Heejun hugs us all.
The big news of the week is, of course, Heejun's departure from American Idol. It seemed like he just might catch a second wind when he eschewed last week's theatrics for some straightforward singing (imagine that): "I realized I was letting so many people down," he told Ryan. The guy's so gosh-darn sincere, isn't he? I'm actually not being sarcastic. He sang "A Song for You," impressing guest mentor Stevie Nicks with his "beautiful, effortless" vocals and leading her to make what seems to be a spot-on observation: "In his heart he doesn't want to be hurt, so he acts like he doesn't care." Ohhh yes, Stevie. That's what I'm seeing too.
The judges gave the performance (watch here) a triple standing ovation, probably more in praise of him following the good advice from -- of all people -- Steven about taking the competition seriously. Jennifer told Heejun that when he connects he can "move people," and Randy said the singing wasn't perfect but he did call it "buttery." Again, not standing ovation praise so much as "pretty good ... for you" praise. Ryan asked Heejun about the relative seriousness of the performance, wondering if his silliness and jokes were gone for good. "Knock, knock," Heejun promptly asked. "Who's there?" "Commercial break!" Pretty adorable, though he almost prevented Ryan from giving out the voting info (not that such a consummate pro would ever neglect something like that).
Seriously, he tried to go to commercial.
So why did the guy get kicked off? Jimmy put it simply when he said that Heejun doesn't sing as well as the other eight contestants. That can't really be denied, though he did a pretty nice job with his final performance here. Between his not terribly strong vocals and his noticeable accent (which got better since his initial audition, but you can still hear "duh" instead of "the," "togedah" instead of "together," etc.), I can't imagine that he was among the top downloaded Idol artists this year. To me, the real question is why he lasted as long as he did. We've seen two Korean American male singers on the show in the past, and both of whom were closer to your "typical" American Idol contestant: accentless, blandly nonthreatening, kind of casual preppy in style (okay, maybe Paul Kim's shoelessness didn't quite fit that). Paul and John Park were both eliminated almost immediately once voting began. In Heejun we have a guy with an accent for whom English is clearly a second language, a goofy and comic personality meant to draw attention, and a wardrobe to match the wackiness. My memories of seasons 6 and 9 are getting rusty, but I don't think Heejun was particularly more talented than either of those before him.
So what's the difference? One could argue that the judges wanted to bring a little absurdity to the normally fairly buttoned-up show. Arguments have been made that the start of voting dovetailed with Linsanity, allowing Heejun to ride some kind of male Asian wave that was supposedly sweeping the nation. Maybe young Asian American voters were finally seeing someone that reflected themselves in a way that other contestants haven't. Whatever it is, I've gotta hand it to Heejun for making it far longer than I initially expected. It's pretty huge that a 1.5 generation Korean dude is soon going to be touring the country with one of the most popular traveling shows around. Congratulations, Heejun! Hope to see you throwing it to commercial at some point down the road. People seem to think that your exit interview could be the start of other things, but we've seen that you're even more entertaining when you're not totally bummed out.
He feels it in his rose-covered heart
Meanwhile, Jessica performed a slowed down, moody version of Beyonce's "Sweet Dreams" that you can watch here. Randy complimented her maturity, calling her one of the best singers he's heard on the show in many years and praising her resolve to not go for the big, flashy notes every week. Jimmy was also impressed by Jessica's beyond-her-years maturity, comparing the 16-year-old to singers who've been at it for decades and saying "What we need right now is a little girl power." From your mouth to the voters' ears, Jimmy. Jessica was very much safe.
It really is amazing that she's only sixteen. SIXTEEN!
In other singing competition news, The Voice finished out its battle rounds, pairing up Mathai and piano player Nicolle. Mathai totally blew her competitor out of the water with her charm and confidence; Christina called it a "hands-down no-brainer," and all three other judges also found Mathai to be the battle winner including team mentor Adam. I am personally still a little unsure about Mathai's yodel-y singing quality that I've been noticing more and more with female singers performing both on these shows and professionally, but I'm willing to accept that this is what the kids are listening to these days. Or something. Judge the performance for yourself here. Good luck in the live shows, Mathai!
And she's eighteen! Way to make me feel bad about myself, ladies.
Over on the mess that is Survivor, Jonas got pulled down further and further by crazy old Tarzan. First Tarzan approached Matt about joining his alliance with Jonas and Leif. He didn't tell Jonas that he did this, so Jonas looked quite the fool when he clearly revealed that he didn't know what was going on with his own supposed allies. He yelled at Tarzan, which he really should have known was a bad move given Tarzan's instability and temper.
Predictably, Tarzan rejected Jonas's alliance. On top of this, the ex-Salani members, still thick as thieves, fingered Jonas as a strong player that they had to get rid of. Though he's a good cook (he cooked cut-up pieces of coconut with a bit of salt water for flavor, though we didn't hear how it turned out), they were insistent. Tarzan agreed to realign with Jonas, but then the latter blabbed about voting out the strong (and socially powerful) Mike in front of everyone at tribal. Surprise, surprise: this angered Tarzan, who re-un-aligned with Jonas, but it didn't matter anyway because Salani's votes were enough to oust Jonas. "No hard feelings," he said to Tarzan on his way out. "Hard feelings to you," the crazy old coot responded.
Let it be said for what is far from the first time: alliances are powerful, but WHO you align with is the real key. Luckily, Jonas didn't really seem to mind the vote, sarcastically wishing everyone luck with the food situation and interviewing, "At least they said I was a good fisherman and a good cook." I have to say, if I were stuck on a beach, I would totally want the sushi chef with me for as long as possible. Bad move, guys. Oh, well ... see you at the finale, Jonas!
I don't have a photo of Jonas, so here's our other pal Christina.
It was time to get political on RuPaul's Drag Race, with the girls posing as presidential candidates for a debate. Admittedly, the point of the challenge was a bit nebulous. Were they supposed to talk seriously about real issues, as guest judge Dan Savage seemed to want? Were they meant to do some typical over-the-top drag craziness with little true connection to political reality? It seems that they were supposed to find some kind of middle ground, and Phi Phi decided to turn her character into a Sarah Palin drag clone. Her styling and clueless soundbites were all Palin, but Phi lacked the cleverness and panache needed to raise the act beyond caricature or imitation and bring it to a place of satire or social commentary. Tina Fey she is not.
This proved especially true when she referred to the two African American drag queens/candidates as "the help," an absurd line that should have been yet another example of being naive and inappropriate, but there was an edge to the context and delivery that made the ladies in question feel angry and offended. Phi Phi was safe, so I have a feeling that this was another case of lesson not learned, like last week when her takeaway was "I was nice to Sharon and now I'm in the bottom three." I'll quote Latrice Royale and suggest Phi Phi check out the 5 Gs: Good God, Get a Grip, Girl.
Phi Phi, center, channels Alaskan realness.
Not much to say about Top Shot besides the fact that the teams were finally even again, so no one had to sit out for the trick shot challenge -- namely Chee, who's been angry that he was the one to sit out two times already. Since the red team was strong and Chee was saved for the final, toughest challenge (shooting a gumball off a golf tee, seriously), he...didn't get to go because they outscored the blue team by so many points! Oh, Chee. I am sorry, dude. At least your team wasn't sent to elimination?