After all these years, American Idol is still pretty much my favorite thing on television, and yet I nevertheless spent the last seven days filled with unspeakable dread about this week’s performance show.
That’s not a knock on the remaining contestants in Idol‘s abbreviated, blink-and-you-missed it farewell tour, but rather, a dig at the show’s producers for bringing to us the worst theme week in 15 years*: Most-Performed Songs from Past Seasons. (*Yes, even worse than Season 6’s “Gwen Stefani and her musical influences!”)
I’d like to think that even Uncle Nigel would’ve known the Idoloonie Nation had not one iota of interest in the ninth incarnation of Whitney Houston’s “I Have Nothing” (not the seventh, as Harry inaccurately put it) or Aerosmith’s “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing.” I mean, you don’t see Julia Louis-Dreyfus recycling her Seinfeld punchlines on Veep, do you?
But whether it’s cheapness (clearing new songs costs a few coins, I suppose) or indifference (“Eh, why not reheat some leftovers!” you can hear current EP Trish Kinane shrugging), it was indeed recycling night outside The House That Seems to Never Acknowledge the Brilliance of Former Inhabitant Melinda Doolittle.
Luckily for fans, La’Porsha Renae overcame some dubious styling and made us feel “Come Together” like we were Beatles virgins, touched for the very first time. I am not the kind of gay who says “Yaaassss, Queen!” but I will briefly amend my recap rules and say… “Yaaassss, Queen!”
While you absorb that ridiculata, let me get to my letter grades for this week’s performances — lo and behold, some of these crazy kids managed to make the terrible theme work…
Trent Harmon and La’Porsha Renae — Wiz Khalifa and Charlie Puth’s “See You Again” — Grade: A-
Sonika Vaid and Avalon Young — Andra Day’s “Rise Up” — Grade: B+
Dalton Rapattoni and MacKenzie Bourg — Backstreet Boys’ “I Want It That Way” — Grade: C-
Tristan McIntosh and Lee Jean – Aerosmith’s “I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing” — Grade: C-
Sent to Safety (in Order of Performance)
La’Porsha Renae – The Beatles’ “Come Together” — Grade: A | She moved, she grooved, she growled and she soared. Yes, the sleeves of her peculiar outfit looked like something from the Buffalo Bill Second Skin Collection, but that snarl on “one thing I can tell you” combined with that final high note made this a “Come Together” that ranks right alongside (if not above) prior renditions by Carly, Crystal, Kris and Candice.
MacKenzie Bourg – Joe Cocker’s “You Are So Beautiful” — Grade: B | MacKenzie played it straightforward and tender here — which is probably the kind of moment he needed at this point in the competition. And yet while I liked the crumble in his tone when he stretched to the top of his range, I wish he’d dug a little deeper into the lyric, brought a little more gravity and growl to lines like “you’re everything I hoped for.”
Trent Harmon – Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me” — Grade: A- | OK, the “wah-wah” breakdown near the end was a little goofy — though not as goofy as J.Lo’s bikini top/midriff medallion/wardrobe malfunction-threatening mess of a dress. But I appreciated how Trent took a fairly repetitive tune and used it like a figure-skating compulsory, showing off all the colors (falsetto! runs! deep dips!) in his Crayola box. Keith Urban wasn’t wrong that Trent probably could’ve made the performance a little more “emotion-based,” but while I wasn’t completely moved, I was completely impressed.
Tristan McIntosh — Martina McBride’s “A Broken Wing” — Grade: B- | I know Scott Borchetta wants us to believe in the Tristan McIntosh Is Reborn as a Front-Runner arc, but when the 15-year-old got away from the melody and got to riffing, there were some seriously dubious notes assaulting my ears. Perhaps even worse, there was a pageant-y patina coating the cover — without any real sense of humanity behind the lyrics. Harry’s question to Tristan about the meaning of the final verse was painted, bizarrely, as a compliment, but if you read between the producer-approved lines, I think what he really meant was, “You’re just singing notes, not telling a story, kiddo.”
Dalton Rapattoni — The Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby” — Grade: C- | Someone please explain the judges’ enthusiastic response to this collection of gasping delivery and bum notes — seriously, dude was flat for at least two thirds of the performance. Dalton was getting drown out by the band so consistently, I half expected Rickey Minor to throw him a life preserver. The Emperor of Season 15 may have perfectly applied guyliner, but where the hell are his clothes?
Bottom Three (Performing for the Judges’ Sole Save)
Avalon Young — Michael Jackson’s “P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)” — Grade: B+ | The judges weren’t wrong in saying that Avalon’s “P.Y.T.” was similar in mood and tempo as most of her prior performances — and this one wasn’t as deeply sexy or in tune as last week’s epic “Earned It.” Still, the California girl once again reminded us of her beautifully breezy tone and inherent ability to catch a groove — qualities that should have kept her out of the Bottom 3 in the first place (especially considering how bad Dalton was last week, too). No, she was probably never going to be Kelly Clarkson’s bookend, but I might be looking to her post-Idol output most of all.
Lee Jean – The Beatles’ “Let It Be” — Grade: D+ | I don’t really have anything nice to say, and so in the spirit of not kicking a child on the occasion of his unceremonious elimination… let’s move on to Sonika.
Sonika Vaid – Whitney Houston’s “I Have Nothing” — Grade: B+ | Uff da. J.Lo’s favorite Whitney Houston tune has to rank at No. 2 on the list of songs I never again want to hear on a reality singing competition — behind only the Phil Collins Soundtrack Ballad That Shall Not Be Named. That said, Sonika came pretty close to delivering a note-perfect rendition punctuated by the big, bombastic notes that sends the audience swaybots into screeching ecstasy. I still prefer the grittier Sonika we saw on “Bring Me to Life” — and honestly, returning to that vibe is the only chance she’s got to win this season — but I couldn’t really be too mad that she’s the one the judges chose to save.
Sonika (no doubt, she belongs in the Top 6, and yet…)
Avalon (Look, I know Scott Borchetta luvvvvs Tristan and Dalton, but is this really how you voted, America?)