Certainly everyone has their different favorites, but I look at four of the American Idol top twelve, and just think even when they don’t hit it quite right, they are still flat out amazing. Those four are Taylor, Chris, Mandisa and Katharine. Alright, send me mail disagreeing, but that’s how I’m calling it after watching them perform for four weeks.
Paula Abdul is asked by Ryan Seacrest how this year’s 12 compare to past seasons, and she sees this year’s crop as uniquely diverse and more talented. She has noticed that this group is talked about more than the others, and that everyone seems to have a different favorite. It’s anybody’s game.
Randy Jackson is asked about losing his Dawg Pound, and he says he didn’t lose it; it just got a lot bigger. Ryan asks Simon about the theme shows and how they change the competition. He believes it makes it more difficult, and that it either makes or breaks the performer. The theme, of course, for this week is Stevie Wonder music. Ryan shows us a little clip of Stevie’s career. But for most of us, we don’t need the reminder.
All 12 finalists got to met Stevie this week. They all sang with him in a group, and Kellie Pickler and Elliott Yamin are seen crying at the pure joy of this. Each of the 12 then got to sing with Stevie alone, and work on their song choice. I gotta ask … for people like Paris Bennett and Lisa Tucker, who grew up in the business, it’s one thing, or even for people like Kellie an Melissa McGhee who have worked the pageant circuit … but when you’re Bucky how do you go from painting cars to taking lessons from Stevie Wonder?
When Ace Young meets Stevie, he tells him he was only two when Do I Do came out. Well, that’s a great way to make an impression. Ace says it’s one thing to feel a song on the radio, and then he starts to get a little emotional as he says, but to be this close … he says Stevie may have battled his eyesight, but he battles life as well, just like the rest of us. Ace says hearing him as a kid, he never thought he’d meet him someday, and once again turns very emotional.
Ace launches into Do I Do, and I’m shocked that he actually seems off, although once he goes out into the audience, amongst people with signs that look like the Ace of a deck of cards, he catches his groove. Randy recognizes Stevie Wonder songs are some of the hardest to sing, but Ace couldn’t really find the key in the beginning, Although, he did pick it up in the end. Paula disagrees, saying she loves Ace’s spirit and his cool dance moves. She thinks he inspires everyone. Simon tells Ace he’s lucky the audience is easily pleased. He believes Randy was right, that it wasn’t a great vocal. He tells Ace that won’t be the best of the night.
Kellie isn’t that familiar with Stevie’s songs, so it was a bit of a challenge to make a choice. She tells Stevie she is into the country genre, and asks if he figured that because of her accent. Stevie deadpans he figured it was an English accent. Kellie asks, “Really?” Singing Blame It On the Sun, it’s Kellie’s first slow song, and she sounds surprisingly good, and looks incredible in a black dress. At one point, she gets interrupted by losing her place in the song, but gets it back quickly. As soon as she’s done she says she can’t dance in this dress.
Randy calls it an interesting song choice, like a non-event. He feels all the spark of Pickler isn’t there with this, and that the key is too low, although he loves the shoes. Kellie proclaims she get them on sale. Paula says she could tell Kellie was nervous and out of her comfort zone. She thinks she stayed too safe in the melody and that the razzle dazzle didn’t show up, although she thinks Kellie looks gorgeous. I have to ask … how do you go out of your comfort zone and stay safe? The two things don’t compute. Simon believes everything went wrong with Kellie’s performance. He thinks she put half of America to sleep as it was so boring. He too feels she was out of her comfort zone. He notes her Dolly Parton school look, and she makes a weird comment that she doesn’t have the accent. Simon calls this Kellie’s worst performance so far.
Elliott says if there was one singing idol he’d want to meet, it would be Stevie Wonder. When everyone was together in the group singing, Stevie asked who should be the first to sit down with him at the piano and sing, and everyone said it should be Elliott. He says he’s not shy about not holding back his tears, and that he will be able to carry this with him all his life. Stevie calls Elliott’s singing very believable, and says he is majorly impressed. He tells Elliott he should definitely choose this as a profession.
Elliott sits down on the stage to sing Knocks Me Off My Feet, and he sounds great, and seems to have recaptured what I felt he lost last week, but it’s still missing “something.” He has a great ending on the song, though. Randy calls this in Elliott’s comfort zone, and notes he loved seeing him sitting on the bench with Stevie. He kind of rambles his way through this, but it seems he’s trying to say listening to Elliott you can tell how hard it is to bring something new to one of the greats, yet Elliott brought it at the end. Paula loves that Elliott wasn’t afraid to show one of the greatest singers how moved and inspired he was. She loves Elliott’s passion and thinks we’ll be seeing him for many more weeks. Simon calls this the best so far, but agrees with Randy that it didn’t have the wow factor.
