Well, in the parade of "Idol" stars who have gone on to other things, they didn't get footage of Jennifer Hudson at the Oscars. No rights or too cheap to buy them, you be the judge. And more, after the jump ...
Ryan shows off the studio, the audience and then the top 12. Some makeovers, but I'm sure more is to come. Ryan gets to the big question: How will the guys do? Randy says the guys better step up. Paula, having been perplexed a week ago, praises the great variety NOW and says the guys will do better.
Homage to Diana Ross. Then to tape of Diana with the 12. Gee, she's laid on the makeup. "I am not a critic," Diana says. She wants to be the "trusting voice." No bashing to come? Rats.
First up: Brandon Rogers. Calls Diana "the star to which a lot of stars are compared to." Diana says she likes him. But why does she say "Motown Sound" as if it's humorous to her? Gentle advice before Brandon does "You Can't Hurry Love." His movements look very studied. Professional but dull, and his vocal is more erratic. AND HE FORGETS THE WORDS. Recovers a bit. Still, no more than a C.
Randy: "This is the start of the future for everybody" but he thinks Brandon had reverted to background singer before the last two notes. Paula, a little slurry, reaching for words, but "we don't need to tell you what you did wrong. There are many things you did right." Expected applause. Simon calls it a letdown. Expected boos. Simon calls him "a background singer for a background singer." More boos. Ryan to the rescue, sort of; asks if being on a bigger stage affected him. Brandon of course agrees.
Break. We're back with Melinda, and a product-placed question. Something about high heels. Ryan asks Simon about high heels. Simon says Ryan should know. Ryan says Simon should stay out of Ryan's closet. Simon tells Ryan to come out. Uneasy laughter all around.
Melinda with Diana, who says "when you sing, I get goosebumps." "Home" from "The Wiz." Which, the show does not note, was a huge career error by Miss Ross. There's a lot of Gladys Knight in Melinda's delivery -- the verbal precision, the way she builds in a song, even one like this that isn't that great. The orchestra outlouds her some at the end, but she is so in charge. B plus.
Randy calls it "really, really strong" and declares the girls lead 1-0. Like Melinda, Paula is in tears. But, gee, for some reason it looks weird on Paula. Simon says she's like a young Gladys Knight. (Yes!) After the raves, Rescue Ryan is just superfluous.
Sligh. Compares his hair to Diana's. Offers "Endless Love" with some chord changes. Diana says he needs to find the melody and "listen more." Oooh, did she sense heresy? Here's the full performance -- with a Coldplayish intro. No glasses. Kind of uncertain start, and he has some trouble in the high parts. Also, when a song is this sappy, you can't just drain the sap; you have to be the sap.
Yes, I know how that sounded. Still, I say, BE THE SAP. And give him a C plus. Randy brings up Coldplay. (Yes!) Says "that was a mess for me." Paula notes the song is "so recognizable" and that Sligh is trying too hard to be "ultrahip." Simon says he "murdered the arrangement." Ryan tries to pick a fight between Sligh and the judges; the best he can get is that Sligh thinks the judges' problem is with the arrangement.
After the break, Gina. Starstruck by Miss Ross, who thinks she has "incredible vocal ability" but reminds her of pronunciation. And so to "Love Child." Ooh, bad start. Not getting better. And a very rigid beat behind her. Most unfortunate. I wanted her to be better. I also wanted the Supremes going "tenement slum" behind her. C minus.
Randy notes "pitchy" and no excitement. Customary boos. Paula calls it a "feel good" song -- and isn't thrilled either. Simon says it wasn't terrible, wasn't fantastic. "A little bit forgettable."
After the break, the re-curly Sanjaya. Diana calls him "love. ... You care about him." Diana gets tough about him starting right at "Ain't no mountain high..." (which is close to what Marvin&Tammi did). She wants him to get his soul. And so we go to the performance. And I hate him two lines in. Interim D, and let's see if he can bring it up. Nope. Nope. Nope. Nope. He's somewhere in F country now. Can he get out? Nope. Nope. Nope. Nope. An F it is.
Randy's in shock. "I do not even know what to say, man. ... Dude, it wasn't very good. ... That song was almost unlistenable to me." Randy says Sanjaya's hair rocks -- that he'd be good on "Hair Idol." Paula says he "looks adorable" but is fighting to find something nice. Simon says "when you hear a wail in Beverly Hills, that's Diana Ross watching the show." It takes a moment to sink in because people think Simon is talking about a whale. Rescue Ryan gives Sanjaya a chance to respond; he says he didn't get Simon's comment and Ryan explains Simon wasn't talking about "marine biology."
Haley, whom Sanjaya probably looks at and thinks "I can stink and still draw more votes than her!" Diana considers her beautiful but wants to be sure she has "thoughts behind the song." Diana did "Missing You" after the death of Marvin Gaye. If memory serves, there was a lot of Florence Ballard footage in the video. Haley starts off soft and doesn't seem to be going anywhere. Oh, wait, she has left her chair. Seems short of breath. I'm not impressed. Lots of trouble tonight with the Diana/Supremes catalog. You'd think those were ... legendary songs. C minus.
