It has to be mentioned, as Ryan Seacrest did tonight, that there are 33 families out there that can’t really sit down and enjoy American Idol tonight, because of the shootings at Virginia Tech. Ryan offered thoughts and prayers to start the show. But as the saying goes, the show must go on.
Tonight’s theme is country music with guest mentor Martina McBride. She and the Idols sing Independence Day together, and she tells them country music is about storytelling. The best country songs, she feels, sound like a conversation. The audience has to believe that you believe what you’re singing. You need to really connect with the lyrics and forget about everything else. She doesn’t want them to get hung up with it being a certain genre, and she knows Simon isn’t a fan of country music, but she hopes he’ll change his mind tonight.
Phil Stacey’s up first, and he tells Martina he’s singing Where the Blacktop Ends, because it reminds him of growing up in Kansas, playing in the dirt, and being a country boy. Martina thinks he could really do good with this song as she’s loved his tone since the beginning. When Phil sings it for her, it sounds stiff and precise at first, but towards the end he got in a great soulful lick. She warns him, though, that he needs to get more into the beginning of the song. He comes out tonight dressed in all black, sans hat, and is great off the block. He goes into the audience, hugs a few people, and points out producer Nigel Lythgoe. This is the best I’ve heard him. While he always “sounds” good, he’s not boring, a welcomed change.
If I quoted Randy Jackson here, it would be a series of incomplete sentences, but the gist of what he says is that what’s interesting to him, as an “accomplished producer” (eye roll here), is that he could have a career in country music. Phil tells him that’s what he wants. Randy asks who knew? Paula Abdul says this is the genre Phil feels most comfortable in, and she can’t even critique him to say “when it swells into the chorus,” as it sounded good beginning to end. Simon Cowell cracks that it’s only taken ten weeks, but he agrees with Randy that it’s the only time he’s heard Phil in a long time, where he thought he chose a good song. The style of music suits him, and more surprisingly, he thinks we actually some some personality. He’s not sure if it will be enough to save Phil, but he definitely chose the right kind of song.
Jordin Sparks is singing Broken Wing, and even Martina says she can’t imagine what it would be like to sing a song in front of the artist that recorded it. Jordin’s not going to lie; she was scared to sing it in front of Martina, but when she’s done, Martina tells her it was awesome. She also advises her that when she sings it, her feet are planted strong, and she doesn’t move, as it’s about expression. Jordin is taking her advice to heart and hopes she makes her proud. Onstage tonight in a lovely dress, she continues to do great showing her emotions, and while the majority of the song sounds great, she has a cracked note, and a big missed high note, yet no one else tonight will mention it.
Randy says it’s probably one of the most difficult songs to sing, as the original was done and “definitely sung.” Yet, he reminds us all again that Jordin is only 17, and says he liked the way she started slow and took the time. It was “da bomb” and another great performance. Paula tells Jordin she looks gorgeous tonight, and says she loves her. She did a fantastic job, and I miss some of this through the audience cheers, but Paula liked the way Jordin built the song and told the story with her facial expressions. Simon’s opinion is this is the first time since they have met Jordin where he actually believed she could win American Idol based on that performance. Ryan asks what makes her nervous, and she tells him it’s afterwards. She has a misspelled sign in the audience, “Jordan Sparkles.” She spells her name with an I.
It’s Sanjaya Malakar’s turn to answer a viewer question, and Sally wants to know if he could make one of the judges sing a song, which one would it be and which song. He would have Simon sing Shiny Happy People by R.E.M. to s how his true personality. You have to admit this kid has a great wit, and that plays into his song choice, Something to Talk About by Bonnie Raitt, which he admits he is choosing because he seems to be always providing people with something to talk about. Martina admits it’s a good choice of song for him, and wants him to sing stronger and with more confidence, as she thinks he does have a great tone to his voice. His goal is to do Bonnie Raitt justice.
I’m not so sure he does that, as he comes out singing in denim with a red ‘do rag. He looks natural, and seems to be gaining confidence, but the voice isn’t as powerful here as it should be. Randy keeps it real and says it’s just karaoke for him, vocally bland and boring. When he asks Paula what they’re doing there, she replies they’re watching somebody that loves adversity, as Sanjaya seems to thrive on it. She notes he’s having fun and starts to mention his vocals, then backs off. Simon calls this utterly horrendous, and says it was as bad as anything they’ve seen since the beginning of American Idol.