A tighter category and other notes after the jump ...
Viewer advisory: We are back from "Blades of Glory" and fast-forwarding through the breaks.
Well, that all-purpose pop-song category was defined a little more narrowly: songs by No Doubt and songs that inspired them. But still lots of song-choice room.
First up: LaKisha doing Donna Summer's "Last Dance." I am worrying that she is thinking she already has this won. The judges are pleased, but I didn't feel that she was trying to take us to our knees. B.
Sligh. He gets a viewer question about how much down time he has and how he spends it. Sligh mentions knitting and crocheting -- then says more seriously that he gets as much sleep as possible to avoid getting sick. His song: "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic." Gwen thinks he needs to concentrate on the beat. In performance, Sligh is OK but he seems to be having breath-control problems; hey, it's a tricky song, and he wants to go big and then get back to the more Sting-y parts. I am only mildly impressed. B minus. Randy worries about how Sligh did rhythmically. Paula concurs. Simon calls it a mess. Theme music comes up and Simon shouts that he hasn't finished. "Not the Oscars!" he snaps. Rescue Ryan gives Sligh a chance to explain; Sligh is content to admit "my bad."
Gina. Totally emotional about meeting The Stefani. Who speaks kindly of her. Pretenders' "I'll Stand By You." It's been a good year for Ms. Hynde. But you have to have brass in pocket to take on one of her songs, and Gina's not all that brassy. C. Randy likes her boots and considers it one of her best performances ever. Paula notes she is coming into her own as an artist. Simon calls it her best performance. Admires her progress. So Gina is getting the whole artistic-journey storyline that "Idol" so loves.
Terrifying promo shot of Sanjaya.
Sanjaya has picked a No Doubt song, "Bath Water." Stefani is worried just from the rehearsal. Sanjaya's hair -- rooster-like -- gives people something to talk about other than his singing. He sounds less barbarously awful than some weeks, but is still mediocre at best, with wavering vocals as he goes along and a lyric stumble. D. Randy says he actually can sing if he would just put it out there. Paula wishes he had the gumption -- her word -- to go for it. Simon says he doesn't think it matters anymore what the judges say, that he is "in your own universe." Basically admitting that the judges can't keep people from voting for him -- so they'll just be amused and wait for voters to be bored.
Haley picks "True Colors," one of Stefani's favorite songs. The Gwenster wasn't crazy about Haley's veering approach to it. Haley does the verse well but struggles with the upper range of the chorus, so she restrains herself for most of it, making it boring for most of it. A little better near the end, but so far I am not having a good night. C. Randy wasn't really grabbed. Paula felt it was too adult-contemporary. Simon sums up: "sweet but forgettable." Doesn't help either that she has a really obnoxious cheering section.
Phil. More streetish wardrobe; the clean-cut Navy man thing of the early shows is not a note he's hitting anymore. Another viewer question. Zzzz. Phil goes for "Every Breath You Take," second Police song of the night. Gwen is impressed -- and surprised. He starts off a little too breathy. And is so close to Sting that I'm wondering why I would want to listen to Phil instead. Amps it up a little more, but it's still ... OK but indistinct. C plus? No, C. Randy thought it was really solid. Paula thought it a good choice but felt he played it safe on the verse. Simon thought it was very good.
Melinda. More Donna Summer: "Heaven Knows." Iffy start, but Melinda gets very comfortable quickly; you can tell she's sung more than a little disco. And she's determined to sell it in a way LaKisha didn't tonight. Not overpowering but best of the night so far. B plus. Randy thinks she is "living the words." Paula positive. Simon considers her outstanding vocally but hated her outfit. I thought she looked fine, and certainly dressed in a way that worked for her.
Blake. "Love Song" by the Cure. Stefani warns about the beat-box distracting from the melody. Performance is, um, smooth-jazz to a disappointing extent. Vocal's fine but the arrangement makes me snoozy. C plus. Randy thinks he made the most of it but wasn't jumping up and down. Paula loved it and considers him hip and cool and contemporary and would love to see him in the finale. Simon calls him the strongest guy in the competition but warns about being in "the Chris Daughtry zone" and becoming too self-indulgent.
Jordin goes into the No Doubt catalog for "Hey Baby" -- surprising Stefani. Good change of pace performance for Jordin, but I'm not kicking for the song. B. Randy calls it very risky but "you could literally sing anything." Paula calls her adorable and hip and young. (Is Paula worrying about the demos?) Simon considers her most improved in the last few weeks, and also brings up the young thing; still calls it "copycat-ish."
Chris R. to close the show, with more No Doubt. "Don't Speak." Stefani is aware of his "vocal Olympics thing" but doesn't think this song needs it. Wants him to focus on the song and the emotion. Weak start. And I expected more from the chorus than he delivers on the first go-round. Lots of parts hurting my ears. Stronger on the chorus next time around, but his voice is so reedy that the drama's not there. C. Randy calls it very interesting and liked Chris going to "your R&B side." Paula's just giving off a carnal vibe. Simon wasn't crazy about the vocal.
Recap. And on to the voting.