In an erratic night of ''American Idol,'' the contestants sing something from their birth year and from the current charts

By Whitney Pastorek
Updated July 03, 2006 at 04:00 AM EDT

American Idol

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”American Idol”: The ’70s, the ’80s, and today

So, I’ve got some good news and some bad news. The good news is, because Michael Slezak is out on vacation, you get to hang out with me. The bad news is, because Michael Slezak is out on vacation, you get to hang out with me, and unlike Michael, I’m no Paula. In fact, I was somewhat alarmed this evening by the number of times I was thinking something snarky and suddenly heard my inner monologue coming out of Simon’s mouth. But hey — don’t hate the player, hate the game! The finale’s so close we can taste it! This! Is! American Idol!

Everybody had to step up and sing two songs tonight: First, a song from the year of their birth, then a song that’s on the pop charts right now — both potentially challenging themes, especially considering that three of the contestants were born in the ’70s, the decade where good songs went to die, and all of the contestants thrive on music that does not involve ”leaning with it” or being James Blunt. But there was no turning back, and after Seacrest introduced the judges — Paula! Looking very Deadwood-on-crack this evening! — we were thrust into a magical wonderland called ”Why Elliott Yamin Is Going to Get Voted Off This Week.”

Sigh. I know. I love the little hobbit, too. But to start this show by singing ”On Broadway,” complete with lounge-lizard finger snaps and step-touch-step-touch footwork…oh, it was so bleh, like one of those song medleys they toss out on the Grammys. I kept waiting for the Black Eyed Peas to show up or something. And then his perfectly pleasant but predictably dull cover of Michael Bublé’s ”Home” just made me sad. I agree with Simon that Elliott’s probably got the best voice in this competition; I also agree with Simon that the lyric ”I wanna go home” was perhaps not the best thing for Elliott to put out there this evening. Then again, when they cut to an audience shot of Ace, I remembered that it could be so very much worse, and we could be stuck with a pretty boy who thinks Train songs show his ”rock edge.” Shudder.

Next up was Paris, who was born in 1988 and chose Prince’s ”Kiss” for her first song. After I finished crying (old…I am old), I was disappointed by how she sort of slogged her way through. The arrangement was way too slow — which is not her fault — but it’s also just kind of silly to sing this song if you’re not Prince. I did love how Simon called it ”screechy,” though, given the hypersonic qualities of the original. (”Ainnopaticulakine! Imorcompatiblwit!”) Luckily, Paris’ second go-round was a very plausible cover of Mary J. Blige’s ”Be Without You,” which managed to win Simon’s approval — but not Paula’s. Paula, it seems, has fallen into some sort of personal K hole with regards to Paris, and she only wants to hear her sing the oldies. But the best thing about Paris (and, truthfully, kind of also the worst thing) is that she’s like a middle-school girl playing dress-up, trying on personalities to see which work. Tonight, the strong-independent-woman shtick worked great. For the record, I’m pretty sure the cough syrup in Paula’s cup is working, too.

Tonight’s Idol Tip No. 1: If the TV’s on fire, chances are Chris Daughtry is singing. Look, I like Chris. I think Chris is talented. I cannot stand most of the crap he sings. His first song, ”Renegade” (dear God, who thought we’d ever hear Styx on this show?), was perfectly fine: It showcased his range; he didn’t push it; it was, as they say, a real hot one. But then he pulls out this bland piece of modern-rock crap by some group I’ve never heard of — Shinedown? Are they a Fuel cover band? — and blows out his voice trying to be all intense ‘n’ stuff. Dude. Chris. Just sing. If the veins are popping out of your forehead, you might be overdoing it. Two words: Scott Stapp. It doesn’t have to end that way for you, okay? Love ya, mean it.

Idol Tip No. 2, and this one’s for you, Seacrest: Try to avoid making the poor contestants talk about their underwear just before they have to sing. I know that the whole country was abuzz last week over Katharine McPhee’s little ”wardrobe malfunction,” but there’s a reason she’s wearing a burlap sack strapped to her ass this evening. Could that awkward conversation have led to her lackluster first performance? Or is it just that she decided to sing ”Against All Odds,” a song that never works? Dear America: Stop singing that song. It never works. It even messes up the judges: Simon, while trying to say it wasn’t one of her best performances, rambled something rather incoherent (stop drinking out of Paula’s cup, Simon) and forgot to say ”wasn’t” and had to pipe back in later just to make sure KMac knew how much she sucked. Much better was her frisky second-round choice of KT Tunstall’s ”Black Horse and the Cherry Tree,” which she delivered from her knees on the floor, as Idol obsessees all over the world immediately thought back to Fantasia’s floor-based ”Summertime” and shed a silent tear. Anyway. Yay, McPheever, shiny hair, pretty, etc.

Last! My boyfriend, Taylor, played some funky music white boy for the first round in an absolutely unforgivable shirt, but later — in the most brilliant move of the night — he whipped out ”Something,” by the Beatles (God bless those greatest-hits CDs!), and…well, this is where I got a little Paula-esque. Because it touched me. And I want to marry him. I know this isn’t quite the sort of hard-hitting critique you want to hear when you stop by EW.com, but seriously, I think Taylor really helped himself tonight by reminding everyone that when he’s not soul-patrolling all over the place, he is a mature, talented singer who understands how to connect with the words coming out of his mouth. If he can just keep the barmy cheese to a minimum, I think he’s got a shot at the top two (with McPhee), for reals. Also because Chris’s vocal cords are going to fall off any day now.

In conclusion, Melissa McGhee was robbed. I’ve been waiting 10 weeks to say that out loud. It feels good.

What do you think? What was the worst song choice of the night? Who’s going home? And who will be the final two?

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American Idol

Ryan Seacrest hosts as Katy Perry, Lionel Richie, and Luke Bryan guide aspiring singers on their way to superstardom.
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