first but warms to it some after hearing it. Perf: Scott at the piano. Breathy on the verse. Better on the chorus. Probably a great relief to people still trying to scrub Adam out of their ears. But he's not to my taste. C. Paula calls it another impressive, lovely performance, but the piano may be a bit of a crutch and "people need to see you as a show-man as well." Simon says "what do you expect him to do?" and says Paula's comment was stupid. Paula takes umbrage. Simon says Elton John always stays behind the piano. Paula is undeterred. Simon says both performances this week and last were too similar. Scott says "I've lost a lot of hat picks." Paula continues to bicker. Randy misses "hot, crazy vocals." Kara says "what everyone is saying" is "up your game a little bit." Simon says "choose better songs."
Alexis Grace. Ryan asks if she's worried about coming out after the Paula-Simon fight (which apparently continued during the commercial); she says she didn't see it. Song: "Jolene." Ah, Dolly, former mentor. Randy is pleased with her rendition. Perf: She's surprisingly good, with Dolly's intensity but not trying to match her tone. The "ahhhhh" is off, though. Still, she's got a knack for the dramatic. B minus. Randy heard a bunch of pitch problems and "it just wasn't a great performance." Kara thinks she lost her edge, and mentions other song possibilities. I wonder if the judges are trying to counteract the report that Alexis is a producers' fave. Paula thought she took "an artistic approach." Simon though it was forgettable. Alexis promises "some dirty" if she comes back next week.
Danny Gokey. "Jesus Take the Wheel." Very nervous with Randy T. Messes up a lot. But Randy admired Danny's soulfulness on the pieces of the song he knew. Perf: Bizarre jacket. Looks like a Dice Clay leftover. Danny is supposedly the other fave of the producers. (See above.) And he's very good tonight. Getting the full "Idol"-maker treatment in the production, but he does it. Solid B/B plus. Kara says "when you hit your stride, it's like none other." Thought the first half of the performance wasn't great -- the part where Danny was setting up the finish of a story song, for pete's sake. Paula loves it when artists build a story and labors to complete her thought again; finally settles on his being "brilliant" and "Carrie Underwood ... would go out and buy that record." Simon agrees with Paula, but hates what Simon's wearing, like some "polar expedition." Randy agrees with Kara, that the verses weren't supported enough.
'Noop. Randy brings up "Always On My Mind" and approves of 'Noop's vocal. Says it will be the best anyone has heard from him. Performance: Holy crap. Goosebumps. Best of the night so far. B plus. Paula says "Anoop is back." Simon says he went "from zero to hero" and it's one of his favorite performances of the night. Randy says "this is the reason that we really wanted you in this competition" and "the arrangement was dope." Kara calls it an almost untouchable song but "probably the best performance of the night" and "the biggest surprise."
Megan Joy. "Walking After Midnight." Randy notes the song has been done every possible way and MJ notes he is hesitant. Randy calls it "totally unique" and a "good job." But it's also Patsy Cline. Perf: Really odd. Trying to be bluesy-jazzy. Makes me think a little of what Jane Monheit might have done with this. But her vocal isn't really all that good, especially on the high notes. C. Randy notes she has been a little ill; Megan coughs. Randy anticipated a train wreck but thought it was good and "all really worked." Kara says "perfect song, perfect look," and also brings up MJ having the flu. MJ coughs some more. Paula says MJ has been in the hospital and back. Good grief, could we beg a little more for a sympathy vote? Paula says she should be sick every week. Simon agrees but dislikes the lack of quirkiness in her "I'm going to the prom" outfit.
Matt Giraud to close. Gender-bending continues with Matt choosing a Carrie Underwood song, "So Small." Randy uneasy but thinks he did a great job. Perf: Matt at piano. He's getting the full show-closer treatment: big orchestration, choral backup, and you can hear the currents of Elton under his rasp. OK but not great. B. Kara says "there ain't nothin' small" about Matt and calls it "amazing." Paula struggles to say "authenticity" and "you're piercing through so many people's hearts." Simon says "I don't think you've had enough credit for your vocals." And that Matt outsang Danny tonight; compares to Michael Buble and it was "a terrific performance." Randy calls it "my favorite performance of the night." But this all seems forced, the show trying to convince us that the last singer of the night was the best -- and to overcome that news report that the fix is in. "We've got ourselves a competition," Ryan says.
And now I'm off to "Dancing With the Stars."