"The Guys are back," Ryan Seacrest warns, kicking off Tuesday (Feb. 27) night’s American Idol performance episode. "And this time it’s personal."
I believe he’s referring to the fact that every judge, observer and armchair critic is pretty much ready to nuke the male side of the bracket entirely after last week. The dudes have something to prove.
After the episode begins with a classy and quick salute to Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson, the performances begin.
Singer: Phil Stacey
Song: "Missing You"
My Take: Last week it was notable how well Phil picked up once the song broke into its powerful chorus, so choosing a song with very little initial ebb or flow doesn’t play to his strengths. The vocals are competent, though he doesn’t get to the most passionate (and difficult) part of the track in his 90 allotted seconds. In the absence of any active performance, I find myself distracted by his shiny bald skull and his equally blinding white shirt.
Cerberus Says: Randy says "Yeah" several times and announces that Phil started the night off hot. Paula loves the tone to his voice, which she calls radio-ready. "I’m not jumping out of my chair," Simon says, calling Phil a good karaoke singer. We’re only eight minutes in and we’ve already had three cuts to Jeff Foxworthy.
Singer: Jared Cotter
Song: "Let’s Get It On"
My Take: Any time you can dedicate the performance of a Marvin Gaye song to your father, there’s some unintentional irony at work. Jared starts off sharp on a song that isn’t naturally compatible with his voice at all, forcing the arrangement to keep shifting octaves whenever it gets either too high (straight out of his nose) or too low (probably better for him). Jared murders the last note and pulls the mic away quickly, a gesture that stifles the mistake, rather than savoring it.
Cerberus Says: Randy thought it was pitchy in spots and started rough, but he liked the mannerisms. Paula has a hard time critiquing male singers under any circumstances, but amidst her giggles and double-entendres, she sounds ready to say he tried too hard. "It did remind me, though, of ‘The Love Boat,’" Simon suggests, calling it corny in parts. "That would have been a great ‘Love Boat,’ man," Jared responds.
Singer: A.J. Tabaldo
My Take: It turns out that when I look away from my monitor, I like A.J.’s voice a good amount. He tries things. He works with the words and the pacing of the song and actually delivers some real nuance. I was surprised by how much I didn’t dislike him last week, and this week I was surprised by how much I liked the way he sang. In terms of performance, he tries much too hard. Everything from his attire to his smile to his mannerisms seems geared toward making young girls and middle-aged women squeal.
Cerberus Says: Randy says it was kind of nice. Paula gives props to the background singers. "I have to say that was actually nearly very good," Simon says with some hesitation.
Singer: Sanjaya Malakar
Song: "Steppin’ Out"
My Take: Wait. When did Sanjaya become a Southeast Asian Corey Clark? And when did anybody request a Southeast Asian Corey Clark? Hair in a ponytail (a good idea), face engulfed by a hat (misidentified as a top-hat in the lyrics), he’s unrecognizable. Where’s Sanjaya? Not here. The song accentuates both his smooth, affectless tone and his woefully limited range. He gets lost in the rhythm of the song, falling into an embarrassed whisper at times. The last note is so slight the audience isn’t sure if they’re supposed to applaud, causing some awkward dead air.
Cerberus Says: Randy calls him a nice kid, but compares it to a bad high school talent show performance. Paula raves that she couldn’t call him pitchy. That’s all she’s got. Simon goes back to the well of comparing it to a child performing at a family lunch.
Singer: Chris Sligh
My Take: Chris does, indeed, have a very pretty wife and he dedicates the song to her. This was a track that Taylor did last season and I get the impression (it’s still early) that Chris has a more powerful voice than Taylor does. Taylor, however, had a comfort level with this kind of ultra-emotional material (some might call it a healthy appetite for cheese) that may not be Chris’ strong suit. My favorite part of his performance was where Chris walked around the stage taking giant steps, like a frizzy-headed Godzilla crushing Tokyo. I’m sure he meant it symbolically.
