The great muzzle-the-judges experiment is over on “American Idol.” Unfortunately, disco night didn’t follow that into the dustbin of pop culture history.
Last week, the show only allowed two judges to comment on each singer, hoping to save time. This week, all four were allowed to comment on every performance.
In order to do that while keeping the show to its allotted hour after two weeks of going over, a lot of meaningless filler was cut to create the needed space. That meant no guest mentor, no video introductions to the singers, and less Ryan Seacrest banter. None of it was missed.
Should the disco theme be the next idea axed from the show? This week, the singers who earned the best comments succeeded by ignoring the genre as much as possible.
Nobody in the competition is less disco than Kris Allen, so he wisely punted and stuck to what’s worked for him all competition, strumming his guitar and singing his earnest, perfectly pleasant vocals. Sure, “She Works Hard for the Money” was originally a disco song, but with the guitar and the band’s drummers sharing the front of the stage, it sounded a lot more Jack Johnson than Donna Summer.
“It had a classic Santana feel to it,” Paula Abdul said, adding “there aren’t a lot of men who shop in the women’s department.”
Abdul was talking about men singing women’s songs, but the discussion devolved into wisecracks about going to the mall. Simon was having none of that. “It was original, it was well thought out. That was not karaoke. Whether you buy or like ladies underwear, I couldn’t care less, it was a fantastic performance.”
Adam Lambert also decided to ignore the disco theme, which is ironic because he already hit that genre this season when he sang “Play that Funky Music.”
Instead of taking the advantage to use those musical theater skills and prance around the stage like a disco diva, he slowed things down with “If I Can’t Have You” from Saturday Night Fever. Once again, the judges loved that he didn’t do the expected.
“You’re brilliant. I don’t know what else to say,” Kara DioGuardi said, then added “Every week you up it for me. You look like the guy from ‘Saturday Night Live’ meets Clark Kent. The emotion, the way you connected, it’s inspiring.”
“I’ve never questioned my visceral response when I see you perform,” Paula said, after the camera showed her tearing up in rapture while he was singing. “It’s as if you tore your heart out and left it on the stage.”
Danny Gokey gave his usual performance with “September” — not particularly memorable, but very good nonetheless. In particular, he made a song that doesn’t generally offer singers much of a chance to shine into one that showcased his vocals.
“This is a great song but it doesn’t have a big melodic range,” Randy Jackson said. “You turned it into something that really worked for you tonight.”
Though Simon complained that it lacked star power, it’s hard to see Danny being in any danger. As Paula again predicted, he’s still a favorite to make the final.
Arrangements take a beatingWhen the judges complimented Adam, he responded by giving credit to the person who came up with the arrangement. That was the lone compliment on a night when the judges generally hated what the singers had to work with.
Allison Iraheta's musical arranger got no love from the judges. The teenager's version of “Hot Stuff” was way too slow at the beginning, and that kept the teen from building momentum until later in the song.
She got positive responses anyway, as the judges are very aware that any week they don’t praise her is a week she’s at risk to go home. “I didn’t love the arrangement, it was a little over-indulgent for me,” Randy said. “But let me say this, you’re one of the best singers in the competition. You can really sing.”
“I think you were always going to come into this week as an underdog, but taking everything into account that was a brilliant performance,” Simon added.
Matt Giraud also didn’t get much to work with by picking “Staying Alive,” and considering he was the lowest vote-getter a week ago and there’s no judges’ save to bail him out any more, he’s in trouble again this time around. Simon called the performance desperate and panned its lack of originality.
But Paula was a fan, and looked to save him with a sports metaphor. “You pick songs like I bowl," said the woman it's awfully hard to picture at your local alley. “Sometimes you get gutterballs and sometimes you get strikes, and this was a strike.”
On the other hand, Lil Rounds threw the ball into the wrong lane with Chaka Khan’s “I’m Every Woman.” Though Paula gave her credit for overcoming an illness that had sidelined her the day before, the early favorite is in big trouble. Simon predicted she’d be going home before the other six finalists even took the stage.
“The thing is you’ve been every woman on that stage, every other woman but yourself,” Kara said.
Anoop Desai is a sure bet to be in the bottom three, as he is every week these days. ‘Dim All The Lights” started off about an octave too high before moving from a ballad to up-tempo, and got a wide range of responses from the judges.
“To me, it sounded like it could actually be on the radio. These last two weeks [were] your best performances,” Kara said.
“That was mediocre at best,” Simon countered. “That was a horrible version of that song. In my opinion, that was your worst performance by a mile.”
Considering Anoop gets little love from the viewers these days, those comments can’t make him rest easy, On the other hand, Lil, Matt and Allison also didn’t do well enough to give themselves any breathing room. Two of those four will likely be disco-dancing off the show on Wednesday.
Craig Berman is a writer in Washington, D.C.