American Idol gets its swagger back, while Dancing With the Stars pulls a head fake
Featuring standards from the Rat Pack era, Tuesday's performance show was everything Idol attempts but too rarely achieves: historic, amazing performances from the competitors; songs matched with unerring skill to the singers; a fun mentor who knew when to step in and when to shut up and a skin-tight, sprawling big band filled with ace players who nailed energetic, innovative arrangements.
Paula Abdul even stepped off the crazy train to offer cogent, lucid, accurate feedback. Why can't Idol always be like this?
Of course, it helps that we're down to to the final five competitors. With all the mediocre types shaken off -- with the exception of Matt Giraud, who really should have gone home when his number came up a few weeks ago -- Idol is boiling down to four talented, diverse competitors who can see the finish line in sight and are willing flex a little to get there.
Mentor Jamie Foxx didn't seem to offer much feedback that made sense -- did staring Danny Gokey in the face really make him sing better tonight? And the most dramatic advice he gave, calling Giraud back after their coaching session ended to suggest he lower the key of his song, My Funny Valentine, didn't keep the JT wanna-be from delivering the worst performance of the night.
But even that designation is a backhanded bit of praise, because so many singers Tuesday notched some of their best performances of the series: from Kris Allen's restrained, soulful The Way You Look Tonight (if Gokey ever has a bad night, Allen is going to sneak up and snatch second place out from under his Elton John specs) to Allison Iraheta's smoky voiced Someone to Watch Over Me (how much fun is it to see this teenager slowly slip out of her shell and let that monster voice go?).
Gokey supercharged his Come Rain or Come Shine with a powerfully bluesy take and Adam Lambert was typically resplendent in a white suit, descending down a blood red staircase for an electric take on Feeling Good. But it's hard not to wonder if Idol producers are tipping the scale a bit when one contestant gets so much stagecraft to serve his song.
And while judge Simon Cowell was quick to credit Foxx for the night's amazing performances, I wondered if there wasn't a simpler explanation: great songs with enough age that the singers had a lot of freedom to find their own approaches.
Indeed, Cowell struck the only false notes through much of the night, offering uncharacteristically wiggy opinions -- Allen's performance was "wet"? -- until his favorite singers, Gokey and Lambert, performed.
Across the dial, Dancing With the Stars embodied everything I hate about reality TV competition shows, playing up competitor Melissa Rycroft's low scores due to injury mostly to distract the audience from the inevitable elimination of Chuck Wicks -- a no-dancing, obscure country singer who parlayed a relationship with pro dancer Julianne Hough into way more celebrity than he deserved.
Even while constantly reminding viewers that the results were not announced in order, they kept featuring Rycroft -- whose rib injury kept her from dancing Monday, earning a low judges score from a rehearsal tape -- until just she and Wicks were left onstage.
It was a pale attempt to juice interest in the show -- which increasingly looks desperate enough to kneecap one of its own competitors to keep the fan chatter going.