The dreaded annual spectacle of country-music night, Simon and Ryan battle about Sanjaya, and more, after the jump ...
Ryan begins with an announcement that "our thoughts and prayers" are with people affected by the Virginia Tech massacre. Then opening credits, and on to the usual business.
Ryan declares that when they were looking for a country mentor, there was only one choice. Clip reel with voiceover fawning re Martina McBride. With the contestants, who look stony-faced, she emphasizes storytelling -- and warns they shouldn't get hung up on fitting the genre.
Ryan says she was "a delight" to work with and "the contestants loved her."
Phil first. Martina thought he was stiff at first but with "a great, souful lick" at the end; she wants more of the lick. No hat for Phil as he sings Keith Urban's "Where the Blacktop Ends." Competent. C plus.
Randy says he could have a career in country music and "that was really good." Paula thinks it's "the genre you feel most comfortable in." Simon says it's the only time he thought Phil chose a good song that suited him and "we actually saw some personality." Break, to be followed by Jordin.
Back from the break, and Ryan says Martina is "coaching." Ha! Jordin is doing Martina's "A Broken Wing," and was scared to do it in front of her. Martina calls her rendition "awesome." She seems to be having breath problems at first in the live performance. Good eyebrow arching. Standing still, just selling the song. Improves at the chorus, but there's a little screechiness. Well, more than a little. But I like her presence. B minus.
Randy calls it difficult to sing, and calls it "the bomb." Paula says she looks gorgeous and that "you did a fantastic job." Simon calls it the first time since he's met Jordin that he believes she could win "Idol." Some of us saw that weeks ago. Ryan asks when she gets nervous. She says "afterwards."
Sanjaya next, after another break. New hair. Big mop with a red kerchief. Channeling Willie Nelson? He gets a viewer question about what he'd want the judges to sing. Says Simon would do "Shiny Happy People." His song: "Something to Talk About." Which, he notes, is what he gives people. Martina likes his tone when he sings louder. Sanjaya just wants "to do Bonnie Raitt justice." Not likely. He's singing. Not doing her justice. Not keeping track of the melody either. F, and he must write an apology to the great Miss Raitt.
I know, there's no point in criticizing him. But he's terrible and, unlike the judges, I refuse to stop saying it.
Judges revive. Well, two of them. Randy has a spasm of honesty -- calling it "karaoke." Paula just laughs about Sanjaya loving adversity. And Simon, unable to contain himself, calls it "utterly horrendous." Crowd boos. Ryan comes to Sanjaya's rescue, as if he wasn't bad and needs help. (Or Ryan fears Simon has backlashed Sanjaya into another week.) Sanjaya grins throughout. Simon speaks up for the need to find the next Idol. Ryan persists. Simon notes that he liked Sanjaya last week. More bickering, then a break, where we can ponder whether Simon simply snapped. And how utterly groveling Ryan is.
[A postscript supporting the Simon-snapped notion: He recently told Entertainment Weekly that "I'm not sure there's anything I'm going to say in the 20 seconds I'm allowed that's going to change what he does. People are going to talk more about his haircut than his singing, so I don't think it's necessary for me to give a proper critique."]
LaKisha. Carrie's "Jesus Take the Wheel." (My colleague Malcolm X Abram has another name for it.) Martina says she was "definitely connected" to the lyric. So-so start. Interesting gold boots. On the chorus, she reminds us she is freakin' LaKisha. It's more tailored to Carrie but LaKisha shows no fear. B.
Randy notes pitch problems in the beginning and says it's not his favorite vocal from her. Wanted it more gospel. Paula gulps and agrees with Randy. LaKisha is fuming. Simon compares it to "eating a hamburger for breakfast." Reminds one and all that she was the one to beat some weeks ago, and that she has to choose right songs.
Chris R. reminds us of his country roots. Song: "Mayberry." (No, not that Andy Griffith theme.) Martina questioned his choice of song at first but likes his way of singing it and considers him "really versatile." Ooh, baaaaad start. Making me wince repeatedly. D minus.
Randy didn't feel a connection. Paula felt his joy and love onstage didn't come through. Simon calls it a "very nondescript, nasally, tinny vocal." Audience is especially obnoxious tonight. Ryan jabs Simon. Chris defends his nasalness as intentional -- and sends his own concerns to Virginia Tech. (He's from Virginia.) Visibly upset.
[Another postscript: Because I was typing as I watched , I was not looking at my screen for the now-notorious Simon eye-rolling, and so did not mention it in this post. It will be interesting to see what, if anything, is said on tonight's show.]
Melinda. Song, "Trouble Is a Woman" by Julie Reeves, is something Martina never heard before. But she was impressed. Notes Melinda's initial shyness. None evident onstage. She's in charge, aside from getting an audio fight from the band. Seems to get lost for a moment in the middle. But I am sure she heard what was said about LaKisha and saw an opportunity. B plus.
Randy calls it "another solid performance from our resident pro." Paula praises song choice. Simon calls it "fantastic ... great choice of song ... a little bit of Tina Turner" and notes she is more glammed up. (Major improvement in hair.)
Blake to close. "When the Stars Go Blue," Tim McGraw. (I feel it more in terms of the Corrs and Bono.) Martina thinks he has "a really interesting style." Big orchestration, clearly meant to be his major I-should-win moment. But .. mostly competent, and not great on the "where do you go" parts. For some reason, I expected more. B minus.
Randy thinks he picked the right song. Paula thinks he has "the whole package." Simon calls it "OK" but not "a jumping-out-of-my-chair" -- and adds his caring about Virginia Tech on behalf of all the judges.