All the usual suspects return for the third week of American Idol. Brian Dunkleman and Ryan Seacrest begin by making fat jokes about Randy Jackson (classy), addressing a rumor in the tabloids about Ryan and Paula Abdul dating each other (scary), and finally, Dunkleman insults Simon Cowell by calling him a girl (dopey). This somehow causes Cowell to then turn on Seacrest, calling out Ryan for wearing a "blouse." So, Simon not only can't keep the contestants' names straight, but isn't even able to pay attention to which host is trading barbs with him.
In an interesting not-so-shocker, one of the contestants was caught lying about his age after the selection of the Top 30. The DQ'ed semifinalist was Delano Cagnolatti, who looks about 14, but is somehow older than the cutoff age of 26. He is replaced by an alternate who was cut just prior to the rounds of ten, EJay Day.
Anywho... Kicking off an evening of blahness is RJ Helton with The Jackson 5's I'll Be There. Helton's voice is actually better than he realizes, but he doesn't know what to do with it. He's technically proficient, but soulless. In the knock-'em-dead format of these semi-finals, this song isn't really enough to get noticed. Randy and Paula think he's fantastic, while Simon thinks Helton is "distinctly average."
Earning a separate paragraph entirely is the judges' interactions with each other after Helton's performance. Simon begins a tirade about the inclusion of "two losers" over "superb talent" in the finals. Randy and Paula fire back at Simon that he shouldn’t be calling people losers. The point at which the fight reaches absurdity is when Randy and Paula start complaining that Simon has been attacking contestants constantly...which, outside of Jim Verraros and AJ Gil, he really hasn't. He's offered useless opinions that serve no purpose and truthful comments to the contestants he likes, but that's about it. Of course, Verraros and Gil are the "two losers" he's talking about now (and he admits it on the results show), so really, the issue here is that Simon is attacking contestants when they aren't on the show to defend themselves or respond to the criticism. Simon, for all the credibility he's been given as being one of the only useful judges on the panel, evidently didn't grasp the concept that his Mr. Nasty persona is exactly why people voted for the contestants he deemed "losers.” The viewers were reacting to his critiques more than anything else, and the contestants he attacked for their placement in the finals were there not due to anything they did, but in reality due entirely to Simon's own actions. As subsequent years have proven, Simon will cause this backlash many times as long as he is on the show. Of course, Randy and Paula can't really articulate this point so it becomes a "stop being mean" whine followed by an "our kids are American and America is awesome" (no, seriously, Paula goes there) pride fest. Randy even stands and physically threatens Simon which, while ridiculous, causes the other contestants cheer Randy on from the waiting room. Oy.
Sorry about that lengthy sidenote, but it was an important part of the episode. When all is finally said and done, the reviewers end up siding with Mr. Cowell's assessment as Helton gets a 42.
Kristen Holt, resident Texan pageant queen, is singing Falling by Alicia Keys. The good: it's one of the few song choices out of the semi-final rounds to be from this millenium. The bad: the performance. Randy essentially says that Idol is looking for the best and Holt isn't close. Simon says she's out of her league. She earns two stars with a 27.
Mark Scott mentions that he managed to make it through to the second round of auditions after a judges' fight. This episode is all about the drama. Scott has chosen My Girl by The Temptations and he's breathy, which doesn't really work for the song. Then he forgets his lyrics, which doesn't work for any song. The judges pass on Scott, and so do the reviewers with a lone star rating of 19.
Following Mark is one Katherine "Nikki" McKibbin, who is sporting a very different look compared to the rest of the female contestants. She's singing Bonnie Tyler's Total Eclipse of the Heart. Her voice isn't up to Tyler's level, but after three weeks of old school soul in the semi-finals, the song choice is more than refreshing. All the judges go on and on about her look, though Paula notes she was shouting towards the middle. McKibbin obtains the first above-average mark of the night, clocking in with a 57.
Chris Badano decides to sing All for One's I Swear entirely through his nose and still somehow gets a 24. Paula says it's a tough round. To sit through? Yes. To compete in? No. Randy says Badano had no energy and was really bad, and Simon agrees.
For some reason, Melanie Sanders decides to sing And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going, two weeks after Tamyra Gray earned accolades from the judges with the same song. You really can’t not compare the two performances, especially when the piano arrangement and key are exactly the same. Sanders does well: her voice is strong, but it's not nearly as full as Gray's. She earns a lesson about what cabaret is from Simon (hint: It’s not a strip club, girl), and a decent three star review with a score of 53.
EJay Day, the alternate subbed in for disqualified boy wonder Delano Cagnolatti, begins the first few bars of I'll Be by Edwin McCain solidly and well. Again, it's the same song, arrangement and key performed by a semi-finalist two weeks earlier. Then he decides to sing every note from every musical scale known to mankind over the single word “said.” The judges all think he was brilliant and I think they’re reaching. He gets a 42 for the vocal gymnastics.
Tanesha Ross is either notably nervous or just terrible, as she begins Until You Come Back to Me off-key and remains there for the entirety of the performance. She still gets two stars and a 20 for her efforts. I have to disagree with the Idolsphere on this one, because it's really the worst performance of the semi-finals.
Stevie Wonder is trotted out again by way of My Cherie Amour, sung by Khaleef Chiles. He reaches a level of fine, but stays around a slightly out-of-tune area throughout the song. Simon likes that Chiles is a jerk so he jokingly says that he hopes he wins. He clocks in at a 19 for his performance and...really? Worse than Tanesha Ross?
Thankfully, Christina Christian ends the night on a strong note with At Last by Etta James. Her vibrato is strange to say the least. It only occurs at the ends of her phrases and not throughout some of the sustained notes in the middle of phrases. It either comes across when she's nervous and starts thinking about what she has to do vocally, or she's consciously throwing it in. Randy has an issue with the song arrangement, but still liked it. Simon thinks she's a star. Her voice and performance are strong, and she earns the only four star ranking of the night with a 61.
The Results Show:
The judges make no predictions because Simon's too busy complaining that Paula and Randy dared to question his all-knowing judgment about the contestants. The trio starts fighting again, and then they replay Tanesha Ross crying about being told her performance sucked. Shockingly, Simon doesn't apologize, and essentially tells the contestants to stuff it because he won't patronize them.
Anyway, the first two to make the finals tonight are Christina Christian and Nikki McKibbin. McKibbin defends the shouting aspect of her performance which...well, whatever, it was still better than pretty much everybody in this group. They bring out the rest of the finalists for a bit of chit chat, and then the judges predict that EJay Day will get the final chair and he does, which surprised me. I would've predicted RJ Helton if only for being in the middle of the judge bicker-fest crossfire. This week the camera focuses on the nine finalists during the final credits, which is boring. I want to see hissy fits and tears, dammit!
— By "Phan", WNTS Contributor