Below are my assessments of Tuesday night’s country-themed (and Randy Travis-advised) performances, followed by a sure-to-be-dead-wrong prediction of Wednesday night’s bottom three and elimination.
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Michael Sarver: “Ain’t Goin’ Down (‘Til the Sun Comes Up)”
Could there’ve been a more daunting way to start the show than trying to memorize and properly enunciate one of country’s most lyrically dense songs ever?! Sarver had fun and induced fun, but he seemed more at home hitting the high, long notes last week. All in all, his replies to each judge’s negative feedback were more entertaining than his performance. Translation: uh-oh.
Allison Iraheta: “Blame It on Your Heart”
Luckily, Iraheta was able to put a rock spin on this country tune, because a more faithful rendition might’ve exposed her lack of tenderness and, well, restraint. If nothing else, it didn’t hurt her position as the female front runner (sorry, Lil Rounds), but it wasn't her best. Once again, though, how is this girl only 16 years old?
Kris Allen: “To Make You Feel My Love”
A risky choice: It’s rare for a male contestant to brave the stage and croon, rather nakedly, a drumless song -- but it paid off for Allen, proving that he is, in fact, more than just a pretty face. The males’ heartthrob representative can sing, too!
Lil Rounds: “Independence Day”
Her performance seemed doomed from the get-go when she said, “[The contestants] spend quite a few time together.” Ouch. But then she sung. Lil seamlessly passed what will probably be her toughest test (country music) of the entire competition, making a country tune her own and then some. Disregard Simon’s “wedding singer” analogy, Lil!
Adam Lambert: “Ring of Fire”
Wow, Johnny must’ve been rolling in his grave from this version -- and probably in part because Lambert’s shrieky voice was audible six feet under! Look, the guy happily admitted he’s not a country singer, and Randy Travis’ disgusted reaction to Lambert’s nail polish summed up the country-fan consensus, but my knee-jerk reaction? Damn good and contemporary-sounding, and had it not constituted Johnny Cash blasphemy, Lambert’s performance wouldn’t have been “strange” or “weird” in the least bit. (That’s my gripe with all these “theme” weeks: It’s hard to judge a performance on its own merit.) At the very least, people won’t soon forget it.
Scott MacIntyre: “Wild Angels”
MacIntyre thankfully picked up the pace from last week and in so doing lost some of the inherent lameness, but the judges (shockingly!) made good points: He’s not doing enough. While MacIntyre possesses a solid voice and amazing musicianship, there is absolutely something missing, and it really might just be “the hotness,” as Randy so eloquently -- and frequently -- points out.
Alexis Grace: “Jolene”
Alexis was right in her element this week and stood to benefit from a perfect song choice, but she could’ve done much better -- namely with the high notes. Grace’s vocals were flat by her standards, and her trademark “dirty” edge was noticeably absent, turning what is supposed to be a highly emotional song into a robotic version.
Danny Gokey: “Jesus, Take the Wheel”
Expectations were low after the tape showed him repeatedly butchering the song -- which earned Gokey points when he simply got through the song during his performance. He still missed a few notes, especially during the chorus, but when Gokey gets it going -- and thus loosens up -- he’s one of the competition’s best, with infectious energy to spare.
Anoop Desai: “Always on My Mind”
Trouble seemed in the cards on country night for Anoop, whose talents clearly lie in the more energy-reliant pop/R&B genre, but he surprised a lot of people by bringing his downright impressive vocal abilities to the forefront while controlling his outsize personality until the end -- at which point he admitted to expecting perfect feedback from the judges! Simon loved that part.
Megan Joy: “Walkin’ After Midnight”
Let’s be honest: If Megan wasn’t supermodel hot, she’d probably be long gone by now, and even her best performance to date might not be enough to save her at this point. But for what it’s worth, she sounded and (as always) looked great on Tuesday night, despite being visibly and audibly sick. And, at long last, that hip-swirling she calls dancing was more subdued. Too bad viewers/voters haven’t been privy to this caliber of performance all along.
Matt Giraud: “So Small”
How fitting that the oft-overlooked Giraud closed out the show with the only true standout performance of the night. As always with Giraud, there was a genuine, unforced soulfulness in his performance, and he transformed Carrie Underwood’s country-tinged pop song into a radio-ready version all his own. Everyone (or at least Paula) seems to think that a Lambert-Gokey finale is inevitable, but watch out for the multitalented Giraud -- who is a genre chameleon whereas the others all seem to have a weakness.
Bottom Three: Megan Joy, Michael Sarver, Anoop Desai
Eliminated: Megan Joy