''Rock Star: Supernova'': Inevitable decisions
Pop quiz: Is Rock Star: Supernova a reality-contest TV show or an extended job interview? That's the tension that's made this program alternately compelling and cringe-worthy all season long. Case in point: This week the rockers went unplugged. The shift made for dramatic television but didn't much illuminate the question of who's best suited for a gig fronting an electric-guitar-driven hard-rock band.
At least the contestants are really taking this competition seriously if that's the right word to describe Toby's demonstrated willingness to run around the pool naked in order to sing with Gilby Clarke. Ryan and Zayra also squabbled over who'd be the first to sing his or her own composition this season. Zayra won the dispute and gave her best performance to date, a lovely Spanish-language song she wrote called ''Lluvia de Mar.'' (According to the loosely translated lyrics she's posted on her blog, the title means ''Rainy Days.'') In fact, the ballad was so pretty that I barely noticed her poofy red skirt, which made her look like a jellyfish. Of course, the performance, like all her others, was totally wrong for the band (''I'm not sure it's for us,'' Tommy Lee said tactfully), but as Dave Navarro observed last week, she deserves to be a star on some other planet. Preferably one where they don't care too much about singing on key.
Speaking of other planets, Magni sang David Bowie's ''Starman'' beautifully; Gilby's only complaint was that he didn't try to get the crowd to join in on the ''la la la la la'' chorus. Patrice followed with a dull and tuneless take on the Police's ''Message in a Bottle'' that the judges found unoriginal and lacking in intensity.
Lukas' seated performance of Chad Kroeger's ''Hero'' drew Jason Newsted's criticism that he was falling back into his old, gurgling vocal style. Lemur King's excuse: He was still recovering from last week's party with the band in Vegas. (That excuse won't cut it on the road, dude.) ''I hate it when people sit down,'' Tommy said, but that didn't stop several other performers from sitting.
Storm was saddled with the wack song choice of the week: Gloria Gaynor's disco classic ''I Will Survive.'' She delivered a growly, mannered version that earned the night's harshest criticism. ''For me, that just didn't work,'' said Dave. ''I hated that.''
''I thought that was sautéed in wrong sauce,'' said Tommy. ''I kind of want my money back.''
''It's OK, man, I like spanking,'' Storm responded. (Wasn't it Storm who promised to deliver a spanking to the judges last week?) In her defense, Dave noted on Wednesday, she's one of the strongest performers and the one who responds best to tough constructive criticism. Also, she looked smashing in a black pinstripe pantsuit.
Toby, coming off a weak run of performances, seemed to recover his momentum with a rousing cover of Peter Gabriel's ''Solsbury Hill,'' backed by Gilby on acoustic guitar and himself on bongos. (Yes, another eccentric prop for Bullhorn Boy, but it worked.) Ryan gave another intense and brooding performance, a piano-driven cover of Phil Collins' ''In the Air Tonight'' that won him the encore slot on Wednesday.
Dave called Ryan's the best performance of the night, then immediately took it back after hearing Dilana close the show with Harry Chapin's folk-rock ballad ''Cat's in the Cradle.'' Her straightforward, dramatic cover seemed a rebuke to Storm's song, as if to prove that it is possible to take a totally un-Supernova-ish song and make it work in a hard-rock context. (No surprise, since Dilana has done the same thing with Johnny Cash and Cyndi Lauper tunes in previous weeks.)
The judges further confirmed Dilana's front-runner status by giving her the first shot at a new weekly honor: the chance to sing a Supernova track backed by the band itself. If anyone watching had any lingering doubts that she could front this group, her performance Wednesday on the new track, a T. Rex-ish glam-rocker, should have dispelled it. (The one squirmy moment: four back-up hoochie dancers grinding away in formation around Dilana. Somewhere, the ousted Jill is gnashing her teeth and smacking her TV in frustration.)
Early voting put Zayra, Patrice, and Toby in the bottom three (further proof that whoever is backed onstage by Gilby or Tommy is jinxed). The final vote, however, saw Toby safe and Magni at the bottom. (Storm, briefly in danger, actually seemed disappointed that she didn't land in the endangered trio.) Magni, who's never been at the bottom before, was mystified, and after a solid version of Radiohead's ''Creep'' (he outsang Lukas' version from last week), the judges agreed that he deserved to stick around.
That left usual suspects Patrice and Zayra. Patrice wisely went against her initial impulse to sing a ballad and instead sang a ferocious cover of Hole's ''Celebrity Skin'' (another song that previously tripped up Lukas). For her part, Zayra seemed to know her time had finally come, and she was determined to go down swinging. Her cover: the obscure ''Razorblade,'' by Blue October. She still can not carry a tune, but she not-carried this one with her usual determination and conviction.
More than anyone, Zayra has embodied the show's battle between what's right for the band and what makes good TV. It's been clear for weeks that the judges have been keeping her around only for her status as the show's fabulous train wreck, her ability to get even viewers who hated her to tune in each week to see what intergalactic superheroine outfit she'd wear and which classic song she would destroy. Even she seemed to be surprised she lasted as long as she did. She accepted her elimination gracefully, telling viewers, ''Bye, world, I'll see you soon'' (was that a promise or a warning?), before returning at last to the mothership that would take her back to her home planet.
What do you think? Are you glad or sad to see Zayra go? Will any of the other remaining contestants be able to match Dilana as Supernova's frontperson? And what songs should they sing during next week's all-request episode? (Viewers can help choose the tunes via a ballot at the show's website.)