The American Idol producers have set their second straight booby-trap. As hard as it was for the Idol singers to handle Mariah Carey last week, Tuesday’s (April 22) challenge is The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber, a theme whose difficulty is matched only by its irrelevance in terms of finding a contemporary popular artist.
Singer: SYESHA MERCADO
Song: "One Rock & Roll Too Many"
My Take: Syesha’s excited about this week’s theme because she thinks this will give her the opportunity to finally show some personality. Wait. Have the producers been prohibiting Syesha from showing personality for all of these weeks? That explains so much. Since she’s just standing (and eventually sitting) on the stage in her flats, Syesha has eliminated a key piece of the challenge from this Starlight Express tune (roller skating probably would have produced an insurance nightmare). She pitches it as a torch song and the performance is suited for a nightclub-style environment, which is to say that it’s big, but not quite as big as it could be and she doesn’t have quite the voice required for the song (none of this week’s performers will). It’s here that we remember that Syesha is, indeed, a working actress, so this ought to be getting close to her niche. This is certainly the warmest and most open Syesha has been all season, which leads me to a pretty major "but." Yes, Syesha was lively and entertaining, but where has her personality been for the past three months? And why has it rarely made its way onto the Idol stage?
First Face of Eve, Second Face of Eve and Simon Say: Randy thinks Syesha could be a huge Broadway star (he doesn’t go to many musicals) and this is her night. Paula thinks Syesha brought the house down. Simon thinks it was very sexy and that Randy’s right that this is her arena.
Singer: JASON CASTRO
My Take: Why didn’t the already cartoonish Clifford the Muppet dress up as a cat? That would have guaranteed a positive critique from me. This is a poppier and less lite-operatic take on "Memory," which is to say that nearly all of the notes have been removed from the song. In no way can I fathom this as a song choice. Webber’s songs are tough, but he wrote some lilting ballads for men. Why, then, would Jason choose this massive, heart-wrenching iconic lament that was written for a powerfully voiced woman? There at least two abrupt key change that rescue Jason from having to be even vaguely musical. He keeps making his faces as if he’s singing the notes, but he isn’t. If you were casting a high school production of a Webber musical and a guy did this performance as an audition, you wouldn’t even put him in the chorus. He sounds ridiculous, but at least some whiskers and tights could have made this high camp.
First Face of Eve, Second Face of Eve and Simon Say:For Randy, this was a little bit of a train wreck. Paula disagrees, saying it was a wise choice adding, "It further identifies your unique being as an artist." I have no idea what she means and she doesn’t really clarify. Then she compares Jason to Joe Cocker, which is beyond offensive to Joe Cocker. Simon describes it as the longest two minutes of his life, saying Jason looked miserable and he [Simon] felt miserable.
Singer: BROOKE WHITE
Song: "You Must Love Me"
My Take: On the surface, this is a brilliant song choice for Brooke, because rather than going after an Evita track associated with Patti LuPone or Elaine Paige, she’s taking on one that’s only been sung by Madonna, who also wasn’t vocally qualified for the role. For the second time this season, Brooke has to stop and restart her performance. The opening blunder makes it hard to read Brooke’s expression and her tremulous vocal uncertainty. Is she really praying that we’ll love her, despite the restart, relating incredibly deeply to the song? Or is she just wanting to get this performance finished so she can run off stage and cry? The song’s sentiment is natural for America’s Nanny, but her voice is thin and her discomfort is palpable. This is the second straight week that I’ve felt that I could see Brooke cracking under the Idol lights and I wonder how long she skates on the good will of viewers who’d love to have her tuck them in at night and feed them milk and cookies after school.
First Face of Eve, Second Face of Eve and Simon Say: This wasn’t good for Randy, but he believes whatever Brooke’s singing. Paula’s at a loss for words. "You must never start and stop." Yes, Paula raved the last time she did it. "This is why I love live TV," Simon says, before calling her on the signs of stress. Brooke claims she forgot the words (for the first time, trying to differentiate between her problems with the key on her first restart) and Simon calls her brave. How many times in seven season have we seen Idol singers restart songs? How many times has Brooke done it this season? What do we make of that, kids?
