Clothes Cacophony On 'American Idol'

By Robin Givhan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 31, 2006

If the most recent round of voting on "American Idol" had been based on costuming and presentation, young Paris Bennett would have gotten the ax this week instead of Lisa Tucker. Dressed in tight blue jeans, a tight yellow tunic, a tight purple suede jacket and a pair of ivory jeweled showgirl pumps, Bennett seemed to have taken all her styling tips from a Baby Phat runway show -- an unwise decision unless one's intention is to resemble what might affectionately be called a hussy. Tucker's only distracting tics were excessive use of iridescent blue eye shadow and a tendency to make a boo-boo face every time judge Simon Cowell declared elements of her performance painful enough to set one's teeth on edge.

Bennett performed a rump-shaking version of Beyonce's "Work It Out," and so conceivably needed to be dressed to accentuate her derriere. But her ensemble made for a performance that was neither an over-the-top example of camp nor something particularly sexy. It was, however, loud.

The show's stylists did Bennett wrong -- so very, very wrong, afflicting Princess Paris with a long faux ponytail. As she flung herself around and executed Beyonce's signature booty shake and jump squats, the hirsute accessory gave her face a lashing, and strands of it occasionally got tangled in her prodigiously applied lip gloss.

There is nothing but love and affection going out to Mandisa Hundley, who shouted out a gospel song like she thought the good Lord was deaf. But a pair of tight, distressed bluejeans with insets of black spangled lace along the outside of the calves, a black tank top, and a sheer black knit shrug cupping her bosom were not the most flattering clothing choices and seemed out of sync with her let's-have-some-church- up-in-here performance. What happened to those nice dresses from Ashley Stewart?

Much Internet, radio and e-mail conversation about "AI" has addressed Hundley's weight. And on the show's Web site, she lists battling her weight as "the biggest struggle of my life." Some chatters suggest that because Hundley is plus-size and black -- as opposed to overweight and white -- it has been easier for audiences to accept her as a possible American Idol. They say the culture is more strident in demanding that white women be thin but more accepting of larger black women -- particularly singers. Maybe. Or it could be that Hundley just has a terrific voice that outshines any perceived imperfection. But even perfect pitch wouldn't have made those too-tight urban cowgirl jeans look any better.

Katharine McPhee looked as if she should have been swinging from a trapeze. Her ensemble, to use one of Cowell's favorite words, was "appalling." One had to hit the mute button to give her ringmaster ensemble the benefit of undivided attention. McPhee wore a blouse with trompe l'oeil corsetry detail atop a pair of dark indigo jeans. Onstage, the pants resembled leggings, and so from a distance, McPhee looked like a straggler from Barnum & Bailey.

Taylor Hicks wore dark jeans, a black T-shirt and a black leather jacket this week. This was a fine look for Hicks because it negated some of the aging effects of his prematurely gray hair. It was a much better choice than he made last week, when he wore an ice blue suit by the Italian design house Costume National. The pale suit made Hicks look like he should be wearing a straw boater and reading centennial birthday greetings off Smuckers jars.

In contrast, the mob boss dark suits, shirts and ties currently favored by host Ryan Seacrest keep him from looking like a 12-year-old. He also has toned down the blond highlights that heightened the impression that he had just scooted in from the playground on his Razor.

Thank goodness for Seacrest's newfound gravitas, since this season the show is cursed with silly boys with bad hair. When Bucky Covington isn't doing a full-on roller set, his hair looks like it has been greased up with a week's worth of gel, Dirt and WD-40. Ace Young has self-conscious boy-band hair that almost certainly requires a worrisome amount of mirror time. But luckily, Elliott Yamin's hair is growing out and soon he will no longer resemble an elf.

Chris Daughtry is a man who knows that a beautifully bald head always looks better than a comb-over. This week, Daughtry was dressed, as usual, like a nonchalant rocker. (Although one couldn't help but worry that he was going to pop his jugular and muss up his lovely caramel-color jacket bellowing that Creed song. What was with all the screaming? Weren't the mikes working?) Daughtry has a consistent style, and that makes him stand out, since most of the contestants seem to wear just about anything that gets handed to them. Fit, taste, logic, who cares?

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