Songs From Your Birth Year night on American Idol this year basically boiled down to '80s night, with the bulk of the contestants taking on songs from the middle part of the decade. There were some power ballads, some soulful rocking-out, and one performance that made me think Idol should just name its winner right now and spare us the next seven weeks.
I always get a kick out of this night for all the baby pictures and stories about the contestants as kids. Of course, Adam was a dramatic little boy, and Allison never stopped talking. Will a cute picture save any of the singers from the chopping block? Don't forget to tell me which singer you think is going home, and for my take on the performances,
Danny Gokey — OK, first, I call shenanigans on a specific version of a song counting as your birth year song if it came out much earlier — ahem, "Stand By Me." But the bigger issue is that I think this performance exposed some of Danny's weaknesses, namely his warbly falsetto and his inability to riff. The judges heard something else, apparently, because Randy and Kara praised his vocals and Simon thought the end was great.
Kris Allen — On the Matt Giraud Side Stage O' Awkwardness, Kris put his spin on "All She Wants to Do is Dance." This was vocally competent, if nothing terribly special, and the biggest thing I noticed is how much more comfortable Kris looks with his singing and guitar-playing these days. Kara thought he seemed too old, Simon said it didn't let him show off his voice, and Randy agreed with him that it was self-indulgent.
Lil Rounds — Where did confident Lil go? I expected her "What's Love Got to Do With It?" to be fierce and powerful, but she started off seeming kind of timid. Then again, maybe that was by design, because she seemed to get her groove back in the middle, right when it was time to really break it down. Paula said she didn't make it her own enough, Randy said Tina just wasn't right for her, and Kara wanted a bigger leap forward.
Anoop Desai — Smart move on Anoop's part to go back to something slower and softer with "True Colors." The arrangement was cheese city, but he really does have a pretty, smooth, and soulful voice for ballads, even if that's not going to make him the next Kanye. Randy said, "Dude, you can actually sing," Kara was impressed with his control of the song, and Simon compared him to a "singing yo-yo" but said this was an up week.
Scott MacIntyre — It's weird to see Scott anywhere but behind the piano — and that was just the start of the trouble with "The Search is Over." The whole song sounded very nasal, and the high notes were the most off. It was brave of him to try a power ballad, but I'm not sure that risk will pay off. Paula and Kara both commended him for stepping out of his comfort zone but weren't pleased with the results, and Simon just said it was horrible.
Allison Iraheta — Continuing the "well, this is different" theme, it was interesting to see Allison play it mostly straight (i.e. less growling than normal) with "I Can't Make You Love Me." But I think this experiment worked: I didn't know her voice could sound so pure, and she hit some power notes that get lost when she's doing the rocker thing. Simon liked her vocals but wanted to see more personality, and Randy compared her to Kelly Clarkson.
Matt Giraud — I'm glad to see Matt come back to that bluesy riffing that the judges like so much; he may want to be a modern rock singer, but his voice just sounds best in this zone. "Part-Time Lover" let him bust out some of his dance moves and his Timberlake hat, and it just all worked. Maybe not as amazing as the judges said, but they were running out of time and boiled it down to "great."
Adam Lambert — I've been resisting the Lambert train a little, but I'm now officially on board. His take on "Mad World" was probably the first time someone's taken a song I truly love on Idol and not just done OK but actually made me love it more. And by Lambert standards, this was remarkably restrained, down to the lighting and the hair. Only Simon had time to respond; he merely gave a standing ovation. I know a lot of DVRs cut this one off, so here's a link to the video.
Best of the night: Lambert, then Allison, Anoop, and Matt.
In trouble: Scott, Lil, and either Kris or Danny, whomever's fan base falls through first.
Going home: I think this has to be Scott's time.
Photos courtesy of Fox