Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Idol's Elite Eight Try to Make You Love Them

American Idol, Anoop Desai FOX

March Madness is over, but April Idolatry has just begun.

The American Idol field has been pared down to a mostly elite eight, give or take a few errant vocal cords, and Tuesday's matchup had them singing songs from the year they were born.

With Danny Gokey being the eldest remaining contestant at 28 and Allison Iraheta bottoming out at 16, we're talking tunes released between 1980 and 1992.

Did the Top Eight make the most of the gillion choices they had to choose from?

Well, some rogue always manages to get around those rather wide parameters by choosing a later version of a decades-old hit. Sure enough, Danny's song choice was so '60s...

Danny Gokey: He was in danger of lapsing into easy-listening-remake territory by choosing Mickey Gilley's 1980 version of Ben E. King's "Stand by Me," but Danny injected enough of a sexy rasp into the tune to make at least the beginning of his performance interesting, before the predictable "everybody sing!" vibe took over. His vocal was strong throughout, however, and the judges really liked it. Randy Jackson loved it even though he didn't care for the arrangement, and though Simon Cowell thought the middle part "was lazy," he declared it great overall.

Kris Allen: The multitalented 23-year-old's performance was packed with visual and rhythmic pleasantries, but it lacked the emotion that had been making Kris rise above the past few weeks. Don Henley's upbeat "All She Wants to Do Is Dance" from 1985 sounded fine in Kris' guitar-strumming hands, but there was nothing standout-special about him tonight. Paula Abdul's attempt at a critique tapered off into "you have to be one of the most likable contestants," while Simon Cowell called the arrangement "indulgent, boring, forgettable."

Lil Rounds: Bummer. A great song—Tina Turner's "What's Love Got to Do With It"—but Lil's version started off as an impersonation, minus Tina's inimitable rasp. She was even mimicking the diva's concert and music-video moves. The performance heated up toward the end with some big notes, but it was just a rehash in the simplest sense of the word. "It's about making that leap from a singer to an artist, and that's where you're struggling right now," a concerned Kara DioGuardi said.

Anoop Desai: As far as this arrangement went, only the chorus of Cyndi Lauper's 1986 hit "True Colors" let Anoop's talent show. And even then, his performance was kinda boring. However, considering how much of a disaster results when the 21-year-old tries to do contemporary R&B dance tunes, we're glad he picked a ballad and kept it simple. We weren't sure which way the judges were going to lean, considering Randy started off by congratulating the Chapel Hill native on North Carolina's basketball victory last night—but they dug it. "You're like a singing yo-yo—one minute you're down, and then you're up," commented Simon.

Scott MacIntyre: Buoyed by an electric guitar instead of a piano, Scott gave what at least was his most interesting performance to date. He was overreaching (and forgetting his audience) by choosing Survivor's "The Search Is Over"—he's an odd duck when it comes to song choice, isn't he?—but at least the power ballad had more contrasting elements than the 23-year-old's usual feel-good repertoire. Simon thought the song "atrocious," Paula was confused, and Randy encouraged him to "leap off the stage, vocally."

Allison Iraheta, American Idol Ray Mickshaw / FOX

Allison Iraheta: "I Can't Make You Love Me" is supposed to make you ache, and we ached—in a hurt-so-good way—listening to Allison take on Bonnie Raitt circa 1992. Despite a few questionable sartorial choices, this little lass has never let us down, turning each song she chooses into something we want to listen to from start to finish. "That's a gift that you can't put a price tag on," gushed Paula, while Simon held back a bit. He thought her performance "very good," but she needs to "lighten up a little bit." Pretty sure he told her the same thing many rounds ago.

Matt Giraud: The 23-year-old slowed down and sexed up Stevie Wonder's "Part-Time Lover" from 1985 and got the response to show for it. Matt, who like Anoop has alternated weekly between hit-single karaoke and stirring vocal power punch, packed the latter tonight. With the show running out of time, the judges were only able to offer a few words apiece: "Vocally, one of the best of the night," Randy said. "Incredible, on every level," Kara chimed in. "Two words: standing O," Paula said. "Million times better than last week," Simon offered.

Adam Lambert, American Idol Season 8 Ray Mickshaw / FOX

Adam Lambert: Well, of course the ridiculously polished 26-year-old was going to sing Gary Jules' Donnie Darko version of Tears for Fears' "Mad World," only with more stylish riffs, sex appeal and tear-jerking high notes. Why? Because it was another perfect song choice (give or take "Play That Funky Music"). "The bad news is, we're running out of time," Simon began before…wait for it…standing up to applaud the front-runner's performance.

Well, if that doesn't say it all.

Kellie Pickler and Flo Rida perform on Wednesday's results show, where one contestant will find him- or herself silenced for good—in all likelihood, anyway, considering the past reluctance of the judges to use the Get Out of Elimination Free card. Who do you think that might be?

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