Wednesday, March 12, 2008

American Idol Top 12 Perform
Love, Love Them Do

So this is Christmas Lennon/McCartney week, featuring the "Idol" Top 12 on a new stage with new opening credits and even a brand new *ugh* mosh pit, where the kiddies can rock and sway their arms out of sync with the music. Did we really need that "improvement," Nigel? Overall the gang took on The Beatles' tunes with gusto. There were a couple of amazing performances, a couple of impressive ones, a handful of mediocre ones and two really awful ones (three, if you count David Archuleta, which, apparently, the voting audience at DialIdol didn't).

Most surprisingly, there was Ryan Seacrest acting as if he were on speed at times, or at least drinking from Paula Abdul's Coke cup. His behavior after Chikezie's performance was, well, you had to see it.

Syesha Mercado was up first. Not a good sign. Last week, Asia'h Epperson and Luke Menard were up first. We all know where they aren't now. Her Earth, Wind and Fire-like rendition of "Got to Get You Into My Life" began a bit unsteady, with Mercado's confidence and performance improving as the song went on. By the end it was pretty decent, but would anyone remember it after 2 hours and 11 more performers. Apparently not. Even though she was far from the worst of the night, she is dead last according to DialIdol. But they've been so wrong or noncommittal all season (i.e. 11 of last night's performers could end up in second to 12th position according to them), they've become all but useless. We predict, in spite of what they say, that Syesha will go on to sing another week.

Randy Jackson liked the arrangement but said Syesha started out a little rough and had some pitch problems, but by the middle she go into it and started having fun with it. Paula Abdul pretty much parroted everything that Randy said. Simon Cowell actually was more supportive of the performance, pronouncing it "better than alright," and saying, "I thought it was a great choice of song. I just think you looked very, very nervous. You've got to get past that. I thought you were much better than you were last week." Of course, Syesha was in the pimp spot last week, a spot apparently no longer saved for the night's best singer (at least the last few weeks). And, unfortunately, the girl before her who sang first and landed the pimp spot the previous week was Asia'h, so we'll keep our fingers crossed that Syesha doesn't get undeservedly booted -- or even place in the bottom three -- tonight.

Watch video of Syesha Mercado singing "Got to Get You Into My Life"

We've liked Chikezie since his audition, and for the most part, what he has done since. Not everybody feels that way about him, but at least he has learned to lock his lip with the judges. Last night he gave what we thought was one of the best two performances of the evening, changing up "She's a Woman" and totally owning it. The beginning was weird banjo twangy, then funked out and became complete rocking fun. His voice was strong and confident, including a falsetto.

Randy said he was thoroughly entertained and loved the arrangement, telling Chikezie he smashed it. Paula reiterated what she had told Ryan earlier in the show, "Those who take a risk, the greater the reward if they can change it up," saying Chikezie started it with a "O Brother Where Art Thou?" type of vibe and turning it into into a rock vibe. She told him, "I've been waiting for this." Simon said, "I'm really surprised that I actually agree with these two." He said he loved that Chikezie took control over the stage, that it was a unique version of the song and that he thought he was terrific. We did, too.

Watch video of Chizekie singing "She's a Woman"

We really like "In My Life," the touching song that Ramiele Malubay chose to sing for, she said, her friends who have already left the show (Read: Danny). She did nothing amazing to change up the song and it was perhaps not her best performance, but her voice was sweet and tender and the melody line was kept very simple.

The judges hated it, giving her a triple dose of "boring, boring, boring." Randy called it pretty and also kind of pretty boring, saying he kept waiting some something special to happen but it just kind of laid there. Paula said it was pretty safe and that even though it's a very simple, beautiful song, she felt that Ramiele held back could have gone further with it. Simon was "bored to tears throughout the entire song. From the awful standing on the stairs to the walking in the middle with a dreary song choice which did absolutely nothing for you. It was forgettable, boring, and I expect a lot better from you because you're better than that." Yikes. It was a case where we felt the criticism was overkill for a not outstanding but respectable performance.

Watch video of Ramiele Malubay singing "In My Life"

We knew it was going to be hard -- if not impossible -- for Jason Castro to beat, or even his match last week's performance of "Hallelujah," and we were right. Which is not to say that he didn't do a nice job accompanying himself on guitar for "If I Fell," but he just soared last week. We weren't overly fond of him at the beginning of the competition, but he grows on us each week. When he sings (not when he talks) Castro exudes a charisma that television embraces, and it makes up for what he, at times, lacks in vocal skills.

