On ''American Idol,'' a visit from Jon Bon Jovi inspires some performances that could change the game entirely; plus, Simon gets mushy
”American Idol”: Bon Jovi rocks the boat
Jon Bon Jovi, I owe you an apology. On the latest episode of Idolatry, I openly mocked your songbook and blasted the producers of American Idol for forgoing a rock & roll theme in favor of an evening built solely around your greatest hits. But while I still believe that your ham-handed turns of phrase and rote choruses are the very definition of bad medicine, I must also admit that said bad medicine is exactly what Idol needed.
You see, for 11 weeks now, I’ve been longing for a contestant (any contestant, really) to perform a number with a kind of emotional intensity that has nothing to do with trying to win a reality-TV singing competition and everything to do with the higher calling of (if you’ll allow me to have a Paula moment) making me feel a song all the way down to my soul. I’ve wanted to see young singers risk their Idol dreams by reinventing or rearranging well-known songs in bold, audacious ways. I’ve dreamed of seeing the finalists step outside their comfort zones and discover that their musical limitations were entirely self-imposed. I’ve wanted these wannabes to understand the judges’ well-worn advice to always ”sing like it’s your last time on stage.”
This week, all four of those wishes got fulfilled, and while credit must be spread among four individual contestants, my first (and most enthusiastic) standing ovation goes to LaKisha Jones. Tonight, LaKisha did not borrow. She did not rent with an option to purchase. She absolutely frickin’ owned ”This Ain’t a Love Song” — and no matter what happens on Wednesday night’s results show, it will always be hers. Keepin’ it really real, Kiki was a headband away from looking like a rejected extra from the set of Olivia Newton-John’s ”Physical” video, but that odd red-lace and black-Lycra corset-leotard thingie could not detract from the emotional intensity of a transcendent performance. LaKisha has never been a professional backup singer. She hasn’t been groomed for stardom since childhood. She’s just a humble bank teller from Fort Meade, Md., who did what no other season 6 contestant has done this year: She got me reaching for the Kleenex. That Simon actually broke character and adorably shared a kiss with the single mom made me feel a little less embarrassed about going misty — but also reinforced my fear that because last week’s votes also count toward this week’s eliminations, we’ve probably heard the last of Miss Jones. I’m just glad she also got to show a little of the trademark sass that’s been so muted the past few weeks, especially when she told Ryan, ”I want the camera to get my slim side.”
Maybe I’m wrong, though. After all, Bon Jovi himself declared he’d bet that LaKisha would survive the week. But if I had to put money down at this very moment on which singer is most likely to stick around, I’d place my wager on Blake Lewis, whose electrifying retooling of ”You Give Love a Bad Name” has likely surpassed Mindy Doo’s ”My Funny Valentine” as the season’s watercooler performance. Bon Jovi was right that ”16 measures of him not singing on a show that’s supposed to highlight singers” was a risky move (though not as risky as sharing Jordin’s black-and-red hair dye), and Blake’s whooshing opening sound effects (which sounded to me like the Diet Coke I crack open every morning around 7 a.m.) were a wee bit indulgent, but the rest of the performance was exhilarating — breathing life into what I’d written off as a tired ’80s anthem. The ”you give love-lllll-love-love-lll-love a bad, bad name” breakdown had me clapping like baby-seal Paula, and while the judges seemed a little tentative in their praise, this was the performance that — whether or not it secured Blake a spot in the final two — pretty much guaranteed him a record deal.
Yet as much credit as I give Blake for bending his song choice into his own personal style, I’ve got to give Melinda Doolittle equal credit for (once again) venturing into new genre territory, and (almost) completely conquering it. Indeed, I’d argue she rocked harder on ”Have a Nice Day” than any of her five competitors — shimmying back-to-back with the guitarist, making that fearsome facial expression after her closing note, letting the gravel in her voice jeopardize (but not ruin) her record of total pitch perfection. As Simon rightfully noted, Mindy Doo discovered her inner Tina! My only issue with the entire performance was the way Melinda refused to take ownership of her performance after she’d finished, offering a tentative shrug when she should’ve kicked over the mike stand and threatened to bite the head off a dove. (Just kidding.) Oh, also, I thought she was just slightly behind the beat on the final 30 seconds, but the expression ”rock on with your bad self” nonetheless applies — and a Melinda-free final four is inconceivable.
I’m not so certain about Phil, whose clear, strong rendition of ”Blaze of Glory” was the best performance he’s given all season, but perhaps only the evening’s fourth best. Combine it with a slightly forgettable showing during ”Idol Gives Back” week, and he might be giving a repeat reading of the line ”I’m goin’ out in a blaze of glory” during Wednesday’s results show. If he does make his exit, the young gun can leave with his head held high. The judges are never going to love him — was Paula’s comment that ”this is a year of your life you’ll never forget” supposed to come off as praise? — but the bald-headed dude did not miss a single note, and his gray jacket with groovy black embroidery cracks my list of the five best articles of clothing (men’s division) for the season. Where’d he get it? And can I afford it? (Only if I win big on the Kentucky Derby this weekend. Go Street Sense!)
Sorry for yet another horse-racing reference, but since the damage is done, can I say that we’re left with Chris Richardson and Jordin Sparks bringing up the back of the pack? And yes, I’m listing them in order. ”Wanted Dead or Alive” was certainly one of Chris R.’s personal-best performances, mostly on key and with very little ”nasally,” but at this point, he just seems outclassed — compared with both the current crop of finalists and those of seasons past. Indeed, given Chris R.’s own mention of Chris Daughtry’s superior season 5 cover of ”Wanted,” you have to wonder why he didn’t opt for a different song. Maybe he’s got the same hunch as Simon: He did as much as he could have possibly hoped to do, and it’s probably not enough to help him crack the top four. Even so, I thought it was kind of a low blow for Ryan to introduce the dude as ”Justin Timberlake.”
Oh, and speaking of low blows, how bad did Jordin’s lower register blow (sorry) on ”Livin’ on a Prayer,” the Kraft Shells and Cheese of the genre. Right from the opening seconds, it was clear most of the verse’s notes would be out of the perky front-runner’s grasp — much like the basic concepts of working on the docks, working at a diner, and being down on one’s luck. And yet, somehow, as Jordin finished the song and then blissfully admitted to the judges that her performance left something to be desired, I found myself humming the theme song to The Mary Tyler Moore Show: ”Who can turn the world on with her smile?” (Jordin!) ”Who can take a nothing performance, and suddenly make it all seem worthwhile?” (Didn’t her red-streaked perm look adorable?) I mean, the girl described her new ‘do by invoking the contestant whose name really should not be spoken (”I picked up where S**j**a left off”) and yet, I can’t bring myself to send my Team Jordin membership card through the shredder. Add in the windfall of votes she likely got for last week’s ”You’ll Never Walk Alone,” and I bet she’s not even in the bottom three. That said, if the camera crew is as unkind to her next week as they were tonight (randomly cutting away, spending too much time focused on her back) she could wind up with this season’s Tamyra Gray Trophy for most shocking early exit. Either that, or some random camera dude will get the heave-ho from Ryan a week from Wednesday.
What did you think of Bon Jovi night? Why was the singers’ rehearsal space filled with hanging Persian rugs? Which was more mortifying: LaKisha’s comment that she didn’t know Bon Jovi’s music but she’d seen him on Oprah, or Jordin’s remark that her mother grew up on his music? And did I really see the president and the First Lady at the end of the episode, or was that some sort of hallucination caused by way too much Idol, and way too little of everything else for the last four months?
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