After four months, tens of thousands of singers and one cultural phenomenon, "American Idol" has been winnowed down to four contestants. With only two weeks to go, Melinda Doolittle, Blake Lewis, Jordin Sparks and LaKisha Jones find themselves this close to winning the whole damn thing. That made Tuesday night the perfect time to rise to the occasion, to lay it all on the line with a performance that would go down in television -- no, in world -- cultural history. Or not. It's sad to say, but ex-Bee Gee Barry Gibb was the only one to bring his "A" game last night.
I used to dig the way former pro backup singer Melinda Doolittle delivered poised, polished performances week after week. But I'm over it. Her takes on "Love You Inside and Out" and "How Can You Mend a Broken Heart?" had no sex appeal, no sense of longing, no real passion -- nothing remotely resembling star power. More and more, I'm unsure if Doolittle is really capable of being a star.
If B-boy wannabe Blake Lewis had half of Doolittle's competence, I might actually like him. Forget Sanjaya, how the hell did this guy make it to the final four? I understand he's cute in a ferret-y, marmot-y kind of way, but he's just not that good. Again last night, he stuffed that lame beat-box crap of his into both "You Should Be Dancing" and the bizarrely chosen Bee Gees obscurity "This Is Where I Came In." Blake has a thin, affectless voice, so he probably feels the need to spice things up, but beat-boxing? Seriously? The way he does it, it might as well be armpit farting. Randy Jackson nailed it: Lewis' performance belonged in a "weird discothèque in some foreign country." Blake Lewis, the nightclubs of Baku await.
Speaking of nightclubs, LaKisha Jones could rake it in for the rest of her life from Chelsea to the Castro if only she'd embrace her inner diva. Jones is a Jennifer Holliday/Hudson waiting to bust out, but she keeps fighting it. Her polite, mannered take on "Run to Me" fell flat -- literally, she flubbed a big note right at the end. And by all rights, she should have rocked "Staying Alive," but she took it at a weirdly slow tempo, robbing it of its deliciously cheesy dance-floor tang. Embrace the cheese, LaKisha. It's your only hope.
Seventeen-year-old Jordin Sparks is the only contestant who still gives me hope. Lovely and talented, she practically glows onstage, but lately her lack of experience has let her down. Maybe she doesn't know how to pace herself or gets too excited, but she just can't quite seem to bring it every week. Sparks did fine with "To Love Somebody" and "Woman in Love," and was easily the most naturally likable performer, but at this point, she should be bringing down the house.
Which leaves us with guest mentor Barry Gibb. Not only did I thoroughly enjoy his resemblance to a graying, clean-shaven version of Dr. Cornelius from "Planet of the Apes," but Gibb scored high on the unintentional-comedy meter all night. He busted out his still-freakish falsetto; he made a weirdly biological reference to Sparks as a "female"; and in the space of one sentence he went from saying it was hard to imagine a girl singing "To Love Somebody" to bragging about Nina Simone's cover version. Gibb goes for it. Let's hope the four remaining Idolees shake off the jitters and do the same on Wednesday night.
-- David Marchese