'Idol' Finalists Get Country Fried
Kenny Rogers teaches the Top Nine when to hold 'em and when to fold 'em, but who will walk away?
He continued, "But he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman." He was referring to this recapper.
Expecting neither love nor thanks, let the shrieking begin:
Singer: TAYLOR HICKS
Song: "Take Me Home, Country Roads"
My Take: Always listen to The Gambler, Taylor. In the pre-performance clip, we hear Kenny "Not the Mercurial Tigers Ace" Rogers warning the Grey Goose that if he doesn't hook listeners with the first few notes, he's lost. Uh-oh. Taylor starts off rough, perhaps distracted by a rogue fiddler. He finds the melody, at least, but when he gets to the chorus, his voice is lost in the accompaniment and the harmony. He comes across as mild and slightly uncomfortable.
Athos, Porthos and Simon Say: Randy, wearing a blood-red vest and matching specs, liked the song choice, but wasn't excited by the vocals. Paula falls back on her stock comment for the season, which is something along the lines of, "You know I love you, but tonight I have a headache." She's going to have to start taking in the producers' laundry to earn that expensive new multi-year deal she just signed. "I thought it was safe, boring, lazy," Simon says.
Song: "Any Man of Mine"
My Take: I think that Mandisa has a better voice than Shania Twain. You wouldn't know it tonight. The song is too low for her. More problematic is the fact that the song's surplus of verbiage leaves her breathless. This is the second week in a row that I've felt the limits of her performance style -- she's all about standing in the middle of the stage and projecting. Moving isn't her thing.
Athos, Porthos and Simon Say: Randy thought the last four bars were good. Even Paula calls him on the inanity of the comment. Then she goes into, "You can sing the phone book, but tonight you decided to sing 'Gravity's Rainbow'" mode. FOX is paying Paula so much she may need to begin torturing prisoners with Jack Bauer to earn her keep. Simon calls the song "horrible."
Singer: ELLIOTT YAMIN
Song: "If Tomorrow Never Comes"
My Take: Somebody's keeping Elliott up at night. He's got Louis Vuitton bags under his eyes and Visine sparkle in his stare. He's also starting a bit too low. As the song gets higher, he gets better. And as I turn away from my TV, his blinking bothers me much less. As the Roasted Chicken King warned, Elliott oversings a bit, but he still sounds really strong to me, particularly compared to the first two.
Athos, Porthos and Simon Say: Randy is eager to throw out some props. Paula's all "You're a breath of fresh air and tonight I'm huffing pure oxygen." FOX's going to sneak Paula into the "Unan1mous" house and force her to distribute some of her money. Simon thought Elliott was safe and a bit hesitant, but the best so far.
Singer: PARIS BENNETT
Song: "How Do I Live"
My Take: I like Paris' "chill" hairstyle. Previous weeks have seen her coiffure emulating a strung-out poodle and Alexis Arquette, so this is a better choice. She has no faith in the song and she's trying to bellow every note, bleating, vibratoing and throwing in superfluous runs. She's another singer whose voice doesn't go as low as the song she's supposed to be singing.
Athos, Porthos and Simon Say: Randy can tell it's a tough song for her. Paula's back to her familiar construction with something like, "You have a powerhouse voice, but tonight there was a bit of an outage." Anxious to stay in play at the network, expect Paula to show up on "House" next week experiencing mysterious seizures -- is it lupus, cancer or an obscure parasite from Guam? Only Dr. House and Simon know for sure. Simon disagrees and says Paris was very good and compares her to Dionne Warwick.
Singer: ACE YOUNG
Song: Something nasally
My Take: Kenny Rogers says the combination of Ace and this song should be the night's best. Why then, Kenny, does he stink? For the first two-thirds, there's nothing to his performance but the same old head-voice he does every week (at least he didn't go with something too low, I guess). He closes with that falsetto that the gals love so much, but that I think sounds strained and precarious.
Athos, Porthos and Simon Say: Randy isn't sure if it was nice or boring, but he liked the last few bars. Paula, blushing, just bats her eyes and pants and disagrees. If FOX wants to utilize this resource, they should drop Paula and 10 male "Idol" finalists somewhere in Mexico and call it a new season of "Temptation Island." Simon thought it was the right song.
Singer: KELLIE PICKLER
My Take: Kellie insists that her naivete and vapidity aren't an act. She wants America to know she's just that dumb. This should be a big week for Kellie. Initially it looks like she's falling into the too-low trap. When the song hits its chorus, she gets increasingly comfortable. Her interpretation of "emotionally intense" is a bit closer to "killer robot," but she looks fetching and sounds engaged. This is certainly the best she's been in weeks, perhaps the best she's been since we saw her in the auditions.
Athos, Porthos and Simon Say: Randy tells Kellie that it's her night. You just know if they ever do another season of "Man vs. Beast," FOX is gonna make Paula play chess with a polar bear. I'm putting my money on ursa major. Simon hated the song and loved the performance. Kellie's confused.
Singer: CHRIS DAUGHTRY
Song: "Making Memories of Us"
My Take: Look at Chris. The recently maligned rocker takes the stage determined to prove that he isn't a one-trick pony. Lots of folks -- the recapper included -- turned on Chris last week after yet another strobe-enhanced shout-fest, but here he just sings. He's earnest, a bit passionate and vocally proficient. This is a bit of a surprising treat.
Athos, Porthos and Simon Say: Randy suggests Chris did Keith Urban proud. Paula's going to pop up as a corpse on "Bones" next week -- was she killed by mobsters, rogue Indians or an obscure parasite from Guam? Only Bones and Simon know for sure. Simon thinks audiences are getting bored with these songs. True.
Singer: KATHARINE MCPHEE
Song: "Bringing Out the Elvis"
My Take: Nuts. Just when I thought my McPheever was breaking, I've got the shivers and chills again. After a bad vocal misstep last week with subpar Christina Aguilera, Katharine's back on firmer ground, looking sultry and singing directly into my apartment. Hi Katharine! She looks like she's having fun again. She oversings a tiny bit and her strutting sometimes lapses into merely bouncing on the balls of her feet, but I'm really just saying these things to prove that I can be objective. Aren't you proud of me?
Athos, Porthos and Simon Say: Randy likes the bluesy country. Even Paula's flirting with Katharine now, which is either freaky in a bad way or freaky in a very good way. Incidentally, since the show won't be back, I can now reveal that FOX had hoped to make Paula the killer on "Reunion." Simon looks perplexed until Katharine forces him admit that he doesn't like country music.
Singer: BUCKY COVINGTON
Song: "Best I Ever Had"
My Take: Even though Kenny Rogers begged Bucky to over-enunciate, even generally enunciating is too much of a chore. Bucky mumbles every word. That being said, there's an entirely different tone to his voice, a melodic side that he's never hinted at before. It's not perfect, but it's not awful either.
Athos, Porthos and Simon Say: Randy give an ambivalent a'ight. Paula's impressed and she looks ready to go off in search of "America's Most Wanted," or at least get tossed in the back of a squad car on "COPS." Simon shrugs.
TONIGHT'S BEST: Kellie, Chris and Katharine.
IN DANGER: If the evening's performances were the only determining factor, Ace would be heading home with Mandisa and maybe Taylor in the Bottom Three.