American Idol -- Top 5 Swings The Standards; Bye Matt


Bye Matt. The guy who should not have been saved said goodbye on Wednesday. Why do I say he shouldn't have been saved? Because when it came down to Matt Giraud and Adam Lambert, the judges must have been kicking themselves for not having the Save on hand -and not because they would want to save Matt.

Natalie Cole started it off with a rather sharp, uninvolving performance of "Something's Gotta Give." (Generally not one of my favorite standards; only Sinatra juiced its rather flat melody with aplomb.) Later Jamie Foxx trotted out his number one single "Blame It" (which is definitely a studio creation and not interesting live) and Taylor Hicks came out with a bluesy, rocking performance better than almost anything he did on the show. Hicks proved he can be an engaging live act and will be playing sweaty roadhouses for the rest of his life and probably just get better and better. Don't write him off yet commercially.

But the big news was the bottom three. First, Allison Iraheta and Danny Gokey were saved. The bottom three was Matt, Adam and Kris Allen. Huh? Then they sent one back to safety and of course it would be Adam...but it was Kris! So "your" bottom three had become "your" bottom two: Matt and Adam. I had mucho technical difficulties as I watched the show via Slingbox on the road so I wasn't able to hear every single word. Did Ryan Seacrest ever specifically say the bottom three (or two) had received the lowest number of votes or specify how many votes separated the bottom two? I never heard it. This raises two possibilities.

1. Matt and Adam were the bottom two -- Idol didn't bother stating the obvious. But that's a missed opportunity. 47 million votes were cast (including 50 from mel you're welcome Kris) but people can get complacent and assume a front-runner will have plenty of votes. If Adam truly was in the bottom two, they should have pounded the drums to freak out fans and drive them to the phones next week. Don't assume someone is the frontrunner! They're only the frontrunner if you keep voting!! But they didn't do any of that.

2. Matt was the lowest vote getter but someone else was in the bottom two and maybe even the bottom three was completely different -- Ryan says "your" bottom three so that certainly implies America's votes placed those people there. (Or rather, the lack of votes.) But if Adam was NOT the second lowest vote getter, they were only trying to mask his runaway popularity a la Carrie Underwood. That would be ugly and fans would rightly feel cheated. They don't need cheap suspense. People speculate on the bottom two and three and if it's randomly chosen by the producers (and sometimes over the years I believe at least the bottom three has been randomly done) then they need to fess up. But if this was their attempt to create suspense, it failed miserably. Seeing Kris or Allison or Danny in the bottom two would have been much more suspenseful -- unless Idol made clear that Matt and Adam had the fewest votes and they told us how few separated them. But they didn't do that so we assumed Adam was safe and Matt was going home. Another blown opportunity and -- potentially -- an Idol scandal!! So what's the deal, Idol producers? Did you think Matt should have gone home and who will be sent packing next week?


The theme this week for the Top 5 is standards from the Rat Pack era, which is an odd caveat to put on Big Band songs. Or maybe it just sounds cooler. The mentor was...Jamie Foxx, who won an Oscar playing Ray Charles, who could and did sing everything (not to mention virtually creating the genre of r&b) but isn't exactly a Rat Pack era big band singer. Matt Giraud had a better (if wrong) guess when he imagined Michael Buble as the mentor. Coincidentally, he just happened to be singing "Georgia On My Mind" when Foxx walked in. (By the way, if you don't own the Ray Charles CD Modern Sounds in Country & Western Vol 1 and 2, order it now. It's as essential as it gets. Concord Jazz is finally releasing both albums on one CD -- something I've called for, for years -- on June 2. Buy it.)

KRIS ALLEN -- Looking very sharp in a nice grey suit, Kris Allen tackled "The Way You Look Tonight," which Frank Sinatra warbled in, I believe, a Michelob ad. It was introduced by Fred Astaire, a singer so subtle and adept at keeping the focus on the lyrics that Irving Berlin wept the first time he heard Astaire sing his songs. (Buy Astaire's CD Steppin' Out: Astaire Sings, which pairs him with a small jazz combo. Killer stuff.) Kris's version began as an upbeat tune but is more popular now as a ballad. Foxx basically confessed to a man crush after hearing Kris practice this tune, calling Kris his #1, saying Kris would be so good he would blow the audience away "and they wouldn't even know it" and then declaring, "This dude is a dude I'd do a record with." I couldn't agree more. Kris delivered on those raves; he began it slowly then increased the tempo in the middle and finished quietly at the end. It was impeccable and Kris is just oozing confidence at this point. (Maybe he heard that he's coming up strong in sales on iTunes, behind Adam Lambert of course.) I am really excited by the idea of buying his first album.

He began roughly for just a nano-second but looked so good doing it no one cared. His last note was lovely and then wavered as he faded out, but again, he looked so natural you could almost assume he meant it. Personally, the tune often seems draggy to me, but he delivered it well. Michael Buble or Harry Connick Jr or John Pizzarelli would all be glad to deliver a performance like that. Randy raved. Kara praised his original take on the song when it wasn't original at all -- it was thoroughly traditional. He didn't give it a Latin spin or a punk arrangement. (I don't count the very minor r&b stylings.) It was just very well done. Kara also called him the "dark horse' when he's been very noticeably coming on strong for weeks now. Paula nailed it (again) by highlighting his growth from boy next door to a man. Simon was less ecstatic, insisting it proved to him that Kris was NOT going to win it all, calling him a spaniel and saying his version was "wet." What does he mean by wet? "Not dry." Don't forget, Simon dumped water on David Cook right up to the finale as well.

