Wednesday night will be all about pleas for charity, but Tuesday (April 8) night’s American Idol is all about pleas for your votes. In other words, it was business as usual as the American Idol Top Eight sang Inspirational Songs.
Singer: MICHAEL JOHNS
Song: "Dream On"
My Take: Applause to Michael for believing that ’70s rock anthems can be inspirational, too. I suspect that most of tonight’s contestants will figure that if it isn’t maudlin and dreary, it isn’t inspirational, so good for Michael for going a different direction. The Aussie keeps tackling some of the greatest rock vocalists in history, going after Steven Tyler with the same not-quite-the-real-thing effort he brought to his covers of Freddie Mercury and Jim Morrison. His range really just isn’t big enough to for the Mercurys and Perrys, especially the higher he gets (musically, not in the Jason Castro way). I’d say that Michael plays the closing falsetto decently, though I it works better if you weren’t raised on the sort of New England classic rock stations that play this Aerosmith favorite as part of every 10-song block.
Beezus, Ramona and Simon Say: Randy thinks this is an important week, a chance to see who can really win this thing. Randy doesn’t buy that Aerosmith is in Michael’s wheelhouse, questioning the song choice. Michael wisely goes all Fievel Mousekewitz, insisting that in America dreams can come true. Kristy Lee Cook is backstage raging at his show of immigrant patriotism. Paula can’t disagree more with Randy’s words, slobbering that Michael sounds as good as he looks and that her Chihuahuas will respond to the high notes. Simon is reserved, calling it both a very good performance, but still not the side of Michael he most likes.
Singer: SYESHA MERCADO
Song: "I Believe"
My Take: See? This is exactly the sort of song I’m fearing for the rest of the night. This is bland treacle that only played for Fantasia because of the rough edge that she brought to everything, that rasp that cut right through the banalities. Syesha doesn’t have that same voice and the closing falsetto is utterly dreadful. Seriously, as inoffensive as the rest of the performance may have been — Syesha has fine pitch and OK range, but she lacks even an iota of nuance and diversity — the falsetto is Chihuahua-explodingly bad.
Beezus, Ramona and Simon Say: Randy thinks that it was Fantasia’s special connection to the song that her version and that Syesha didn’t have the same connection. Paula dares to say that you can’t compare the two of them. You can’t? An American Idol contestant singing an American Idol winner’s coronation song? Paula mutters something about Fantasia being Syesha’s idol and that this was one of her shining knights. Simon gives her technical points, but says it was missing the wave of emotion.
Singer: JASON CASTRO
Song: "Somewhere Over the Rainbow"
My Take: Oh, Clifford the Muppet! If ever there were a week to whip out "The Rainbow Connection" this was it. He comes close, though, bringing out a ukulele, which he can only barely play. Musically, it’s a blessed relief when the strings section chimes in. This is what Jason does best, light and frothy vocals that require absolutely nothing more than a lilting whisper. Since that’s all his voice really is, this may be Jason’s most Jason-esque performance to date. If Jason made you swoon before tonight, you’re probably a puddle on your couch. If you’re one of those people going, "Stop making those silly faces and sing something more difficult!" then Jason probably won’t have won you over.
Beezus, Ramona and Simon Say: Yo, Randy tells Jason what. Then he raves that it was blazing, molten hot. What was? That performance? I’d go as far as "nice" or "pleasant" or "groovy," but "molten hot"? Paula thinks Jason has a definitive voice, causing Randy to interject that it was like a record. Yes. It was. Israel Kamakawiwo’ole’s record, right down to the weirdly reordered lyrics (not nearly as good, but whatever). Simon, all smiles, calls it fantastic.
Singer: KRISTY LEE COOK
My Take: Did Kristy accidentally ruin most of her wardrobe by washing it with a bright red shirt? Because this is an outfit she’s recycled three or four times now. To be fair, it’s a splendid showcase. I think this may be the very best Kristy’s country-ready voice has sounded all competition. Some of the notes sound sharp-ish to my ear, but they’re sharp-ish in the way that country songs often sound to me. Kristy may have been unfairly maligned for her hideously arranged Beatles songs and she may have been unfairly propped up with "God Bless the USA," but this is the first time I think we saw the Kristy from the very first audition, the pretty girl with the solid voice. She’s not spectacular, but she doesn’t need to be ashamed to be around.
