Welcome to Idolator’s American Idolatry, our weekly look at the hitmaking machine that is American Idol. With Sanjaya Malakar whisked off into the world of endless media appearances, it was time for the Idol hopefuls to get down to business–and do it for charity, as last night’s episode was the first in the “Idol Gives Back” three-hour extravaganza.
(A reminder: We’ll be liveblogging tonight’s East Coast feed of the show, which starts at 8 p.m. ET. Tune in to see whether Elvis shows up, what hat Bono wears, how Borat teeters along the line between sincere and “funny,” and, of course, who gets the boot.)
BUT FIRST: It has been very, very difficult for us to not be of two minds about “Idol Gives Back.” On the one hand–and this, really, is the hand that should win out–you have the simple fact that the biggest TV show in America is basically handing over a good chunk of airtime to reminding its viewers that poverty and suffering do exist in large swaths of the world, and that people can actually help people out through actions beyond texting; hey, Simon Cowell visited a food bank, and stressed that the bank was staffed by volunteers, and asked people for hugs. E.J. Dionne had a pretty insightful column on why one should resist knee-jerk cynicism when talking about “Idol Gives Back,” and it contained a quote from producer Nigel Lythgoe that caught our eye:
I’d actually prefer to be completely caustic in writing about “American Idol.” But Mark Shriver, vice president of Save the Children’s U.S. programs, which will benefit from the show, may be right in seeing “Idol” as taking “a huge risk” in focusing on poverty. One of the show’s producers, Nigel Lythgoe, said of the honchos at Fox: “They weren’t as positive as I think we were and slightly nervous. Anything that saves your network every year, you don’t want to play around with.”
Which brings us to the part of the show that made us roll our eyes–the incessant corporate sponsorship. Not because it was there (it’s pretty much a given for shows of this ilk these days), but because, after all those weeks of Ryan Seacrest pleading with potential sponsors to drop Idol an e-mail, the companies that were featured last night were all Idol bankrollers anyway–Coca-Cola, Ford, AT & T, Fox (and MySpace, too). Did every other potential sponsor’s e-mail get shunted to the News Corporation spambucket? Or does charity expire at the limits of product-placement contracts?
Anyway, on to the show:
CHRIS PUTS ON HIS BABYFACE: Chris sang the Babyface-penned “Change The World” to open the show. He started off shaky and had more than his fair share of flat (as in lifeless and as in pitch) moments, but for some reason the judges liked it; perhaps they were overcompensating for the fact that the song wasn’t really a powerhouse vocal-showcase type of thing, or maybe they, too, realized that they needed to keep their matinee idols around for at least a few more weeks, in order to absorb the ratings blow of losing Sanjaya.
WAITING ON SOMEONE TO READ THE LYRIC SHEET: Interspersed throughout the show were informational pieces about the charities “Idol Gives Back” will benefit–and one of them was soundtracked by John Mayer’s “we’ll just hang out until we feel ready to act, man” anthem “Waiting On The World To Change.” As the text message we received when the segment start said, “Do they not realize the solipsism of the lyric contradicts their intent?”
MELINDA BEING MELINDA: What else is there to say about Melinda except “she was wonderful once again”? We’re not going to call her “magical” like Paula did, after all. Hmm… oh, we know! Her necklace was also gorgeous.
BLAKE’S IMAGINATION: The judges were lukewarm about Blake’s tempered (and, thankfully, beatbox-free) take on “Imagine”; what we were thrown by was his gritted-teeth facial expression while Ryan read off his dial-in numbers. Had he been struck with a headache? Or with a vision of him being in the bottom half of the show for the second week straight?
LAKISHA IS TELLING YOU SHE IS AN IDOL: Oh, Lakisha. Will you never take the advice of people who want to help you? Singing “Jesus, Take The Wheel” last week was bad enough, but setting yourself up for the comparisons to Fantasia–by singing her coronation song, at that!–sunk you this week. The worst part? You actually weren’t that bad, aside from your pitch problems and sloppy runs and shouting and … yeesh.
PHIL TURNS HEARTSTRINGS INTO LASSOS: Phil went for the one-two sympathy punch last night, first telling the audience that he missed his kids, who were in Oklahoma (awww), and then talking about his song choice–Garth Brooks’ “The Change”–and how it was written in the wake of the Oklahoma City bombing. That Okie combo even made Paula wipe away a pre-emptive tear! Between his “awww” factor and his Vote For The Worst support, it didn’t matter that he looked like the mopless brother of the the Carmen-singing orange from Sesame Street–he’ll definitely be around next week.
JORDIN WALKS ON: Jordin closed the show with “You’ll Never Walk Alone” from Carousel; while it wasn’t as stupendous as the judges said it was (were we the only ones to notice the flatness of her closing note?), it was full of passion and fire–and we agreed with Simon’s assessment that her take on it could indeed be a hit 60 years after it was originally penned, although only on iTunes. It would need to be remixed to death (perhaps with a Jay-Z verse added?) before getting even a whiff of a radio playlist.
WHO WE VOTED FOR: Melinda and Jordin. Again. This is really setting up quite the finals conundrum, isn’t it?
WHO AMERICA WILL PROBABLY CUT: Lakisha, who set herself up for a ton of unflattering comparisons by once again picking a song from a past Idol winner. Plus, nothing says “doing it for charity” like kicking off a single mom!
PAULA ABDUL OUT-OF-IT SCALE: 3/10.
Tonight: Borat, Kelly Clarkson, and a dead guy–they’re all in the “Idol Gives Back” liveblog!