Welcome to Idolator’s American Idolatry, our look at the parade of starmaking that is American Idol. In honor of Sanjaya’s seven ponytails and the high artist overlap between the singers (Gwen Stefani, apparently, only listened to the Police and Donna Summer growing up), we’ve tweaked our normal format a bit. After the click-through, our look at the seven biggest showdowns from last night.
DUELING DONNAS: Melinda and Lakisha both took on Donna Summer, with Melinda belting her way through “Heaven Knows” and Lakisha taking on “Last Dance.” Someone must have it in for Lakisha, because who puts “Last Dance” at the beginning of a show? We half-expected the lights to go on and a DJ to say “Thanks for coming” midway through her performance. ADVANTAGE: Melinda. (Of course.)
FOX PROMO DEPARTMENT VS. UNSANCTIONED PRODUCT PLACEMENT: Lakisha’s co-workers brought signs branded with the name of their business, throwing the camera crew into a tizzy. Did they show that she’d brought people from home to support her or snub them because their sponsor hadn’t ponied up Coca Cola-sized lumps of cash? In the end, her friends got a few seconds of camera time thrown their way–just enough to up that Q rating for their employer. Earn that bonus! ADVANTAGE: Provident Bank, although they’re missing a prime opportunity by not having some sort of Idolpromo on their homepage.
POLICE STANDOFF: Chris Sligh and Phil picked songs by Sting and company, with Chris racing the band during “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic” and Phil performing “Every Breath You Take” surprisingly well. “Every Little Thing” was just not a good choice for Chris–you could see the song running away from him as he tried to fix the disparity between his tempo and the band’s. His haircut looked good, though. ADVANTAGE: Phil (!).
THE BIG BALLADS SLUG IT OUT: Gina and Haley went for the heartstrings, with Gina pretty much nailing the Pretenders’ “I’ll Stand By You” and Haley, in another micro-bottom, performing “True Colors” in a style that was more about vocally showing off than actually, you know, interpreting the song. ADVANTAGE: Gina, although we have to wonder if she’ll shine as much next week, since we doubt whoever’s hosting will be as high in her pantheon of personal heroes.
THE RACE TO IMPRESS THE TEACHER: Gwen Stefani seemed pretty much unimpressed by everyone except Melinda, and we were wondering how full-bodied her inner cringe was when she found out that Chris Richardson and Jordin had selected No Doubt songs that didn’t really play to their strengths. Jordin sang “Hey Baby” and was almost sunk by the backing band–the backup singers sounded absolutely terrible, and the band’s complete silence during the lower-end-of-the-range verses made us (and, we’re guessing, the also-silent audience) feel terribly awkward. Still, it was at least watchable, unike Chris’ take on “Don’t Speak,” which was so boring all we wrote down was “Meh.” ADVANTAGE: Jordin (for effort).
PAULA VS. ANYONE WHO’S EVER BEEN SUBJECTED TO 311 IN A PUBLIC SETTING: First things first: Blake didn’t beatbox. Hooray. But can someone sit the judges down and force them to listen to the 311 catalog–or at least, one of the band’s songs–before next week’s episode? We know that Paula is besotted with Blake, but calling his watery cover of 311′s cover of the Cure’s “Love Song” “modern” indicates that she must have completely blacked out during 2004. ADVANTAGE: 311, since they’re getting more exposure than ever.
SANJAYA VS. OUR WILL TO LIVE: He made Gwen Stefani effectively throw up her hands. He forgot a few words of “Bathwater.” He restyled his hair again. (Look for the Idol-branded Sanjaya Styling Head to hit stores by Christmas.) He got sassy with Simon. But you know what? After all these weeks of willing him to be voted off, we, too, have realized that we are powerless against what is essentially a series of televised performance art reminiscent of Puck’s run on The Real World, except this time, he’s live, and he probably isn’t as self-aware as Puck was. Also: His hair gimmick is a lot more tolerable than Haley’s hemline-slashing and Blake’s incessant invocations of you-know-who. ADVANTAGE: Sanjaya.
As far as who’s going home: Chris Sligh or Haley. Chris’ performance was just a bungle, and the fact that he admitted as much probably sunk his ship; Haley’s all-gloss, no-feeling version of “True Colors” was bad enough, but even worse was her outfit, which was proof that she’d realized the only thing keeping her alive last week was her willingness to show some skin.
Tonight: Gwen takes the Idol stage with Akon! We hope the camera cuts to Simon at least once during her performance, because we want to see if he’ll be rolling his eyes, too.