It's country week with Martina McBride, and the Idols respond to a second consecutive week of Genres That Don't Mean Shit To Them by not singing country whatsoever. Nice! Phil opens the show with a good vocal on Keith Urban's "Where the Blacktop Ends." He takes it into the audience, where his suck-uppery can really shine. Meanwhile, Simon and Paula aren't paying attention as they're engaged in a "Got Your Nose" contest. Not kidding. The judges recognize that he's probably the best-suited to this genre. Jordin takes on McBride's own "Broken Wing," and she's so good she makes herself cry. It's the best version of that song I have ever heard, and Simon tells her he can finally see her winning this show. Sanjaya Hair Update: brunette Carrot Top meets Russian housekeeper. Sanjaya Song Update: "Something To Talk About" by Bonnie Raitt. It's terrible, but worse, it's uninteresting. However, it does lead to a phenomenal smack-down from Simon to Ryan. LaKisha chooses "Jesus Take The Wheel," and brings up the kid for the second straight week. Just from the song choice you know it's going to be a massacre with the judges, but her voice does her the added disservice of completely checking out on her. Of course, Simon reduces it to his usual "black girls shouldn't sing country" hang-up, which misses the point.
Chris's voice is also pretty suited to country, as Martina tells us, but the performance is a non-event at best. That's two weeks in a row for him, and there could be trouble. Of course, just as I think that, Chris gets really snitty with Simon and makes the supreme error of following that with a shout-out to Virginia Tech. I...have complicated feelings about all of it. Melinda's song tells us "Trouble is a woman with a man on her mind." She got hair extensions and they look fantastic, by the way. She's wonderful and kind of surprising, which is what she needs to be from here on out. The judges love her, and Simon finally tells her to knock it off with the humility already. Blake chooses "Tim McGraw's 'When the Stars Go Blue,'" which is about sixteen lies right in a row there. It ceases to matter pretty quickly, because he's wonderful. It's a gorgeous song, and Blake does it justice. Randy and Paula appreciate it, but Simon is...reminded of the Virginia Tech tragedy. It's not nearly that profane, but, much like with Chris, the timing is bizarre.
Going home? Yikes. I'm at a loss. Chris's antics should blow back on him, but I'm betting they won't. Which means Phil (who was actually not bad but far from our memories), LaKisha (who was legitimately awful), something wonderful (Sanjaya?! Please?!), or something terrible (anyone who I haven't mentioned).
Before we start with anything at all, Ryan Seacrest stands in front of a darkened studio (though he makes sure to stand off to the side so we're not obscuring the incandescent blue glow of the American Idol logo) and conveys the show's thoughts and prayers that are with anyone affected by the Virginia Tech tragedy. This will become a whole thing later, and I'm going to have to talk about it as it pertains to the states of mind of people on a ridiculous TV show, but so long as Ryan Seacrest is taking a time-out to be serious, I can too: Go Hokies. Of course, even (especially?) in times of tragedy, we can also take pleasure in the little things, like how Ryan still manages to emphasize the right syllables as he somberly tells us "This is American Idol."
After the credits, Ryan reminds us how country music has been "very good to many of our previous Idols," a statement just vague enough to be true. He doesn't mention, of course, that none of this season's Top 24 were country singers, specifically, so having a country night manages to be more fair (rather than Carrie Blows Everyone Away week) and yet far less relevant. But whatever, gotta persist with the themes. And for a mentor from the realm of country, whom else could they choose but Martina McBride, who I believe was named co-winner of Season 4 along with Carrie Underwood. Her video package offers snippets of songs that sound vaguely familiar to me, and I'm almost certain that's only because I've heard them covered on this show. "When God-Fearing Women Get The Blues" was on this show, right? Probably Pickler. And, of course, "Independence Day," which you only hoped you'd forgotten by now. Indeed, that's the song she and the Top 7 have chosen to sing during their Gather 'Round The Piano time. Martina's pre-advice to the lot of them is that the best country songs sound like conversations, so they really need to understand and feel the lyrics. Which is, in case you haven't caught on, the exact same advice every mentor has offered these kids all season. And if they haven't caught on by now...
Anyway, first up this week is Phil Stacey, who has chosen a Keith Urban song called "Where The Blacktop Ends." I suppose we weren't gonna get out of this show without a Keith Urban song, so I guess it's best to get it out of the way early. He and Martina bond over being fellow Kansans, and Phil tells us that this song in particular reminds him of Kansas, when he used to "play in the dirt" and was a "real country boy." Martina interviews and goes through the entire Phil Stacey Experience in about ten seconds, saying the beginning of the performance sounded stiff, but at the end he pulled out this really impressive note and won her over. That's our Phil, all right. She tells him to bring more of that kind of "soulful" stuff into the earlier parts of the song.