When it was announced that Tony Bennett was going to be showing up to mentor the American Idol contestants this week, I let out a little groan. This is not because I despise Tony Bennett (for an 80-year old, he's pretty damn cool), but because I knew that each singer would be forced to perform an old-timey song. You can call them the best songs of all-time, but they are going to sound outdated to the vast majority of American Idol's audience. Also, the judges have been emphasizing "sounding modern" the whole season. It's hard to sound modern when singing Duke Ellington. Every week, the contestants should be able to pick any song they want. This way, the show becomes more unpredictable and it gives all contestants a better chance to succeed. Enough with these theme nights that narrow down the available options.
That said, last night's American Idol was better than expected. Besides Sanjaya, there were no abominable performances, and only one other that was mediocre. Everyone else was at least pretty good. I've doled out grades to each of the performers in as objective a manner as possible.
Blake Lewis: A-
Blake is turning out to be one impressive dude. He started out looking like a complete gimmick, then slowly showed that he was actually a singer, and has now turned into the best male performer of the season and a legitimate contender to win the whole thing. I worry that he may end up resorting to the beat-boxing when he doesn't need it, or mess with a classic song too much, but he has been good about maintaining a delicate balance between keeping songs true to themselves and putting his own twist on them. I think Blake will be there at the finale.
Phil Stacey: C-
Phil tried to go with old crooner approach, but the results were poor. From the beginning he was singing out of tune, and the song was without a lot of personality. The judges bashed it for being joyless and gloomy. While I wouldn't go that far, I thought it was just one of Phil's worst performances, singing-wise. It's an interesting thing; Phil has shown flashes of brilliance with his voice, but he can never put it together on the big stage. Unfortunately, he won't have a chance to redeem himself; I think he'll be going home tonight.
Melinda Doolittle: A-
Melinda throws out another great performance, classing up the joint and showing everyone what it is to be a real singer. Talent-wise, no one on this show can compete with her. If the winner was reliant on a panel of expert judges, Melinda would've already been crowned champion. Since this is not the case, Melinda will have to share the stage with the likes of Sanjaya until the bitter end. This wasn't her best performance, but I get the sense that Melinda is going to save a little bit for the final weeks of the show.
Chris Richardson: B+
Chris takes an old Duke Ellington song and makes it sound modern. Good job. Chris seems to alternate between good and mediocre performances with a regularity that makes it difficult for me to judge him. When he doesn't do that Christina Aguilera voice stuff, he can be a good singer. His voice isn't powerful, but it's got some personality and, when you pair that with his outstanding on-stage prowess, Chris turns into a good overall performer. But, I don't think he has much of a chance versus the top five or so singers on the show.
Jordin Sparks: A-
Jordin keeps on improving. Her voice is astonishing given her age (17) and she's clearly overtaken Lakisha on the pecking order at this point. She's more likable and crowd-pleasing, not obnoxious in her joy, and the judges all love her. She has a tendency to be a bit inconsistent at times, but that trait has been minimized of late. She's my pick to be in the finale, with Blake and Melinda.
Gina Glocksen: B+
Gina comes out with a calculated and controlled performance that should keep her on the show for at least another week. She only deploys her big voice in certain parts, but never gets out of control. I thought it was one of her better performances, not as good as last week's, but still impressive. Gina has a great voice, but she doesn't have the personality or subtlety of Jordin and Melinda or the sheer power of Lakisha. I don't think Gina will make it out of April, and she could be gone as early as next week.
Sanjaya Malakar: A++++++++++++++++++++++
The best performance ever by an American Idol. Really. Simply incredible. I don't think I've ever seen another performance that good in my life. It was like watching Da Vinci paint the Mona Lisa or Michael Jordan drop 50 on the Pistons in his prime.
(Like the judges, I'm trying a different approach here. We'll see how it works.)
Haley Scarnato: B
Haley has improved by leaps and bounds since the beginning of the season. Her performance last night was solid, her best vocals of the season, but the song was a little corny. I enjoyed it, and Haley looked great in her small green dress, so much so that I think it will allow her to stick around for at least one more week. The judges have been kinder to Haley as of late, and you can see that her confidence has grown.
Lakisha Jones: A-
That's what I wanted to see. Lakisha, after what amounted to a month-long lull, decided to come back and give us the type of performance we all expect out of her. She killed some big notes during the song, showing off a voice that, when at its peak, nobody on the show can contend with. The question is whether or not Lakisha can continue pulling out these great performances, or if she'll sit back again and coast on the strength of ones like last night's.
-Oscar Dahl, BuddyTV Senior Writer
(Image Courtesy of MSN.com)