British Invasion Night was a bit of a risk for “American Idol,” since none of the contestants were even gleams in their parents’ eyes when the pop movement hit U.S. airwaves. Peter Noone and Lulu aren’t household names in the United States these days. There isn’t much from Herman’s Hermits on the radio, and when’s the last time you heard Lulu’s “To Sir, With Love”?
It would have been easy for the contestants to just pay lip service to Noone and Lulu, but they either took the advice to heart or faked it convincingly for the cameras. Perhaps because of that, it was a strong week of performances for the 11 remaining finalists.
It’s true that the bar has been set very low for the guys, so a week where all five managed to not sing terribly should be considered a victory. The combination of better song choices, stronger vocals and much kinder comments from the judges seemed narrow the gender gap a bit. Even Sanjaya Malakar was entertaining, and moved one poor girl to tears. Multiple times. On camera. It’ll be a fun day for her in school on Wednesday.
Regardless, it’s more than likely that a second consecutive man will go home next week. Even with subpar performances from Stephanie Edwards and Gina Glocksen, the women are just better this season.
Haley Scarnato, 24, San Antonio , Texas: Scarnato strutted her stuff to “Tell Him” as sung by Billie Davis. Vamping around onstage and playing the sex-appeal angle for all it was worth, she gave a fun performance that was her best so far. This despite getting what might be considered a backhanded compliment from Lulu, who told her: “Big voices are great. But you know … there’s a place for everyone.” In musical terms, that’s usually what someone hears just before being told that they’ll be singing in the background instead of center stage. Grade: B-Stay or go? “That had the ‘Yo’ factor all over it,” Randy said. Even with the disadvantage of going first, that will be enough to keep her here. And let’s be honest, a lot of the young men who were voting for Antonella Barba a couple of weeks ago may support Scarnato.
Chris Richardson, 22, Chesapeake , Va.: Peter Noone wasn’t much of a fan of Richardson’s arrangement for Gerry and the Pacemakers’ “Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying,” saying it missed most of the melody. Fortunately for Richardson, Noone served as a coach instead of a judge. Randy, Paula and Simon all called it his best performance, even if it was a little on the dull side. Richardson also again showed all the mannerisms of a pop star, or at least a would-be pop star, who’s seen a lot of boy band videos. Grade: BStay or go? Richardson is probably safe, although the vocals were kind of boring.
Stephanie Edwards, 19, Savannah , Ga.: Edwards went with “You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me” by Dusty Springfield. Lulu said Edwards reminded her of Beyoncé, but Beyoncé probably would have brought more energy to the song, and as Simon said Edwards is definitely losing her edge. It sure didn’t look like she was having a great time out there — she’s much more fun to watch when she goes uptempo and roams around the stage more.Grade: CStay or go? Edwards is having the same issues a lot of other teens have had on the show — she’s getting away from what’s got her raves in the first place. That might land her in the bottom three.
Blake Lewis, 25, Bothell , Wash.: Lewis showed some smarts on his song choice, picking the Zombies’ “Time of the Season.” He freshened up the arrangement a bit without going so far afield that it scared the judges. It succeeded in getting Paula to stand up and groove, even if it might have been an octave too high. “You made the song really current,” Randy said. Grade: A-Stay or go? Simon called his performance, “A million times better than last week.” Even just 100,000 times better than Lewis’ previous effort would have been sufficient. He’s safe.
LaKisha Jones, 27, Fort Meade , Md.: Stop the presses! LaKisha Jones got something other than positive feedback. The judges were just lukewarm about her performance of “Diamonds are Forever” as sung by Shirley Bassey, although the million dollars worth of diamonds she was wearing couldn’t have hurt. Mainly, she suffered because while her vocals were very good, she has set such a high bar for herself that it’s hard for her to improve each week. Grade: B+Stay or go? She’s in no danger.
Phil Stacey, 29, Jacksonville , Fla.: “Tobacco Road” proved to be a great choice for Stacey, who badly needed a showstopper after being in the bottom three last week. Paula got out of her seat and moved around, and though the vocals didn’t knock anyone out, it was the best he’s sung in awhile. That’s not the highest bar to meet, however, and the question is whether it was enough to save him from danger this time around. Grade: BStay or go? Simon said Stacey’s problem is that he’s being outsung by a lot of the finalists, but on this night, few were more entertaining. It was a fun performance, and at this stage of the game that might be enough.
Jordin Sparks, 17, Glendale , Ariz.: Sparks continued to elbow her way among the favorites with a strong rendition of “I (Who Have Nothing),” a hit by Shirley Bassey. It was good enough that all the judges gave her a second consecutive week of nonstop praise. Also, she said several times, unprompted, that she has no boyfriend. That just bought her a billion text messages from hopeful teenage boys, though the fact that her dad’s a former NFL player who presumably hangs around with very large and dangerous individuals may also play a role in the lack of young men in Jordin’s life. Grade: AStay or go? Sparks won’t have a problem this week. She’s safe,
Sanjaya Malakar, 17, Federal Way, Wash.: Malakar wasn’t great this week, but at least he was entertaining, and even made one girl in the audience cry. Singing the Kinks’ “You Really Got Me” allowed him to strut his stuff and wander into the crowd. Of course, Malakar doesn’t make a very convincing Kink, nor does the tough guy outfit do much for him. But the judges were nice to him for the first time since the auditions, so at least it worked for them. Grade:C Stay or go? If Malakar moves the rest of the audience like he did the one sobbing fan, he might win the competition. That’s doubtful, though, so he’s still in trouble.
Gina Glocksen, 22, Naperville , Ill.: Glocksen had a hard time holding it together when the judges offered her their feedback on “Paint it Black,” and with good reason. None of the three were all that impressed with her Rolling Stones cover, putting her in grave danger of being voted out. She can definitely work the crowd, but the vocals weren’t as good as usual. Grade: CStay or go? If the voters base their decision solely on this week, Glocksen is in trouble. If past performances play a big role, she’ll skate by.
Chris Sligh, 28, Greenville , S.C.: The glasses were back and the Coldplay arrangement was gone forSligh who sang the second Zombies song of the night: “She’s Not There.” It was a nice bit of performing, but his vocals didn’t match the power of the original. Still, the judges all liked it better than last week, probably because he didn’t mess it up with too much modernity. Grade: BStay or go? Sligh is probably safe, but it’s no sure thing given the general weakness of the guys.
Melinda Doolittle, 29, Brentwood , Tenn .: At this rate, Doolittle is going to finish so far in front of the pack that they’ll make a rule next year barring anyone who’s toured as a background singer from trying out. At least that way, there will be some drama. Doolittle was the rare “Idol” contestant who voluntarily went the show-tune route, singing “As Long as He Needs Me” from the musical “Oliver!” Apart from the disconnect of a Doolittle smiling while ostensibly singing in character as a woman who winds up getting beaten to death by the subject of the song, it was pretty much flawless. Grade: A+Stay or go? Anyone who watched the show knows the answer to this one.
Craig Berman is a writer in Washington, D.C.