While it might not be quite like Hamlet to stage actors or "The Aristocrats" to comedians, performing Unchained Melody is something of a badge of honor among professional singers. The exceedingly difficult ballad, with its wide range and fragile, melisma-filled melody, is a challenge for even the most practiced of vocalists. So when it was announced that Kellie Pickler had chosen it on AI5's Love Songs Night, her fans and detractors alike across the Idolsphere, after they regained control of their skeletomuscular systems, had much the same reaction: "She's singing WHAT??!"
The intro clip showed Pickler working with guest mentors Andrea Bocelli and David Foster (the former, though blind, having no difficulty guessing that his pupil was a blonde.) The trio focused particularly on having her hit the song's famous high note in the final verse. Pickler began the performance seated on the edge of the stage and navigated the first few bars cleanly. Minor pitch problems began to creep in just before she stood up for the chorus, and they became more pronounced as the song's runs and range increased. Pickler nailed the difficult high note but finished very mechanically, though with a decent flourish at the end. She looked nothing short of embarrassed afterwards as she faced the judges.
Noting the numerous pitch problems, Randy called it "very strange" and said the only part that was good was the high note. Paula, taking about 500 angst-filled words to do so, said that it fell well short of the standards set by the other five contestants. Simon, who lists "Unchained Melody" as his favorite song ever, called it (politely, by his standards) "monotonous" and "bland" and said Pickler sang it "like a robot." "Melody" became Pickler's second straight performance to receive a single-digit approval rating from the Idolsphere, and that proved too much for her to overcome with the voters. Although she'd never been in the Bottom 3 previously, she was sent home the next night.
Quite honestly, we felt this was nowhere near as bad as Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered the previous week. The Idolsphere took a different view, grading "Melody" out as the inferior of the two, with a great many declaring it the worst performance of the season. As a result, "BBB"'s number actually increased a bit, while this one settled in at a 4.
Some of the low rating is attributable to the fact that Pickler's sweet-but-näive Southern girl persona/act (choose whichever you prefer) had rubbed many viewers the wrong way over the course of the season. This resulted in several of her performances scoring out lower, we think, than her singing actually deserved. Choosing "Unchained Melody" was a high-stakes gamble, but Pickler understood the landscape well. "Bewitched" had put serious doubt in her fans' minds for the first time, and to make matters worse, she was up against as strong of a quintent of competitors as Idol had ever assembled – Taylor Hicks, Katherine McPhee, Elliott Yamin, Chris Daughtry, and Paris Bennett. A big but calculated risk was hardly unwarranted. To use the hoariest of sports analogies: she swung for the fences, but struck out.
One final observation from our Music Critics' Dept.: country yodels and "Unchained Melody" just don't mix, unless you're Leann Rimes.