'American Idol': The Top 12 Performances
Stevie Wonder trains the 'American Idol' Finalists, but only a few do him justiceLOS ANGELES --
Let the Top 12 commence.
Singer: ACE YOUNG
Song: "Do I Do"
My Take: Hands up if you bought Ace's tearful speech about how Stevie Wonder isn't just battling blindness, he's battling life. My hands? Not-so-up. Ace shows no fear on the big stage, going down the ramp, into the crowd, onto a platform. He serenades men, women and children alike. He doesn't really, um, sing. He's sharp at the beginning and the combination of movement, energy and really fast phrasing leaves him quickly breathless.
Simon and the Two Blind Mice Say: Randy thought it was just a'ight. Paula bats her eyes and disagrees. Simon guarantees it won't be the night's best vocal.
Singer: KELLIE PICKLER
Song: "Blame it on the Sun"
My Take: Hand's up if you bought Kellie's blank-eyed admission that she didn't really know much about Steve Wonder before this week? I'm waving my hands in the air like a frat boy dancing to "Jump Around." The song has been country-fried just enough to make it easy for Kellie and to make it as dull as a lazy day at the old fishing hole with Jethro. If they'd put Kellie in the middle of the show, it'd have been a well-earned nap.
Simon and the Two Blind Mice Say: For Randy, it was a non-event. Even Paula notes she was too safe. Simon says everything went wrong. The audience doesn't even boo Simon's insults. Kellie tells Ryan her fake eyelashes make her feel like she's wearing tarantulas.
Singer: ELLIOTT YAMIN
Song: "Knocks Me Off My Feet"
My Take: Elliott, he of the partial deafness, is also reduced to tears by Stevie. If the makeover police have gotten their hands on Elliott, their good work isn't obvious yet. Somebody -- somebody who should be fired -- told Elliott to smile more and open his eyes wider when he sings. The expressions are creepy, but Elliott's singing mostly overcomes his dinner jacket, his bobbing and his leering.
Simon and the Two Blind Mice Say: Randy thinks Elliott has some "flavor vibe." Paula's impressed that Elliott was impressed with Stevie. Simon's missing the "Wow" factor.
Song: "Don't You Worry Bout a Thing"
My Take: Mandisa blunders through the first verse in a daze, barely moving her feet. It's too low. She finally gets to belt and then her personality comes bursting out. She's so great on the high parts of the chorus that I wish she could have chosen a song that was all in that key. This is a performance that displayed both her considerable strengths and some previous unnoticed weaknesses.
Simon and the Two Blind Mice Say: Randy wanted to see something a bit more original, but calls her the best so far. Paula repeat's Stevie's claim that Mandisa can sing anything. This was the best of the evening for Simon.
Singer: BUCKY COVINGTON
My Take: Bucky, like Kellie, had never really listened to Stevie before. I hope that Bucky and Kellie have been kept apart at the "Idol" facilities, because if they got together and procreated, their kids might be a little -- what's the nice way to put this? -- dim. They'd be very nice, but they'd be bumping into walls. On his song -- probably my personal favorite Stevie track, assuming nobody launches into an expanded version of "Living for the City" -- Bucky shows an unexpected bit of funk. The funk begins as a little bit of a rasp, expands into a full-on growl and finally devours his vocals entirely. His stage manner consists of pretending to ride a stationary mechanical bull.
Simon and the Two Blind Mice Say: Randy enjoyed seeing Bucky give his all. Paula giggles. Simon calls it one of Bucky's best.
Singer: MELISSA MCGHEE
My Take: Top split from neck to navel, Melissa-in-a-Dress has some nerves. In all honesty, Peter Dinklage could have done cartwheels across the stage in the middle of her song for all I know, because after a minute of her lazy drawn-out notes and mumbled lyrics, I just quit paying attention. Given that she turned the lyric "Hope my premonition misses" into "Mope ma regognition mistes" on three different occasions, she's not worth my effort.
