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‘Idols’ rock steady, but does it matter?

Last week’s 70 million votes most likely already decided who’s going home, which puts Chris Richardson and LaKisha Jones in the most danger. By Craig Berman
/ Source: contributor

Jon Bon Jovi week could have been one that gave struggling “American Idol” finalists a last chance at salvation. Instead, it will likely go down as one of the most meaningless weeks of the year.

Since nobody was eliminated during last week’s charity concert, the show decided to boot two of the remaining finalists off the show on Wednesday. The problem is that the vote totals from the past two weeks will both be considered in that selection.

Host Ryan Seacrest seemed to indicate that the votes from the two weeks would be added to determine the rankings for this week. Given that the hype surrounding last week’s episode led to 70 million votes, and this week is likely to get about half that many, it means that the Bon Jovi covers aren’t worth as much as the normal Tuesday sing-alongs.

That’s bad news for LaKisha Jones, who came through with her best performance of the season after a string of disappointments. And it does Chris Richardson no favors either, since he was much better doing rock songs than inspirational music. Both efforts were probably too little, too late for the singers to rest easy.

On the other hand, Jordin Sparks’ performance, which she cheerfully acknowledged was subpar, probably won’t hurt her as much as a similar vocal would on any other week.

Blake Lewis took the biggest risk with his interpretation of “You Give Love a Bad Name.” The judges loved it, and even if the viewers disagree, it’s the type of risk he has to take if he wants to win this competition. Melinda Doolittle was her usual strong self, and Phil Stacey was adequate but unmemorable as always.

Besides Jordin, the biggest loser of the week was probably Jon Bon Jovi’s ego. It was a dangerous week for him from the beginning, since the season’s lone “rocker,” Gina Glocksen, was in the stands rather than of onstage. Instead, Jordin talked about how much a fan her mom was of the rock legend’s music. LaKisha said she knew him from Oprah but hadn’t heard his music. Chris didn’t even bother to learn the words to his song before rehearsal. And judge Simon Cowell was unfamiliar with two of the Bon Jovi tunes. It’s enough to make a guy focus on his Arena Football team instead of his musical career.

Phil Stacey, 29, Jacksonville, Fla.: Phil has had success singing country, and “Blaze of Glory” was the theme to “Young Guns II,” an ’80s Western starring Kiefer Sutherland, Emilio Estevez and Lou Diamond Phillips. Randy Jackson loved it, maybe because he produced it for Jon Bon Jovi in the first place. Paula Abdul called it the best opening we’ve had all season long. Simon was the lone naysayer, betting on Phil to be sent home. It wasn’t particularly memorable on a night where most of the performers stepped up their game, so there may be some truth to what Simon said.Grade: BStay or Go? The performance wasn’t bad, and Phil’s not the obvious choice to go because of the aggregation of votes that determine this week’s unlucky duo. But he’s spent so much time in the bottom three this season that he can’t really rest easy.

Jordin Sparks, 17, Glendale, Ariz.:  Jordin greeted Bon Jovi with “Oh my gosh! My mom is gonna flip out!” and then added to the cameras “My mom grew up on Bon Jovi.” If there was any doubt about how young she is compared to the remaining finalists that sealed it. She picked “Living on a Prayer,” which was a difficult choice in a key a little too low for her voice. When she got to go higher, on the chorus and at the finish, she sounded a whole lot better, but it was mostly a mess. Randy said that the vocals were rough, and Jordin readily agreed. The voters will judge whether honesty is the best policy.Grade: CStay or Go? Jordin was great last week, but not so much this time around. She’s in some danger, although she’s probably done enough to stick around.

LaKisha Jones, 27, Fort Meade, Md.: Finally, LaKisha showed the voice that made her an early favorite in the competition. She nailed “This Ain’t a Love Song,” and wowed the judges, though Randy complained about pitch problems. “I actually could kiss you after that,” Simon said — and did, in an “Idol” first that hopefully won’t become a trend. Jon Bon Jovi was impressed enough in rehearsals to say, “I’m not a betting man, but I’d bet she’s not going home this week singing this song.” He might be wrong, but if so, it’s because she had too much ground to make up rather than anything she did wrong as a rocker.Grade: AStay or Go? Considering LaKisha has been in the bottom two, she’s in danger.

Blake Lewis, 25, Bothell, Wash.: Blake has become the leader among the men by crooning rather than rocking, but he evidently felt he needed to be edgier to have a chance at winning it all. He took on the classic “You Give Love a Bad Name,” and in the judges’ parlance, made it his own, despite Bon Jovi’s skepticism. “(Blake) has to sell his interpretation of a song that a lot of people know and don’t want to mess with. This is the one that’s rolling the dice. Sixteen measures of not singing on a show that highlights singers … it makes me wonder,” Bon Jovi said. Wonder no more. All three judges loved it, with Paula gushing “This was the biggest leap of faith — you really put yourself out there. This was amazing. This was your night.”Grade: AStay or Go? “Half will hate it, and half will absolutely love it,” Simon said. “You took a massive risk, and this is what’s going to keep you in the competition this week.” He’s right.

Chris Richardson, 22, Chesapeake, Va.: Chris isn’t doing anything to impress the guest mentors, as he again went to the rehearsal without knowing all the words. But he recovered enough to sing a nice version of “Wanted Dead or Alive,” and it was his best performance in weeks. All three judges liked it, though Simon uttered the key question: “Whether it was good enough to keep you around for another week, I’m not sure.”Grade: B+Stay or Go? Like LaKisha, Chris may have waited one week too long to get his singing back on track.

Melinda Doolittle, 29, Brentwood, Tenn.: Melinda punted on the whole rock thing as much as possible, picking “Have a Nice Day.” It had the advantage of being a newer song that gave her the opportunity to show some soul, but there was plenty of rock in there as well. Though she claimed she was worried about the genre, and showed no ability at all with her attempts at the classic hand gestures, both Randy and Simon likened her to Tina Turner. Not bad company for the former backup singer. This just in: She’s good and the judges like her.Grade: AStay or Go? Melinda was great again, and should be safe.

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