On ''American Idol,'' the four finalists are coached by a Gibb brother but don't hit many high notes

By Michael Slezak
Updated May 09, 2007 at 04:00 AM EDT

American Idol

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”American Idol”: Not a lot of high notes

This is gonna be a hard one to write. Not because my beloved LaKisha Jones is almost certain to go home on Wednesday night’s results show — she was nowhere near strong enough tonight to overcome her limited fan base — but rather because with only two performance shows remaining in Idol‘s sixth season, I’m completely ambivalent about whom I’m backing to win.

Mind you, this wouldn’t be such a problem — in fact, it would be no problem at all — if my indecision were brought on by the fact that Melinda Doolittle, Jordin Sparks, and Blake Lewis were all performing at such high levels that I couldn’t bear to choose just one. But instead, each of them has done his or her part in turning this Idol season into the musical equivalent of that maddening carnival game Whack-a-Mole. Blake pops up with a way-cool remix of ”You Give Love a Bad Name” on Bon Jovi night, then retreats into an abyss of lameness on ”You Should Be Dancin’.” Jordin positively soars on ”Broken Wing,” then hits the ground with a thud on ”A Woman in Love.” Melinda comes roaring to life on ”Have a Nice Day” but flatlines with ”Love You Inside and Out.” And me, I keep swinging my mallet, hoping I’ll connect with somebody — anybody — because it’s bound to happen eventually, isn’t it? But let me back up for a second, because my shifting allegiances shouldn’t be misconstrued as a wholesale indictment of the remaining finalists.

Take Blake, for example. I mean, I could envision a day when I walk into a record store (yeah, I’m old school like that) and pick up a copy of his debut album, because when the dude is on (”Time of the Season” or Bon Jovi night), he gives Idol an undeniable and much-needed jolt. He’s the one contestant I can easily envision finding success in a forum where each of his live performances isn’t followed by Randy Jackson saying, ”Yo, yo, yo, what’s goin’ down?” That said, tonight’s hideous one-two punch of ”You Should Be Dancin’ ” and ”This Is Where I Came In” exposed Blake as a vocalist of limited means. The former number was a heinoustry (I had to make up a word, since no existing ones accurately captured the heinousness) — marked by severe pitch problems (kudos to Paula for noticing), a wobbly falsetto, and some highly questionable choreography. (No, Blake, you should not, in fact, be dancin’…unless you are at a relative’s wedding.) The only saving grace was hearing Blake use his beatboxing powers to mimic the ”dee-dee-doo-doo-doo-doo” horn breakdown in the song’s midsection. So in other words, the emperor wasn’t totally naked, but his wiggity-wack gray jacket with pink floral embroidery wasn’t much better.

As for ”This Is Where I Came In,” let’s just say I can understand why the song wasn’t a hit the first time around for the brothers Gibb. It was so distractingly unmelodious I found myself trying to figure out if Blake was wearing an argyle sweater vest over a white sweater, or a sweater that had three-quarters of a sweater vest stitched onto it. Still, while Blake probably should avoid creating a self-fulfilling prophecy by delivering lyrics like ”this is the danger zone” on the Idol stage, I’m guessing an influx of support from former Chris Richardson boosters will keep him out of the bottom two.

That could (but probably won’t) be trouble for Jordin, whose performances tonight were void of the effervescent joy she exuded in earlier weeks. I’m not sure if the season’s youngest finalist (she’s 17, in case you didn’t hear it the first 92 times the judges mentioned it) is starting to crack under the pressure of the competition, or if she got a nasty text message during calculus class, or if maybe I’m just sick of the producers’ relentless pimping on her behalf, but Jordinmania is waning at Casa Slezak. To be fair, her rendition of ”To Love Somebody” was probably best of the opening four performances, but it lacked the gutsy commitment (and vocal control) of her country-night and British Invasion performances. And Mr. Gibb’s fawning remark about never having heard a greater version of the song felt more like a bad infomercial than a sound bite from America’s top-rated prime-time show. Little did I know that dude was just warming up. ”Jordin is going to be one of our greatest female recording artists,” he remarked during the intro to her extremely unpleasant rendition of Barbra Streisand’s classic ”A Woman in Love.” Talk about putting the shill in shrill! Thankfully, Randy, Simon, and (sort of) Paula called Jordin on her pitch problems — and that aqua ball gown that was a sash and a tiara away from the Miss Teen USA pageant.

Despite Blake and Jordin’s missteps, I can’t shake the feeling we’ll be seeing Melinda and LaKisha as this week’s bottom two. To my ears, Melinda’s pitch-perfect cover of ”How Can You Mend a Broken Heart” gets the gold star for the night, but I also wouldn’t argue with Paula’s insightful remark that it’s time for Mindy to stop focusing so intently on technique and instead hurl her soul onto the Idol stage. It might behoove the ”resident pro” (a moniker that Randy seems to have turned into an insult) to visit one of Los Angeles’ many art museums and compare the original paintings to the poster reproductions in the gift shop. There’s beauty in seeing the brush strokes, the perfect imperfections that distinguish actual works of art from mere pretty pictures. And while Melinda was concerned about not uttering the word ”loser” during her performance, she’d have been even wiser to avoid covering the sterile ”Love You Inside and Out,” a song that led to La Toya London’s fourth-place finish during season 3. Melinda did with it what she could, delivering the verse with the kind of restraint one rarely sees on Idol and attacking the chorus with a fervor reminiscent of a young Gladys Knight. But it doesn’t change the fact that the song’s a snoozer.

Anyhow, Melinda fans, don’t stress too much, since it’s pretty likely that LaKisha’s Idol journey is about to end, not with a bang but with that cracked final note on ”Run to Me.” To be completely realistic, she entered the final four on borrowed time — with her country-night and inspirations-week debacles still fresh in the public’s mind — and it would’ve taken a showstopper on par with last week’s ”This Ain’t a Love Song” to save her. And while ”Run to Me” was more enjoyable than either of Blake’s subpar efforts this week, its occasional rough spots and those moments of full-on yelling toward the end couldn’t have inspired too many speed dialers.

If Kiki does go home tomorrow, I’m hoping she performs ”Stayin’ Alive” as her exit number. I know, I know, Randy said it was ”too much,” Paula said it was too down-tempo, and Simon found it too scary. For my part, I was bothered by the way she clipped the song’s biggest notes, and her failed attempts to channel Fantasia on those closing riffs. But on the plus side, ”Stayin’ Alive” also marked the first time since, well, ever that LaKisha Jones has dared to color outside the lines of an established arrangement. The way she delivered the ”ah, ah, ah, ah” off the beat, her added sass on the line ”I’m a dancin’ sistah who can’t lose,” the slightly funkier bass line — they all made me smile in a way that her fellow surviving finalists failed to do tonight. And if the resident nonprofessional bank teller is destined for fourth-place status, I want her final performance to include the lines ”It’s all right, it’s okay/I know I’ll make it anyway.” Because, hopefully, whether it’s on the R&B charts or in a residency at the piano bar of a high-end hotel, I’m hoping LaKisha will continue to live by those very words.

What do you think? Are you with me that it’s LaKisha who’s headed home this week? Or are you predicting a Daughtry-esque shocker of an elimination? What did you think of Barry Gibb’s mentoring? And what should be my punishment for encouraging Blake to sing ”You Should Be Dancin’ ” on the latest episode of Idolatry ?

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American Idol

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