LaKisha Jones’ top musical moment on “American Idol” came early in the competition, when she wowed both the judges and the audience with her version of “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going.” As it turns out, she may wind up having a lot in common with the singer who turned that song into Oscar gold.
Jennifer Hudson came in seventh in the third season of “American Idol” and, judging by her snippy comments when asked about the show, that still rankles her today. But Hudson didn’t lose because she wasn’t talented. She got voted off because she wasn’t that consistent, and she sounded too much like her competition.
LaKisha was eliminated from “American Idol” Wednesday night, finishing the season in fourth place. She doesn’t have that Hudson attitude, and wasn’t surprised by the verdict. But the hurdles she faced on the show were similar — trying to be really good every week despite the wide range of styles and the short time to choose and learn songs. And having two singers — in Hudson’s case, LaToya London and Fantasia Barrino — who sang in a similar style.
Blake Lewis joined her in the bottom two, with Jordin Sparks and Melinda Doolittle also advancing. Blake’s salvation was probably both that he’s the only guy left in the field, and that his beatboxing makes him the most unique of the remaining contestants.
Meanwhile, both Jordin and Melinda have similar vocal strengths and genre preferences to LaKisha, and they’ve simply been better than her over the past couple of months.
The final three get to go home this week for the traditional “Give-them-the-keys-to-the-city-and-get-our-town-on-television” day.
LaKisha, meanwhile, goes back home, waits for the concert tour, and hopes that a record deal comes along to help make raising her daughter as a single mother a little bit easier.
Be spectacular — and be consistentAt this stage of the competition, the judges are looking for more than simple consistency. With only four people left, it was obvious that everyone still hanging around the studios had the talent needed to win. Just belting out the right lyrics in the right key wasn’t going to cut it.
Indeed, Melinda got a rare tweaking from the judges on Tuesday, who were hoping for her to focus more on being spectacular than on perfecting her vocal technique. Melinda being Melinda, she did not react by breaking things or snarkily asking the judges to demonstrate what they were looking for by doing a few bars of a random Bee Gees’ tune themselves. Instead she smiled and said, “It was kind of a wake-up call for me,” adding that her goal had been to be consistent every week across all the genres.
For Melinda, that was probably good advice, since her voice has that extra gear that most lack. Unfortunately for LaKisha, it was advice she could only follow in fits and starts. What the judges seem to want is a gradually rising standard, a sloping hill that finishes the year as a mountain of talent and polish. LaKisha’s results look more like an EKG, with high peaks and low valleys at regular intervals.
When she was on her game, no singer was better. Starting with “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going,” LaKisha had moments where she seemed to lose herself in the song and come through with outstanding performances. Even last week, when she was extremely vulnerable and two finalists were voted off, she rose to the challenge with a great rendition of Bon Jovi’s “This Ain’t A Love Song.”
But while Jordin, Melinda and Blake have all made it look effortless, this competition always seemed like it was harder on LaKisha. The two other women have been mostly great throughout, and greeted the rare slip-up with a smile and a shrug. Blake essentially admitted Wednesday that he listens to the judges’ feedback on autopilot, and is too lost in the moment to worry about what’s being said.
LaKisha always seemed less sure of herself. It looked like she wasn’t aware of how good she really was and what her strengths were. There were too many nights like Tuesday when she seemed to take the stage singing as though she was waiting for something bad to happen. Unlike Melinda, whose show of nerves hasn’t been convincing for a long time, LaKisha genuinely looked like she was always expecting the clock to strike midnight and the brush with stardom to end prematurely.
Talking about herself on the video montage that played at the end of the show, she said, “I think people have more confidence in Kisha than Kisha has in herself.” That showed in her mannerisms at times, as well as in her song selections throughout the competition. In April, at a time when the rest of the favorites were separating themselves from the pack, she picked boilerplate songs by former “Idol” winners, failed to excel, and dropped in the standings.
That left her in danger every week, but she skirted it long enough to re-establish herself as a contender. But this week was just one off-night too many for the voters to take.
Craig Berman is a writer in Washington, D.C.