Country night is typically one of my least-favorite "American Idol" theme nights. It's not that I don't like country music — I just don't like bad country music, and amateur singers butchering the songs by attempting maximum twang certainly qualifies as bad country.
At the same time, it's always been a little awesome to watch, just because the potential for disaster is so high. So I couldn't help but be disappointed by Tuesday night's mostly boring performances. Nobody came out in a 10-gallon hat. Nobody tried Shania Twain. And the singers who wouldn't be good at singing country got around the rule by singing the least-country arrangements they could find.
Martina McBride — who amazed me with her ability to look both 25 and 55 over the course of that opening montage — proved herself an intelligent mentor, but the show itself was a little odd, with several awkward mentions of the tragedy at Virgina Tech. I suppose if there's any time for overwrought emotions, it's country night, though. And reality TV must soldier on. Don't forget to vote on the singer you think is heading home, and to see what I thought of the performances,
Phil Stacey (at left): I did not have Phil pegged as a country singer — in fact, I increasingly wasn't pegging him as a singer at all — but he sounded awesome on "Where the Blacktop Ends." He also took Martina's advice and loosened up, showing more personality in this one performance than in all his other final-round outings put together. The judges were fans, but I don't know how they formed their opinions, given that Paula and Simon were apparently playing "who's got your nose?" while he sang. Seriously, anyone else see that?
Jordin Sparks: I was worried Jordin was becoming forgettable: Before Tuesday's show, I was trying to name the Idols off the top of my head, and her name was the last I remembered. I have a feeling her "Broken Wing" performance will change that. She sounded so awesome, she even made herself cry. She was also wearing what appeared to be a duct-tape dress, but I'll let that go under the circumstances. Simon said he can see Jordin winning "Idol."
Sanjaya Malakar: I had my fingers crossed for a cowboy hat and chaps, but I just got a red bandanna. He sang "Something to Talk About," and it was weird, because maybe for the first time, he didn't really give us much to talk about. No weird hair, no faux-Sinatra, no bilingual choruses — just lots of dull, bad singing. Maybe his lack of freakiness will finally spell the end for him? Hey, a girl can hope.
LaKisha Jones (at right): I am way biased here, because I hate "Jesus Take the Wheel" with a deep and all-consuming passion, but I seriously despised this performance. I will limit my "Jesus should have taken the wheel there" jokes to one and just say that I think she lost the song completely on the chorus. It didn't help that the styling department let her down bigtime (bad hair! big gold boots!). The judges were harsh, but I think accurately so.
Chris Richardson: Martina McBride called Chris "versatile," which made me question her taste severely, because I didn't realize "versatile" meant "everything sounds the same." Timberfake is bringing monotone back. Usually he can perform his way out of a bad song, but he seemed totally bored on Tuesday. Minus five points for sniping back to Simon that "nasally is a form of singing — I don't know if you knew that." Minus a million points for mentioning Virgina Tech — no matter how honest a sentiment, it comes off like a dig for votes.
Melinda Doolittle (at left): I'm against fake hair generally, but extensions were a good choice for her — she looks at least five years younger, and her neck issue (shall we say, neckless issue?) is less apparent. Her "Trouble is a Woman" sounded more soul than country, but that's such a blurry line anyway, and when Simon compares you to Tina Turner, you must be doing something right. This week I finally started believing that she'd be a great "Idol" winner — and I loved Simon telling her to ditch the humility.
Blake Lewis: He covered a Tim McGraw song, but it wasn't very country-sounding. Not that that's a bad thing, necessarily. The trouble is that it sounded a lot like his Keane song from earlier in the competition, and like a lot of his other performances, and I'm getting worried that we're losing what made him Blake to begin with. Meanwhile, Simon picked Blake's critique to give his own Virgina Tech shoutout, which was just awkward.
Who's safe: Jordin and Melinda. After that, anything's possible, though — and I never thought I'd say this — I hope Phil makes it through this time.
Who should be in the bottom three: Sanjaya, LaKisha and Chris
Who will be in the bottom three: LaKisha, Phil and Chris
Who's going home: Chris
Photos courtesy of Fox