The judges gave the remaining “American Idol” finalists a lot of rope this week, allowing them to sing any top iTunes download. That freedom proved to be a mixed blessing, as Tuesday brought some brutal song choices and bizarre looks.
The biggest impression was made by Allison Iraheta. It wasn’t her performance of No Doubt’s “Don’t Speak,” or the fact that she broke out her guitar that drew notice. Rather, it was her choosing to take the stage dressed like a long-lost member of the Flintstones.
“What are you wearing? What is with this outfit, man?” Randy Jackson said. “I got mad love for you, but I did not get the ensemble tonight.”
“It was like something out of the Addams Family — tonight’s theme is Halloween,” Simon Cowell added.
Adam Lambert’s song selection was as risky as Iraheta’s outfit, but the result was better. Picking Wild Cherry’s “Play That Funky Music” could have made him sound like a Las Vegas wedding singer, but it left Paula Abdul with some different comparisons in mind.
“Mick Jagger, Steven Tyler … and Adam Lambert,” Paula said.
That’s stretching it more than a bit, but Lambert remains the most comfortable on stage and it shows. “You are definitely in the star zone,” Randy said.
Meanwhile, Danny Gokey wasn’t happy just being a front-runner, and changed up everything this week. He showed up clean-shaven, looking like someone who’d need an ID to get into an R-rated movie, and went with a softer song than he usually does, Rascal Flatts’ “What Hurts the Most." “I want to tone it down this week, and sing my heart out,” said Gokey.
It worked, and the judges all went crazy over it. This was especially true of Paula, who’s been driving the Gokey bandwagon all season. “This is where you thrive. From the first note to the cadence, you leave me wanting more,” she said.
Kris Allen stuck with what worked, going with the same earnest pleasantness that has served him well so far. His stripped-down “Ain’t No Sunshine” closed the show in style, with predictable raves.
“I’ve got three words for you: That is artistry,” Kara DioGuardi said, counting off the words to make sure she’d done the math correctly this time
Scott MacIntyre was told last week to take more chances and be a little different, and he ignored all of that by picking Billy Joel’s “Just the Way You Are,” which is apparently a huge download among the easy-listening crowd. He played the piano again in defiance of Paula’s request, and the big change was a hairstyle that somewhat resembled Billy Idol with a perm.
This week, it worked. “I think you made very smart decisions tonight,” Kara said. “Stripping it down and just singing to the audience, a moving performance coming from an honest place.”
Song choice tripped up several singersOthers weren’t so lucky, as the enormous selection of songs proved to be a double-edged sword. Having a zillion songs to choose from means that the judges can offer even more names of songs that a contestant should have picked instead of the one they selected.
Lil Rounds did not meet the judges’ expectations on Motown week, and this time, showed up in a bob to sing Celine Dion’s “I Surrender.” It was a strange choice because it again made her look old and didn’t take advantage of her strengths.
“I don’t want to see an adult contemporary Lil Rounds,” Paula said.
After Randy followed with some negativity of his own, host Ryan Seacrest encouraged Rounds’ kids to punch Randy. One said she would, and then flopped down in Randy’s arms like he was her grandpa. It won the expected sighs of pleasure from the audience, showing that little kids know better than “American Idol” hosts that love, not violence, solves conflicts.
Anoop Desai seems to get the most random feedback every week, as if the judges are trying to see how much conflicting advice they can give him. Last week, they wanted higher energy, but this week they didn’t like his picking an Usher song that was too much of a dance number for their taste. “I get the feeling that a bunch of frat guys got up and dared you to sing Usher,” Kara said.
Desai bit his tongue, though he did have some friends in the crowd who looked the part. Though Simon claimed that the performance gave him a headache, Desai is hoping that he can ride the wave of good fortune that has taken his school’s North Carolina Tar Heels to the Final Four.
But Desai has been good about shrugging off the negative feedback so far, while Matt Giraud has not. “I was a little surprised,” Giraud said about being in the bottom three last week. He sang “You Found Me” by The Fray this time around, and this time it would be less of a surprise to find him in danger of elimination.
“You should be happy, Matt, because we don’t like you this week,” Simon said. That’s some small consolation on a night he was panned, though Kara did say he didn’t deserve to go home.
Anyone looking for the next “Idol” conspiracy might ask why the choreographers nail Megan Joy’s shoes to the stage every week. Week after week, she stands there like her feet are made of concrete, and it was no different here as she muddled through “Turn the Lights Down Low.”
“It was like watching paint dry,” Randy said. “You can love a song and it doesn’t mean you’ll sing it great. I love a lot of songs — you don’t hear me singing them.”
Craig Berman is a writer in Washington, D.C.