Cerberus Says: Randy liked the choice and tells him to rely on his skillz. Paula raves, but cautions Chris to watch his pitch and pacing. Simon says this was the reason they put Chris through.
Singer: Nick Pedro
My Take: This is a better week for Nick, who auditioned with the similarly olde tymey "Fly Me To The Moon." His voice is thin (Paula keeps crediting it as "smoky," but you can have a smoky voice without it sounding this uncertain), so he’s smartly picked an arrangement doesn’t cause him any trouble. At some point, a vocal teacher must have told him to enunciate more, because Nick makes a big show of mouthing every word. He doesn’t do anything with the performance, but he’s solid.
Cerberus Says: Randy thought he was pitchy in spots, but he liked the vibe. Paula urges him to just let go. Simon liked the vocals more, but was missing the charisma and criticizes Nick’s attire.
Singer: Blake Lewis
Song: "Virtual Insanity"
My Take: Keane last week, Jamiroquai this week? This isn’t Pop Idol, is it? Jay Kay may be a Stevie Wonder wannabe, but he has a fantastic voice. Blake doesn’t attempt to compete, opting for a safe arrangement of the song, but he throws in some rudimentary Michael Jackson dance moves and some remixing ("vocal turntablism," Blake calls it). This is the second straight week I don’t think Blake has had quite enough voice to pull off his ambitions, but if I saw him performing off of Leicester Square (clearly his ideal venue), I’d give him a quid.
Cerberus Says: That was what Randy was talking about. He uses the word "joint" over and over. He’s happy. Paula salutes his uniqueness and smart choices. A disappointed Simon thought Blake’s tuning vanished
by the end and that the first part was copycat.
Singer: Brandon Rogers
Song: "Time After Time"
My Take: OK. Is the band having problems with pacing, because Brandon is already the third or fourth singer tonight to get lost. It’s another mellow, instantly forgettable performance by Brandon. Am I wrong to think he should be better than this? Maybe he’s just a sweet, good-looking back-up singer. That’s not a huge insult.
Cerberus Says: Randy thought the sentiment was sweet, but the song didn’t show enough of him. Paula felt his heart and she’s on the verge of tears. Simon says that feeling it is one thing, but you still have to actually sing. Brandon wishes his dad a happy birthday, so Simon wishes his mom a happy birthday in November.
Singer: Chris Richardson
Song: "Geek in the Pink"
My Take: I don’t know the Jason Mraz original, but Chris is really taking those early Justin Timberlake/boy band comparisons to heart. He’s ready for a mall tour, bouncing around the stage for the second straight week. Parts of the song come off as too high and too fast for him to handle (he goes into a nasal whine at times), but coming after Brandon, Chris looks like a natural showman.
Cerberus Says: Chris is in it to win it, Randy suggests, calling it hotter than the original. Simon calls it the best of the night by a mile.
Singer: Sundance Head
Song: "Mustang Sally"
My Take: After being last week’s biggest vocal dud, Sundance got this week’s coveted anchor position. But if you’re a slovenly white guy singing "Mustang Sally," I’m going to compare you to the dude from The Commitments. That’s just how this works. Sundance isn’t on that level, but he’s leagues better than last week. This is, of course, right in the wheelhouse he demonstrated in the auditions. He confuses "full of shouting" with "full of soulful" at times.
Cerberus Says: Randy welcomes him back and cautions that he dropped the bomb on somebody this week. Paula is quivering with glee again. Simon is glad they have the Sundance they like back, but that he can still do better.
THE NIGHT’S BEST: It was a greatly improved night for the men, but were there obvious breakout male performances? Did any of the guys get anywhere near the level of the top five or six women last week? I guess I liked the Chrises (Slight on voice, Richardson on stage presence), Blake and, strangely, A.J. the best, though Sundance and Phil were OK as well.
IN DANGER: For the second straight week, Sanjaya was toward the bottom of the pack, but I think he has an audience voting for him that isn’t there for anybody else. Instead, I think we’re looking at a few of the good-not-great singers being in trouble: Nick and Jared perhaps?
Agree? Disagree? Share your thoughts…