Recap: ‘American Idol’ – The Top Two Perform

05.19.09 8 years ago

Michael Becker/FOX

It’s our second consecutive all-male “American Idol” Top Two and just like last year, when you were either a Cook Fan or an Archuleta Booster, the battle lines are pretty much drawn across this great nation. Nobody is allowed to be ambivalent. You can root for Kris. You can root for Adam. But don’t tell me that you like them both equally and differently.

Kris won the coin toss last week and, like all good Pete Carroll coached teams, he opts to defer and go second. Each singer will perform thrice, including “No Boundaries,” the inevitably corny coronation song courtesy of none other than Superfluous Fourth Judge Kara DioGuardi.

How did the night go down? Click through…

Song: “Mad World”
My Take: I’m not a fan of the performance-repetition thing, even when it’s required. Take the very finest repeated performances in “Idol” history — Fantasia’s “Summertime” or Kim Locke’s “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” or Ruben’s “Superstar” — and even those lost impact after a while. This is much more the Gary Jules version from the “Donnie Darko” soundtrack than the cover Adam did the first time around. Despite the long trenchcoat and swirling smoke at his feet, making him look like either an Dickensian hero or Jack the Ripper, it’s simple and beautiful, without any wailing or shrieking, only vocal purity. It’s a good way to start.
Fred, Daphne, Velma and Simon Say: Check it out. This is it, Randy, explains. Randy loves Adam showing his sensitive side. Randy starts with an A+. Hard to know where the grading goes from here. Kara says that Adam changed the game for everybody else and that he rocked it again tonight. Paula, roasted on a spit overnight, is also proud of Adam. Me, I’m wondering if I could rock Adam’s coat. Simon, shirt unbuttoned to his belly-button, calls the performance “a bit over-theatrical.” Simon hates the coat, but Randy says it’s a “Twilight” thing.” Randy has never seen “Twilight.”

Song: “Ain’t No Sunshine”
My Take: This was probably my second favorite Kris performance of the season the first time around and my favorite, Kanye’s “Heartless,” probably would have been too recent to make any impact at all. If Kris has any performative advantage over Adam — other intangibles and unspeakables aside — it’s his ability to play multiple instruments and play them well. If he’s smart, he’ll play the guitar later tonight. He can’t complete when it comes to singing or interpretation, but he looks good when he does something Adam can’t even attempt. It gives him the illusion of versatility even though he mostly makes everything sound alike (not a bad thing). The arrangement is simple and puts Kris’ voice and piano in perfect focus.
Fred, Daphne, Velma and Simon Say: Dude. Yo. Check it out. You know? You know what Randy loves about Kris? That he knows the kind of artist he is and that this was one of his best performances ever on the stage. Kara says that if you can’t feel a Kris Allen performance, there’s something wrong with you. Well, I didn’t like “Glee” either, so there probably is something wrong. Paula raves about Kris’ ability to Allen-ize every performance. But can he Simonize? Simon admits he was surprised when Kris’ name was called out week, but he takes back his skepticism after that performance. Simon calls Round One for Kris. Me? I think Kris was better-than-usual, while Adam was just good-as-usual. To my mind? Round One is a push, a draw.

Song: “Change Is Gonna Come”
My Take: Simon Fuller’s pick for Adam is maybe my favorite song ever. Top 10, to be sure. It’s a song I’m pretty tough on, when it comes to covers. Adams arrangement is bluesy, accompanied by two guitarists, initially. There’s something very Memphis-meets-Glam about it. He starts of raw, pained and emotional, but also self-contained, holding himself back. He builds. He builds. He builds. And when he gets to the wailing, the wailing you knew was coming since it was missing in his first song, he earns every soul-wrenching shriek. Is it Sam Cooke? No. I’ll always take the original, no matter who else covers it. But this does nothing to diminish the song and that’s the greatest praise I can give.
Fred, Daphne, Velma and Simon Say: Listen. The song is an amazing classic for Randy and Adam showed that he can sing his face off. Matt Giraud is appreciative. Kara says it may be Adam’s best performance of the entire competition, pulling it back and letting it go. Paula doesn’t speculate, yelling that it was his best. Simon’s lost at least one button on his shirt since we last saw him. “You are 100% back in the game,” Simon reassures Adam.

