American Idol: Top 11: Burn After Singing

Welcome to the shortest recap ever. The reason: It’s Country Night. The mentor: Randy Travis. The boredom: Excessive. This is American Idol. Nobody calls me ‘Mad Dog.’ Especially not some duded-up, egg-suckin’ gutter trash.

It’s St. Patrick’s day, so the stage glows green for all of 10 seconds. Shamrocks appear on the Jumbo-Tron. Paula catches Ryan by the arm, forcing him to forfeit his pot o’gold. Then, quick as you please, the St. Patrick’s day “theme” is dismissed and forgotten. Because it’s Country Night.

Technically, it’s “Grand Ole Opry Night,” but why argue semantics. If it walks like a cowboy and talks like a cowboy, I don’t want to hear it sing. Unless the cowboy is Jake Gyllenhaal and he’s not wearing pants. There’s a clip reel about country music and whatever. Some lip service is paid to Carrie Underwood, on account of how this show made her famous, if not interesting. Then they talk about Dolly Parton, who is swell, and Randy Travis, who is mentoring. I don’t know anything about him, except that he looks like Reed Richards, which is pretty cool. I’m not dealing with him much. He’s generally agreeable, until he meets…well…we’ll get there.

Can y’all start singin’ now?

Michael Sarver. Singing “Ain’t Goin’ Down Til the Sun Comes Up” by Garth Brooks. Interesting that they’re leading with him. I think, technically, this is supposed to be “his week,” in some American glory, redneck kind of way. There’s a harmonica guy sitting on stage, who looks like he’s pitching a fit. We get it, dude, you’re on TV. Just play your instrument. The song has a million lyrics in it, as if Stephen Sondheim wrote it after downing a jug of hootch. I don’t believe Sarver is actually pronouncing half the words. Much of it is mush-mouthed. He walks around and touches the common people in the Moat, but generally, he’s lifeless. If Sarver is in his element tonight, I imagine this is as good as he gets. The judges are like, “Fun, but what’s next?” Paula comments his “artistic ability to take a harmonica player.” I once “took” a doctor. Can I perform surgery now?

Allison Iraheta. Singing “Blame It On Your Heart” by Patty Loveless. Allison starts by telling us to “come on.” People who are reading this, please do me a favor: If ever you find yourself singing before a live audience, do not tell them to “come on.” It’s desperate and annoying. I am not coming on. I am staying off. Do we understand each other? Allison sounds great with her big, grown-up voice. She works the stage confidently. She needs to fix that Crayola-red hair of hers, though. It’s a sight. A lively, engaging performance, given the genre. The judges adore her, although Simon warns Allison against becoming “precocious.” I don’t see it, but there are many weeks to come in which I can develop a deep hatred for her, too.

Kris Allen. Singing “To Make You Feel My Love,” also by Garth Brooks. Please be aware that it is not Garth Brooks Night. Kris rehearses with a guitar, but drops it for his performance. He sits on the Lonely Chair in the middle of the stage, ballading away. It’s nice. His voice is better than I thought. Not that I’ve ever given much consideration to his voice. Kris makes monkey faces when he sings. Chimp-y. Watch for it. I like this because it doesn’t sound like a country song. More country songs should sound like something else. Even disco would be acceptable. So there’s Kris, singing melodically. A little falsetto at the end. The judges like what they heard. “Honest,” “pure,” and “vulnerable” are words burped up by Paula. Simon goes with “terrific.”

Lil Rounds. Singing “Independance Day” by Martina McBride. Lil has another new hairstyle. It’s aged her up a bit. This gets off to an average start and gets better the more she sings, never quite reaching excellence. Lil Rounds is good, so there’s not much, if anything, to pick on. And she’s so damn normal that I can’t even attack her personality quirks. How dare you not be a freak of nature, Lil? Don’t you realize you’re here to be judged by me in a cruel fashion? The judges are disappointed in her, too, but for different reasons. Randy wanted her to sing “I Will Always Love You,” written by Dolly but recorded by Whitney. A small loophole, but a lame one. You might not have received the memo, dear Mr. Jackson, but it is fucking Country Night.  Paula is like, “You shouldn’t have sung two verses.” Okay, then. Simon calls Lil “Little,” and doesn’t seem interested in being corrected. Lil, he says, “is short for Little.” Finally, Lil is like, “My name is Lil.” I give her credit for not adding “you douche” for clarification. Then Simon compares her to Mary J. Blige and for Pete’s sake, can we let this shit go? This woman is not going to spend her career, however long it is, singing country songs. Let. It. Pass.

