“American Idol” Adds An X Factor

Last night’s American Idol opened the competition’s not-quite-semifinal, not-quite-final round, with the 13 singers who were selected as this year’s spotlighted contestants making their way through the songs of Michael Jackson. While Paula Abdul was only interested in seemingly tipping the producers’ hand, telling both Danny Gokey and Adam Lambert that they were shoo-ins for the finale, Simon Cowell took some time to foreshadow a twist to the proceedings, one that will be fully revealed during tonight’s double-elimination episode. What could it be? Alas, it probably won’t involve bringing back Ju’Not Joyner. Cowell said when he dropped the t-bomb that the change “involves us,” meaning the judges, and Ryan chimed in that it would “change the entire theme and concept of the show.” So what’s the deal? Most speculation revolves around Simon, Paula, Randy, and Kara having more of a say as far as who goes home, a la Cowell’s show from across the pond, the Leona Lewis-spawning X Factor–there, the bottom two are put before the judges, who then have the option to “save” one doomed contestant. This is good news for mediocre, yet judge-beloved singers like Jasmine Murray, but probably not great for anyone who tries to make a statement beyond “vote for me and/or Jesus” with their song, since, as Simon told Scott MacIntyre, “It’s fine being artistic, just not on this show.” What was that about the addition of Kara DioGuardi making this show even more about the business of music? And the utterly bizarre timing of that evolution, what with the music business being as in the toilet as it is? On to the ratings! 13. Jasmine Murray. Sang “I’ll Be There” like her spot in the Junior Miss Pageant didn’t depend on it at all. Zero urgency, notes all over the place . To compare this version to Mariah Carey’s–which Randy Jackson actually dared to do–is to commit blasphemy, I think. 12. Danny Gokey. Sure, the bespectacled worship leader didn’t take the opportunity to trot out his deceased wife this week, but his version of “P.Y.T.” (my second-favorite Jackson song, after “Leave Me Alone”) was almost as offensive. He’s like Taylor Hicks, except with more yarling capabilities and way less swing–was that the most enunciated pronunciation of the word “Tenderoni,” or what?–and I am completely mystified as to why the judges think he’s any good at all. 11. Anoop Desai. Oh, Anoop. The acappella stalwart way, way stumbled during his awkward version of “Beat It,” which was wet-noodle wimpy and plagued by even worse backing vocals; not to mention that he muffed the line about words being very clear, which, well, ouch. 10. Michael Sarver. A snoozy take on “You Are Not Alone” that was at least better than Danny’s performance, which immediately preceded it. 9. Jorge Nunez. His version of “Never Can Say Goodbye” was competent enough, but it did inspire me to scribble in my notebook, “I guess someone has to win this thing?” But his post-performance comments, in which he said that he didn’t have a song choice for this week, made me wonder if he got saddled with this song by someone else. Someone with designs! (Oooh, conspiracy time.) Also, can Simon please stop blaming the contestants for the overly syrupy arrangements by the band? Clearly there’s a disconnect here, and the people who seem to be losing are the contestants. 8. Lil Rounds. Started off the show with “The Way You Make Me Feel,” which she changed to “The Way You’re Makin’ Me Feel.” (I’m all for artistic license, but ugh.) She has a sort of LaKisha Jones-ish screamy thing going on, and her performance actually made me miss the Carrie Underwood-slaughtering single mom. Also notable is that she wore perhaps one of the worst Idol outfits of all time–a top that looked like its one sleeve was constructed from crumpled-up pink Kleenex, and a pair of white pants that simultaneously made her look bloated and plagued by severe cameltoe. Paula, of course, loved the getup, although she was wearing what seemed to be a stuffed peacock on her own shoulder. 7. Matt Giraud. The most memorable thing about his performance: I now call dude “Hatt Giraud” out of habit. 6. Megan Joy Corkrey. At the very least, the semi-out-of-tune piccolo that punctuated her version of “Rockin’ Robin” distracted me from her spaztastic dancing. And she gets graded up at least two spots for ending her performance with a very convincing bird call. (You may not be surprised to learn that this performance has caused her to be adored by Vote For The Worst.) 5. Scott MacIntyre. I kind of like the George Michael-ish quality of his voice! “Keep The Faith” is a bit of treacle that David Archuleta would have been all over a year ago, but MacIntyre’s version made me want to hear what he’d do with “A Different Corner.” 4. Kris Allen. OK, fine, I’ll admit it: He’s cute. And his voice had the requisite lightness that one needs to bring to “Remember The Time” (yarlers take note). But he has to stop smiling during songs that are about breakups! Lyrics aren’t just syllables strung together, you know. 3. Allison Iraheta. I know her hair makes this a ridiculously obvious bordering on cliched observation, but come on: She’s soooo Pink. I hope America doesn’t turn against her for her joke about not cutting herself, though. (Rickey.org has a theory about red lights being used as a “stop voting for this” signal, and she was bathed in red throughout her performance. Noooo!) 2. Adam Lambert. Definitely the most polished performer of the night, and I thought the beginning of his performance of “Black Or White” had a nice tautness about it. But the bridge was so awkward and out-of-sync with the band, I was wondering if he should have just gone the Heavy D verse route instead. Curiously, Randy called him “the most current, the most right now” of all the contestants out there–maybe because he lives in an alternate universe where America embraces Rufus Wainwright and the Scissor Sisters? 1. Alexis Grace. Brought it all home with a vicious, if not quite perfect, version of “Dirty Diana.” The groupie-gone-wild lyrics were only slightly undercut by the shot of her daughter in the audience saying “Mommy.”WHO I WOULD HAVE VOTED FOR: Alexis.WHO SHOULD GO HOME: Jasmine, Michael.WHO’S PROBABLY GOING HOME: Jorge and, uh… oh man, I hope not Allison, who’s with Jorge in Dial Idol‘s bottom two. Tonight: I will be in the audience for the elimination show, which will not only debut the aforementioned twist, it will have Kelly Clarkson and Kanye West on as guest performers. I should try and get Seacrest’s attention via Twitter, shouldn’t I?American Idol [Official site]

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