On ''American Idol,'' the women rock their last semifinal round by either doing what they do best or trying to break new ground
”American Idol”: The women show how it’s done
Melinda Doolittle, I sure hope you weren’t listening too carefully to the judges’ comments after your tremendous performance tonight of ”I’m a Woman.” No, it’s not that you weren’t all that and one of the most uniquely flavorful bags of chips ever to grace the Idol stage; it’s just that I’m deathly afraid you’re gonna up and pull a Mario Vazquez. Remember him? The season-4 front-runner who believed his own hype, dropped out of the competition just before the final 12 commenced, and went on to have a modest (though kinda dreadful) hit last year called ”Gallery”?
Oh, Melinda (or Mindy Doo, as my colleague Jessica Shaw has dubbed you), you wouldn’t do that to us, would you? Sure, Randy’s right that you could go into the studio tomorrow and make a hit record — I’d buy it! — but we Idol fans need you. If you haven’t noticed, you’ve forced the remaining women of season 6 to raise their games, either by abandoning your jazz-R&B turf for new and exciting genres (hi, Gina Glocksen and Jordin Sparks!) or digging deeper into their song lyrics to try and match your emotional range (I’m talking about you, LaKisha Jones!). Who knows, maybe this year’s deplorable male contestants will manage to hit a note or two once they start sharing a stage with you next week.
Okay, that’s asking too much, Mindy Doo. I know, I know — you’re not a miracle worker. Just as you can’t be expected to squeeze blood from a stone, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to squeeze charisma out of Brandon Rogers, or anything more than a breathy squeak from Sanjaya Malakar. But for the love of Paula’s weave, you’d better keep on keepin’ on from now till May. I’m sitting here at my computer tonight looking at my notepad, and your page is blank, except for the notation that your kicky print dress was a nice step forward, style-wise. I mean, how am I supposed to take notes when my hands are in the air (testify!), watching you commanding the stage, telling America how you can ”scoop up a great big dipper full of lard from the dripping can, throw it in the skillet, go out and do my shopping, be back before it melts in the pan”? Sing it, sister! Whatever you’re cooking, it’s got to be tastier than the bland bowl of wilted iceberg lettuce prepared on Tuesday by Phil Stacey, Jared Cotter, and Chris Richardson. And Simon was right: Last week you were a purring kitten; this week you were a ferocious, growling tiger — and that’s the kind of musical versatility a true Idol should possess.
Of course, Mindy Doo, you’re not the only woman in the competition with surprises in her arsenal. For weeks now, we’ve been told Gina Glocksen is this season’s rocker grrrl, last week’s red prom gown and tepid Heart cover notwithstanding. But tonight, she actually made a play for the title with an energetic, if flawed, rendition of Evanescence’s ”Call Me When You’re Sober.” Certainly, Gina will need to work on her nagging pitch problems to have any hope of cracking the top 10 — and making this summer’s Idol tour — but her decision to choose a song tonight that would’ve sent Celine Dion trembling into the arms of her Cirque du Soleil compatriots was strategically brilliant.
The same can be said for Jordin Sparks’ cover of Pat Benatar’s ”Heartbreaker,” a performance that was more tuneful than Gina’s but also slightly less convincing — perhaps because it’s hard to heed a warning of ”don’t mess around with me” from an unnaturally cheery 17-year-old. That criticism aside, however, Jordin absolutely nailed the song’s soaring final note, while also using her brief interview to put an exclamation point on an ”I’m ingratiatingly adorable” persona.
Sabrina Sloan and Stephanie Edwards, meanwhile, ought to be taking notes from Jordin on how to use their behind-the-scenes clips to maximize voter enthusiasm. Granted, neither woman received much airtime prior to the semifinals, but after three weeks’ worth of performances, I’m still having a hard time getting a read on their personalities — which has me just a little worried that one of ’em could get Barbaized and miss out on a spot in this year’s top 12. Sabrina might be at the greatest risk, considering her choice of En Vogue’s ”Don’t Let Go (Love),” a gorgeous midtempo track that, unfortunately, happens to give the backing vocalists way too much room to shine in the course of a 90-second performance. It’d be a damn shame if America lets go of Sabrina this early; her voice is so rich and buttery I’ve got to reach for the Tums every time she takes the stage. (The ”smooth dissolve,” coffee-and-cream variety, just for the record.)
Stephanie, meanwhile, had a rougher go of it on Rufus and Chaka Khan’s ”Sweet Thing,” particularly those two wince-inducing attempts to draw out the word ”crazy” toward the end of her number. On the positive side, though, I really dig Stephanie’s phrasing and the way she seems to truly feel every word of every song she sings. (She’s also a darn snappy dresser!) Simon was right that she has ”100 percent done enough” to make the final 12; I’m just hoping his comment didn’t make viewers feel she was so secure that they didn’t need to pick up the phone and give her a few votes.
I’m not worried Sabrina or Stephanie will get cut in favor of poor Haley Scarnato, not after she offered an aggressively awful vocal over an aggressively awful arrangement of an aggressively awful song called ”If My Heart Had Wings.” As the weakest link on the women’s side declared, ”I’d jump all these mountains and take to the skies/Sail through the heavens with stars in my eyes,” I seriously expected her to be joined on stage by 49 additional young women clad with their state’s respective sashes. The only thing more blush-worthy than Haley’s performance was Randy’s critique that there was ”no, like, yo” in it. Ten points for Paula’s observation that ”I’m sure that’s a difficult critique to hear: no yo in it.” Who knew that Abdul chick had it in her? And if anyone thinks Simon was overly cruel with his remark that he couldn’t remember Haley’s name, I offer you this tidbit from Casa Slezak: As Haley took the stage tonight, my husband turned to me and, in all earnestness, asked, ”Who’s Haley? I don’t know this one.”
On the other hand, he (and probably everyone else in America) knows Antonella Barba’s name — and I was genuinely happy that her rendition of Corinne Bailey Rae’s ”Put Your Records On” was in tune for roughly 23 or 24 seconds of its minute-and-a-half duration. If nothing else, it’ll make for a not entirely torturous exit performance if America does the right thing and sends Antonella back to the Jersey shore on Thursday. Simon could not have expressed it any better when he commended Antonella for holding up under the pressure of the national debate over her racy Internet photos, but then he added that she’d really gone as far as she could go, considering the depth of talent on the women’s side this year. And, not to sound like patronizing Paula, but Antonella really did look beautiful tonight in her mod black minidress and boots.
And speaking of looking (and sounding) gorgeous tonight, how ’bout that LaKisha (who also cracked me up when she demanded a hug from Ryan Seacrest by saying, ”Lay it on me”)? Her lovely black cocktail dress erased any lingering memories of last week’s tangerine travesty, and her lush, restrained performance of Whitney Houston’s ”I Have Nothing” almost made me forget that the song desperately needs a splashy retirement ceremony, complete with its jersey getting hung over the Idol stage. (Just as long as the show’s producers remember to invite Trenyce, Leah Labelle, Jennifer Hudson, Vonzell Solomon, and Katharine McPhee, who’ve all taken a hearty swing at the proverbial dead horse). The fact that I still adore this woman after she performed what’s arguably the most overplayed song in Idol history speaks volumes.
So, like I said before: Don’t go anywhere, Ms. Doolitte. Same for you, Ms. Jones. This might turn out to be an interesting Idol season after all.
In the wake of an especially heinous men’s night, what did you think of tonight’s performances? Were you impressed by Gina and Jordin’s efforts to bring a little rock flavor to the competition? Do you think Antonella or Haley has a shot of surviving the final semifinal cut — and if so, which of the six female front-runners is going to pay the price?