''American Idol'' makes Broadway sound bad: An hour of awkward versions of classic show tunes was a legitimate mess, but at least this time a man might go home
American Idol

”American Idol”: Making Broadway sound bad

I love American Idol. And I love Broadway musicals. But on tonight’s excruciating episode, these two individual treats were about as appealing as a mash-up of peanut butter and pizza.

Not that I don’t understand the reasoning behind the Idol producers’ decision to give us all a heaping serving of pepperoni and Jif. The beauty of building an Idol episode around show tunes is that it could take the performers out of their comfort zones, challenge them vocally, and force them to go beyond mimicking familiar performances of hit singles.

And although there wasn’t even one performer who proved Broadway ready, I can say this much: It would be a travesty if any of remaining women wound up in the bottom three. Carrie Underwood, Vonzell Solomon, and Nadia Turner were nowhere near perfect, but given the performances of a few of the men, the ladies earned themselves a week of relaxation on the Idol couch.

Nadia, who’s inexplicably been a bottom-three staple the last two weeks, scored points for infusing the tricky ”As Long As He Needs Me” with some actual heart and soul. Once again, Nadia couldn’t quite mask her vocal limitations — did she really think no one would notice the way she clipped her notes during the number’s dramatic conclusion? — but she’s one of the few contestants who didn’t sound like they had just stepped off an international flight and learned their lyrics phonetically. Unfortunately, the Idol judges acted like they were still recovering from Nadia’s fro-hawk incident, offering praise so half-hearted and brief you might have mistaken it for a put-down.

Vonzell and Carrie probably have less to worry about than Nadia; neither has come close to elimination, and both seem to be growing in confidence each week. While I totally agree with Simon that Vonzell’s performance was nowhere near Fantasia’s transcendental ”Summertime” from last season, I defy anyone to say her fresh take on ”People” wasn’t the evening’s high point. Still, the challenge now for Vonzell isn’t proving she’s got the pipes or the looks (if she’s not careful, her million-dollar smile and gorgeous curves will land her on America’s Next Top Model) but rather proving those pipes are capable of delivering the kind of complex emotional shading that separates good vocalists from great ones.

I hold no such hope for Carrie, a singer who has a machinelike ability to hit every note correctly but has the stage presence and emotional warmth of a jukebox. The blond farm girl, who apparently has no frame of reference for music written prior to 1980, picked one of the evening’s weakest songs — ”Hello, Young Lovers,” from The King and I, but I’ll admit, Carrie sounded aiight.

While Randy’s comment that Carrie sang ”brilliantly” was Paula-esque in its irrational exuberance, I’ll forgive him this once, since he was comparing her performance to those of Scott Savol, Anthony Fedorov, Anwar Robinson, and Nikko Smith, all of whom sang like they were trying hard to even out the show’s current gender imbalance. I have a feeling the bottom two will (deservedly) be Scott and Anthony. The former, of course, is sure to lose votes for a report on this week’s Smoking Gun website about a domestic-violence incident from his past, but his blah performance of ”The Impossible Dream” won’t win him any new fans either. For the second straight week, Scott struggled to hit his notes, creating such a charisma vacuum that I could actually feel the life force being sucked out of my body and into the TV screen. Inexplicably, Randy said Scott ended with ”a bang,” but I heard something that sounded more like a voice cracking. Badly.

Then again, Scott’s ending was ear-licious compared to Anthony’s final note on ”Climb Ev’ry Mountain,” which was so wildly off-key that I wouldn’t be surprised if it set off spontaneous seizures among viewers nationwide. Although Simon and Randy have never given Anthony proper credit for his prior performances, he earned his lumps this week and might end up paying the ultimate price.

Nikko and Anwar should start writing their thank-yous to Scott and Anthony now, as neither of them had banner nights either. I used to think Anwar, who seems to have raided Constantine Maroulis’ hippie-scarf closet (not to mention Connie’s guidebook to camera-conscious facial expressions), had a knack for making songs his own. Now I realize Anwar has a knack for making every song sound the same — in other words, whiny, deadly dull, and vaguely off-key. Nikko’s vocals were all over the place, too, but his dapper fedora-vest-tie combo proved he knows how to dress like a pop star, even if his ”One Hand, One Heart” didn’t exactly make him sound like one.

I really hate to say it, but I thought Constantine gave one of the night’s better efforts. Yeah, he took his wild mugging to shameless new lows, and his final note was shakier than Grandma’s hands, but his light-jazz read on ”My Funny Valentine” showed he not only has impeccable taste in songs, but he also truly understands the words coming out of his Smeagoly mouth.

That said, while the judges would have us all believe Constantine and Bo are duking it out for the same votes, I’m not buying it. Every person I know who’s part of the Bice Squad absolutely despises Constantine. Which is good news for Bo, whose shaky interpretation of ”Corner of the Sky” was somehow overcome by his style and innate likeability. Still, Bo can’t really afford too many more missteps. Because while Idol‘s women are outnumbered right now, they’ve got enough vocal ammunition to keep them armed and fighting for a good long time.

What do you think? Do the producers need to give the contestants more guidance in choosing the right songs? Is the men’s domination finally over? And have you already canceled that New York theater weekend you were planning?

Episode Recaps

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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