Tonight: Tony Bennett is the celebrity coach, and then Frankie Fane barges in and stabs Sanjaya in the eye with a switchblade*!
Oh, sorry, that was just a wonderful daydream I was having. Anyway, we're down to nine, and that means I'm voting repeatedly for Mindy Doo. I think I'm with Simon here (as usual): if that shitbag Hindi haircut wins, I'm quitting this show. The presence of Tony Bennett foretells nothing but Great-American-Songbook stuff, which usually means major wind-sucking for an aging pop performer, but given the usual song selection on this show, it will probably equate to a significant improvement in quality over the usual song choices. Anyway, let's get right to it.
BLAKE ("Mack the Knife"): "Mack the Knife", man. That's one of my favorite songs. I really hope Blake doesn't butcher it. (Get it, "Mack the Knife", butcher, HO HO) He's dressed in a suit like my dad used to wear to church in the mid-'70s, except with worse shoes. Surprisingly, he sings it pretty well, although his voice isn't really full or deep enough to suit the Sinatraesque treatment he's trying to give it. But all in all, this may be my favorite Blake performance, and with no beatboxing yet! Blake hasn't fully won me over, but this is a lot better than anything I've seen him do so far.
PHIL ("Night and Day"): I'm actually kinda digging the classics theme, because, man, you can't fuck around with these songs. These are the ones you prove yourself against, which is probably why I hate it so much when pop singers tackle them, because they don't have the chops for it. Phil started and ended this pretty flat; the middle passage was really swell and well-phrased, but bookended by some weak moments. Ignoring Tony Bennett's advice, he basically slogs through it with minimal swing, and while he doesn't dash himself against the rocks or anything, it's not much of a performance. Underwhelming.
MELINDA ("I Got Rhythm"): Well, this is just the perfect song for Melinda to sing – lotsa pop, lotsa swing, and an opportunity for her to show off that outstanding way she has of interpreting a song. It's got the slow start for her to display some control, jumpin' middle passage, and the big wow ending. And of course she delivers! She's Melinda! Your American Idol '07! But seriously, what up with that haircut, it's crazy, it's nutty, I can't handle it, no really babe you're beautiful I gotta go. This was great, she gets a million votes, and if she loses to Sanjaya I'm going to throw someone off a cliff. Also you know what? I read a little interview with her in People, YES I AM KINDA SMITTEN WITH MELINDA SHUT UP I AM A LONELY MAN, and she's actually kinda funny! She said she went to the audition just to laugh at all the other suck-ass singers and her friends basically dared her to try out. Yay Melinda! Win the contest! I voted for you 25 times!
REMAINING CHRIS ("Don't Get Around Much Anymore"): I don't really like this song very much, so I don't mind the fact that Chris does kind of a lousy job with it. I know he's got range – I've heard him have range – but it seems to have evaporated for this performance. Also, what the fuck, Chris, haven't any of you guys heard of wearing a suit? God, I've become a snob in my old age. I'm sitting here in a dirty undershirt for Christ's sake. Anyway, I didn't like this, and it goes on the ever-growing 'outshone by the backup singers' pile. The judges loved it, thought, which is just crazy. Blake was way better, and even Phil was slightly better.
JORDIN ("On a Clear Day"): Tony compliments her for singing in tune, which is pretty sad if you think about it. Jordin is dressed better than anyone else who's performed so far, which is a point in her favor, and the performance (of another pretty dull song) is very competent, but not great – it doesn't show that famous improvement that has been Jordin's strong suit thus far, although she really pours it on at the end. By no means bad, but at this point in the competition, you gotta be great; Jordin's been better than this before. Hey, Paula's back to being really drunk, though, and that's good! And Simon calls her and Randy "Squiddley and Diddley", HAW HAW HAW, man. I was gonna say, if Sanjaya wins and I have to stop watching this show, I'll really miss Simon, but if Sanjaya wins, he won't be on it anymore either**.
