The performances were not so hot… Again!
The problem with devoting an entire night of ”American Idol” to the songs of über-singer/songwriter Elton John is the fact that the man himself produced such an utterly perfect breadth of music the first go-round that there’s really nowhere to go but down. And down the contestants did go on this week’s installment, which saw only a few of the remaining nine rise to the challenge of singing His Royal Diva’s biggest hits with even a modicum of success.
Let’s start with the night’s opening act, Bobo. To most of you, she’s known as one Miss Fantasia Barrino, but to me, well, she’s Bobo. She has to be Bobo, because when she beams that wonderfully imperfect smile across my television screen, I can’t feel much of anything but love. In any case, Bobo decided to tackle ”Something About the Way You Look Tonight,” and despite her best efforts, this wasn’t Fantasia’s shining week.
Oh, sure, she can still sing the pants off of, say, John Stevens and Camile Velasco (and we’ll get to their pitiful efforts in a minute), but, um, doesn’t it worry anybody else when her outsized earrings are garnering more attention than her typically raspy voice? I’ll give Bobo a free pass this week, but she needs to return to full underdog glory right quick if she wishes to keep in everybody’s good graces for the remainder of the competition.
In retrospect, I’ve given JPL one too many free passes, and this is where I finally declare that, yes, he’s dead to me. I fully admit that JPL has the mystifying winning quality that ”Idol” audiences love (um, hello, Clay!), but — and here’s my big issue with him — he hasn’t exhibited any growth since the beginning of the season. The situation is pretty dire when, in week four of the competition, not even Paula can find something positive to say about a performance. It seems apparent at this point that JPL’s endearing goofiness — which won him that wild-slot card slot in the first place — has worn completely thin.
Jasmine Trias, who has yet to really fulfill on the promise of her roof-shaking performance of three weeks ago, attempted to rip into ”Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me,” but for once, I have to agree with Randy Jackson. No, there was nothing inherently awful about this performance, but Randy made an incredibly valid point when he noted that Jasmine too often aims for high notes? only to land just underneath them. Her voice is clean and assured, and I’ll venture to say that she’s the most photo-friendly of the ”Idol” competitors, but she seems to have reached only, oh, 80 percent of her potential in the past couple of weeks. And by the way, Randy, I’ve looked it up. ”Pitchy” is NOT a word. So stop using it!!
And now we come to the portion of our show that I like to call ”Losers on Parade.” Nothing, NOTHING can convince me at this stage in the game that either John Stevens or Camile Velasco deserves much of anything aside from my utter pity. Stevens’ performance of what is arguably my favorite Elton John song (”Crocodile Rock”) was an exercise in slo-mo torture, and hey, am I the only one who’s starting to get a creepy vibe from this kid? As for Camile? Well, she made a valiant effort, but her off-key rendition of ”Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” had me reaching for the earplugs. If these two aren’t duking it out for the farewell slot tonight, then the old adage (or did I just make it up?) that the masses are a–es really will hold true.
What more can I say about the infectiously joyous George Huff? In ”Idol” terms, it may still be early in the game, but I’m willing to bet that George will manage to find his way into the final three. In fact, it’s hard to cite any other performer who’s stayed so consistent this season. He improves every week, he has enormous stage presence, his voice smacks of old-school Motown, and he set himself apart last night by tearing into the lesser-known ”Take Me to the Pilot.” In short, there is nothing that I don’t love about George Freakin’ Huff.
Diana DeGarmo sang the latter-day John hit ”I’m Still Standing,” and while she worked the audience like the young pro that she is, I can’t help but think that she suffers from the same illness of inconsistency that plagues Jasmine. Sometimes, the talent pouring forth from these girls practically measures off the charts. At other times (like tonight), they seem to be tripped up by their own precociousness. Diana’s problem this week was not that she couldn’t rise to the challenge, but rather that she chose the wrong tune to showcase her inimitable talents.
At least the producers chose to save the best for last. I’ve been harsh on La Toya London in recent weeks, and given the fact that Simon has been equally tough on Jennifer Hudson, I’m not going to apologize for slamming an undeniably talented singer. That said, La Toya’s rendition of ”Someone Saved My Life Tonight” pretty much defined what ”American Idol” aspires to: talent, grace, style, and class. La Toya looked phenomenal as she sang the Elton John ditty and her voice was impeccable.
But here’s where I find fault with the current front-runner (at least in the EW offices): She has little-to-no personality. This isn’t such a bad thing — Janet Jackson’s gotten by on her wispy persona for years, and Anita Baker earned an armful of Grammys despite a rather boring stage presence. At this point, I’m holding out hope that La Toya, in the coming weeks, will reach deep down inside and find the kind of performance that can cinch her deserved place in the final round. (Oh, what I wouldn’t give for a wardrobe malfunction from this too-good girl!)
Hudson, meanwhile, more than earned my longtime love and trust with a version of ”Circle of Life” that nearly blew the roof off the entire ”Idol” set. Wow, wow, WOW! After a few weeks of solid — if unspectacular — performances, my girl finally pulled out the inner diva that I’ve known exists since the very early days of the game. If La Toya and Jennifer end up in the bottom three tonight (as they did last week), I will have lost all faith in the American public. I’m keeping my fingers, toes, and eyes crossed that, come 8:57 p.m. this evening, you fickle folks won’t let me down.