As hard as it is for the "Idol" Top 10 to whistle a happy tune in Kevin Covais' absence, they just have to soldier on, as Tuesday (March 28) night's show delivers an insurmountable challenge -- the music of the 21st Century.
Singer: LISA TUCKER
Song: "Because of You"
My Take: A Kelly Clarkson song? Really? Must we? Lisa warbles her way through a losing battle with the surprisingly prominent brass section of the "Idol" orchestra. She's taking this song much too seriously -- note her "This song is very important" eyes-clenched scowl -- which makes it even more annoying when her voice struggles in and out of a pleasant range. Already in some jeopardy, this wasn't what Lisa needed.
Simon and the Chipmunks Say: Randy begins by calling it a'ight before admitting it wasn't that good. Paula starts with compliments, heads off in the direction of constructive criticism and then, abruptly, stops. Simon says that the song was too big for Lisa's voice and actually painful at times.
Singer: KELLIE PICKLER
Song: ""Suds in the Bucket"
My Take: First, Kellie explains to us that the song is like a funny fairy tale. Why, then, does she deliver the ridiculous lyrics so earnestly? She's trapped in a restrictive, clingy top and her jeans are so tight that they somehow make my butt feel uncomfortable. She goes through the whole song in a flat country twang, but her last note is remarkable. It starts off out of tune, finds the note, loses the note, finds the note again, wanders someplace totally different for a couple seconds and then, exhausted, limps across the finish line. This is going to be a very bad evening.
Simon and the Chipmunks Say: Randy's puzzled by the song choice. Paula thinks that all of America deserves better. Simon also blames the song. Kelly stands with her face contorted into an unreadable rictus.
Singer: ACE YOUNG
Song: "Drops of Jupiter"
My Take: Ace is feeling this one. He can see those pesky drops of Jupiter everywhere and he keeps reaching out into the air, grasping at invisible symbolic images. At random intervals, he stops plucking things from in front of him and uses his hand to mimic a shooting star. Is Ace miming tonight for the hearing impaired? If so, that's very altruistic of him. Those of us with the gift of hearing have to deal with notes which come right from Ace's nose. He sounds like a muppet. But he's a pretty muppet, so the gals in the crowd approve.
Simon and the Chipmunks Say: Randy is wincing in pain. Hey Randy, you have it easy, dawg. I started my night at a screening of "Basic Instinct 2" and this show is already making me nostalgic for Sharon Stone's heavily made-up breasts. Paula thinks Ace was refreshing and then suggests that she and Ace can get together in private so he can explain the scar on his chest ("Mary Ellen Moffat. She broke my heart."). Simon and Randy are wishing they'd slipped saltpeter into her Coke.
Singer: TAYLOR HICKS
My Take: Taylor's toned his frenetic moves down tonight. He's able to be passionate without the cheeseball insincerity that plagued Ace just minutes ago. I'm not buying the leather jacket or mascara that have found their way into Taylor's look, but this may be his best pure vocals in weeks. I miss the wacky smile that Taylor usually brings me. George Huff, in the audience, is impressed.
Simon and the Chipmunks Say: Randy, eyebrows furrowed, wanted something more. Paula was pleased to see Taylor standing and singing. Simon loved the performance, but not the style, which he compares to Clay Aiken.
Song: "Wanna Praise You"
My Take: Points to Taylor and Mandisa for refusing to sing subpar pop hits, but I just don't think this kind of gospel song plays well as a solo performance surrounded by flashing lights in the middle of a garish "Idol" stage. I didn't buy Mandisa's crowd-inciting opening, nor really anything she did when she was trying to move around. Only at the end, when she was standing still and belting, did she seem comfortable to me. That's a big liability.
Simon and the Chipmunks Say: Randy continues to be flummoxed. Paula commits sacrilege by claiming that 40 million people (the "Idol" audience plus, presumably, some straggling viewers from whatever was on NBC tonight) have joined the religion of Mandisa. Simon didn't get it and dubs Mandisa indulgent.