Mandisa talks to Ryan about the buzz backstage, and says everyone it’s intense. She’s not comfortable, though, as her feet are killing her. She says her dawgs are barking. Ryan offers to take her shoes off for her, and does. He notes he never offered this to Bo, and that Mandisa has nice moisturized ankles. We see the tape of her working with Stevie, and she says she grew up listening to him, making this one of the greatest moments of her life. He asks if she’s relaxed, and she says she’s getting there. Maybe Stevie should have taken off her shoes. Stevie says it’s amazing just to hear her get to it right away on pitch. He is really impressed with her, and thinks she can sing anything. Join the club, Stevie!
Shoeless Mandisa sings Don’t You Worry About A Thing, and she sounds different on the verses, but completely awesome on the chorus. Very Mandisa. Randy calls last week amazing, and says this isn’t as great as that was, although it’s the best so far. Paula agrees with Stevie that Mandisa can sing anything. Simon says now we have a competition, and also calls this the best so far. Ryan gives her her shoes back, and they are then thrown them out to an audience member and Simon.
Okay, we’ve all been a little worried about how Bucky would do tonight, and it appears he was too. He admits, though, that he’s from a little town, and that things like that don’t happen every day. It’s not like Stevie Wonder would walk into a bar he was in. He never owned a Stevie album, but he likens it to Elvis. He didn’t know his music either, but hearing Suspicious Minds made him love Elvis. Here Superstition has made him wan to buy all of Stevie’s albums. He even takes some constructive criticism from Stevie as he notices Bucky’s intonation. When he gets excited, it goes sharp. Stevie sings “My name is Bucky,” and Bucky jokingly asks if it will be on his next album.
Bucky actually does surprisingly well with this. He even adds some funky dance moves across the stage. I’m not so worried anymore. Randy says he was worried about Bucky this week, but it was definitely the right choice for what Bucky has done so far. He calls it not the greatest vocal, but says he enjoyed it. Paula actually enjoyed it as well, and thinks he needed to be pushed out of his comfort zone some. Simon start with a positive, calling it the best so far of Bucky’s, but says the Jessica Simpson hairstyle has got to go. The stylists seem to have cut Bucky’s hair and blown it out, instead of leaving it straggly. Ummm, straggly works better for him. They had a hit with Clay; not Bucky.
Melissa calls this past week insane with the seventeen hour days. It’s a roller coaster she wants to get off. She’s had some throat problems this week, and has been gargling and swallowing olive oil. She calls it intimidating to sing Stevie Wonder, and says it was mortifying to mess up the lyrics when she was singing with him. After she did it, she hugged him, and Stevie said don’t hug me, sing the song right. Umm, yeah, I’d be mortified as well.
Melissa sings Lately, and I would have never thought I would say this, but I think RJ Helton did better with this in season one. She messes up the lyrics … again. It’s her first ballad, and she reminds us the first time wearing a dress onstage, but that’s no excuse. It’s that bad. I’m thinking some voters will help her get off that roller coaster. She knows she’s going to hear it about the lyrics, and does, from all the judges. She says she was working on it all day to remember. Randy tells her, though, that she does have the pipes. Paula tells her to wear dresses more often, and says when Melissa opens up her mouth to sing, it’s soothing, like a breath of fresh air. That type of air will have me asking the doctor for an inhaler. Simon calls it her best performance so far – edgy and contemporary. Is it just me? Am I the only one that found this excruciating? I guess we’ll find out tomorrow.
Lisa was surprised to see Stevie there when they walked in for the first session this week. She didn’t think she’d ever get a chance to meet him. He picked up she was disconnected with her song choice, Signed, Sealed, Delivered, and asks what she likes to sing. Lisa says Whitney Houston’s I Have Nothing, and she does a little for Stevie. He tells her to incorporate some of that feeling into her uptempo songs.
Advice from the pro seems to have worked for Lisa. We’ve been waiting for her to break out of that slow, older music genre, and this is it. She sounds and looks adorable. The straight hair on her is gorgeous. Randy says it sounded a little strange, but the hottest part was at the end. In the middle he was bored, and it sounded a little karaoke, but she can sing. Paula says Lisa seemed a little nervous, but she likes best when Lisa sings outside the melody and ad libs. that’s the Lisa Tucker she loves. Simon says for him, it’s one of the best tonight. It’s the first time he saw someone take control of this newer, larger stage. He tells Lisa there are a lot of good singers in the country, but you also need the it factor. She has it, and he loves her.
Kevin Covais says one of the best things about doing this is the fans with the signs. One of the signs tonight reads “We Love Kevin” and “Chicken Little Rocks.” Ryan invites the sign holders onstage, and they give him the sign, getting hugs from him. Looking at his film clip, he says when he walked in and saw Stevie, his heart sank. Stevie says Kevin has an interesting kind of voice, yet when he sings, he can feel he’s into it. He calls him “Little Kevin.”