Singer: PRESUMPTIVE AMERICAN IDOL DAVID ARCHULETA
Song: "Think of Me"
My Take: [Before delving into tonight’s specifics, I’m inclined to issue a correction, or at least a clarification. In recapping Presumptive American Idol Winner David Archuleta’s performance last week, I referred to "his hand raised up urging viewers to follow him on his Children’s March." I meant, of course, to say "Children’s Crusade," a fact I realized two or three days later. The correct word choice makes the description historically specific and also vaguely insidious, which is more in line with my original intention.] Like Jason, David has been unable to find anything from Webber’s body of work written for a man. I mean, Sir Andrew’s written musicals about Jesus and Joseph and a Phantom, but David prefers to relate to the song written for an ingenue. And, like Jason, Archuleta’s taken this operatic song and turned it into a pop anthem, complete with the requisite reduction in difficulty. He’s made "Think of Me" into a David Archuleta Special, which must mean that when he sings the chorus, he really means "Think of world hunger." No, he doesn’t do anything differently from what he’s done every week for a month, but following after Jason and Brooke’s total hackwork, Li’l’ Archie’s reliable proficiency is a welcome relief.
First Face of Eve, Second Face of Eve and Simon Say: Every week now, Randy tells David that he can sing anything. It’s quite boring, even if it’s true. Paula thinks it was absolutely perfect. Simon, though, dubs it one of David’s weakest performance, but still "pleasant." Do you think Archuleta’s wondering why he didn’t just call a mulligan after he blew the lyrics in that Beatles song rather than slogging through like a professional?
Singer: CARLY SMITHSON
Song:"Jesus Christ Superstar"
My Take: Sorry, but I’m a little distracted. I was just home for the start of Passover and Carly appears to be wearing the upholstery from my parents’ couch. OK. Distraction over. Thank you, Carly, for being tonight’s first contestant to sing a version of the song that approximated the difficulty and range of the original. Note that I said "approximated" and not "equaled," because that would just be silly. I’m not sure if Carly exactly has the lyrics down, but this is the best workout she’s given her pipes in many a week and she’s the first singer since Syesha to have any fun with this theme at all. Yeah, she’s shouty, but I’ve always thought that "Jesus Christ Superstar" was a bit of a shouty song.
First Face of Eve, Second Face of Eve and Simon Say: Randy isn’t sure if this was her best, but it was good. Paula loved so much that it was so unexpected. Or something. It’s one of Simon’s favorite performances of the night, prompting Carly to run off stage and return with a shirt reading "Simon Loves Me (This Week)."
Singer: DAVID COOK
Song: "Music of the Night"
My Take: [Why did nobody sing a song from Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat? I have myriad stories stemming from the three separate productions of Joseph that I appeared in in my youth. All I needed was a segue. Instead? No segue and you’ve all been denied my stories. Sorry.] It’s become easier to do songs from Phantom of the Opera since Gerard Butler lowered the bar, but this sort of emotional song is way out of David’s typical comfort zone. The most shocking thing is that David’s just singing the darned song. He doesn’t make it into a moody rock song (until the last note, which might not have been necessary). He’s just hitting the notes and trying to sell the passion. No, nobody’s going to mistake his voice for Broadway-ready, but I applaud the lack of gimmickry.
First Face of Eve, Second Face of Eve and Simon Say: Randy repeats his Archuleta comment, calling it "another molten hot lava bomb," or something. Paula raves about his instrument. This isn’t Simon’s favorite side of David, but he acknowledges that David makes the most of what he was given.
TONIGHT’S BEST: Andrew Lloyd Webber was a fantastic guest mentor, funny and perceptive without ever mentioning the damage being done to several of his songs. For dumbing down their songs the least, I’d say Carly and David Cook get top honors tonight. For not offending my eardrums, I’ll also find praise for Li’l’ Archie and Syesha.
IN DANGER: They should just do a Bottom Two this week and let Brooke and Jason battle it out. After leading off the show, Syesha’s likely to join them. I just hope that pity doesn’t save Jason and Brooke both.
Agree? Disagree? What’d you think of Tuesday’s performances? Who’s going home?
And, as always, check out Zap2it’s Guide to American Idol…