Tuesday, April 25, 2006

American Idol Season Five -- The Final Six

This is the strongest top six they've ever had. More or less, the voters have gotten it right every week and haven't been stringing along talentless embarassments for weeks longer than they deserve to be there. Classic songs week is normally a disaster (the music being so far outside of the finalists' comfort zone) but last week's show turned out to be the best of the season by far, and maybe the best in the history of the series. Even the terminally crappy Ace didn't suck.

It was obvious (at least to me) once the top twelve was set that these six were the strongest. All of them are fulfilling their potential, none of them have seen their breakout ability marred by ugly inconsistency (see: George Huff in Season Three). Only Taylor and Kellie have avoided the bottom three thus far, but I still have no idea who will (or should) win. Let's see how they fare with Love Songs Week.

Katharine. I'm always criticising wannabe Idols for trying their hand at legendary singers singing legendary songs. Every season, some erstwhile soul diva feels the need to sing "Respect", apparently oblivious to the fact that the last you want to do in a singing competition is force people to compare you to Aretha Franklin. Usually they're dumb enough to sing something by Whitney or Mariah in the early stages of the season, when they should be focusing on picking good songs that play to their strengths. But eventually, it becomes a worthwhile risk for a singer on a hot streak to stare down Whitney Houston. High risk, high reward -- if you pull it off, the momentum can carry you far (at least in theory ... last season, Constantine was eliminated the week after his legendary performance of "Bohemian Rhapsody").

So Katharine made a smart choice by singing Whitney's "I Have Nothing". As it turned out, she was very good, but not as good as Whitney. This happened to her once before, when she sang "The Voice Within" and it couldn't measure up to Xtina Aguilera's version. Paula gave her most on-point advice of the season by noting that Katharine gets a bit sloppy when she pushes her voice too much, something which never happens when she sings torch songs (her true forte, at least at the moment).

I thought the judges were too hard on her, but they were probably told to be very critical to balance out the praise from last week. And Seacrest needs to stop commenting on how Katharine's lady lumps hang together in her dresses. He's the host, she's a Jesus freak, it's creepy. We're all allowed to drool over her at home though.

Elliot. He stepped it up bigtime. He seemed to run out of steam by the end, but otherwise this was awesome stuff. Kudos to him for building up impossibly high expectations (by introducing Donny Hathaway's daughter singing backup and flatly stating that he'd waited his entire life to sing this song on such a big stage) and delivering on them. He's a devoted student of classic soul and R&B, but he's also a dorky Jewish kid with funny looking ears and that's why he's been close to going home on a couple of occasions (I picked him to go home last week because of pretty boy Ace's shockingly not awful performance last week). After tonight, I hope he bought himself a trip to the final four.

Kellie. She can't sing as well as the other five. Everybody agrees on that. But she's been almost bulletproof. She's never been in the bottom three and there's no reason to suspect that she's even been close to it. This was a bad time for her worst performance but there's no way in hell she goes home tomorrow (we'll be hearing three more singers tonight but I'm still confident in saying that). I think she's been withering under the increased pressure of the final stretch, but it'll take more than one disaster week to sink this ship.

The country softrock arrangement of "Unchained Melody" sucked too.

Paris. The band slotted her into a standard soul/R&B arrangement, the hair and makeup crew dressed her up as Mary J. Blige. Why? Last week she proved how diverse she was -- I have no doubt that she could have done Streisand straight up, with cinematic strings and a more scaled-back vocal. I found this performance forgettable.

Taylor. Randy is right, there's something nasty in the water tonight. Everyone with the exception of Elliot has been off. This is what I expected from last week's theme. Taylor has no clue what to do with himself on stage when he forces himself to stand still and just sing. And where art thou, James Ingram? Taylor should be singing Sam Cooke, Michael McDonald, and Joe Cocker every week. Reread what I wrote about Katharine and consider this: why didn't he sing "You Are So Beautiful"? This was the time. Or maybe he figures that he hasn't been in the bottom three yet and can afford to hold off on the Joe Cocker until the final three or four.

Chris. Ladies and gentlemen, the perfect song choice. Bryan Adams gives Chris the ideal love song for his voice, he can grunt along and turn "Have You Every Really Loved a Woman?" into mopey angst rock just like he does with everything else.

This was a bland evening. I'm practically falling asleep as they run the highlights (one lazy ballad after another) and phone numbers at the end of the show. As great as she is (but everybody is great at this stage so what can ya do?) I think Paris is done. She's been in the bottom three a couple of times before and didn't really distinguish herself tonight. Elliot was tops tonight, Kellie stunk it up, and I'm rooting for a Taylor/Katharine final.

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