With only six contestants left, and a whole hour on Tuesday nights devoted to them, we have officially entered the "time-killing filler" portion of "American Idol." And with the horror that was last week's ’70s Dance Music theme, the audience needed something that required the remaining finalists to produce music that didn't stink.
Well, 50 percent isn't bad.
The time-killing portion of the evening was entertaining, as the snippets of home life brought forth some tidbits of information that are sure to appear in People magazine in the coming weeks. It also kept the focus off an understated Paula Abdul, who hasn't had the greatest week of press coverage and probably welcomed a chance to stay out of the papers as much as possible.
The singing, however, was not what the audience probably expected. By giving the contestants the option to pick any song released on Jan. 1, 2000 or later, it appeared that the remaining finalists would pick songs that showcased their strengths and ignored their weaknesses. By and large, that didn't happen.
The judges clearly know who they'd like to see voted off – Scott Savol was uniformly panned in curt soundbites at the end of the show. But the others gave him room for hope, as only Bo Bice and perhaps Carrie Underwood did well enough to feel safe.
Carrie Underwood, 21, Checotah, Okla.: For those who didn't know, Carrie Underwood comes from a small town. A farm, even! She fishes! She feeds the cows! Heck, Underwood did everything but show up in overalls and a cowboy hat, and anyone shocked by her choice of Martina McBride's "When God Fearin' Women Get the Blues" hasn't been paying attention to the competition thus far. If she's the winner, we can expect a whole lot of country in the celebrated album. The judges weren't very impressed, except for Simon. That said, she did well enough that it wouldn't be a shock if the "Nashville Star" folk from down the TV dial made her the winner of that show by acclimation.Grade: BFun fact: Carrie's mother said she thinks Carrie may like animals more than people. It was a very down-home comment, particularly given the footage of her playing with the cat and feeding the cows.The judges: "I personally don't understand this kind of music – I'm English. But the people who do will absolutely love you after tonight." – Simon Cowell.Stay or go: Simon Cowell, you're not fooling anyone. Everyone who has watched the show knows that he's salivating at the prospect of releasing Underwood's album should she win, and at this point the odds are in her favor. Despite the fact that she went first and didn't bring the house down, she's still all but assured of advancing.
Bo Bice, 29, Helena, Ala.: Maybe being in the bottom two a couple of weeks ago was just the kick in the pants Bice needed. His rendition of "I Don't Wanna Be" by Gavin DeGraw, which some audience members may have known as the "One Tree Hill" theme, got the loudest applause of the night, by far. OK, the outfit was a little over the top, complete with what Simon called the Lenny Kravitz shades, but Bice served notice that if America wants its "Idol" winner to be a traditional rock star, he's the best bet to carry the mantle.Grade: A-Fun fact: Bice owns 12 guitars. And yet, he has a girlfriend anyway.The judges: "You know what I love about you is you're honest, you're true … 'American Idol' finally has a true rock star, and it's you." – Randy Jackson.Stay or go: If Bice goes, it'll be because his style of music doesn't appeal to enough people. It won't be because of his performance – Bice is clearly one of the best left in the competition, and by his merits should be an easy choice to advance.
Vonzell Solomon, 21, Fort Myers, Fla.: Say this about Vonzell Solomon … she always picks songs that impress the judges. All three admired her choice of Christina Aguilera's "I Turn to You," of course, that could be because the footage of her breaking a wooden board in martial arts class had them fearing for their lives. She gave a performance that seemed to sound a lot better live than it did on television. Randy and Paula were effusive in their praise, but Simon may have been prescient when he told Paula "I have a horrible feeling that that wasn't as good as you think."Grade: B-Fun Fact: Solomon works for the U.S. Postal Service back in Fort Myers. And based on the martial arts clips, she's not the kind of mail carrier that a local homeowner wants to berate if a package arrives late.The judges: "What's amazing about you is not only did you nail that song, but you have the ability to connect with the audience's heartstrings." –Paula Abdul.Stay or go: Solomon's performance wasn't as good as the judges gave her credit for, and she's a candidate to wind up in the bottom three this week. She probably did well enough to stick around, however.
Anthony Fedorov, 19, Trevose, Pa.: What does it say about Fedorov that he not only chose to sing Celine Dion's "I Surrender," but he said he had been wanting to sing that song for weeks? It might be better not to even think about it. The vocals were OK, though Randy Jackson accurately pointed out that the high notes sounded a lot better than the low ones.Grade: B-Fun fact: Fedorov's parents have a tape of him singing when he was about a year and a half old. Could that be a bonus track on his first CD?The judges: "I personally hated it. But a large part of this competition is picking songs that are appealing to people who like you, and you did that tonight." – Simon Cowell.Stay or go: Do people really expect or want Fedorov to cover Celine Dion ballads? Fedorov is always tough to predict – like Scott Savol, he survives each week in spite of lukewarm reviews from the judges. There was nothing objectionable about his performance this time around, but he's still far from safe.
Constantine Maroulis, 29, New York: Perhaps a little overconfident, or perhaps feeling a little additional pressure after his former band signed a record deal, Maroulis went away from his strength and went back to being a rocker, singing Nickelback's "How You Remind Me." It did a good job of showing off Maroulis' weaknesses – he sounds like a run-of-the-mill cover artist when he sings rock songs, and it didn't give him many openings for his usual theatrics (not that he didn't try). Maroulis is not going to win a rock-off with Bo Bice, and it wasn't smart of him to make the attempt.Grade: C+The judges: "It felt like I was sitting in a bar in any town in America. The performance was good, but the singing … for me, out of 10 it was a 5.'" – Randy Jackson.Stay or go: This week will be a good test of whether Maroulis has a reservoir of support that will vote for him whether he's on his game or not. It was a very average performance, and by its merits should put him in the bottom three. But he hasn't been there all season, so odds are good he'll stick around.
Scott Savol, 28, Shaker Heights, Ohio: The judges all clearly feel that Savol has overstayed his welcome – none of the three had any praise at all for his rendition of Luther Vandross' "Dance with My Father." Record companies won't be clamoring to release his cover version of the song or anything, but it wasn't as bad as the judges made it sound. However, Savol's never really been much of a performer, and that may come back to hurt him here with Randy and Paula criticizing his vocals.Grade: CFun fact: Savol has a four-year old son, named Brandon. The judges: "Pack your bags." – Simon Cowell.Stay or go: Let's be honest … if the voters based their opinions on Savol on what the judges said, he'd have been gone a month ago. He's the odds-on favorite to be sent packing, but he clearly has a sizeable fan base and they clearly vote in bulk every week. So who knows?
Craig Berman is a writer in Washington, D.C.