American Idol
Top 10: Not A Great Song Choice, Dude

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Tuck Nipped
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Tuesday

My cable reception is pitching a fit and will do so all night. It knows what's coming. So does Ryan, even if he's not conscious of it: "You have to decide who is the best, but they are not going to make it easy for you." You're telling me. Our host is once again dressed in a black and blue suit, mimicking the bruise I more and more want to give him. The signs in the crowd are starting to look mass-produced. Identical black-and-yellow McPheever-themed signs could just be chalked up to paired McPhanatics (don't use that) working with the same materials. The "manDIVA" sign from last week is apparently back, or else, again, kids in Taiwan are churning those babies out by the crate. Weirder still, one "We Heart Lisa" sign is shown from two separate angles consecutively, giving the false impression that the Lisa fans came out in droves. Still, every week we go without an "Ace: I Will Be Your Mother Figure" sign is a good week, so I won't bitch too much.

Ryan promises "some of the best songs" from the past six years, as the theme this week is "The 21st Century." I know we're sitting in it, but "the 21st Century" still makes me think of jet packs and robot maids. Like "songs of the 21st Century" should all be post-apocalyptic Bjork or at least whatever's hot in Britain right now. Ryan introduces "The Three" (his quotes not mine), as in judges. Like it's their gang name. Like "The Regulators" or whatever. Watching this the first time around with my sister, she expresses hope that Paula will be drunk this week. "This week?" Truthfully, she's pretty coherent. For Paula. Better luck next time. Ryan laments how we "just have one hour" to get all the performances in, as if their bloated leviathan of a schedule as of late had become the norm and one hour is squeezing them too tightly. Do you know how much Red Bull and coke Sars had to promise Jacob and me to get us through semi-finals?

Cute, doomed little Lisa Tucker will be starting us off. She'll be singing "Because of You," by Kelly Clarkson. Well, this should be interesting. Lisa's back is against the wall, so I don't blame her for swinging for the fences here. It's hard to predict how a Clarkson song will play on this show. Even with the judges, sure the likelihood is that it will be hard to impress them by singing a song by the show's most successful protégée, but with the way they've been almost eager to bash old contestants this year, you never know. You know I think Lisa is very pretty, but this song causes her to make a lot of ugly faces. It's more than just the eyebrows this time. Here's what I think the problem is, in a nutshell: Kelly Clarkson thinks this is a sad song. Lisa Tucker thinks this is an angry song. I'm not saying Lisa is wrong. Listen to the words. It's all about being pissed off at someone. "You're the reason I'm fucked up." That's rough. But this is my favorite music video of Kelly's because she cries real tears in it. She projects actual sadness. Lisa has a hard time projecting actual anger, so it just comes across as stagy and ugly. Also, there's the singing. Lisa's a good singer. Kelly Clarkson is a great singer. On this song, that bit of difference matters. You can hear the straining in Lisa's voice. She's trying to make it to Kelly's level, but she can't. Afterward, she's does a happy little dance in the direction of her family, because she thinks she killed it. Crap, this is going to be ugly.Randy lets her down right off the bat, saying it was an "interesting" song choice, but it was "just okay" and not that great. Lisa makes a face, because she honestly thought that performance was going to get her back into the thick of the competition. This sucks to watch. ["Interesting take on it. I'm not saying you're wrong by any means, but I felt like she knew the song got away from her." -- Sars] Off camera and off mic, you can hear Lisa's surprised "Randy!" Paula's encouraging ("Tell 'im, baby!"), but Randy, as ever, has to "keep it real." He is nothing if not the keeper of the real. Before we even get to Paula, Lisa knows how the rest of it is going to go, and she gets this awesome "Okay. Get this over with" look on her face. Paula starts with a compliment, saying we all know Lisa can "sing [her] butt off," but if you choose a song as popular and as Idol-connected as "Because of You," you need to "make it completely different, so that there's no comparison whatsoever." I get what Paula is saying, which is that when you set yourself up directly against Kelly you're almost always going to lose, so don't set yourself up like that in the first place. But Simon is also correct when he says, "The song is the song." You can't get around that. The problem was, according to Simon, that the song was too big for her voice. True. Heh, Simon says "true" as I type that. He goes on to say that there were portions of that performance that were positively "painful." Lisa makes yet another crazy face at that, and in the audience, you can see her mother say something like, "You didn't have to say that to her." Something close to that. That's a nice mom reaction. Just because you're protective doesn't mean you get to be an asshole, and Lisa's mom was appropriately restrained. The crowd turns on Simon, as they always do, and he has to remind them -- and this is a decent point -- that in the studio with the crazy energy and everybody in full support mode, of course it sounded great. But if Lisa watches it back, she'll see what he's talking about. Lisa is crushed, you guys. Ryan trots out on stage in the mood to play hero, so he's immediately all the way up Simon's ass about the "painful" thing. Simon tells him for the eleventeenth time that it's easy for Ryan to be the nice guy when he's not asked to judge anything. Ryan schoolyards that "two against one" the judges ruled it "not painful." Simon says the other judges agree with him that it was a bad performance (so nyah!). Then everything devolves into talking past each other and chaos. Simon is shouting that everyone agrees with him. Randy and Paula just keep repeating "not painful" over and over like they're Katie Holmes in a birthing room. Ryan won't stop wagging his finger in Simon's general direction. Lost in this cavalcade of idiots is poor Lisa, who is standing next to Ryan wishing she could just get off the stage already. This is so ugly. This is what Ryan does all the time, though. He comes riding in on his friggin' white horse and tries to make Simon look bad, and the resulting argument always makes the contestant feel like an even bigger asshole.Back from the break, Ryan is still trying to win points as the mayor of Niceburgh by shaking hands with yet another cute grade schooler. We get it, Ryan. You're a huggy teddy bear. He throws us to Kellie's video package. Kellie looks weird this week. Not like herself. Her hair isn't doing the full-on Heather Cox volume like during Stevie Wonder week, but it's definitely bouncier. It almost looks like the show is trying to make her look wholesome, which is ridiculous given the song she's chosen to sing. That song is "Suds in a Bucket" by Sara Evans. I think I might know what Sara Evans looks like if you showed me a picture of her, but I won't swear to it. "Suds in a Bucket" is one of those country songs that I like in theory but feel that I've really gotten all I'm going to get out of it by hearing the title. Sort of like "Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been Under?" I kind of already get it. In an overly scripted bit, Kellie explains that the song is "your typical fairytale story, except with a little twist. Instead of your Prince Charming coming in on a white stallion, he comes in a pickup truck. And instead of moving into a castle, you go to Vegas and you get hitched." Kellie finds this both scandalous and hilarious. Onstage, she looks so peculiar. I can't seem to put my finger on what's different. Well, the mom hair, I suppose. But her entire face looks different, like this isn't Kellie at all but a particularly skillful synthetic replica. I don't know. The song is exactly what you'd expect from the title: goofy and bouncy enough to make me think I'd enjoy the original version at least once. Kellie, like Ace, is not so much a singer as she is a performer, and in that respect she's doing okay. We expect her to sound like one degree of ass or another, so when she scrapes down by the bottom of her range, can we really be that outraged? And in fact, by the end of the song, she's not doing too badly.

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