Pop Life

Idol Beat: The Top Three

Disclaimer: Thanks to technical difficulties brought about by the crap DVR capture feature of our limp-ass new cable box/provider, I missed the first 15-20 minutes of Tuesday's episode of American Idol. Please feel free to attempt to conjecture about whatever you think I would have said - had I been able to watch - in the comment section. Or just call me a homophobe, or get all up in my grill for screwing something up! Whatever.

So I have no idea what song the American Idol judges decided on for Danny Gokey this week, just no clue. Caught a snippet in the end-of-show recap, but it just sounded like some smarmy Gokey'd-out business, and since whatever he sings gets slimed, it probably doesn't matter.

Tuesday night's watchword was "strategy," and not just because the judges kept dropping it like a sailor hurling f-bombs on shore leave. The extreme cautiousness with which the Top Three chose their songs and delivered (most of) the songs chosen for them was almost palpable, and sorta nauseating.

Let's get into it:

Kris Allen

Randy and Kara chose OneRepublic's "Apologize" for doe-eyed Kris to perform. Not a bad call, huh? Wrong! So wrong. Somehow, this fella can ruin even great pop songs, turning them from cathartic to insufferable: sour gimmie notes, flubbed falsettos, affected shoulder hunches.

Regular Idol Beat readers know that I can't stand judge's quarrels, but the spat between Simon and Kara/Randy over song choice and the right of the latter two judges to critique Kris given that they'd assigned him the song turned out to be the only memorable aspect of that particular segment.

Kara: "I think that was a really competant performance." Ouch.

Kris has inherited the "lucky Idol contestant" mantle Matt Giraud surrendered when he was eliminated, but give him props; he's a canny dude. I mean, choosing Kanye West's "Heartless" for his personal-choice song? On its face this was a grab for hip Idol voters; "Heartless" was one of the most contemporary singles performed this season, let alone Tuesday night.

But unlikely as it seemed at the outset, an unplugged take on "Heartless" was a brilliant move for other reasons: the song seemed to lend itself well to Kris' whole thing, the coffeehouse troubador thing, and to the she-done-me-wrong white-boy-blues deal-e-o where it's okay to warble and make stupid singing faces and generally be the sensitive loner dude with an acoustic guitar. And given that Kanye's original was Autotuned to all hell, Kris essentially was able to invest the song in his own image. Don't count him out yet.

Randy: "That was better than the original!"

Paula: "You know, you're the bravest, because you sang a song about Simon Cowell." Touche!

Idol Gives Back Update

Over the past two years, Idol Gives Back has raised $140 million worldwide. Carrie Underwood was dispatched to Angola, Africa, where she danced with the natives and revealed that some of those donations were spent buying 300,000 bed nets for use in deflecting malaria-engorged mosquitos. Worthy!

Idol Gives Back, the world needs you back; everyone's broke.

Danny Gokey

Again, missed the first performance. But whatever he was saying about how he threw all the prior judges' comments and suggestions out the window and flew by the seat of his pants for Tuesday is unadulterated bullshit. Gokey studied last Tuesday's tapes and made a smart, calculated move: he aimed to make Idol voters forget all about "the scream."

He did this by glomming onto "You Are So Beautiful" for his personal-choice song and mostly hewing to a restrained, low-key take on it. Of course, at points he had to become uber-Gokey again, but never so much that you wanted an Acme safe to come crashing down on him. Again, a gutsy, strategic call.

Randy: "You showed that you are here because you can really, really, really sing!" God, imagine if Randy wrote this column every week!

Adam Lambert

In selecting U2's "One" for Adam, Simon had to act as performance-rights supervisor: "I had to get permission from the band to clear it; I personally got a call from Bono on Saturday." It's not namedropping; really it isn't.

Anyway, I don't remember this song being so tender, such a ballad; in Adam's hands it's like a fragile, frayed goose-down pillow - until things enter crazy-Lambert histrionic territory, and dude just kicks everything up to an ELECTRIFIED-FENCE GRABBING LEVEL THAT MAKES THE HAIR STAND UP ON THE BACK OF YOUR NECK before descending to his earlier gentleness.

Also, he's wearing a denim work shirt, which is adorable for some reason. (Wasn't this the U2 single where Bono sang straight into the camera the whole time in the video? The one Mary J. Blige covered with the band?)

Kara: "You're a strategist, an amazing strategist!" There's that word again.

Speaking of which, Adam's personal-choice song was a tricky call. I wondered: what could he bring to Aerosmith's "Cryin'" that a zillion bar bands hadn't already. For a minute there, the answer seemed to be "not much."

But again, strategy: pulling punches, picking shots, shock and awe. Kicking out some jams here, a few there, then stuffing a hundred tons of TNT into the glory notes and dynamiting that sucker to kingdom come and making Gokey's "scream" the week prior seem all the more asinine.

Simon: "I want everyone not to assume that you're going to be in the finale, but to vote for you."

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Ray Cummings