“American Idol” took on the big screen on Tuesday, under the watchful gaze of Quentin Tarantino. Because nothing says “musical genius” like the director of “Pulp Fiction” and the “Kill Bill” movies.
This was Tarantino’s second trip to the “Idol” stage, having served as a guest judge on season three. “It’s about the combination of music and movies, and how they work together,” Tarantino said, but he kept most of his comments short. That was part of a brave but futile effort to keep “Idol” from running long again.
In an effort to keep the show to an hour, only two judges were allowed to comment on each singer. Paula Abdul and Simon Cowell represented one team, and Randy Jackson and Kara DioGuardi the other. Most of the singers approached their choice of song as if it was Prom Theme Week, and there was enough sap floating around the stage to cover Vermont, so the three singers who didn’t receive the benefit of Simon’s commentary should probably be grateful.
“Idol” ran about three minutes long anyway. Though that was better than last week, soon the judges may be forced to keep their comments to Twitter-sized 140 characters or less in order to keep “Fringe” fans from storming the studio in frustration.
Speaking of frustration, Simon has just about had it with Lil Rounds, and vice-versa. Rounds closed the show with Bette Midler’s “The Rose,” and the British judge, who looked all night as if he was counting the days until his contract expires, let her know how displeased he was.
“I think that you are getting this completely wrong,” he said. “The song was too soft for you, it was too middle-of-the-road. You had some nice moments in there, but there are no excuses any more. You are not the artist I believe we met seven or eight weeks ago.”
Lil argued that she’d inserted some R&B into the arrangement to make it her own, and the conflict might have gotten more heated had Ryan not been focused on keeping the show's overrun to single-digit minutes. It’s clear, however, that the ice has gotten very thin for one of the show’s early favorites.
Also in trouble are the two men who went with Bryan Adams ballads. Matt Giraud sang “Have You Ever Really Loved a Woman?” from "Don Juan DeMarco," which was precisely the wrong song for him, and probably for anyone but the most devoted Adams fan. The vocal riffs that Matt likes to add to all of his tunes were out of place.
“When you take a song like this that has a beautiful simple melody, you can’t do all that stuff with it,” Randy counseled.
Anoop Desai was better, but he will probably be in trouble again this week after breaking out a favorite song from the wedding circuit, “(Everything I Do) I Do It For You.”
“When I heard that Anoop was going to do this song, I was a little concerned,” Tarantino said. He and everybody else. But given a slow and dull tune to work with, Anoop worked the vocals enough to give himself a chance to stick around.
“I thought you did a really good job, man. Congrats,” Randy said. Nice feedback, but the performance wasn’t striking enough to keep Anoop from likely being in the bottom three again this week.
Kris Allen took a big chance by picking the Oscar-winning, but still lesser-known, “Falling Slowly” from "Once." There was nothing wrong with the performance, but it wasn’t memorable either, and this was the one song that caused disagreement among the two judges allowed to talk about it.
“It never quite caught on for me, and I love that song. For me it was pitchy from note one,” Randy said.
“For me, it was one of your best moments ever,” Kara argued.
The remaining three contestants got mostly positive feedback, with the men receiving a few gentle tweaks but nothing too damaging.
The judges really want Allison Iraheta to stick around, even if it means throwing her fellow female to the wolves. She was one of only two contestants to sing a rock song, going with “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” from Aerosmith. The song seemed too big for her at times, but designated commentators Paula and Simon both loved it.
“I think you are the girls' only hope left in this competition right now,” Simon said, giving Rounds a clue as to what her reception would be later. “I don’t think I’ve heard a girl, let alone someone your age, sing that song so well.”
Adam Lambert also rocked it out with “Born to Be Wild” from Easy Rider. “This a competition looking for rock stars, and he’s the real deal,” Tarantino said. But Lambert's performance was as much Broadway revue as rock act, which thrilled Paula, but not Simon.
“The reason that you’re shaking up this competition is that you dare to dance in the path of greatness. Fortune rewards the brave,” Paula said.
“The downside for that performance was that it was a little bit like watching the Rocky Horror (Picture Show) in parts,” Simon replied.
Danny Gokey provided the most awkward moment of the night. He chose Lionel Richie’s “Endless Love,” and that wedding-dance staple actually required the band to dust off a harp. It was a song that he said meant a lot to him, and though the performance itself was more boilerplate than anything else, it was one moment where Simon seemed reluctant to be hyper-critical.
“I can’t really fault the way you sang the song. I’m disappointed, though, that we had the harp, and the traditional version of the song,” he said. Then he paused, and added “This song obviously means a lot to you personally and I can see that you’re emotional and it’s a hard thing to do, so I congratulate you for that.”
Only someone with a heart of stone could say that Danny is in any danger, and it would be a shock if he was up for elimination this week. But it will be another long 24 hours for Lil, Matt and Anoop.
Craig Berman is a writer in Washington, D.C.