Song: “What’s Goin’ On”
My Take: Simon Fuller likes a very particular type of protest anthem, doesn’t he? As I predicted/recommended/advised/endorsed, Kris is on his guitar, playing well. It’s a little mellow for my taste, but it’s been rearranged into a Kris Allen standard. Actually, as it progresses, it becomes even more mellow, the exact opposite direction from where Marvin Gaye took the song and where it really probably ought to go. He sounds good and the guitar helps him out. But meek and pleasant isn’t what was demanded after what Adam just did.
Fred, Daphne, Velma and Simon Say: Randy loves that we have a duel, finding the song timely. Randy calls it light, which has to be a judgment on the emotion of the performance, not the song itself. Kara likes that Kris’ delivering a message. Paula says Kris tore the song up and made Marvin Gaye proud. “It was like three friends in their bedroom strumming along to Marvin Gaye.” Ryan makes a confusing homophobic joke. Simon gives Round Two to Adam, “a million percent.” It may even be more than that. If this were a boxing match, the first round would be either 10-10 or 10-9 either way depending on your preference. Adam has this one solidly 10-8 with a knockdown.

Song: “No Boundaries”
My Take: What do you have for us, Kara? Cornball inspirational pap! Adam makes a good show of selling lines like “With every step you climb another mountain.” But fake emotion is much more Kris’ thing and this song is almost certain to be more natural on him. Adam’s arrangement has a little ’80s rock tinge to it, as he wails about hurricanes and never giving up and whatever else the song is about. I’m missing the hook and the the rhythm isn’t exactly right for what Adam does well. I’m going to say he did the best he could, but what could he do? He exercises his way around the mess.
Fred, Daphne, Velma and Simon Say: “Dude you can sing the phone book,” Randy says, before saying it was pitchy in spots and just aight. Kara speaks on behalf of her co-writers to thank him. Paula is out of adjectives. She’s in awe. Simon mocks the mountains and hurricanes and declares that over the whole season, Adam has been one of the best and most original contestants they’ve ever had and tells him that he’s a worldwide star. Adam thinks he got the job done. I’m wondering if Kara DioGuardi and not Kris Allen is going to do Adam in.

Song: “No Boundaries”
My Take: The song does, indeed, suck less when arranged for Kris. It just seems more natural. It also sounds like it has a hook, a melody, which it didn’t the way it was arranged for Adam. Who do we blame for this? Could Adam not have sung the song with the arrangement they gave Kris? Of course he could have, but they wanted him to rock what isn’t a rock song. And Kris doesn’t sound so super. The song is much too high for him and his voice can’t handle the sustained notes in several places. He’s pulling out of notes left and right because he can neither hit them nor sustain them. But you can still imagine a sweetened version of this song being a single for Kris, while Adam probably doesn’t want to ever sing it again. Neither one of them sang the song well, but Kris’ arrangement carried the day.
Fred, Daphne, Velma and Simon Say: Randy tells Kris that he should be proud of himself, even if the key was too high. Kara agrees it was too high and that Kris shouldn’t be judged on the performance. Paula says he deserves being where he is. Simon says Kris’ best performance was his first tonight, but that he deserved to be on the stage tonight. Kris doesn’t know if he did enough. I’d give the last round to Kris, but on a technicality. That makes it a 10-9 round for Kris at best.

MY SCORECARD: I’ve got it 29-27 for Adam by boxing rules. His version of “Change Is Gonna Come” was the night’s standout performance. And the only reason I gave Kris the last round is the break he got from the show’s musical directors and from Kara.

MY PREDICTION: Will the judges pushing for Adam spawn a backlash? Very possible. Kris shouldn’t be the underdog, but his fans are going to look at him as one and vote relentlessly. Should win? Adam, both for tonight and his body-of-work. My guess? Kris in a big “Idol” upset. But “Idol” finales are tough work when it comes to prognosticating. I though David Cook deserved to win for the season overall last year, but I though Archuleta dominated him in the finale, yet when the votes were counted, it was a rout.

What do you think? Who should win? And should it be based on tonight’s performances or the season-at-large?

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