Singer: CHRIS DAUGHTRY
Song: "What If"
My Take: Responding to the most banal controversy in "Idol" history, Ryan gives Chris the chance to admit that his cover of "Walk the Line" was Live's arrangement. While Ryan doesn't make like Oprah with James Frey and kick Chris in the groin, he forces the chastened singer to confess that he worships Live. In 2006, is there anything lamer than kneeling at the feet of Ed Kowalczyk (besides being kicking in the nads by Oprah, I mean)? Chris' Creed cover is the best thing to happen to America's most irrelevant Christian rock band since the Scott Stapp sex tape. If we're being honest, though, Chris' voice isn't right for this song and it sounds like he's straining.
Simon and the Chipmunks Say: Randy says that Chris was sharp for most of the song. Paula's all love, but for the second straight performance, Simon complains about over-indulgence. He warns Chris that Creed wouldn't be caught dead on "American Idol." Ummm... For a large pepperoni pizza and some soda pop, Creed will play at your high school prom. They wouldn't even need to pepperoni to do "Idol."
Singer: KATHARINE MCPHEE
Song: "The Voice Within"
My Take: Christina Aguilera's version of this song gets on my nerves. It's all runs and vocal hiccups. As much as I hate to admit it, Katharine's cover isn't any better. The acrobatics are ostentatious, not musical -- distracting and not appealing. I don't want to imply that my McPheever is breaking, but there will be no excessive adoration this week.
Simon and the Chipmunks Say: Randy, slowly beginning to realize that the music of the 21st Century has been less-than-praiseworthy, says it was an OK choice. Paula no longer comments on individual performances. Simon calls it the best tonight, almost as good as Christina.
Singer: BUCKY COVINGTON
Song: "Real Good Man"
My Take: The worst thing about "Basic Instinct 2" wasn't that it was trashy and exploitative, but that it wasn't trashy or exploitative enough. I feel the same way about Bucky. The worst thing about him isn't that he's awkward and untalented, but that he's so mediocre and unremarkable that he can't even be mocked properly. I just don't understand why he's still around. His vocals keep getting lost in the arrangement, which is a blessing in the same way I felt grateful whenever Sharon Stone kept her clothes on.
Simon and the Chipmunks Say: Randy's pleased. Paula's pleased. Simon says Bucky mumbled and that if he'd paid, he would have left.
Singer: PARIS BENNETT
Song: "Work It Out"
My Take: Paris isn't really Beyonce, but she has some fun. The best thing about the song is that it doesn't really have any lyrics, but Paris is able to simulate the attitude to make it entertaining. Given what's come before tonight, I'm putting a lot of stock in anybody who can entertain me.
Simon and the Chipmunks Say: Randy, finally happy, calls it "fearless" and "da bomb." Paula, fed up with just sexually harassing the men, says that the Pussycat Dolls may be interested in Paris' moves tonight. Two things -- First, it isn't true, the gal really doesn't dance much. But more importantly, there may be something inappropriate about telling a 17-year-old girl that her bumping and grinding put her in the company of America's favorite singing strippers. Simon whips out the simile that it was "like a little girl pretending to be Beyonce, Whoopie."
Singer: ELLIOTT YAMIN
Song: "I Don't Want to Be"
My Take: Elliott's best decision is choosing an alternative arrangement from the one that Bo Bice did last season. It's different from Bo and it's also different from anything we've seen Elliott do this season. He bounces around with a loose-limbed confidence that's appealing. Like Paris' performance immediately before, I'm not sure I buy Elliott's authenticity here, but I'm amused.
Simon and the Chipmunks Say: The arrangement didn't do it for Randy, but he's still happy. Paula calls Elliott "one funky white boy." I'm not sure what Simon was saying.
TONIGHT'S BEST: Can we all just agree never to speak of tonight's show ever again?
IN DANGER: Bucky should go home, but Lisa probably will. Perhaps Kellie will finally make a well-deserved Bottom Three visit as well.