Beezus, Ramona and Simon Say: Randy actually loved that. Paula agrees that this was her finest night so far. Simon thinks she was "very very good indeed."
Singer: DAVID COOK
My Take: David "The Leader" Cook’s lower register isn’t really his strong suit, so this one begins a little low to him. So he starts mumbling and keeps alternating between that low rumble and a so-so falsetto. The chorus is so low that I’m only hearing the background singers. I’d call the entire thing a bit uneven. Also, David really isn’t the kind of performer who should be resorting to going into the crowd and playing up to the judges.
Beezus, Ramona and Simon Say: Randy’s a huge fan, but he doesn’t believe David threw it down this week. Paula’s loving his whole package. Simon says it was "a teensy weensy bit pompous." Paula’s so pleased she caught the words "give back" on David’s hand. Way to go, Paula. He also jabbed his hand into the camera.
Singer: CARLY SMITHSON
Song: "The Show Must Go On"
My Take: I continue to think Carly isn’t getting exactly the right coaching from the Idol team. In terms of pure range, I’m not sure that anybody can compete with her this season, but she’s rarely found a vehicle that lets her show that range without showing effort. This song, alas, is no exception. She’s yelling, shrieking, straining, shouting and bellowing. If the question is "Could any other Idol woman do this song justice?" I’d say "Nope." But if the question is "Is Carly currently doing this song justice?" I’d have doubts. America and Simon appear to be giving Carly an eating disorder (or pushing her to take better care of herself), because she looks slimmer and better tailored this week.
Beezus, Ramona and Simon Say: Randy thinks it started good, became pitchy and ended up disconnected. Paula’s not feeling engaged, either with the world or with Carly. Simon compliments Carly’s look, but he doesn’t get the song choice. He warns that she lost control of the song and may be in some trouble.
Singer:PRESUMPTIVE AMERICAN IDOL WINNER DAVID ARCHULETA
My Take: David’s been prepping for Idol Gives Back week for months now. Every week is Inspirational Songs for this easily inspired 17-year-old. I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m a big fan of the Robbie Williams version. It’s one of the very best stadium anthems of the past 20 years. I’d advise the little girls who think this was a good cover to check out the original, because this take never gets off the ground. It takes too long to get to the chorus and it’s been set much too low for him. I think David could have done a great job with a better arranged version, but I was nodding off before he gets to the chorus. The key in setting these songs for 90 seconds is to give the contestants the most hook-y version possible and David doesn’t have that here.
Beezus, Ramona and Simon Say: You know what Randy loves about the performance at the end? I don’t. Randy thinks it was David’s hottest moment all season. Paula’s pleased as well. Simon loves the song choice, but he won’t say this was David’s best vocal.
Singer: BROOKE WHITE
Song: "You’ve Got a Friend"
My Take: And the night’s most predictable song choice goes to… BROOKE WHITE!!!! America’s Nanny wants us all to know that we’ve got a friend. But she mixes things up by letting somebody else play the piano. I’d say that’s a bad choice. Brooke automatically looks more versatile and talented when she’s sitting at a piano or strumming her guitar. So me, when Brooke’s just standing at the mic clutching it and trying not to tip over, she looks scared. She makes a huge show of musical empathy, narrowing her eyes at all the right places, and tearing up at the end, before she thanks America for clapping for her. This is new for Brooke, who’s always had an answer for either praise or criticism from the judges, but this is the first time I remember her thanking me for clapping.
Beezus, Ramona and Simon Say: Brooke’s in tears even before Randy says he wasn’t jumping up and down, nor was he mad at her. Paula’s word for the night is "definitive." Simon compares it to a pleasant walk in the park.
TONIGHT’S BEST: Boy. Rough night, kids. Inspirational Songs Night is pretty much a recipe for over-seriousness and over-literal covers and the singers all managed to deliver. She wasn’t great by any means, but for achieving a personal best, I’m going to give tonight’s highest kudos to Kristy. Her most so-so rivals include David Archuleta, Brooke and Jason.
IN DANGER: I’m booting Syesha just for that senseless closing falsetto. Ick. Carly deserves to join her in the Bottom Three. And it wouldn’t be a Bottom Three without Kristy, even if she doesn’t deserve to go home.
Agree? Disagree? Who do you think’ll be going home on Thursday? And do you plan to tune in on Wednesday even though there won’t be an elimination?
And, as always, check out Zap2it’s Guide to American Idol.