Ladies and gentlemen, it’s the moment you’ve all been waiting for: it’s country night here on American Idol. Ryan’s dressed for the occasion by wearing — what else? — purple. The mentor for this week is Kellie Pickler. Oh, no, that’s only in my fantasies. (Or an SNL sketch? Lorne Michaels, call me.) It’s actually Martina McBride, who is one of those rare country artists I really like. We cut to Martina McBride in a studio, leading our remaining seven idols in what I would guess is the worst rendition of “Independence Day” you’ll come across outside of your local sorority’s body-shot/sing-along night.
Phil Stacey’s up first. Singing “Where the Blacktop Ends” by Keith Urban. We cut to this weird shot of Phil and Martina in the studio, and I think they’re talking as the director motions for them to hit their mark by the piano, so they both seem really distracted, and Martina’s asking Phil about Kansas as she walks backwards, so it seems like he’s cornering her. I have no idea why they used that shot. Phil is — thank God — not wearing his Oliver! cap tonight, and looks respectably country-cool in black pants and a black shirt with only a hint of shiny stripes. He does seem comfortable on stage tonight, and he’s walking through the audience giving people high-fives and hugs, pausing to make love to the camera every now and then, and it’s kind of working as an act. Vocally he’s nothing special tonight, but he’s holding it down. Someone didn’t think the camera work through quite right, so we have a solid ten seconds of the back of his bald little head before they figure it out. Phil has a really small head, like a character from Goonies or something. I just noticed that. Ha! Randy’s all like, “From an accomplished producer,” as he gestures to himself, “you’re going to have a career in country music.” Randy is nothing if not modest. Paula is in that weird place where I’m not sure if she’s high or stupid, but she liked it, I think. Simon liked it quite a bit. Ryan, making fun of Phil, goes “Woooo!” and makes a face that I think is supposed to be hard-core, but you know what he looks like? That’s painting, The Scream? Of that ghost-like dude? If you still have this episode TiVo’d, go to minute 8, wait ’til Ryan goes “Woooo!” and pause it. Then look at that painting. I think Ryan was the model. And then Ryan, again making fun of Phil, goes “Love you love you!” and suddenly I realize that he was the inspiration for Crank Yankers‘ Special Ed. Ryan, darling, Phil is not the one walking away from this encounter feeling silly.
Jordin Sparks. “A Broken Wing,” by Martina McBride. Martina’s watching her sing this, making that face you make when you’re really jealous because someone is totally doing your thing but they’re doing it better and they’re younger and it sucks but you can’t let on that you actively hate them for this. “Oh my God,” says Martina. “That was awesome. I truly resent the limitless opportunities in your future, and the fact that you’ll look way better than me after Hollywood inevitably beats thirty pounds off you.” Except she didn’t say that last part out loud. Wow, they have really figured out how to do Jordin’s make-up over there, and her face just looks stunning. It’s the second week in a row I’ve thought this. Really, truly beautiful. Never mind that she’s dressed for the Renaissance Fair. She has grown by leaps and bounds as a performer, she understands how to work the camera now (maybe taking tips from Sanjaya?), and this girl has a real shot at winning this whole thing. I’d never have guessed. The crowd is going fucking crazy. I just got chills. Truly, for the first time since Kelly Clarkson, a performer on this show just gave me chills. It’s a very A Star is Born sort of moment. This girl is amazing. Um, when did she get a nose ring? Did she have that before? Randy loved it. So did Paula. Simon says, for the first time, he believes she can win this. Lilliputian Ryan chats her up.
SANJAYA!!!! Is dressed as a mechanic. Big ole’ red bandana, gray top, ratty jeans. Ryan asks him a viewer question: if you can ask a judge to sing one song, what would it be? Sanjaya’s all like, “I’d have Simon Cowell sing ‘Shining Happy People’ so that he could show his true personality,” and that was very cute of him. Sanjaya’s singing “Something to Talk About” tonight, and there are no words for how happy this makes me. He then proceeds to saunter out on stage and speak the words to the Bonnie Raitt classic. I mean, there’s music playing in the background, but this may as well be a dramatic reading of the lyrics at a WeHo open mic. “Sing? Why would I sing? Do you have any idea how hard it is to sing when there’s a bandana on your head? If you get too excited it might move out of place. Which camera’s on me now? Can someone feed me my line? Did you see my necklace? It’s gold and big. Line! It’s cute when I shake my ass. Is someone getting my soda? Is there an intern on that? Because last time it was flat. Line!!” Um, the judges’ comments are, well, accurate. “Utterly horrendous,” says Simon. “It was as bad as anything we see at the beginning of American Idol!” Ryan cuts him off and Simon gets all pissed off and motions him away. “To the left, to the left,” he speak-sings, and it’s pretty cute. “I know this has been funny for awhile,” says Simon, “but … it was hideous. Ridiculous choice of song.”
