Confession country buffs: If I had to whip out my iPod right now and construct Lisa’s Country Playlist, it would contain little more than the obligatory Gretchen, Carrie, and Shania. (Would it be too much of a stretch to include "Sweet Home Alabama," too?) But even though I’m no country connoisseur, the more I’ve read about Nashville Star through Mandi Bierly’s weekly posts and your astute PopWatch comments — sexual harassment allegations? excessive butt shots of a talentless pretty boy contestant? Billy Ray Cyrus’ facial hair? — the more I’ve contemplated adding it to my DVR lineup. And with Mandi on vacation this week (and a pop-goes-country theme in effect), I decided it was the perfect time to test the waters.
Although John Rich kicked off the show with a physical threat to the contestants, he generally kept the sleaze factor at a respectable "cross the street when you see that guy walking toward you" level. Now let’s get right to the lowdown on this week’s performers:
Gabe Garcia: To be fair, I lost power for a very frantic minute and missed the first part of Gabe’s song, but when I did tune back in, I was unimpressed by the contestant with the most votes. He lacked the same quality as most of the top 10: stage presence. Maybe Gabe does need to "turn the Texas on" or flirt with the lay-dees, but I didn’t hear enough passion in his take on Ricky Martin’s "Livin’ La Vida Loca," which is already a pretty corny song. And no amount of extension-enhanced hair-flips could make me vote for him.
Pearl Heart: I really really wanted the young, sisterly trio to kill with the B-52′s "Love Shack." Yet while their voices and harmonies were beautiful, they needed to practice what they sang and "knock a little louder,baby!" For such a fun song, I felt way too nervous for them throughout the performance, a feelingthat didn’t go away with John Rich creeping all over them and theirLimited Too garb.
Alyson Gilbert: I’m with Mandi on this one: It’s not that I love or hate her, I’m just bored. Alyson’s rendition of "I Think We’re Alone Now" would’ve worked better if she’s sped up or slowed down the tempo, but as it was, her performances ended up sounding like karaoke. Even worse, Jewel dropped the critical adjective made famous on that other musical talent competition: "pitchy."
Ashlee Hewitt (pictured, left): "Drive Me Crazy" by Britney Spears? As an unrepentant fan of Ms. Not-That-Innocent, I say,"Gimme, gimme more, gimme more, gimme gimme more!" But beyond her excellent song choice, I trulythought that Ashlee did a good job, infusing the number with aguitar edge and a little bit of twang. The way she hung onto those notes –like butt-ah! She and the judges kept saying how hard it was to turnBrit country, but maybe they didn’t get the memo that Britney Spears isfrom Kentwood, Louisiana and no stranger to the word "ya’ll?" Miley’sdad made a head-shaving joke, which made me think that Hannah Montanaprobably can’t watch this show without shouting "DaaaAAAAddddd" and hanging her head in horror.
Coffey: When I heard Coffey (fey-fey-fey) was going to sing"Umbrella" I was just waiting for someone else to bust out "SexyBack" and complete the Britney-Rihanna-Justin trifecta of this Top 40 lover’s dreams! Although the daughterdedication was adorbs, and I could feel The Coff’s heart and soulall the way from Tennessee to my little Ikea couch in Brooklyn, the way-too-low register and thesporadic cheerleader-at-halftime shouting fell flat.
Laura & Sophie: Thesegirls were stiff and nervous as they began their performance of "P.Y.T." (Michael Jackson, country-style? Really?) And although I’ve missed previous seasons, I can completely understand the PopWatchcomments that this season’s cast is most decidedly not the most talented in Nashville Star history. Also, not to start rumors (okay, let’s do it!) did anyone else noticeTommy singing his heart out during this song? Anyone wonder if his interest in Laura and/or Sophie goes beyond the music?
Melissa Lawson: I liked Melissa a lot better during the group rendition of "Like a Prayer" than in her solo attempt at "True Colors." No doubt, she’s got a beautiful voice, but her performance was ultimately forgettable. Letting the audience in on herpersonal journey — 67 pounds lost, you go girl! — might lure in some morevotes for her this week, and at least she wasn’t stuck in the bottomtwo again.
Shawn Mayer: There I am hoping for some JT and — bam! — Shawn delivers a little Bye ByeBye." So what if it’s N*Sync, I’ll take it, especially considering Shawn is one of the few contestants with terrific stage presence. Yeah, she probably should have limited her choreography to the subtle fist-pumpingaction at the start of her number, and avoided devolving into clunkyDarrin’s Dance Grooves routines. But that aside, Shawn rocked, and more importantly, she did what I thought thecontestants were supposed to do: Take a beloved pop song (or a NewClassic as we say around these parts) and put a country twist on it,revamping it into something equally as downloadable.
Tommy Stanley (pictured, right): The choice of "Maniac" sounded crazy on paper, butI loved the way Tommy aimed for his lower register on "floor" and "before,"instead of hurting our ears with flat high notes that were too far out of his range (like he did on the opening group number). Tommy seems to be missing some teeth in those profile shots, but,hey, no one’s perfect. And you can tell that he wants to be there and willprobably work really hard to make sure he’s not in the bottom two again next week. Plus, Ithink I’ll tune in again just to see the blossoming romance between himand Laura/Sophie…
Justin Gaston: So even with all the judges’ "mostimproved" kudos, our singer/model/actor in question is sent packing witha farewell montage that made Billy Ray and his uncomfortably tightjeans heavy with sorrow. Although he’ll have to fight Chase Crawfordfor the hair spray and eyelash curlers, I’m hoping Justin will find ahappy home as a new Gossip Girl cast member. The Upper East Side could use an acoustic guitar and some Southern charm.
So ya’ll, did you think that "pop goes country" was more countrythan it’s been so far this season? Is Danity Kane a healthy guiltypleasure? And who has the dreamiest eyes now that Justin is gone?