Even J.Lo can’t add spice to ‘Idol’

by By Craig Berman /  / Updated  / Source: msnbc.com contributor

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Only on “American Idol” could a musical legend like Tony Bennett be followed by an episode featuring Jennifer Lopez. But at this point, “Idol” is such a juggernaut that it stretches across the genre boundaries, and thus Standards Week was followed by Latin Week.

“I think the key to any Latin thing is passion,” J.Lo said. Sadly for the film star/singer/entrepreneur it was tough for the eight remaining finalists to show that passion, with most settling for something like “fun” or “not excruciating.”

Blake Lewis was the star of the night, with Phil Stacey and Haley Scarnato at the bottom. Besides that, it was a whole lot of blah, which is a shame considering the genre should have brought forth something more exciting.

Melinda Doolittle, 29, Brentwood, Tenn .: J.Lo said that she was hoping to see a little more sexiness from Doolittle this week. “That’s going to be my biggest challenge, because I am so not sexy,” Doolittle said. And yet, she pulled that off as well, “Sway”-ing to the beat and once again giving a premier performance. Even though the judges agreed it wasn’t her best, only Simon didn’t like it, and she got her first “lounge-cabaret” criticism from him. Grade: A- Stay or Go? “If he really wanted to say something bad, I’m glad he got the chance,” Melinda said of the Simon commentary, alluding to his comments last week that she wasn’t giving him anything to complain about. But it will take more than that to send Doolittle home. She should be safe.

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Chris Richardson, 22, Chesapeake, Va.: Having the drummer and the guitarist on stage with him helped Richardson with “Smooth,” but he’s sure no Rob Thomas, much less Santana. It sounded a lot better on stage than it did in the rehearsal with J.Lo — so he successfully created low expectations for himself and then exceeded them. Paula called it “a hot, hot performance,” and even Simon liked it. Still, it wasn’t anything extraordinary, and he’ll need to do better than that to catch up to the leaders. Grade: BStay or Go? Richardson is probably OK, but it wouldn’t be shocking to see him in the bottom three even with this effort.

Haley Scarnato, 24, San Antonio, Texas: Rehearsals were tough for “Turn the Beat Around” even with Blake beatboxing the drum part, but Scarnato sexed things up for prime time and came through with a fun performance. “Fun” is all she can be at this point — she’s certainly not going to win this on her vocals. Randy called it karaoke, Paula said she had fun with it, and Simon said her tactic was to “wear the least amount of clothes as possible … the rest are all better singers, so all you can do is have fun.” Grade: C+ Stay or Go? Scarnato could go at any time.

Phil Stacey, 29, Jacksonville, Fla.: J.Lo said that Stacey gave her goose pimples at the end of “Maria, Maria,” which will be a nice line for his “Idol” farewell video that may be coming up shortly. This was not one of Stacey’s better performances, and considering he’s spent enough time in the bottom three to pay taxes there, he’s in big trouble. The vocal cracks at the end won’t help either. Grade: C Stay or Go? Stacey shouldn’t buy any green bananas.

Jordin Sparks, 17, Glendale, Ariz.:  Sparks said that if she could choose a theme for the show next week, they’d all be singing songs from the 1980s. Sparks did that this week anyway, with “The Rhythm is Gonna Get You,” and was disappointing. Her vocals were too slow to capture the rhythm of the song. Still, Randy and Paula loved it, with only Simon saying it was just OK.Grade: B Stay or Go? She’s probably safe.

Blake Lewis, 25, Bothell, Wash.:  Lewis went with a song from Mr. J.Lo, singing “I Need to Know” by Marc Anthony. He wasn’t any threat to steal Lopez away from her husband, but Lewis continues to stake his claim as the favorite among the men by avoiding the disastrous performances that the other three occasionally offer. He took some risks with the vocals, and it paid off with the best effort of the night. All three judges loved it. Grade: A Stay or Go? If any guy is going to win this, it will be Lewis. He’s in no danger.

Sanjaya Malakar, 17, Federal Way, Wash.:  Another night, another hairstyle for Malakar, who’s looking to bring back the mop-top this week. At least he may wind up earning a shampoo endorsement out of the deal. In other breaking news, Malakar wasn’t the worst of the eight finalists this week, killing the voters softly with his Spanish vocals on “Bésame Mucho.” Randy even called it “really good.” “I’m going to hate myself for this — it wasn’t horrible,” Simon added. That’s what passes for compliments for Malakar these days, but they were deserved. Grade: B Stay or Go? Malakar could go any week, but this is the rare occasion where his ouster would be undeserved.

Craig Berman is a writer in Washington, D.C.

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