LaKisha. “Jesus Take the Wheel” by Carrie Underwood. Martina actually tears up in the rehearsal. This is totally a song LK can rock, and I’m psyched to hear it. She starts off solid, but her breathing’s timed all wrong, and it’s very strange. Not as strange as her boots, which she borrowed from Steven Tyler back in 1989. Was she even born in 1989? Jesus. I’m going to hit menopause soon, aren’t I? She’s pretty good, but it’s possible she’s actually too emotionally invested in the song. Her vocals aren’t anywhere near as controlled as they usually are. She’s singing too much from her heart with not enough focus on the technical aspects. Randy mentions the weakness in the vocals and the early pitch problems. He’d hoped she’d put a gospel spin on it. Paula agrees with Randy, mentions that she was shouting more than singing. “I don’t think you and that song went well together,” says Simon. LK looks like she’s about to cry.
Chris Richardson. “Mayberry,” by Rascal Flatts. Will somebody please do something about the moustache? It starts off way, way rough. Chris can’t find the rhythm, let alone the tune. He’s dressed like New Kids on the Block is casting again. This is pretty much a giant clusterfuck. He never quite catches up with the band and the vocals feel distracted as he focuses on that. Randy didn’t feel any emotion from him. Paula talks. Simon notes that his vocal sucked and that he was nasal. Ugggggh. In his interview with Ryan, Chris is all like, “Nasally is a form of singing. I don’t know if you knew that,” and ohhhhh Simon’s all like, “What the fuck did you just say, you snot-nosed brat?” and this goes on for a minute until Chris plays the Virginia Tech card and Simon damn near has to bite his own tongue off.
Melinda. Answers a viewer question about her craziest fan experience by lying. “There was this lady, and I just heard her say ‘Oh my God’ and run towards me, so I was like ‘What?’ and I ran!” Everyone laughs. Really, Melinda? You ran? Just fucking took off running? That’s what happened? Are you modest, Melinda, or paranoid delusional? Because the line is beginning to blur for me. Singing “Trouble is a Woman.” Melinda looks cute tonight, very sassy. She shows a young, fun side of her personality, like Simon’s been begging her to do. This is working pretty well, I’m digging it. The crowd is digging it, too, but it’s still nowhere close to the reaction Jordin got. Randy thought it was solid. Paula thought it was a good song choice. She’s a little high tonight. Ha ha ha ha ha!! Simon’s like, “Melinda, I’m about to compliment you, and I’m going to ask you to lose the surprise.” And finally — finally! — Melinda accepts praise in a manner that doesn’t make me want to vomit on my television. She smiles confidently but not cockily. Way to go, Simon. I might not have to hate Melinda anymore. That would be nice. It will leave more room to hate other things, like my day job and my ex-boyfriend and olives, and that’s important to me. Fuck olives. How does anyone eat those things? They taste like poison.
Blake Lewis. “When the Stars Go Blue,” Tim McGraw. I have a feeling Blake is going to kill this, and I’m excited. Blake is growing on me. Blake looks adorable, in a black-and-white argyle vest, black pants and white collared button-up. He’s growing into a total hottie. He’s a little pitchy, and it’s not as great as I’d hoped, but he’s still a lot of fun to watch. He’s become one of my favorites around here, and is easily the front-runner among the men (I refuse to count Sanjaya). Randy liked him, Paula is drunk, and Simon wasn’t impressed but thought it was okay. And, just to dampen the mood a bit, Simon drops the Virginia Tech bomb. And it’s all well and good and I’m certain it’s genuinely felt, but maybe he could have waited until Blake was off the stage before he said it. Honestly, he was like, “Yeah, Blake, that wasn’t so great, and also how sad was that Virginia Tech thing? But Blake didn’t sing that well.” I dunno. It was a strange segue, and it’s probably because they’re running short on time and Simon wanted to get it in, but it went, like, Blake, Tragic Mass Murder, Blake, and then immediately afterwards Blake’s forced to sit there grinning as Ryan reads off his number, and that’ll have to have a psychological impact on voters.
Who goes home? Eh. LaKisha, maybe? Or Chris? There’s not an easy one to pick off in this crowd, and Sanjaya may find himself in the bottom three.