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''Idol'' Scorecard, Lying as Strategy

By RD Heldenfels Published: February 22, 2006

Look, we all know that ''American Idol'' contestants may not, um, show their true feelings. That some of those hugs-and-tears for an ousted contestant are accompanied by the happy thought that one more competitor is out of the way. That smiling and nodding are not at the top of the emotional heap when Simon is tearing you apart.

Still, it was weird to see Simon urge Heather Cox to lie on Tuesday's telecast. Heather did not fare well with the judges, but said that she was back from a bout with laryngitis; Cowell said she should have claimed not to be 100 percent, that she should have made an excuse for her subpar performance. Talk about cynicism on display.

I listened to the judges' comments for Heather, since she's my local connection to this round of ''Idol.'' You can find my Beacon Journal story about her here.

But, because I was at a meeting during most of ''Idol's'' telecast, I only heard bits and pieces of other comments. Instead, this morning I did one of those everything-important-in-20-minutes zips through my DVR of last night's show: skip commercials, skip features, skip banter, just give me the songs. And when you sing, you'd better be good quickly, because my finger is on the fast-forward button. This did not spare me the butchering of songs when they are edited down for telecast, but it at least gave me a sense of whom I like.

Based on that viewing, my top three are, in descending order, Mandisa (gave her an A), Ayla Brown  (B plus) and Paris Bennett (B). I really want to see Mandisa sing, well, anything. Brown was very good. Bennett is a terrific performer, but too calculating a one; not one gesture felt spontaneous, and that bothers me, especially with a singer so young.

After them, there's sort of a cluster of ho-hum or bad here/good there performances: Kinnik Sky (a C plus, though I'm not sure I could defend it that well), Katharine McPhee (who, I think, got more praise because she had been picked to close the show than she would have if she had performed somewhere in the middle), Lisa Tucker, Melissa McGhee and Cox (all C's), then Kellie Pickler and Brenna Gethers (C minuses). Some were better at showmanship than others, but I tend to focus on the singing at this stage.

My stinkers of the night were Stevie Scott (D plus) and Becky O'Donohue (D), with O'Donohue proving once and for all that she has gotten this far almost exclusively on her looks. So if I am the King of the Forest, they get the boot. But I try never to be surprised by what the voters do.

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