The good, the bad, and the just plain ugly...
Just last week, everybody in the Entertainment Weekly offices was bemoaning the fact that the final 12 contestants on this season of ''American Idol'' were, shall we say, a tad blank in the talent department. And then those dag-nabbed dozen had to go and screw up the party line by actually putting forth a batch of well-rounded, hearty performances on the latest ''AI'' episode.
For starters, wasn't it nice to finally get a glimpse into the personal lives of these contestants? There's only one way to solidify your love (or, in some cases, hatred) for a particular finalist, and that's through learning as much as humanly possible about these people. Who knew that the cheetah-print-obsessed Diana DeGarmo caught her own catfish?
Or that redheaded geek John Stevens was, like, the most popular kid in his New York state high school. (And while we're at it, exactly how tall is that boy?! Watching him stroll the neighborhood with his ever-present grandparents, I couldn't stop thinking about the gentle giant from ''Big Fish.'')
The whoopin', hollerin' extended families behind Fantasia Barrino, George Huff, and Jennifer Hudson -- all favorites of mine -- only added to their allure as powerhouse contestants, don'tcha think?
In any case, this episode kicked off with Ryan Seacrest's friendly ''Welcome to the Mothership!'' and from the get-go, it was a soul-infused evening. Rather than a rundown of each individual performance -- replete with snotty comments from yours truly -- I'd rather break down last night's contestants into three categories: the good, the bad, and the ugly. Here goes nothing!
The Good To my surprise, last night's two hours were filled with some mighty fine stuff. Producers wisely slotted La Toya London -- the outta-nowhere belter who blew everybody away a few weeks back -- as their opening act, and while I certainly appreciated her rendition of Chaka Khan's ''Ain't Nobody,'' am I the only ''Idol'' watcher who thinks her early appearance hindered the judges' ability to, well, judge the rest of the group? There was so much bluster over her near-perfect performance, and I, for one, think that some of it was misplaced. Does anybody else out there think that -- despite her effervescence and natural stage presence -- La Toya sounded a bit… flat? Can I get a witness?
Jasmine Trias was, by far, my favorite performer of the night. What cool, calm, collected composure this young lady had as she belted out ''Inseparable.'' Did you notice how Jasmine barely moved throughout her performance, yet kept us completely riveted with simply her voice? This is a lesson that Jon Peter Lewis -- or JPL, as he's known in ''Idol'' chat-room parlance -- needs to learn, and fast, especially if he plans to stick it out as the Cowell-appointed ''dark horse'' of this competition.
Speaking of… JPL, who's been sliding by solely on his undeniable charm in recent weeks, sang a serviceable (if not jaw-dropping) version of ''Drift Away.'' But he has GOT to cool it with those Molly Ringwald-esque, '80s-style dance moves, and he's definitely got to stop jumping up and down when he sings. Also, Jon, I see you making those strange faces during the show's closing credits, and I, for one, am less inclined to vote for you 52 times if you continue to torture me.
My boss and I vehemently disagree about the capabilities of George Huff, but really, isn't he something, people? The natural rasp in his voice lent perfection to his version of ''Sittin' (on the Dock of the Bay),'' and the natural smile on his face ensures he'll stay in this competition for awhile longer.
Fantasia Barrino, who will heretofore be known in my circle of friends as ''Bobo,'' told the cameras she was ready to ''wile out'' -- and, yup, she wiled out all right, with a throaty rendition of ''Signed, Sealed, Delivered.'' This young lady is the best screamer in popular music since Patti LaBelle, no?
I was also enamored of Jennifer Holliday, er, Hudson, who really ripped into ''Baby I Love You'' with signature fire. The outfit this week certainly got Jennifer more mileage than that hot pink monstrosity of two weeks ago, but here was a classic example of La Toya's annoying dominance over this competition. Simon -- who doesn't seem to have warmed to Jennifer -- accused her of ''oversinging'' her song. I defy anybody watching last night's show to tell me that Jennifer was (1) the only person ''oversinging,'' and (2) doing anything other than using her God-given, church roof-raising set of pipes!
The night's final performer, Diana DeGarmo, had a lot to live up to. But her inimitable good cheer carried a great version of Aretha's ''Think.'' There are times when Diana veers toward the overly perky, but it hasn't harmed her yet -- her self-possession makes her a possible threat to La Toya.
The Bad I really wanted to give Amy Adams another chance, but the pink shock of hair and those annoying clips of her arfing into the camera like a toy poodle started to send me over the edge. Then she sang ''You Make Me Feel Brand New.''
And I lost all hope. I had no hope for Matt Rogers (of ''Team Hurt''!) in the first place, so his lousy rendition of ''Hard to Handle'' helped along my indifference, though I WILL say that Matt has more personality than most of his fellow finalists, and it is hard to deny his excitement at being on the nation's most popular TV show.
Camile Velasco? Well, her hair has certainly gotten a much-needed improvement, but I'm not sure her performing skills have. As she attempted to dance along with her weak version of ''Son of a Preacher Man,'' all I could focus on was her face. She looked totally, utterly, undeniably… constipated.
The Ugly Well, Simon said it all when he told Leah Labelle to pack her suitcase. I've been scratching my head over Paula's boneheaded decision to choose her (over Lisa Leuschner!!) as a wild-card pick last week, and her lifeless performance of ''You Keep Me Hangin' On'' proved that my confusion was not misplaced.
It's pretty hard to dislike the Stevie Wonder classic ''Lately,'' but John Stevens helped me do it last night. There's nothing wrong with thinking outside your self-appointed box, Mr. Retro Crooner. But when you take a song that requires a bit of Stevie-style soul and try to morph it into a slow lounge act circa 1956, you're not going to go very far. Sure, the crooning thing has helped him, but does John Stevens have the stamina -- or the wherewithal -- to be more than just a one-trick pony? I'm guessing he doesn't. Stay tuned.