Randy calls it "a valiant effort" but notes she forgot words. Paula says she looks lovely -- and admits that's not what Haley wants to hear. And "your pitch, ai yi yi." Simon "didn't think it was that bad. ... I think we will remember you now. ... I think your nerves got the better of you." Ryan offers her a chance to full-tilt blubber. Haley says she feels "like a schmuck." Paula offers more encouragement.
Halfway through what Ryan calls "the most emotional show to date." Phil Stacey with Diana. Diana says she likes the song he selected ("I'm Gonna Make You Love Me," which Diana notes she did in duet with Marvin). Phil not too craven to ask Diana for advice. She seems more kindly than with some performers. Craven pays.
Phil starts off raw. Pace seems off. But he sells the chorus. Will Randy at last be weary of being the voice of doom? Especially after Phil struggles a bit again. Really ragged in spots. C.
Randy asks Phil how he thinks he did -- then says "the performance was a little boring" but the vocals were good. Paula thought it should have been more uptempo and also praises the vocals. Simon says he chose the right tempo. Bicker bicker bicker. Simon calls it "OK" and nails Phil for shouting on the big notes.
LaKisha. She's doing "God Bless the Child" -- Billie Holiday song of course, which Diana covered. Diana offers fashion advice. And says she is really looking forward to seeing what she does. Big swing arrangement, and it takes LaKisha a moment to sing over the orchestra. Looks bored in an "I can win this anytime" way. Which she proceeds to prove. I don't like the band arrangement, but she makes you hear her -- effortlessly. A minus. I keep wanting to be skeptical about her ability, but she's too good.
Randy: "Perfect song choice. I love the outfit. ... Unbelievable vocal ... Sensational." Paula calls her "a beautiful performer." Simon says she's "got it." Simon says she and Melinda "are in a different league."
Break. Is it just me, or does the Alltel commercial guy bear a passing resemblance to Blake?
And now Blake himself. Another product-placement question. His favorite performers include Michael Jackson. Blake with Diana -- new beats, slowed down "You Keep Me Hangin' On." Diana actually likes him making it "fresh." Hey, how about a Vanilla Fudge night on "Idol"?
Actual performance has a lot of noise around it but the vocal is pretty standard. And dull. Still hoping for that Vanilla Fudge night. I am somewhere south of interested. C.
Randy says "some good things about it" but worries about "Blake-izing" of songs. Paula agrees but sees a difference between Blake and Sligh -- and that Blake could have a hit with his version. Simon says "I didn't get that. ... It didn't work changing the melody like that." Randy and Paula chime in about the need not to change classics. Once again, the singers are between the Scylla of "be unique" and the Charybdis of "don't mess with standards." But the bottom line is that change would be fine if the changes were any good.
Stephanie with Diana. "Love Hangover." Diana wants it more sexy. Stephanie accepts advice because "she's Diana Ross." Good start, uncertain on the big notes, and the arrangement feels bleached of the disco feel -- without anything strong substituted. Wobbly parts. C.
Randy's on her for forgetting words, but was waiting for the uptempo part. So was Paula, who asks why she dropped it. Stephanie says the song had to be shorter than the original. Paula argues "that's what arrangements are for." Simon is also disappointed, and says she chose the wrong song -- as well as being not as good as LaKisha and Melinda. Does that mean she was better than everyone else. Rescue Ryan asks about how much choice she had on the arrangement, and Stephanie doesn't really answer.
Chris R. Doing "The Boss." Diana says "he needs to find where the hook is ... and he needs to work the song." He gets a disco beat -- and is still pressing that Justinish look. Not strong on the tune, even when he tries to be authoritative in his moves -- including on a riser into the audience. But his vocal, man. One of his worst, no matter how vigorously Paula dances along. The orchestra's carrying him instead of the other way around. C minus.
Randy says he "overdid it a little bit. ... half good and half bad." Paula says, of all the guys, he nailed it, "great job." Simon insists it's a singing competition and the vocal was "dreadful." He's right, too. I should have dropped him another grade notch.
And Jordin will close after the break. I hope she'll be good. Melinda and LaKisha aside, it's been a blah night. Jordin is going for her "softer side." Diana thinks she's "absolutely gorgeous" but wants her to communicate to the audience and to project. "If We Hold On Together." Treacly song, but she's solid -- making the argument that she could put a scare into the dynamic duo, especially on pop. I can see why she's closing -- she's selling just the kind of song that "Idol" so often sticks winners with. A strong B/B plus.
Randy says "you just made it a three-girl race." Paula is adoring. Simon thought "it was a little bit gooey" but "a very, very good vocal" and one that gives Jordin a shot at the finals.
So where are we? LaKisha, Melinda, Jordin and a cast of nine others.