It's once, twice, three times an "Idol" and the Top Three sing songs picked for them by Clive Davis, the judges and by their own desires.
Singer: ELLIOTT YAMIN
Song: "Open Arms"
My Take: I'm not immediately sure if Elliott's vocal hoarseness is part of his performance here or a sign of strain, but at least I know that his suit fits. That's progress. The arrangement is too loud -- a problem that may or may not be Elliott's fault, though it keeps happening every week -- and too slow, and Elliott has to shout over it to get his point across, which may also play a part in his raw pipes. The yelling spoils the purity of tone that this particular song requires.
Clarence Thomas, Ruth Bader-Ginsberg and Simon Say: Randy, who knows a thing or two about Journey and likes to make it clear that he knows a thing or two about Journey, notes Elliott worked it out, despite some problems in the chorus. Paula says he's in great voice. However, there's a simple rule of thumb: If Paula doesn't cry, Elliott's not really doing his thing. Simon protests that while the song choice was good, the performance wasn't really there. He tells Elliott to loosen up and start believing he can make the Finals next week.
Singer: KATHARINE MCPHEE
Song: "I Believe I Can Fly"
My Take: Clive Davis hates Katharine. Yes, he calls the song "great," a "classic" and "legendary," but this song is everything that Katharine does poorly. Perhaps sensing that she's approaching a major backlash, Katharine's brought out the one secret weapon that Elliott and Taylor can't compete with -- cleavage. The song has been nicely arranged to fit into her vocal range, so she doesn't miss any of those high notes that always cause her problems, but the oversinging mars more than a few moments that should have been standouts. I think there are parts where her looks and voice come together, but I'd also criticize her for being too self-conscious of the camera.
Clarence Thomas, Ruth Bader-Ginsberg and Simon Say: Randy starts off by saying she looks amazing (the camera agrees and pans up her body), but says that the song was the wrong choice. Paula agrees that the color of the dress is lovely, but she also wants to blame the song choice. "I didn't pick it," Katharine notes, correctly. Simon actually disagrees and says that she created a moment despite a couple bum notes. Katharine is relieved.
Singer: TAYLOR HICKS
Song: "Dancing In the Dark"
My Take: Seriously, what do you say when Clive Davis so clearly sets Katharine up for a fall and then gives Taylor this obvious slam dunk? The word "fix" has to come to mind, though why Davis could possible figure he's better off working with Taylor is beyond me. The vocal range required for this song by The Boss is about a third of what Clive asked of both Elliott and Katharine. That said, Taylor's in note-perfect standard karaoke mode, doing a solid B+ copy of the original and performing with energy. There isn't anything distinctive about it, but it's the most whole and successful performance thus far.
Clarence Thomas, Ruth Bader-Ginsberg and Simon Say: Randy loves that Taylor knows how to have a good time. Paula says something inappropriate about double-stick tape. I want nothing to do with this. Simon just calls it OK and praises Paula's dancing skills for her age. Paula's cackling would strike fear into the heart of Dorothy, the Tin Woodman and the Cowardly Lion.
Singer: ELLIOTT YAMIN
Song: "What You Won't Do For Love"
My Take: Say this for Paula, she's a bag of felines from resembling the scary cat lady next door, but she picked a good song for Elliott. This is exactly the kind of blue-eyed soul that Elliott will have to get people to write for him if he wins. I'll say this again, because it's bothering at least one friend as well, but Elliott has a really hard time projecting over the band. Plus, the less emoting he does, the better. That's always the rule.
Clarence Thomas, Ruth Bader-Ginsberg and Simon Say: Randy liked the song, but says Elliott was sharp through the whole song. Paula, voice cracking a bit at the end, but calls his voice piercing. She doesn't add, "Piercing like my laughter. Simon thought he sung it well and that it's the right style for him.
Singer: KATHARINE MCPHEE
Song: "Somewhere Over the Rainbow"
My Take: Hmmm... This was Simon's choice. It's either a nice pick, because over her musical theater chops, or a mean pick because of how well Kimberley Locke did with this song a couple seasons past. Katharine, draped across the stage and staring up into the camera, seems to think she's ready for her Fantasia Barrino "Summertime" moment. I'm not sure she exactly gets there, but she deserves praise for how expressive and composed the performance is. For some viewers, though, this may be another example of Katharine refusing to just sing the song. Occasionally, I was waiting Katharine to meander back to the melody, but lots of the vocal flourishes are worth the effort. She closes fantastically strong, with an effortless power note. Here's again where I must point out: Elliott may make fewer missteps and Taylor may seem more friendly and approachable, but neither of the two men have anywhere near Katharine's upside.
Clarence Thomas, Ruth Bader-Ginsberg and Simon Say: Randy calls it the best vocal of the season. Paula stands and tells her she was in her element. Simon's very happy for her that he chose her a good song. Simon calls it the best performance of the competition to date.
As usual, the full recap can be found over a Zap2it.com. Then come back and tell me what you thought.