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Idol Worship: Best To Worst Of Country Night

Well, well... Maybe American Idol isn't so predictable after all. Here we are, only in the second official week of the competition, and the tide is turning. A couple of favorites impressed in this Top 11 round, but many more fizzled. And, in an unexpected twist, some who we were ready to write off (ahem, Anoop), came back with guns a-blazin' on Grand Ole Opry week. Of course, nothing could compare to the jaw-dropping flameout that was Adam Lambert, which will stand among the most memorable Idol moments ever (and not necessarily in a good way). Read on for our best to worst ranking...

Kris-allen-man-in-the-mirror 1. Kris Allen - "To Make You Feel My Love"
Taking center stage without his acoustic guitar/security blanket turned out to be a smart move for Kris, who was finally able to bring his voice out with a solid ballad. Looking like a spitting image of Freddie Prinze, Jr., he showed confidence and proved to be a good emoter — sweet, composed and controlled. The judges gave him props for defying genre barriers, and we second that notion. Has America fallen in puppy love with this tender dog? We'd bet on it, so Kris gets our top score for the night.

2. Anoop Desai - "You Were Always On My Mind"

Admittedly, our expectations of Anoop were pretty low following last week's disastrous go at Michael Jackson's "Beat It." This week, we take it all back. Anoop did indeed step up his game with a moving, soulful rendition of the country classic Willie Nelson (and Elvis) made famous, while taking his frenetic energy down a notch so we could all appreciate the subtleties of his voice. Maybe Anoop took a lesson from Matt Giraud: that a little falsetto goes a long way towards winning hearts. And in the end, he proved himself worthy of a spot in the competition, and on the tour, too. Of course, now comes the hard part — maintaining that momentum.

3. Matt Giraud - "So Small"
Keeping his game steady, Matt came back with another near-perfect turn, this time putting his own touch on Carrie Underwood's "So Small." You could easily rename that number "So Smooth," because that's what we got with Matt's soft, silky delivery. Not a flat note to be found at that piano (though, not to nitpick, but Matt could've looked a little more polished had he tucked his jacket under his butt), just a true talent worthy of the Idol stage. A cross of Michael Bublé and Justin Timberlake? Sign us up! 

4. Allison Iraheta - "Blame It On Your Heart"
What's there to say about Allison by this point? The girl sings her ass off, and with this bluesy take on Patty Loveless' "Blame It On Your Heart," country turned out to be no challenge for Allison. Moreover, she proved that her lower register is as strong as her upper range, a hurdle many Idol contenders struggle to overcome. Now, we just want her to do a ballad and bring it home.

5. Danny Gokey - "Jesus, Take The Wheel"
While we weren't surprised that the church-going Gokey would choose this very obvious Carrie Underwood song for his stab at country, between his angelic white jacket and the blindingly bright (especially on HD) stage lights, it was all a bit much, don't you think? We get that a big chunk of Idol's viewership lives in the bible belt, but come on! As for the vocals, we found them a bit "shouty," as Simon might say. And even Danny himself acknowledged he had some cleaning up to do. Of course, if the rumors are true and he's got a guaranteed ticket to the final four, Danny really has nothing to worry about.

6. Lil Rounds - "Independence Day"
Clearly out of her comfort zone, Lil Rounds did her best with the Martina McBride hit in keeping it true to country. But there's no way to avoid comparison to Carrie Underwood's performance of the same song, and when you place them next to each other, Lil stands at a major disadvantage. Like Randy (Jackson, not Travis), we were expecting a Dolly Parton-Whitney Houston mash-up of "I Will Always Love You," instead we got moments where Lil powered through, but also a few stumbles. Though far from horrific (we'll save that for Adam Lambert), it was a definite set-back for this former front-runner.

7. Megan Joy - "Walking After Midnight"
First, let's cut Megan some slack since she was quite visibly ill with the flu on Tuesday night, but barring her sickness, we actually kind of liked her jazzy twist on an old school country classic. And we'll give her high marks for going that far back in Opry history. After all, good country does not start with Garth Brooks. Still, we worry that despite Megan's creativity with the arrangement, her voice can't handle such subtle inflections. And no matter how fun it is to gawk at her quirkiness, we usually find that the best part of all her performances is, inevitably, the end. As in, when it's over.

8. Alexis Grace - "Jolene"
According to our calculations, Alexis is one spot shy of the bottom three, which is somewhere we never expected to see her this early in the competition. But there's no denying what was a shaky performance for the season's leading female hopeful. While choosing the Dolly Parton staple wasn't a bad choice, and the arrangement was pretty cool, Alexis found herself in that unsteady lower register zone which we mentioned earlier, and no amount of vulnerability can excuse missed notes. Sure, belting is her strong-point, but you can't rely on those peak moments to win Idol. And, we have to say, though the judges stammered in their critique, Alexis wasn't so graceful in how she talked back to them. Now, the question remains: Will it all set her back and how far?

