Pop Culture

Down to three

When it comes to people it’s nice to impress in the record industry, Clive Davis is one of the top names on the list. While president of CBS records, he signed Janis Joplin, Santana, Bruce Springsteen and Billy Joel. He then left to found Arista Records, and the label subsequently inked the likes of Whitney Houston, Sean ‘Puffy’ Combs, the Grateful Dead, Aretha Franklin and Toni Braxton.

So it’s fair to say that Davis has seen some talented performers in his nearly 40 years in the business.

He saw another one while serving as a guest judge on “American Idol” Tuesday night: Bo Bice. And since Davis is also chairman and CEO of BMG North America — which produces the winner’s CD — Bice has a great shot at a record deal regardless of how the vote turns out.

“I’m going to make a prediction. We are going to have a great time making a very special album together,” Davis told Bice, after the second of Bice’s three songs of the night.

That may well be true — Davis certainly has the cash and the power to make it happen — but whether it will be as the “Idol” winner or in a Clay Aiken-type runner-up deal is the question. Bice clearly outshone his two rivals, and the judges could not have done more to plead for the voters to send him on. If the early returns are poor, it wouldn’t be surprising if they flew out to Hawaii and mustered up a quick phone bank to get him to the finals.

In a night that saw each performer sing three songs — a song of their choosing, and one each from Clive Davis and the judges — each of the performers had enough chances to give their supporters the encouragement to pick up the phone and vote. With the contrast in styles evident in the song choices and performance styles, it may come down to which type of music resonates with voters.

It was clear that the judges are hoping to see Carrie Underwood and Bo Bice singing for their record deal next week. But it all comes down to what America wants — more specifically, what the Americans with a phone and some time to kill want. They could make Clive Davis a prophet, or could send Bice home to Helena for a few weeks before he inevitably signs his own deal.

Vonzell Solomon, 21, Fort Myers, Fla.: Solomon’s first song was the classic made famous by Dionne Warwick, "I’ll Never Love This Way Again," courtesy of Clive Davis. It seemed like a power ballad that she could knock out of the park, but Solomon’s voice wasn’t as powerful as it needed to be. She never seemed to throw herself into the performance, and had problems letting it go on the chorus.

But just when it was in danger of becoming a two-person competition, she gave her strongest performance of the season with her choice of Aretha Franklin's "Chain of Fools." It showcased her personality and her performance, and if she missed a couple of notes here and there it didn’t seem to matter. Simon got to pick her judge’s choice song, and went with "On the Radio" by Donna Summer. It was another choice that allowed her to get out and perform, and she did it well.

Grade: B-

The judges: “One caution — you’ve got to be careful with that hint of a smile in a song like that” – Clive Davis, after “I’ll Never Love This Way Again” — pointing out that the song is supposed to be performed with some other emotion besides joy.

“I think it’s one of the best performances ever in this show. That’s what this show is all about.” — Randy Jackson, after "Chain of Fools."

“I echo every word of Clive Davis.” — Simon Cowell, after "On the Radio." Davis was effusive with praise for Solomon’s rendition of the Donna Summer classic.

Odds of winning: 15 percent

Odds of advancing: 30 percent

The bottom line: Solomon has come farther than any of the remaining three candidates, going from a huge underdog to a legitimate contender in less than two months. She was the second-lowest vote-getter last week, and she needed a very strong performance to muster the support needed to pass either of the two front-runners, and probably will fall a little bit short. Still, it’s unlikely that she’ll need to drive a mail truck in Fort Myers any more, after her "Idol" effort.

Bo Bice, 29, Helena, Ala.: Bice made perhaps the riskiest move in the competition with his second song choice. He was clearly the star of round one; Clive Davis gave him "Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me," and Bice did Elton John proud (although it would be great if Sir Elton could teach Bice how to find sunglasses at somewhere more upscale than Target).

For that second song, "In a Dream" by Badlands, he chose to forgo the band entirely, and sing it a capella. It was a risky call, because it takes a powerful voice and a ton of confidence to forgo the crutch of the live band. But Bice was simply outstanding, even on a song that was less well-known than most of the rest of the night’s numbers. He probably could have been given an Armenian folk song and still been in good shape with his third song, but Paula Abdul did him a favor and went with "I Can’t Get No Satisfaction," made famous by the Rolling Stones (and later Justine Bateman in the ’80s movie "Satisfaction." OK, maybe not). It was a song right in his wheelhouse, and he hit it out of the park.

Grade: A

The judges: "You really captured the song. It was powerful, it was heartfelt, it was passionate." — Clive Davis, after "Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me"

"You may have put 34 musicians out of work." — Simon Cowell, after Bice’s a capella rendition of "Within a Dream."

"Everyone, listen up! Everyone gets one more week for free. After that, you’re going to have to pay to see Bo Bice." — Paula Abdul, after "Satisfaction."

Odds of winning: 42 percent

Odds of advancing: 85 percent

The bottom line: If Bice doesn’t make the finals, it’s because people don’t like his style of music as much as Carrie Underwood’s country pop or Vonzell Solomon’s soul. Based on this week, it should be a no-brainer that he’ll at least make the finals, but stranger things have happened.

__________

Carrie Underwood, 21, Checotah, Okla.: Underwood didn’t get any favors from Clive Davis. He saddled her with "Crying," sung by Roy Orbison and k.d. lang, and it resulted in a blah arrangement that Underwood had a hard time doing much with. Underwood’s voice was powerful when it needed to be, but it was one of those rare occasions when she didn’t nail the last note.

Her choice for her second song was nearly as unexpected as Bice’s. She could have picked any of hundreds of songs that would allow her to put on her cowboy hat and strut her stuff, and she went with … "Making Love Out of Nothing at All" by Air Supply. Air Supply?! She went away from her strength of country pop, but she still impressed the judges. The performance was a bit stiff, but the arrangement accentuated the power notes and Underwood did a nice job blasting them home. Randy Jackson returned her to her roots by having her sing "Man! I Feel Like a Woman!" by Shania Twain, and Underwood took advantage to give her best overall performance of the night.

Grade: B

The judges:
"You did it in your own way. Good job." — Clive Davis, after "Crying."

"You really got to power your voice, which you do so brilliantly and effortlessly." — Paula Abdul, after "Making Love Out of Nothing at All."

"I’m just happy to see you having some fun out there." — Randy Jackson, after "Man! I Feel Like a Woman!"

Odds of winning: 43 percent

Odds of advancing: 85 percent

The bottom line: It’s the second week in a row that Underwood hasn’t been at her best when the stakes are high. That could leave her in danger of being voted off, but she entered the night ahead of Solomon in the voting and probably did enough to maintain her edge.

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