ALLISON IRAHETA -- Allison turned 17 on Monday and celebrates by singing another ballad, "Someone To Watch Over Me." I've heard dozens of versions of this tune (at least) including Sinatra and a great, delicate one by Ella Fitzgerald. But my favorite is by Sting for the forgettable 1987 film of the same name. (Sting recorded a number of standards over the years and could release a standards album by recording just three or four more songs; I recommend a small jazz combo like the one used for this song, Sting.) The Sting version is hard to find so get Ella's Best Of The Gershwin Songbook. You can't go wrong with ANY of her songbooks.) Foxx gave her an acting tip: since she's too young to be in love, she should think about her family when singing.

Allison came out looking very nice without being too dressy (often a trap for the gals on Big Band night.) Her raspy voice makes this performance -- as traditional as Kris's -- sound quite distinctive. Towards the end, she belted quite naturally on a big note, giving the Idol fans the sort of power moment they love and then she ended quietly. Very nice. Randy raved again. Kara insisted she would make the finals. Paula was polite but offered nothing distinctive and Simon offered another cautionary note. He asked her if she thought she could win it all. It's one of those dangerous questions. She doesn't want to sound cocky but she doesn't want to sound wimpy. She settled for, sure, I think we can all win it at this point -- a safe, predictable answer. He predicts she'll be in trouble. Kara speaks up again to diss Simon and insist he's crazy.

MATT GIRAUD -- Sang "My Funny Valentine." My favorite version is the definitive Chet Baker spin, which is as delicate and vulnerable as it gets. (Get Chet Baker Sings, which is all you'll need unless you become a fanatic like me and start buying Japanese imports just to get one more song of his.) Foxx didn't give Matt any notes but then called him back later and suggested he drop the key Matt was singing in. Matt apparently took the advice and delivered what you might expect of him: some good parts with the occasional r&b riff and a few runs that sort of worked. (Not a fan. obviously.) He did have some big notes that came off very well but it wasn't nearly as moving as the other two. However, he like Kris and Allison is getting better and better at playing to the cameras. Randy agreed with me (not that he knew it). Some of it worked, some of it didn't -- on a technical level. But it didn't feel like a song, just a series of riffs. Kara didn't feel it. Paula did. Simon, rather bizarrely, raved and compared him to Nat King Cole.

DANNY GOKEY -- Sang "Come Rain Or Come Shine" and promised a bluesy feel. (No one ever did it better than Dinah Washington -- perhaps my favorite female singer -- on her late night jam session featured on The Complete Recordings With Clifford Brown or any version of Dinah Jams. But be prepared to annoy the neighbors. You're gonna keep turning it up.) Foxx got right up into his face while he was singing and then told Danny that director Michael Mann was the same way. And he insisted that Danny sounded the purest when Foxx got right up into his business. The song built rather predictably, from a slow start to a big finale, but it was convincingly done and Danny positively strutted as he hit the finale. Definitely his best in weeks, but he won't be helped when Taylor Hicks shows up on Wednesday and Danny gets tagged as too similar to the least successful finalist ever (so far; don't count Hicks out yet). Randy insists Danny is the only one who could record an album of standards, which is a bit odd since he raved about Kris and Allison. Then he trotted out the perennial "You can sing!" Kara got ghetto again, saying she had "been lookin' for that Rat Pack swagga. You got swag!" (A goofy turn of phrase that should get her into the pop culture dog house yet again, since swag is slang for free stuff.) Paula said he was stellar and still predicts he'll be in the finals. Simon agrees with Kara just to keep us confused and said Danny definitely had a swagger he liked to see.

ADAM LAMBERT -- Sang "Feeling Good," which Michael Buble has been strutting with lately but belongs to Nina Simone. (Buy her CD Feelin' Good: The Very Best Of Nina Simone, even though it's missing the sexy gem "Put A Little Sugar In My Bowl.") He's definitely in the zone right now and little girls kept squealing during the quiet opener. But that red staircase and that white suit and his big vocals drove the crowd into a frenzy I haven't heard in the studio audience since Kelly Clarkson. (Girls squealed for David Archuleta but these people are squealing for his performance. The dramatic lighting didn't hurt either.) Randy praised him but had his caveats about theatricality. Kara called him shocking and sleazy and a million other things. Paula compared him to Olympian Michael Phelps. And Simon had the best line of the night by mocking Randy for calling Adam theatrical. "That's like complaining a cow moos. That's what he is," said Simon. True that. He also said he saw that desire to win it in everyone else, well, actually just three of them, clearly indicating he doesn't see Kris or Allison in it to win it, as Randy would say. Overall, I'd say it was a very good night of performances.

Adam and Danny and Kris have never been in the bottom three. But one of them will be Wednesday. Clearly it's gonna be Allison and Matt in the bottom two and I believe Matt will be going home. Vote For The Worst agrees with me: they urge people to vote for Matt. Ouch. Joining them will be...Danny, I believe. I think this week will be his peak. Next week he'll seem repetitive again (or just familiar) and go home. What do you think? Who will be in the bottom three and who is going home?

Come back later in the day on Wednesday and I'll update with ratings info and links to other reviews and then I'll include a review of the results show late Wednesday night.