Big Band night made it clear -- La Toya's got a place in the final two. And one more thing that's clear, says Nicholas Fonseca: This season has been all about the black kids

By Nicholas Fonseca
Updated July 04, 2004 at 04:00 AM EDT
La Toya London, American Idol
Credit: La Toya London: FOX

La Toya has a place in the final 2, don’tcha think?

I’m just going to come right out and type what you’ve all been waiting for me to say for weeks: This season of American Idol — with its shocking votes, its supremely untalented wannabes (hi, Leah!), and Paula Abdul’s random maladies (was she covering up two black eyes this episode?) — is all about the black kids.

It was that way in the beginning, when Fantasia, La Toya, George, and the gone-but-never-forgotten Jennifer Hudson were blowing their vocal chops out left and right, and it was still there last night during the big-band installment of the show. I mean, when was the last time you turned off your TV set, stared thoughtfully into the sky, sighed, and said, ”MAN! That Jasmine Trias really knocked my socks off!” Or how about ”WOW! Amy Adams — she’s gonna go far.”

Viewers who stumbled across ”Idol” by accident (that’s all two of you who were flipping by as you were headed for UPN’s ”One on One”) must have wondered if they’d missed the press release announcing a new version of ”The Lawrence Welk Show.” But, no, it was just the night that poor, sad John Stevens only wishes he could have joined. He did get a shout-out on last night’s show — maybe that’ll soothe his bruised ego. Fantasia pointed out that Stevens sat her down and ”gave me the ropes” before departing ”Idol” World last week, though I have to wonder if the telling silence that followed her assertion was just the audience thinking to themselves, ”Oh, God, no… I thought we were through!”

In any case, Diana DeGarmo kicked off the show, and apparently she’s still raiding her great aunt Midge’s closet — only this time, she accidentally grabbed one of her negligees. Really, folks, I thought Diana’s performance was, um, pretty and controlled, but I sort of feel like Tony Soprano when I watch her. She’s kind of dead to me. She did a nice job trying to punch up the signature Judy Garland classic ”C’mon Get Happy,” and the judges seemed to like her performance, too. But weren’t you getting the sense that she was a bit tired up there on that stage?

Watching Diana, I kept thinking back to that poor little 4-year-old girl on Bravo’s ”Showbiz Moms and Dads,” the one whose mother forces her to compete in beauty pageants and spray-on tanning sessions. Diana just seemed disengaged last night, and to be honest, I don’t really feel like she has been giving 100 percent in these waning weeks of the season. That’s just about the worst thing that anybody can do when they the enter home stretch.

However, I must defend Diana from Simon’s asinine criticism that she was too ”adult” on tonight’s episode. Um, dude, the entire show revolved around BIG BAND music. What was she supposed to do? Add some beatbox? Dance the Macarena? Sashay in her panties á la Christina? I’m lost.

I say this about George Huff: The boy sang two of my favorite oldies, ”Cheek to Cheek” and ”What a Wonderful World.” Okay, fine. And if I may quote some famous philosopher (I don’t have time to look it up and I dozed through that class in high school), ”Nothing ventured, nothing gained.” But really, George, how can you improve upon those two songs? Who but Ella Fitzgerald (my personal fave of the ”Cheek” singers) could make a love song sound so special? And who but Louis Armstrong could make ”World” the gorgeous, soul-stirring song it’s become? Nobody, that’s who. And buddy, you gave it a nice try. Still, I have to wonder what was with those possessed-bug eyes. Have you been studying old tapes of J. Hud? If so, stop immediately!

And, so — La Toya London. Aren’t you a little bored by now? Once again, La Toya was on-point and overwhelmingly out in front of the pack. I must give her major sartorial credit for that fabulous orange dress and that wisely Marceled Josephine Baker hair, perfectly fitting for Big Band Night. I must also agree with Randy Jackson, who said that for the first time in this competition, we fially saw the real La Toya — with personality!! Granted, it’s not MUCH of a personality.

Following her first performance, ”Too Close for Comfort,” La Toya beamed at the crowd and announced, ”I chose that song because I love it!” Well, duhhh, Ms. Thang. Any nimrod could have guessed that. But no matter — despite the fact that that so-called personality still leaves a whole heck of a lot to be desired, it came out beautifully in those performances. Unless she contracts laryngitis, trips over the microphone cord, and suddenly exhibits a mouthful of rotten teeth in the next two weeks, it’s definitely going to be a ”La Toya vs.” kinda ”Idol” finale.

On to the other thing that everyone’s thinking and nobody’s saying: What in the world was Jasmine Trias wearing last night?! Not only did that lime-green halter top and those trashy light blue jeans remind me of a supremely untalented, early-season wannabe (hi Leah!), but it added absolutely zero to Jasmine’s natural charm as she strolled around the stage. If ever there was a night for Jasmine to really play up the island goddess role, it would have been the one when she sang a timeless standard like ”The Way You Look Tonight.” But no, she had to go lookin’ like your average mall-walking hoochie mama. What gives?

What to say about Jasmine? My gut tells me that the Wednesday night vote will see her competing with Diana to be bounced from the show. Jasmine has spent weeks trying to re-create her early powerhouse performances, and her voice has never really reclaimed the surprising heft from those first weeks. Sure, she’s pleasant — and folks, there are far worse stocks-in-trade than being pleasant — but at this point in the competition, pleasant gets you nowhere. The judges told Jasmine as much tonight, and one can only wonder what could have happened had they made that point — far more forcefully — weeks ago.

Fantasia closed the show (again!!), and while it at first appeared that she was singing via TelePrompter, My Little Bobo revved it up and took the song home with her usual dash of oomph. When doesn’t Fantasia attack her songs with heart? When isn’t there sass dripping from every pore of this girl? When doesn’t she add touches of ‘ography that just seal the deal and make you love her even more?

At this stage in the game, those of us who’ve been pulling for the black kids — who’ve had the pipes, the gumption, and pretty much all of the talent since week one of this competition — are being forced into either Camp La Toya or Camp Fantasia. (And I thought trying to stay atop the Hilary Duff/Lindsay Lohan feud was hard!) It’s unfortunate that I have to pick between these two promising young women, but for now, every finger and toe is crossed for Bobo’s eventual victory.

But then again, there’s still time for a big upset. Maybe George will get his groove back. Perhaps Diana will ditch Aunt Midge’s closet and start dressing (and sounding) like a 16-year-old again. And Jasmine’s voice might — just might! — find its way back home. I wouldn’t count on it, but then, we live in a country where Jennifer Hudson was eliminated before John Stevens. So, as all of us can obviously attest, anything can happen.

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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