Adam Lambert. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. Adam fucking Lambert. Where to begin? He shows up at rehearsal, and Randy Travis is like, “What in the name of Tammy Wynette is this creature before me?” He sees the nail polish and the get-up and is visibly appalled when he learns that Adam is singing “Ring of Fire” by Johnny Cash. “I’m speechless,” Travis says. It’s a real Hank Hill moment. “I don’t even know what to say about this boy.” Travis can’t even look at Adam in rehearsal, he’s that revolted. He comments that he doesn’t see men wearing nail polish that often. Neither do I, because it’s not 1997. So Adam is on stage, singing this undeniable classic, but it’s actually a cover version of that classic. He’s singing Dilana’s version. She was the runner-up contestant on Rock Star: Supernova, which probably tells you more about her than I can. This arrangement is all Egyptian-sounding, like something Lestat would sing in that crappy book where he’s a rock star. (Did those books go off the rails or what?) Adam is dressed like Road Warrior: A Musicale Review. He’s…do I have to write this? Fine, if I must. He’s trying to be sensual, writhing his…lower regions around and looking into the camera in a horribly misguided attempt to appear erotic. He strokes himself casually. Flash of belly. Ugh. Then he shrieks about how “it burrrrns.” Then he literally wails and howls. God. Can we please have Constantine back? My brother, who was a supporter of Lambert, sent me this text message at 9:34 pm: “Adam Lambert just lost all brownie points with me. I hate him and I want him off tomorrow.” The judges are all over the place. Kara calls it strange. Paula compares it to Led Zeppelin’s “Cashmere.” Simon: “What the hell was that?” He calls it “indulgent rubbish” and “horrible.” Randy, proving his uselessness, throws out “Nine Inch Nails…current…fresh…hot.” Kill me now.

Scott McIntyre. Singing “Wild Angels,” also by Martina McBride. Please be aware that it is not Martina McBride Night, either. He plays his piano and is soft-voiced and mellow. I like the idea of Scott, but the reality of Scott, once you take the blindness away, is a little bit of okay, so what? He seems like a nice fellow, with talent, but I’m never amazed by what I hear from him (which very often is a slight pitchy-ness). Another decent, pleasant performance, though. Paula is like, “Stop hiding behind your piano.” Simon is like, “Hide behind your piano.”

Alexis Grace. Singing “Jolene” by Dolly. Sucking all the life out of the song. Making weird (wrong, in my opinion) vocal choices. Attempting a falsetto that makes me wince. Making an extended hooting sound. The good parts are so-so. The rest is bad, forgettable, or disposable. The judges are like, “Did you really have to fuck that song in the ear?” They’re, like, totally over her. Allison Iraheta is a better flavor, even if she’s not “the package.” But this is what happens, judges, when you put somebody through because you like their hair.

Danny Gokey. Singing “Jesus Take the Wheel.” Of course. Danny knows how to play the game, and for that, I salute him. Randomly dressed like Arctic Safari G.I. Joe. Speak-singing the whole front end of the song. Why? Is this how the song goes? Aside from not listening to country songs, I don’t listen to songs with Jesus in them, unless they’re from Broadway musicals made in the 1970s. If this is how it goes, it’s sucky. It gets better once Jesus starts driving and Danny can belt. Naturally, he gets the supportive rocker lights, despite not being a rocker. It’s a mind game to make viewers think certain contestants are giving better “show.” You have to keep an eye on Idol. It works you like a circus hypnotist. The judges are like, “Started weak, but got better,” or “Started good, got great!”

Anoop Desai. Singing “Always On My Mind” by Willie Nelson. Did you know Willie Nelson recorded a song called “Cowboys Are Frequently, Secretly Fond of Each Other”? Did you know that Wilie Nelson is still alive? Both things are true. Anoop is finally not singing a party song, and he could not have made a better choice. His voice is strong and masculine. Aside from a couple of wonky notes, some very appealing sounds come out of his mouth. He just saved himself, right here. The judges liked what they heard. A lot. Simon: “That was one of my favorite performances of the whole night.”

Megan Joy. Formerly Megan Corkrey. No explanation given because we’re meant to watch this show, not experience it. Singing “Walkin’ After Midnight” by Patsy Cline. Again, she looks like a million bucks. Fabulous dress, great hair. Shimmy-shaking to and fro. Her voice has it’s usual quirkiness, which works with the tempo and the song, which can’t help but have a “period piece” quality to it. There are a few off moments where Megan strains to hit her notes. The judges, not Megan, reveal that she’s sick with the flu. She even went to the hospital earlier. As they praise her, she all but coughs her liver up on stage. I still think she’ll Bottom Two tomorrow, but hopefully, she’ll stay. Simon doesn’t like her new look, and says Megan looks like she’s going to the prom. Paula says the outfit is a tribute to Patsy Cline. What does that mean? Megan isn’t at all dressed like a big lesbian.

Matt Giraud. Singing “So Small” by Carrie Underwood. Playing the piano, just like Blind Scott. Sounding much better than Scott, vocally. Wearing a nice suit instead of his usual water-n-grow Timberlake costume. This is good. Very good. Again, the key to country success is to sound like anything else. This is a soulful, piano-ballad. The boy can sing. Nothing to pick on here, which sucks for me. The judges give Matt many thumbs up. Simon especially. He says that Matt outsang Danny Gokey and that he reminds him of Michael Bublé. You know where this is going? As the tide starts turning against Gokey — a beast created by the show — Giraud is going to get more support. Don’t be surprised if Gokey goes home before Matt.

Who’s tomorrow’s Bottom Two? Megan Joy and Alexis Grace. I’d like to see Alexis go. I doubt she will.

Also tomorrow: Carrie Underwood! Aren’t you gasping with excitement. I know I’m not.

Foom!
-Frank

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