9. Scott Macintyre: "Wild Angels"
While there's no doubt Scott has talent, especially on the piano, his strategy to ride the middle is starting to come off as boring, which doesn't make for good TV or a competition worth investing yourself in. Sure, he has more confidence, he's cracking jokes from the stage, and he's a competent singer, but, whether it's country, pop or rock, it's all so light, safe and static. Scott should do a Ben Folds song and wow us jaded indie rockers, but until that happens, we'll be snoozing on the couch. 

10. Michael Sarver - "Ain't Goin' Down ('Til the Sun Comes Up)"
We feel terrible for thinking this, since Michael Sarver was such a charmer at the Top 13 party, but he may be going home this week. For one thing, he had the crap slot of the night. And while Michael gave that rambling Garth Brooks opening number all the charisma and cowboy gusto he could muster, it still came off a bit corny. But it's exactly the kind of music he should be doing, and perhaps the judges missed the point on that. If nothing else, we applaud this roughneck for embracing his flaws and delivering one very astute remark: "If we were all perfect, we wouldn't need this show." Amen to that.

11. Adam Lambert - "Ring Of Fire"
Here are some of the notes we jotted down during Adam Lambert's ridiculous Eastern-influenced/pseudo-glam take on "Ring of Fire..." Borderline pornographic. Phantom of the Opera on crack. Unflattering angles. Ear-piecrcing wailing. Man in Black turning red in his grave. But perhaps Simon Cowell said it best when he described Adam's performance as "indulgent rubbish." Rather than desecrating the great Johnny Cash's legacy, couldn't he have tried Glen Campbell's "Rhinestone Cowboy" instead? What we're asking ourselves is, if Adam had auditioned with that or a similar left-of-center reinterpretation, would the judges have shooed him out of the room along with the other just-for-laughs hopefuls? We don't anticipate he'll be voted off this week, but imagine if they had to pull out the save card for his overambitious ass? And this early? Well, if nothing else, Adam sure knows how to bring on the drama.

March 18, 2009 in American Idol | Permalink


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ummm... for those persons who corroborate the tall-tale that Kris somehow made Bob Dylan's "Make You Feel My Love" his own... purchase and listen to Grammy award-winning Adele's 'iTunes Live From Soho" album from Apple iTunes.

The former desperately copies the structure of the latter's own recording of "Make You Feel My Love" - which makes for a confused, irritating listen.

It is the texture, opulence, and grace of Adele's vocal that distinguishes her from the highly-overrated, soon-to-be-forgotten Kris Allen.

Posted by: John Doe | Mar 18, 2009 5:43:46 PM

I've been hoping for some Ben Folds music to make the show for years now. How about a little variety, instead of the same old music trotted out year after year?

With two piano players in there this year, I this might be the season. Can't you just see Scott taking on "Song for the Dumped"? that wouldn't fly on the PG show...but he could do "Philosophy" and shake up the emotional ballad game a bit. Maybe throw the bench for good measure. "Song for the Dumped" would be funnier though.

Posted by: ben_folds_fan | Mar 21, 2009 7:25:36 PM

i think those who made the ranking are biased...
i think that MEGAN Joy deserves that top spot,
followed by Anoop, MAtt, Kris, Adam and Allison
Danny's jesus take the wheel is not that good, it is very shaky in the verses...
same as Lil rounds, which is her worst performance...

Posted by: zacH | Mar 23, 2009 5:36:59 AM

>Man in Black turning red in his grave.

I really don't think Cash would've cared much about it. He wasn't the snobby, conservative type to get riled up over someone singing a song differently. He himself sang covered NIN, Depeche Mode etc.

Posted by: GENE | Mar 23, 2009 12:18:10 PM

It seems that not much these "Idols" do is very original. We have the aforementioned instance of Kris Allen appropriating Bob Dylan's version of "TMYFML". Adam Lambert sang Dilana Robichaux's version of "Ring of Fire" (check it out on iTunes). Alexis Grace said she used Mindy Smith's arrangement of "Jolene" (again, check iTunes). So basically, it's a matter of who can choose a well-known song with an obscure version that suits his/her voice so that it seems original.

Posted by: IdolFan | Mar 23, 2009 12:32:02 PM

Adam was borderline pornographic? Was it the pants or the come and ravish me looks he gave the camera? LOL...sounds like he got you all hot and bothered and you just don't know how to cope with it. Go with it, it's a fantastic feeling!

Posted by: Vizzions | Mar 23, 2009 7:19:03 PM

When Adam sang Ring of Fire rock style was a slap in country music fans face just like they felt when Kristy Lee Cook sang Eight Days A Week country style. Both were horrible.

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