Finally, for the first time all season, Tuesday night's episode of "American Idol" made a compelling case for why it's America's most popular show. Not all of the seven contestants performed well, but almost everyone delivered a moment of genuine, honest-to-goodness drama.
The show started on a high, as resident baldy Phil Stacey awoke from his coma to show he can kick the crap out of a country-rock song and youngster Jordin Sparks aced "guest mentor" Martina McBride's "Broken Wing" so fully and completely she became my new favorite to win the whole damn thing. But after that rousing double shot, we were treated to a trio of vocal car wrecks.
Sanjaya Malakar, his hair piled high behind a red bandanna, delivered a limp version of Bonnie Raitt's "Something to Talk About" that earned him a vicious verbal beat-down from judges Randy Jackson and Simon Cowell (who seemed pissed he was still dealing with this kid). LaKisha Jones continued her fall from front-runner status with a stiff and confused take on former "Idol" winner Carrie Underwood's "Jesus Take the Wheel" -- a song that totally obscured her Jennifer Hudson-esque gifts. The last contestant to earn a reaming from the judges was Virginia native Chris Richardson, who sang a lifeless version of Rascal Flatt's "Mayberry." Richardson went down fighting, though: After Cowell criticized his nasal voice, Richardson shot back, "Nasal is a style of singing." Melinda Doolittle put things back on a positive track when she summoned the spirit of Tina Turner with a sassy run-through of Julie Reeves' "Trouble Is a Woman." (Upon further reflection, Melinda and Jordin are currently my co-favorites.)
The only blah moment came at the end, as Blake "sub-sub-Timberlake" Lewis preened his way through yet another number that was more about his clothing (a nice sweater-vest combo) than his singing -- he's the male Haley Scarnato. Flaccid ending aside, this was hands down the best show of the season. Emotional highs and lows, tension, talent -- I'm actually looking forward to Wednesday night.
-- David Marchese