America finally sent Antonella Barba home last night. It was the right and proper thing to do, and probably what Barba secretly wanted: Watching her sing the last couple of weeks, you could tell her heart wasn't in it. So why do I feel strangely empty? Is it because—let's face facts—Barba is by far the biggest breakout star in a somewhat desultory Idol Season 6? (The most searched term on the Internet the last two weeks is, yep, "Antonella Barba." She's even got Britney beat.) Is it because, thanks to all those leaked photos, I feel I know this girl—her hopes, her dreams, her Cuervo shots? Am I the only one who thought Antonella sang OK this week? Better, at least, than Haley Scarnato, who inexplicably made it through to the finals? In any case, Antonella can now move on to a lucrative career as spokesmodel, frathouse pinup, and violin tutor. Presumably, the good folks at Maxim will pay her a better hourly rate than she received for her wet T-shirt romp in that war memorial fountain.
It was an eventful week in Idol Land. Rosie O'Donnell weighed in, as it were, on L'Affaire Antonella, accusing the Idol producers of racism and "weightism." (Um, Rosie? Ruben Studdard?) Sundance Head failed to take my advice about chest deforestation, moving on to another horrifying hair-don't by sporting a Hoxton fin during his shouty performance of Pearl Jam's "Jeremy." Sundance was voted off, making it a clean-sweep defeat for Vote for the Worst, who are now backing Sanjaya Malakar. Sanjaya is interesting: He's clearly this season's Kevin Covais- John Paul Stevens type, a boyish cutie with a sweet smile, the favorite of the grandmothers in the voting audience. He's an awful performer—he sings with a glazed affectlessness that I find vaguely sinister—but his steady march through the competition is a sign of social progress: Who'd have thought that America would rally behind a sexually ambiguous South Asian with tumbling Pre-Raphaelite tresses? (Simon called Sanjaya's hula dancing in his pretaped segment "weird.") My prediction: He'll survive at least one more round. Haley is the next to go.
Otherwise, the Idol horse race is looking like a runaway. Can anyone stop Melinda Doolittle? With her latest triumph, a torrid rendition of Peggy Lee's "I'm a Woman," she proved that she can do sexy, and that she can phrase like a jazz singer. She never hits a bum note. She confessed to OCD-like tendencies in her latest interview segment—more star-worthy neurosis. Really, what has she left to prove?
Doolittle could stand to sing something current; she's stuck entirely to decades-old material up to now. The wise strategic move would be to blow Beyoncé-wannabe Stephanie Edwards out of the water with "Dangerously in Love" or "Ring the Alarm" or "Say My Name." Next, she can stake claim to Lakisha territory with a big stormy diva ballad. Game, set, match. The judges are doing their best to pretend that Melinda has real competition, but it just ain't so. I'm totally unsold on Lakisha. She's a Fantasia manqué: a single mom, with an aura of long-suffering martyr about her than lends some emotional heft to her ballad performances. But is she a unique talent, a great voice? I think you could walk into almost any African-American church and find a Lakisha, or four, in the choir.
As for Melinda's male competitors—please. Chris Richardson: pretty, dull. Brandon: prettier, duller. Chris Sligh: definitely the world's grooviest Bob Jones University attendee, but he's no American Idol. I remain a Blake Lewis partisan, but at this point, I can't see him winning, especially after he unveiled that appalling "improv comedy" character, Jimmy Walker Blue, in his pretaped interview on Tuesday night. (In my notebook, I scrawled the phrase, "Blake jumps shark.") As for his performance of 311's "All Mixed Up": his worst to date. I mean, he did fine, hit the notes, danced well. But the aesthetic! Is there anything worse than a bottle-blond honky toasting in a phony Caribbean patois? (Well, yes, there is.) I'm giving Blake a pass this time, but dear God, let this be the beginning and end of his ragamuffin styley.
On we go to the finals: a 12-weeklong march to Melinda's coronation. Much to look forward to. The passion, the drama, the J-Lo guest appearance. And, of course, the April 24 and 25 "Idol Gives Back" specials announced last night, a benefit for poverty- and disease-prevention efforts in Africa and the United States. It's a noble undertaking, and yet another demonstration of the show'spop-culture preeminence: Last year's Idol final made the Grammys feel like an nonevent, so why not go all Geldolf and outdo Live 8? The earnestness and inspirationalism of a charity concert is also a perfect Idol fit. According to the press release, the six remaining finalists will be tackling " 'Life Anthems' ... [songs] about compassion and hope." Now, there's something different. Anybody want to bet $116.5 million that "Hero" gets sung? In addition to all-star milquetoasts like Josh Groban and Il Divo, there will be one loose cannon among the special guests, certain to puncture the sanctimoniousness of the occasion, and quite possibly insult an infant malaria victim: a certain Borat Sagdiyev. Here's hoping the Kazakhstani leads a Life Anthem sing-along. Altogether now: "There comes a time/When we heed a certain call ... "