Season 8 of American Idol has been a looong, strange trip up to this point, but Tuesday night marked the return of the good stuff: the top 12, er, 13. In a twist last week (one that was mercilessly cut off by most DVRs; damn their punctuality!), the contestant field was expanded to a baker’s dozen … perhaps because the judge panel this season was also increased by one? Whatever the reasoning behind Idol’s umpteenth format change of the season, it’s hard to complain about one more pop-star hopeful being added to the fray (Anoop Desai in this case).
Below are my assessments of Tuesday night’s Michael Jackson-themed performances. Update: Jasmine Murray and Jorge Nunez were, unsurprisingly, the two contestants eliminated on Wednesday night.
Lil Rounds: “The Way You Make Me Feel”
The down-on-her-luck mother of three kicked off the show in superb fashion (wardrobe notwithstanding), capping off her pitch-perfect performance with a flawless gospel-y end note. It’s rare that an Idol show begins this well, and Lil should have no problem surviving Wednesday night’s elimination show.
Scott MacIntyre: “Keep the Faith”
The visually impaired fan fave has quite the feel-good story going, but his rendition of this relatively obscure (yet apropos) Jackson song was, for lack of a better word, corny. MacIntyre’s inspirational Idol journey will carry him through to the next round, but possibly not much further.
Danny Gokey: “P.Y.T.”
Gokey, who also boasts an uplifting back story, seemed a safe bet to soulfully croon his way through MJ night, but he surprised everyone, and surprises on Idol are almost always a good thing. Gokey brought unforeseen energy to his performance, answering the only real question about whether he had what it takes to stick around in the competition. He even got Paula, Randy and Kara to sing into the mic — and Simon to crack an unironic smile!
Michael Sarver: “You Are Not Alone”
Perhaps because his day job as an oilrig roughneck has been emphasized ad nauseam, Sarver’s soft song choice seemed destined to backfire. Funnily enough, it suited him just fine, as evidenced by his masterfully restrained performance.
Jasmine Murray: “I’ll Be There”
The teenager’s got the looks, charisma, stage presence and voice of a natural-born star, but she didn’t do herself any favors with this safe, somewhat uneven performance — and remember, she’s a wild-card survivor. To borrow one of Simon’s favorite blanket criticisms: utterly forgettable. She could be in trouble.
Kris Allen: “Remember the Time”
The resident heartthrob (sorry, ladies — turns out he’s married) benefitted from singing one of the more fun songs in the Jackson catalogue and, of course, his looks, but there will come a time when vocals matter more than — or at least as much as — looks … happens every year. And did that guitar emit a single sound?!
Allison Iraheta: “Give in to Me”
Iraheta is the anti-Jasmine Murray: She doesn’t yet have that star quality, but her voice might be the ladies’ best — and she’s 16 years old! Tuesday night’s angsty performance wasn’t quite as memorable as when she sang “Alone” during the top-36 round, and she’s got some serious work to do in the personality department, but Iraheta is still near the top of this season’s class.
Anoop Desai: “Beat It”
Anoop ‘Dog’ got the ultimate second chance (he was last week’s surprise 13th contestant in the, um, top 12), but he blew it on Tuesday night for possibly the last time. Desai once again showcased his personality — primarily during the pre- and post-performance interviews — over his voice, and “Beat It” is more or less the forbidden fruit among Jackson songs. Here’s hoping he gets just one more shot.
Jorge Nunez: “Never Can Say Goodbye”
There was something off-putting about Nunez even before his nauseatingly cheesy version of “Never Can Say Goodbye,” but at least he had some form of originality going into the night. On Tuesday, the usually wired, emotional Nunez was tame, lame and unoriginal, and he later played the bad-song-choice victim. Don’t be surprised if he says “goodbye” again on Wednesday night.
Megan Corkrey: “Rockin’ Robin”
It’s been well established that Corkrey is gorgeous to a hyperbolic degree, but it’s also starting to become crystal clear that she just doesn’t have the full package (read: voice). Her limited, Amy Winehouse-esque range has never been more apparent than during Tuesday night’s one-note performance, and those “dance” moves are downright disturbing. She’s a candidate to be ousted on Wednesday.
Adam Lambert: “Black or White”
Clearly the one to beat thus far, Lambert must’ve been psyched about the inherent theatrics of Michael Jackson night — and boy, did he deliver. I’m not saying I would ever have any interest in a future album of Lambert’s, but talent is talent, and this guy is in an entirely different league than everyone else (so much so that he could suffer voter backlash at some point down the road). “Black or White” was the absolute perfect song choice and Axl Rose-style interpretation.
Matt Giraud: “Human Nature”
Giraud had the misfortune of trying to follow up Lambert’s show-stopping performance with a soft ballad, but the dueling piano dude’s mellow rendition turned out to be just what we needed. In extremely opposite ways, Lambert and Giraud are probably the two most contemporary singers in the competition.
Alexis Grace: “Dirty Diana”
Grace didn’t fare quite as well as she did during her top-36 performance (which seems like ages ago!), but it was a pleasant enough way to close out the show. When she wasn’t overly shouty, Grace was smooth and sultry enough to draw a “naughty girl” compliment from Kara.