GINA ("Smile"): I guess the Great American Songbook selections I actually like are done for the night. Good, I was tired of having a vested interested in hearing them performed well. Gina looks great, and I sort of appreciate her trying to switch up and do a song that's not within her normal delivery mode, but man, I do not like this performance at all. Really overfinessed, and delivered with no punch, which should show off her range but instead shows up the flaws in her voice when she's not doing a rave-up. After having won me over, I'm really worried about her now, because we're up against the wall by this point. Not that good, sorry to say, and with the good-singer roles already filled and Haley occupying the sexpot slot, Gina could be in real trouble.
SAN FUCKING JAYA ("Cheek to Cheek"): Oh, hooray! Sanjaya's singing a song I like! Tony says "he dares to be different", which I guess means he dares to not be any good. Sanjaya says he's out to prove to America that he can actually sing, and he proceeds to do so by the curious technique of singing very badly from the first note to the last. He's also misinterpreted 'dressing well' as 'dressing like a Colombian drug baron'. I don't even know if I should give him the benefit of the doubt here that he was really trying, because if he's trying, this is the best he can do, and it's awful. If he wasn't trying, then fuck him. No, you know what? Fuck him anyway.
HALEY ("Ain't Misbehavin'"): Haley is really selling the hotcha image, which is good, because it's pretty much all she has going for her at this point in the competition. But it could be enough, who knows? This song is made for a belter; LaKisha coulda killed it. But this is Haley, and she did okay, but it's Haley. She's long since hit a wall with how good she's ever gonna get, and it ain't enough to win just based on her singing ability or her showmanship. But, as Paula says when she hates someone and tonight is no exception, "the good news is, you look great!" There's not much to Haley, and what there is, we saw tonight.
LAKISHA ("Stormy Weather"): Oh, joy, what a perfect song for LaKisha, no lie. Also, is it just me, or is Tony Bennett kind of a suck-ass vocal coach? His advice to everyone boiled down to 'sing like Tony Bennett', which really only works if you're Tony Bennett already. Anyway, LaKisha looks fucking great, although there appear to be some length problems with the dress she's wearing. Drunk-ass Paula says this song proves we all love Tony Bennett, which comment makes no fucking sense. She nails the hell out of this song, and it's just a terrific, Melinda-level performance, the kind that would make me vote for her a million times if I weren't so worried about the actual Melinda. So sorry, LaKisha. I hope she lasts -- I would fucking love to see a Melinda-LaKisha showdown in the finals -- but I am so busy covering my angle that I can only vote for her seven times.
Best performances: LaKisha, Melinda, Blake.
Worst performances: Sanjaya, Haley, Phil.
Doomed: I don't know. I don't know anything anymore. Gina? Phil? I am full of despair. Let's say Phil.
*: Look at that! Even in an American Idol recap, I can throw in a 10%er joke. I suck.
**: The case against Sanjaya winning boils down to the contest being rigged by the producers. Which I think it probably is -- a fact that's enraged me in the past, but which gives me comfort this time. If Simon is serious about quitting if Sanjaya wins (which he may well be -- it's not like he needs the money), the producers will certainly not want to piss away the franchise. Tons of people tune in just to watch Simon be bitchy, and the AI bosses won't want to throw that away because Howard Stern is pulling a prank. Additionally, all those people who are voting for Sanjaya to win as a joke will lose all interest in him once he's won, and the producers want to continue making money off the winner with record sales once the show is over, so they're likely to throw the results for someone who's going to continue to pay off. Which Sanjaya won't.
The case for him winning hinges largely on the voting being honest. If that's the case, Melinda is doomed, and so is everyone else: no force can stand in the way of a combined Howard Stern listener/14-year-old girl onslaught. (Those selfsame 14-year-olds will constitute Sanjaya's only post-Idol audience if he wins.) I guess we'll know soon enough if American Idol is really a sometimes-benign dictatorship or a terrifying democracy.