I look forward to the penultimate episode of American Idol each season perhaps even more than the finale. Gone are the celebrity mentors and the "theme of the week" and we're left with three popstar hopefuls that are all likely on their way to record deals, regardless of whether they win or lose the competition's final vote. Last season's final three-- Taylor Hicks, Katharine McPhee, and Elliot Yamin-- all currently have discs on the charts, and I don't think this season will be any different, with a final three that each can claim a strong, rabid teenage fan base.
The semi-finals can also be an excellent showcase of each contestant's range, with each Idol performing three songs: one chosen by the judges, one by the producers, and one of their own choice. This is IT, people! If there ever was a time to pull out all the stops, it's now.
So, what became of our final three?
Jordin Sparks: "Wishing on a Star"
Simon Cowell chose Jordin's song and I was temporarily excited about his choice... until she turned out a totally boring verse. Sure she can sing it, but we all know by now that she can sing anything. She sang Gloria Estefan and Bon Jovi for Christ's sake! Jordin redeemed herself on the bridge, but it wasn't enough for me. This was a very "safe" performance... and baby, we're done with "safe." Not to mention that for all the chirping Simon does about Jordin being "old-fashioned," well, this wasn't exactly a contemporary song choice, was it?
Blake Lewis: "Roxanne"
For me it was on the more bearable end of the continuum of Beat-Box Blake performances (and thankfully no Ro-o-o-o-o-x-a-a-a-a-anne beat-boxing) but still unspectactular. Paula made a pretty good song choice for him in terms of it being a recognizable, crowd-pleasing piece, but on the flip side, the challenging vocal only drew attention to the fact that he's by far, the weakest remaining singer. And that godawful vest he was wearing looked like one of those heavy bibs they put over you at the dentist's office when they take the x-rays.
Melinda Doolittle: "I Believe in You and Me"
The Showcase Verdict: " well, that was boring as hell."
I have to disagree. I mean, can anyone else in this competition build a song emotionally like Melinda does every single time she steps onstage? I love that Randy threw it at her for the extreme difficulty, just to see if she could handle it. While most girls would try to sing that song and end up looking like total impostors, for her it was simply effortless. It was moving, affecting, and a great way for her to start out the night.
Jordin Sparks: "She Works Hard for the Money"
I didn't like this song choice nearly as much as I liked her blue silk halter top. Yeah, Jordin put it out there with her always-spectacular vocals, but the aesthetic felt very karaoke to me. Perhaps that was just a product of the arrangement? Dammit I wanted Jordin to WOW me tonight. And I'm not wowed... when am I gonna be wowed?
Blake Lewis: "This Love"
Do I ever hate this song. It's pure schlock pop. One of the many reasons why I'm never going to be a Blake Lewis fan is that crap like this is squaIrely in his wheelhouse. I just can't stand that kind of music, and whatever the outcome of Idol, Blake's gonna make that kind of record. I hate the slip 'n slide wannabe Moonwalk dance moves too. And that white hoodie blazer thing goes on my don't list along with the x-ray bib vest.
Melinda Doolittle: "Nutbush City Limits"
The Showcase Verdict: "She literally needs to whip out her titty right now."
Shit like this is what Melinda needed to be doing for WEEKS to escape the whole "consistency curse." I thought it was the performance of the season for her. This is exactly her aesthetic. Positioning herself as a contemporary Tina Turner is what could make her a huge pop star and seriously separate her from the R&B pack. I mean, two bars in I knew this one was going to kick ass. Gave me chills. And, like we saw in Bon Jovi week-- it is far easier to put a pernsonal stamp on a song that is not an instantly recognizable classic. Melinda struck gold with this and I think it was her ticket to the finals.
Jordin Sparks: "I Who Have Nothing"
It's actually not that uncommon that contestants trot out a repeat on semi-final night. Katharine McPhee certainly did it successfully last season with "Over the Rainbow." This song was perhaps Jordin's season highlight. And just like the first time I heard it, I was completely rapt. So was Showcase. I don't think we said a single snarky word to each other during the song. And it takes a lot to shut us up! After two solid but unspectacular performances to start the show, I think Jordin knocked this one just far enough out of the park to earn herself a spot in the final two.
Then there was that weird banter about a Rolls-Royce and the 1970's at the end? Oh snap, that was Jordin giving Cowell some shit about his "old-fashioned" song choice for her!
Blake Lewis: "When I Get You Alone"
You know what? When all is said and done... at least Blake got to beat-box with Sir Mix- a -Lot. Am I completely tone deaf or did this song have NO melodic line? I don't know much about Robin Thicke's music, but if it's all like this... I'll pass. I lost a prop bet to Showcase on this one-- he said Blake would beat box again, I said no... and then he pulled it out in the final 16 bars. Bastard! Yeah, yeah everyone loved it and I didn't what else is new... more Melinda please!
Melinda Doolittle: "I'm a Woman"
Aiyah... badddd outfit. Haaaaate the vest and matching pants. But does it really matter? Like Jordin, Melinda went with a season-highlight repeat and she brought the house down with this Lieber & Stoller classic. We really got the whole "spectrum of Melinda" tonight-- balladeer, funk-soul goddess, R&B master. She took her game to a whole new level, and I think she's the only one who can sleep tonight knowing she's in the finals.
This week's Performance Rankings (week of 5/15):
1. Melinda Doolittle
2. Jordin Sparks
3. Beat-Box Blake
1. Jordin Sparks (it's tough, but she juuuust edges Melinda overall for me)
2. Melinda Doolittle
3. Beat Box Blake
In trouble: Beat-Box Blake
Safe: Melinda Doolittle
Will be voted off: Blake will beat-box into the sunset and an inevitable record deal
Current Bodog odds on the remaining contestants:
Jordin Sparks: 5-6
Melinda Doolittle: 3-2 (a small edge, but a great line for all you degenerates)
Blake Lewis: 7-2
(Potential Idol spoilers below... consider yourself warned!)
10:38 AM - Dial Idol has our final three in a statistical tie with Melinda leading the pack. Jordin is second, but only separated from Beat-Box by 0.6%. It's gonna be a squeaker... but it looks like Beat-Box is on his way home.
7:12 PM - Just spoiled myself for the broadcast and all I have to say is this: you should always fade my picks. This is a dark day for American Idol...