American Idol: Top 8 Performance Grades
Last night's American Idol performance episode was utterly bogged down by the “Latin Night” theme unfairly thrust upon the contestants, a cruel and stifling umbrella which forced most singers to choose songs totally out of their wheelhouse.  The notion that American Idol producers want the singers to branch out is fine, but I don't see the logic in hurling them into a near impossible corner to back out of.  Latin music is great and all, but it's a highly specialized arena, and is pretty much entirely performed by Latinos.  I'm not saying that only Spanish-speaking humans can succeed in singing Latin music, but just that it's unlikey any of the remaining American Idol contestants will ever sing a Latin song again.

Anyway, I've given out grades to every performance from last night.  Here they are:

Melinda Doolittle: B

Melinda decided to perform a “sexy” song and it wasn't one of her best.  As always, her execution was near flawless, but it ended up as a fairly lifeless ordeal.  It's hard not to enjoy yourself when Melinda sings, but since we've come to expect such consistent greatness from her, anything less is a disappointment.  And last night was a little bit of a disappointment.

Lakisha Jones: C+

I'm going to call Lakisha's decision to sing Gloria Estefan's “Conga” the worst song choice of the night.  It's not a singer's song and it showed.  It's a dance song, and Lakisha isn't a dancer.  It was baffling, frankly, for someone whose biggest asset is her voice to sing a song that not wholly dependent on the singing. Lakisha continues her pattern of giving us a great performance, immediately followed by mediocrity.  I hate to say it, but I think there's an outside chance that Lakisha gets the boot tonight.

Chris Richardson: C

Singing the Rob Thomas/Santana joint “Smooth”, Chris laid a big ol' egg on stage.  The judges inexplicably liked it (I think they all just like Chris), but I thought it was a poor performance.  Say what you will about Rob Thomas, but he sang the hell out of the song, and Chris simply doesn't have near the voice that Thomas has.  He gave it his all, but Chris's singing was sub-par.  I've said it over and over again, but  Chris does not have a very strong voice.  Never was it more apparent than last night. 

Haley Scarnato: C

Singing “Turn the Beat Around”, Haley again flaunted her best asset: her legs.  The short mini-skirt theme has treated her well, allowing Haley to advance much further into the competition than her singing should dictate, but I fear time is running short for Haley.  The song was another dance song, not meant to show off her voice, but it was still mediocre.  Haley is probably the front-runner to be sent home tonight. 

Phil Stacey
: B-

There seem to be an inordinate amount of Phil-hating going on out in the world, and I don't really understand it.  I think people are put off by his goofy looks, but he's got a pretty good voice, and I don't believe his place in the final eight is undeserved.  That being said, Phil had a lot of pitch problems last night, not to mention an ugly voice crack near the end of the song.  With Haley, Phil is the other front-runner to be sent home tonight.

Jordin Sparks
: B+

Jordin is making a play to overtake Melinda as the favorite.  The scary thing here is that I don't think Jordin has reached her full potential yet.  I'd advise her to tone down her bubbliness (not a real word, but apt nonetheless), but what she's doing up there is working.  Her voice is big and strong, and her performance last night showcased her ability to succeed across genres. It'll be interesting to see how Jordin vs. Melinda shakes out over the next couple weeks.

Blake Lewis
: A-

Blake knows what to do on stage.  A shrewd performer and arranger, he seems to be the only one willing to veer off the original versions of the songs he sings, making them all original and suited to his abilities, while keeping the performances enjoyable.  At this point, it'd be an upset if we didn't see Blake on this season's finale.  He's the dark horse to win it all.

Sanjaya Malakar
: B

I never thought that I'd ever, ever give Sanjaya a grade like this.  Fluke or not, the performance was solid.  The Latin song suited his soft voice perfectly and he sang in tune.  This was his best performance by miles and I can only sit back and stew in it, confused as all hell.  He won't be going home this week.

-Oscar Dahl, BuddyTV Senior Writer

(Image Courtesy of The East Valley Tribune)