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The third semifinals were sooo much better

From Elizabeth to La Toya with a few good men thrown in between, this round was up to the performance level of the first round, says Nicholas Fonseca

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Paula Abdul, Simon Cowell, ...

American Idol

TV Show
Current Status:
In Season
Harry Connick Jr., Jennifer Lopez, Keith Urban, Ryan Seacrest
Reality TV

The third semifinals were sooo much better

Was it good for you? Because it sure was for me? and it came not a moment too soon. After the dismal embarrassment that was last week’s ”American Idol,” a new crop of eight prospectives returned to show us how it’s really done last night? and damn, they sure cleaned up!

Now, it certainly wasn’t too difficult for this latest group to top last week’s drowsy, dull performances — I’m still trying to erase the memory of Jesus and Noel Roman’s nonvoices, because they haunt me in my sleep. That said, almost everybody who hit the stage last night did a fine job of conveying, at the very least, a modicum of talent that could propel them to the final 10. Let’s run through the list, shall we?

A lot of folks in this office — including my own ”American Idol”-obsessed boss, Henry — are keen on Elizabeth Letendre, and when they tell me things like this, I want to leave the room before I annoy them with a scrunchy- face that says, ”Well, she’s fine, but doesn’t she look like that cheerleading snot who always made fun of your dowdy, low-class friends in high school?” (Sidebar: I really can make a face that says that, and I really did have dowdy, low-class friends in high school. It’s a result of being too nice for one’s own good. Thankfully, I’m past the too-nice phase? as evidenced by my writing this cruel, cruel column.)

Anyhow, Letendre, who promised to ”tear the competition up” in the auditions, held her own with Whitney Houston’s ”I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me),” which, incidentally, was once my favorite song. She rip-roared her way through the song, but her slightly nasal voice didn’t thrill me, and that karaoke-like arrangement sort of grated. Points, though, for the night’s best quip, uttered during her post-performance interview with Ryan: ”I guess I’m just corny and cheap!” America, that’s a potential future Idol speaking. I hope you chose carefully.

Eric Yoder, who received quite an, um, enthusiastic reaction from some immature fans on our message boards last week, cleaned up nicely with his version of ”In the Still of the Night.” Simon keeps reminding us that Eric — who seemed to be wearing jeans from the Ryan Seacrest Denim Collection last night — is reminiscent of Clay Aiken, but I’m not sure I agree.

First of all, Eric’s already got the looks (raise your hand if you’d like to slalom down those cheekbones), which is a major help in a show whose audience seems to be dominated by mall-hopping tweenyboppers. Second, as much as I didn’t care for Clay’s plastic humility, Simon’s right when he notes that Eric still has some work to do in the personality department. I’d like to see Eric pick a more modern, energetic song if he makes it to the next round.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t reveal that pink-haired makeup artist Amy Adams is from Bakersfield, Calif., a godawful dust bowl of a city that’s a quick 45-minute drive from my own godawful dust bowl of a hometown. I’d love to recuse myself from the discussion (and I did, after all, vote for her like nine times), but I just can’t.

That said, Amy did a fine job with Celine Dion’s ”Power of Love,” and despite the fact that she could pass for a PTA president if her hair were a normal color, I wouldn’t be surprised if she sneaks her way into the final three this evening. One thing that does bug me, however: I’m still not sure what Simon means when he says she’d be great for Cabaret Idol. It’s not like she popped out the jazz hands and trotted out in spats, buddy. What, exactly, constitutes ”cabaret”? The closest I’ve seen to a ”cabaret” performance this season was Scooter Girl’s (sob!) classic audition. Man, I miss that girl.

I’ve always had a special fondness for Jon Peter Lewis, and it must have something to do with the fact that he’s so wisely kept himself under the radar thus far in the competition. Sure, he’s been the butt of plenty of ”pen salesman” jokes, and, to be honest, Simon wasn’t far off the mark with that comment. I do wonder — and hope — that viewers are picking up on the same inherent goofiness and genuinely oddball humor that I’ve been noticing from Jon Peter. I wouldn’t dare call him the strongest singer in last night’s competition, but he employed his falsetto to a slightly more appeasing degree than Eric Yoder.

My only issue: He’s got to stop doing that creepy THING with his eyes. You know what I’m talking about. He always looks like he’s bugging out about something just past the camera, and it’s an unnerving sight to behold. Anybody want to guess what he’s seeing out there in the wild blue yonder? My vote: Paula’s latest wardrobe disaster (that’s ”disaster,” not ”malfunction” — you pervs!).

The next three performers were all stunningly average. Charly Lowry, whose husky voice and Mariah-like looks charmed me early in the competition, failed miserably with her version of Aretha’s ”Chain of Fools.” Personally, I think nerves choked her up, but that ’80s-era prom dress wasn’t helping matters for either of us. Watching her dance in that dress — if you can call that a dance — was painful and torturous.

Jonah Moananu was forced to perform his Carl Thomas tune against a backdrop of crashing ocean waves, as if the producers needed to remind us that he’s from the island of Hawaii. Honestly, what can I say about Jonah that wasn’t said last night? He sucked. Lord knows he would have felt right at home with last week’s crowd.

Leah Labelle, meanwhile, knocked out a so-so version of Whitney’s ”I Have Nothing,” but I was so distracted by her outfit (those knickers!) that I barely had time to concentrate on her voice. Speaking of which: How, exactly, would she understand Simon’s designer-dress comment if she’s wearing heinous duds like that? Just askin’, of course.

And now, we come to La Toya London. Who is this girl? Where did she come from? Have the producers been hiding her away in a dark mine, fully cognizant of her awesome talent and fully aware that she’d be stealing the competition right out from under everybody else’s noses??

Really, folks, I don’t need to tell you what a phenomenal performance La Toya gave — the proof was blaring from your television speakers. Every note, every line, everything was delivered with cool, calm precision. It’s performances like La Toya’s that remind me why I fell in love with this show in the first place. Here’s to her approach to the top 10? and here’s to what I hope will be one big, long, drawn-out catfight with Fantasia!