Simon and the Two Blind Mice Say: Randy calls her on the lyrics, but forgives her for flat and sharp notes. Paula also doesn't care about the three minutes of botched lyrics. Simon calls it her best performance so far. Well, dear friends, we're just going to have to agree to disagree here, OK?
Singer: LISA TUCKER
Song: "Signed, Sealed, Delivered"
My Take: Have we heard Lisa go up-tempo yet? I like it. It's not exactly in her vocal sweet spot at first and she gets lost a little amidst the backing vocals. I don't think she had to do any acrobatics on this one, but she gets points for proving she could so something fun and energetic.
Simon and the Two Blind Mice Say: Randy was bored in the middle, but happy at the end. Paula liked when she took chances. Simon swears Lisa's got the "It" Factor, which is different from the "X" Factor and possibly different from the "Wow" Factor. Hopefully it's also different from the Cuba Gooding Jr. movie "Chill Factor," because that blew goats.
Singer: KEVIN COVAIS
Song: "Part-time Lover"
My Take: Is it mean for me to say that Kevin -- so thin, so under-developed, so meek, so mild -- reminds me of Eraserhead's mewling baby? Yes. Yes it is. This is what you push me to, America. The more you vote for Kevin, the crueler you force me to be. Here's the thing: This is perhaps the best Kevin's sounded all competition, but he can't really move and he can't really emote and he can't really sell any of the lyrics (at least he remembers them). Are we just going to keep grading him on a curve all spring? Yes, I suppose we are. Might as well just make "American Idol" into a high school musical and let Kevin have a go at "Shipoopi."
Simon and the Two Blind Mice Say: Randy chuckles like a fool and raves. Paula giggles like a fool and raves. Simon looks like he wants to gouge his eyeballs out and stuff them in his ears so he can experience total sensory deprivation.
Singer: KATHARINE MCPHEE
Song: "Until You Come Back to Me"
My Take: Allow me to be serious for a minute: Has Katharine lost a noticeable amount of weight since this competition began? In the interviews, she looks wan. On stage? Beautiful. Not sure what to make of that. It's the evening's best song choice so far, giving Katharine plenty of chance to show range, adorable personality and spark.
Simon and the Two Blind Mice Say: Randy says she's off the chain. Katharine's voice pierces Paula heart. Simon makes a Kelly Clarkson comparison.
Singer: TAYLOR HICKS
Song: "Living for the City"
My Take: I swear I made my "Living for the City" comment before getting to Taylor. Taylor is, until further notice, my "American Idol." He takes a brilliant song and avoids doing a carbon copy Stevie impression. Taylor makes it his own song in all his twitchy glory. America, Taylor Hicks loves you. Won't you please love him back?
Simon and the Two Blind Mice Say: Randy calls it fearless. Paula squishes her head in happiness. "You're like every dad who's ever got drunk at a wedding," Simon compliments him.
Singer: PARIS BENNETT
Song: "All I Do"
My Take: Ah. This is the Paris I liked in the auditions. There's more than a little Lauryn Hill to her vocal style tonight. She's the second straight performer with the guts to interpret the song and make it her own. She's got everything going on tonight.
Simon and the Two Blind Mice Say: Randy's glad to have her back. Paula tells Paris that she's only 17. Simon's glad the second half of the show is kicking into gear.
Singer: CHRIS DAUGHTRY
Song: "Higher Ground"
My Take: If Chris' professed goal is to combine Stevie and the Chili Peppers. It's a bit more Chili, but he comes really close to succeeding. He gets a bit tripped up in the song's pacing and occasionally falls back on shouting from his nose, but he's entertaining and different. My real disappointment is that Chris doesn't slam the mic into the big "Idol" screen at the end.
Simon and the Two Blind Mice Say: Randy announces that Chris worked it out. Paula's glowing. "Thank God for Chris," Simon declares.
TONIGHT'S BEST: Paris and Taylor were my favorites with Chris and Katharine right behind.
IN DANGER: Damn you Melissa for making me hope that somebody other than Kevin gets the boot. My bottom three would be Melissa, Kevin and some unholy union of Bucky and Kellie.