American Idol Recap: Down Go Four More

American Idol

Week 2 Eliminations
Season 9 Episode 18
Michelle (center) and Haeley (right) do their farewell hugs.

There were no surprises in last night’s American Idol results show: The four contestants sent packing were exactly those you expected to see get chucked. Although it’s a relief to see the blandest performers shooed away, why the producers make us sit through a reprise of their weak performances will never make sense. Jermaine Sellers’s version of “What’s Going On” was cartoonishly ostentatious, so … encore! And John Park lulled us to sleep Tuesday with his spiritless John Mayer impression, in which case … One! More! Time! And if these renditions were bad in the adrenaline-choked competition, they only got worse when sung with broken spirits.

In spite of Jermaine Sellers’s fervent heavenly appeals, apparently the Lord’s plan was to have America vote him out. Similarly, John Park will be returning to his a cappella group Purple Haze at Northwestern. Park was an adequate singer who failed to make his presence felt onstage, and so his elimination was sensible but not enjoyable. It was hard not to rejoice over Sellers’s ouster, though; his theatrical posturing, sassy sermonizing, and vocal indulgences were becoming exhausting.

It was also unsurprising to see Haeley Vaughn and Michelle Delamor go. It’s hard not to notice that America has voted away the only two remaining out all but one of the black women from this season (and six of the eight losers so far have been minorities), but last night probably has more to do with circumstances than racism: Michelle Delamor’s performances have been painfully ordinary the past two weeks, and Haeley Vaughn’s were far too unusual for mainstream audiences to stomach.

Even though she was rather dull, you have to give Delamor credit for doing a total 180 this week — she went from Alicia Keys to Creed’s “With Arms Wide Open” — but you also have to hold it against her for singing a Creed song in the first place. (Even if you can stand that band, her performance had zero punch.) Haeley Vaughn is a sad casualty of her own attempt to fit in. This week she toned down her bizarre but compelling country-pop shuffle and tried to deliver a more traditionally impressive vocal pop song with Miley Cyrus’s “The Climb,” which was, incidentally, the song Aaron Kelly (Mr. Sweet Sixteen) auditioned with. These are dark days indeed when people turn toward Miley for songs to demonstrate one’s vocal prowess. Vaughn’s take on the tune was awkward and wobbly, which was unfortunate because she was so riveting when singing “I Want to Hold Your Hand” last week. But most Idol viewers aren’t interested in willfully weird singers, and Simon was totally correct (though unnecessarily curt) when he implied to Ryan that everyone knew she was headed home.

The highlight of the night was Danny Gokey’s return to the Idol stage with a performance that was actually wonderful. Instead of sticking to the gospel and soul that won him third place on last season’s Idol, Gokey showed off his new sing-along country sound with his debut single “My Best Days Are Ahead of Me.” It’s certainly the kind of arena-ready roots rock you’ve heard many times before, but it boasts an immediately memorable chorus and Gokey certainly seems to know how to lead a band. On the other hand, Gokey also knows how to go from “dead wife, dead wife!” to “I can’t wait to go on tour with Sugarland!” within the same breath.

Other Recaps:
The A.V. Club’s Claire Zulkey also noted that “Tonight was a good night for American Idol race war enthusiasts. Yep, the season was partially ethnically cleansed.”
Entertainment Weekly’s Michael Slezak “would have kept Michelle Delamor over Lacey Brown or even Crying Girl 2.0 Katie Stevens.”
Television Without Pity’s Jacob is looking forward to seeing Aaron Kelly “get steamrolled into a sweet little kitten pancake.”

American Idol Recap: Down Go Four More