On The Scene: 'Idol' Top 9 Performance Night | EW.com

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On The Scene: 'Idol' Top 9 Performance Night


Melinda_lI never thought I’d say this, PopWatchers, but I miss Corey the Warm Up Comic. Yes, it’s true, on Tuesday nights now C the WUC defects to ABC’s Dancing With The Stars one studio over on the CBS Television City lot, leaving American Idol to seek out a replacement funny person to rile up its audience for its all important performance nights. (For the time being, it appears C the WUC has kept his Wednesday night gig. Not that you were worried.)

I’m told by my esteemed Idol colleague Shirley Halperin (out this week for vacay) that last week’s warm-up guy was actually funny, pulling audience members on stage not to enact cringe-inducing bootie jiggles but to, you know, sing, which makes so much more sense given Idol’s a singing show and all. More importantly, suddenly it looked as if my long dashed fantasy of actually busting out a big note on the Idol stage (oh, c’mon, you know you’ve all imagined it at least once while warbling in the shower) had new life after all.

Even when I turned to the press colleague next to me to ask if thisweek’s replacement for C the WUC was the same dude from last week, andshe shook her head no, I still kept my spirits up. Surely, someone hadclued in this new guy, Billthe Stand-In Warm-Up Comic, what the audience was feelin’ and what itwasn’t, right? He’d see me dutifully scribbling in my steno notebookand think “I’ve gotta see this cat’s ‘Desperado,’” right? What’s that?Bill the SIWUC’s pulling up an elderly woman on stage to shake herbooty? And now he’s asking her to spank him? And she’s obliged? Well,at least Bill’s passing out t-shirts. Corey never did that. Hmm? NowBill’s onto fanny-pack jokes? Ah. Corey never did that either.

Indeed, Bill the SIWUC was so, shall we say, undercooked, that Debbiethe Stage Manager (i.e. the boss of Studio 36, the one who keeps thewell-oiled machine running on time every week) felt the need toreprimand him via her live mic more than once — No, Bill, we can’t pull up audience members to dance on the catwalk behind the judges table five minutes before the show’s going to begin — providing by far the most off-camera entertainment of the night.

Otherwise, during the ad breaks, I watched the crew set Phil’s micheight, Gina and Sanjaya racing over to hug Jordin after herperformance, and the judges, Ryan and exec producer Nigel Lythgoewarmly conversing with So You Think You Can Dance judge and choreographer Brian Friedman(kinda the only “celeb” any of us could see). Exciting. And I can tellyou there was a scary moment when Debbie the Stage Manager wasliterally pushing LaKisha to her mark for her coming-up-next shot rightbefore the final ad-break — Kiki literally made it up there with notime to spare. Ummm, what else… If you couldn’t tell, the dude Ryanwas aggressively hugging while introducing LaKisha was Papa Malakar.Oh, and that hot mic squeal during Jordin’s stand-up with the judgeswas the result of Jordin bringing the singing mic in her hand too closeto her interview mic clasped to her shirt. Scintillating stuff, I know.

Speaking of sound, though, I must say the in-studio sound system playedsome serious tricks on my ears once again. Jordin’s “On A Clear Day”grated when I heard it live — it sure was big, but it had none of thewarmth and grab-you-at-your-seat snap of Mindy Doo’s “I Got Rhythm”(more on that in a sec), and many of Jordin’s notes felt sharp withinthe studio’s walls. Watching it back on TV, though, I realized thatJordin was playing to the cameras, not the audience, and singing to hermic, not the back row, so it read (and sounded) so much better onscreen. Gina had the opposite problem; I loved the subtle restraint shebrought to “Smile,” especially in her final note, which soared withjust the right tone — and which for some reason you barely heard athome. (It also helped that I couldn’t so much see Gina’s hair from Sec.F, Row 7, Seat 2.) And though Blake may have underwhelmed on TV, Igotta say his “Mack the Knife” came off with such assured polish andstyle in person that for the first time the guy gave me goosebumps.(And goosebumps, you know, they don’t lie.)

Finally, turning back to Mindy Doo (pictured), I think it was pretty obvious shewas an audience favorite, but maybe not that she was by far theaudience favorite. Most everyone instinctively leapt to their feet asshe rounded towards home on “I Got Rhythm,” a thrilling moment ofgenuine, rousing, spontaneous connection with an audience that’s beenall too rare this season and was never really replicated the rest ofthe night. But as Slezak’s pointed out in his TV Watch, on the screen Mindy’s biggest problem is that she doesn’t come across as, well, spontaneous.The camera craves the (seemingly) unrehearsed moment, and, as Simonalluded last night, Melinda’s such a consummate pro, she’s pretty muchincapable of providing one. That may make her the best live performerof the Top 9, but I can only hope that she can find a way to translatethat into people’s living rooms. Otherwise, with no true standout toget viewers on their feet, the reign of Sanjaya will only continueunabated. And while that may make the 9-year-old sitting in front of mevery happy indeed, my nerves would just as soon not have to experienceanything close to the unique torture of the first few bars of his”Cheek to Cheek” again.