Singing Part Time Lover, it just doesn’t work on Kevin. Watching him run and try to dance all over the stage just makes me LMAO. It’s that bad, to me, that it’s laughable. Randy tells Kevin he wasn’t expecting it to be good, but it was in tune. He notes, too, that Kevin’s wearing makeup, which Kevin says he’s enjoying. Paula notices a “Kevin Is My Heaven” sign. She thinks Stevie wants to squish Kevin too. She notes he has his own style, own strange dance steps, and that it was actually in time. Simon says this was the point where Stevie turned down the volume. He says it was that bad. Kevin strikes back, and says it’s okay, he wasn’t expecting much from Simon anyway. Ummm, some disrespect from the 16 year old? I’d also like to think at this point in the competition we’re not heralding people for being in tune and in time.
Katharine McPhee says if you would tell her she would get a chance to work with a famous singer, she’d automatically choose Stevie. She calls meeting him a powerful, intimate moment and likes they were all able to share it with each other. She already did a Stevie Wonder song, and it didn’t go so well, so is worried. Stevie thinks she has a lot of potential, and that Aretha and “Stevie” won’t mind her doing Till You Come Back To Me. That to me is the ultimate compliment.
Watching Katharine, I think she seems like a seasoned veteran and an ingenue all at the same time. Randy remembers the Katharine they heard in the auditions, and says she’s back tonight. He calls it unbelievable and “da bomb.” Paula likes the way Katharine’s voice always pierces through, and calls it her best performance ever. Simon tells Katharine she is good, an that she is beginning to remind him of Kelly Clarkson vocally. She tells Ryan that she broke her shoes earlier today, and had to get new ones. Someone in the production went and got her a pair.
Taylor Hicks says Stevie Wonder is an American Idol. Wearing a shirt that says “got soul” when he meets Stevie, he says he’s always tried to play harmonica like him. Stevie says Taylor has feeling when he sings, and he believes it comes from his soul. Taylor is choosing to sing Livin’ For The City because being from the south, he thinks the lyrics have depth, and it reminds him of being back home. When I hear Taylor do this, I just say, “yeah.” He is so fun and so real. As always, he does his unique dance moves.
Randy can’t even get in his comments at first, as the cheering won’t stop. Eventually he works in that what he loves about this performance more than any other, is that all those gigs in bars across the country have finally paid off for Taylor. He calls him fearless. Paula copies one of Taylor’s dance moves, and says she loves it. She says to look at everyone, the people playing instruments have smiles on their faces, and the audience was standing up. He is such a fun performance and has so much passion. She thinks what he needs is to be doing this to make everyone happy all his life. As she asks what’s in his hand, he shows her his harmonica. Play it! Simon tells Taylor his appeal is that he is like every dad when he gets drunk at a wedding, except with Taylor it’s different, as he can sing. Ryan brings up the rumor that the American Idol stylists asked to color Taylor’s hair, and he only says in return, “stay tuned.” No! That will ruin his appeal!
Paris admits to being nervous, and I have to admit that her words here, to me, sound like the kids on Jay Leno that are saying what their parents tell them to. She says Stevie’s presence allowed her to feel her emotions. Stevie says hearing Paris reminds him of the excitement of Fantasia. He feels she has a bright future. Paris goes on to say never in a million years would she have thought Stevie would hear her sing her emotions.
However, hearing Paris on All I Do, she is back to what we once liked about her. Randy agrees, saying it’s like when they first saw her. He calls her unbelievable and effortless. Paula sees paris as a seasoned veteran, and thinks she could teach a lot of performers how to do it. Simon says it’s like there are two different competitions tonight. The first half was alright, the second half is brilliant. He calls Paris a performance doll. Wind her up and watch her go. Then the girl won’t shut up. Ryan keeps trying to ask her questions, and she keeps singing. You’re done, honey.
Chris Daughtry admits he was worried he wouldn’t find the right song. He felt immediately more comfortable once he found that both Stevie and Red Hot Chili Peppers sang Higher Ground. Stevie likes the clarity and raspiness of Chris, and thinks he sounds sincere. Stevie likes both the Chili Peppers’ and Stevie’s versions of the song, and he wants to combine them both.
I wasn’t too sure of it at first, but I warmed up to Chris doing this. He does combine it and “makes it his own.” Randy says that’s one cool about Chris is that every week he figures out a way to make the song his own. Paula says she never worries about Chris. She just sits back and enjoys him. Simon says “thank God for Chris.” He says all night they were good performances, but the only real performance that he could imagine being a hit would be this one. He likes that Chris takes risks, making something his own and standing out. He calls Chris the best tonight by a mile. Ryan says he saw Chris earlier in the elevator and that he looked very intense. Chris knew even then he was taking a risk, and was a little worried, but find this song made him relieved.
First, that’s a cool thing about Simon and Chris. He didn’t like Chris and voted not to have him go go Hollywood. He thought there was no emotion and that he didn’t see charisma. He didn’t think he was looking at a stand alone star. But, he is a big enough guy to now change his mind, admit he’s wrong, and call this guy the best there. And for Chris, he took that early constructive criticism, and it only stood to make him a better performer in the end. That’s what separates he and the other three from the others. They listen, take it under advisement, and find a way to work it to their advantage.
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