As someone who has very little love for country music, I was not looking forward to tonight’s episode. Two hours of twangy songs about people whose wives/girlfriends/husbands/dogs/kids/mothers have left them? Surprise! It was better than I thought it would be. Maybe it was because I had such low expectations, but I was glad I wasn’t driven to throw myself out the window from boredom.
I liked Randy Travis as a mentor. He was skeptical of all the contestants until he heard them sing and then gave them useful criticism. My favorite comment of his was about Adam Lambert: “I just don’t know what to say about this boy.” That sums up how I feel about Lambert, too, but let’s start at the beginning.
Michael Sarver went first and sang Garth Brooks’s “Ain’t Going Down (‘Til the Sun Comes Up).” He looked like he was having fun but the performance was just okay for me. I thought the dude playing harmonica was more interesting to watch. And, like Simon, I couldn’t understand a single word Sarver sang. He said “country folks” understood him so I guess I’m not country enough. He also talked back to all the judges tonight. He kept a smile on his face the whole time but I thought, “What is going on?” He’s usually so humble.
Allison Iraheta went next with Patty Loveless’s “Blame It on Your Heart.” Whee, doggie, she rocked it out! I love how she made it more rock than country. She also looked hip and edgy tonight, not awkward like in previous weeks.
Kris Allen was third, singing Garth Brooks’s “To Make You Feel My Love.” The stripped-down arrangement showcased his vocals, which were surprisingly strong (I hadn’t pegged him as one of the better singers). This performance was also not very country, with only piano accompaniment, and I was grateful for that. I like how he changed things up by not performing with his guitar tonight to show that it’s not a crutch.
Lil Rounds sang Martina McBride’s “Independence Day.” She was a little wonky in the beginning with a couple low notes but I like how restrained she was. My problem has always been how she wails on every single note instead of giving them nuance and moderation. She really tried to “honor the country” and for that, I was impressed and completely disagreed with the judges when they said she should’ve given them more of her usual sound. Random question: Didn’t she look like she was going to cut Simon when he repeatedly called her “Little”?
Adam Lambert performed a sitarific version of Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire.” If you’re a regular reader here, you know I have no love for this guy. But I have to give him props for tonight’s performance. He took a huge risk in doing that arrangement, previously done by Dilana on CBS’s Rock Star: Supernova. I still can’t stand how Lambert thinks he’s being seductive by following the camera around with his eyes and he oversang the song as usual but hey, I got to listen to exotic Indian-flavored music instead of a country song!
Scott MacIntyre sang Martina McBride’s “Wild Angels,” cementing his position as a one-trick pony. It’s the same every week: He plays the piano and gives decent but forgettable vocals. Paula spoke my thoughts out loud when she suggested he changes things up because the piano was interfering with his ability to connect to the audience. I do like how he replied, “We can move it a little closer!”
When Alexis Grace appeared talking to Ryan, I thought, “She looks a lot like a young Dolly with that hairdo.” Lo and behold, she announced she was covering Ms. Parton’s “Jolene”! This girl went so far as to style her hair to fit this week’s theme! Alas, her performance wasn’t one of her best. She’s a gritty, dirrty, bluesy kind of gal and I don’t think country suited her. But she’s still got a lot of talent to show us so I hope she sticks around.
Danny Gokey, wearing a white parka fit for South Pole livin’ (odd fashion choice considering it was 87 degrees today), sang Carrie Underwood’s “Jesus Take the Wheel.” Wasn’t one of his best performances, either, but still solid. Like Alexis, he’s got a soulful voice that’s incongruous with country music.
Anoop! He sang a lovely, heartfelt version of Willie Nelson’s “Always On My Mind.” I already love the uptempo Anoop but he showed he was just as compelling taking his time, singing each word like he meant it, unlike what he did with last week’s “Beat It.” Anoop is back and here to stay!
My girl, Megan Joy, picked Patsy Cline’s “Walking After Midnight” and gave it her usual funky retro touch. I know some people can’t stand her but I root for her because she’s so unique. If I were station-surfing on the radio, I’d recognize her voice instantly and would stop and listen. Sometimes it isn’t about perfect vocals but more an attitude or personality that comes through. Bob Dylan and Tom Petty would never win any singing contests but there’s no mistaking their sound. Megan’s entertaining and gorgeous to look at and she’s a trouper for performing while sick.
The last spot tonight went to Matt Giraud and he didn’t disappoint. He sang Carrie Underwood’s “So Small” with only his own piano accompaniment and thankfully uncountrified it. This guy is growing on me, as long as he picks the right songs and keeps up that bluesy sound. Random question: When Paula told Giraud, “There’s nothing small about you,” did anyone else think, “How does she know?!”
I ended up voting for Megan, Anoop, Alexis and Allison. I think either Michael or Scott should go home. Who’d you vote for? Are you glad country music night is over?