Randy liked but didn't love it and preferred Jason hadn't switched up the melody because it "just kind of threw me a little bit." Paula disagreed (shocking Simon), saying that " ... you don't do all the riffs and the runs. And you don't have to because you have an emotional connection with the songs you pick, and that's what I think America connects with." She is right. Simon said that last week Jason was incredible, but that Tuesday "it was all a little 'student in a bedroom at midnight.' " He then called it quite boring but said it was definitely good enough for Jason to stay another week.

Watch video of Jason Castro singing "If I Fell"

Carly Smithson is a contestant we originally disliked sight unseen because of the Season 7 "ringer" controversy, but her voice just cannot be denied. She, like her roommate Amanda, has softened her look as the weeks have progressed, and if not beautiful, she appears more attractive than she did when the competition began. However, we wish the show's stylists would force her to wear a bra. With her tendency to bob up and down as she sings, she is too endowed to go onstage without one. Instead of looking at her face, one tends to watch her bobbling boobs. She picked a great song for her voice, "Come Together" (we thought it would have been great for Amanda, as well), and she nailed it with a to date unheard huskiness in her vocals.

Randy said she was strong, confident and sounded amazing, adding "There wasn't a note out of tune. Stellar performance!" "I felt like I was already watching a star," said Paula. "I couldn't wait until you got into the Top 12 so you could start showing who you are as a performer. You're amazing!" We held our breath to see if Simon, who has been beating on Carly a bit lately, would agree. He said, "Week after week I think that you have chosen the wrong song, until now ... This reminds me six years ago, exactly the same week, Kelly Clarkson." Wow! Except later in the show, while critiquing someone else, he wanted to use Carly as a comparison and turned to Paula and Randy and said, "What is the name of the Irish girl?" OMG.

Watch video of Carly Smithson "Come Together"

Next was our favorite performer -- and performance -- of the evening. It belonged to David Cook, who is quickly becoming David Archuleta's most serious contender (perhaps with Brooke White) for the title. He decided to sing "Eleanor Rigby" without his guitar because, he said, it would be overkill. His version was amazing. Tender to begin then building to a rock out ending. There was no question that he owned the stage on this one. And we normally don't get gaga over the contestants' outfits, but we absolutely were smitten with the jacket David C was wearing. His clothes looked great. Now if only someone would fix his comb-over hair.

Randy pointed out a little pitch problem in the first part (we didn't hear it), then said, "But, dude, once you hit that chorus it was rocking. Let go! You got this, come on! Do this, you got this!" Paula said, "I've been telling everyone you are the dark horse. This is proving there's more than one horse in this race." She said that David C is fantastic each week. We were ecstatic that Simon agreed. "David, I thought it was brilliant," adding "If this show remains a talent competition rather than a popularity competition, you actually could win this entire show." Yea!

Watch video of David Cook singing "Eleanor Rigby"

Brooke White had a tough act to follow, but handled it with aplomb. She sang "Let It Be," accompanying herself on piano. We thought it was an impressive version, but didn't get as crazy about it as the judges. To date, Brooke has picked songs that perfectly suited her voice, but has shown little versatility. In that sense she has expanded her horizons no more than Amanda. The thing she has that Amanda doesn't is amazing stage presence. The camera loves her and she works it with everything she's got, right down to the emotional tear dripping from her eye as got critiqued by the judges. And America is loving her for it. Maybe even Simon, as well. According to TMZ, their "mole" at lat week's show said that Simon told her after the show, "I'm glad and not surprised you made it this far. Keep it up, I got your back." Hmmmm. And his critiques seem to back that up.

Randy said, "I don't know if it's your strongest performance but I tell you what I like about you ... This is kind of like a dream come true for you. I love the fact that you have all of this conviction ... and you gave a very heartfelt performance." Paula said that Brooke's niche is picking songs where America can feel her heart and that she makes an emotional connection that make people fall in love with her. Simon lauded her with, "I thought, Brooke, it was again one of the best performances of the night. I thought it was a brilliant choice of song. I think you've done it three weeks running now and actually it's believable. There's a difference between karaoke, which we've seen tonight, and actually making it believable and showcasing your talent. Three weeks running, great!" Ahem, a bit much we felt.

Watch video of Brooke White singing "Let It Be"

Up to this point, the show was rolling along pretty well. But here's where it hit a brick wall: with David Hernandez killing (not slaying) "I Saw Her Standing There." It was overarranged and undersung and just lacked any personality. The harder David tried, the more his performance suffered. He was also jumping all over the stage trying to be animated, but in the end it didn't help. Usually his strong vocals save him. Where were they Tuesday night? His performance died. And laid there. Like a mess. In front of America.

Randy called it a little too overdone and said David H was trying to do too much with it and that David had lost Randy from the jump. Paula started with, "You know I love your voice," uh-oh we said, then added, "I feel like you kind of overdid it a little bit. And I think you needed to scale back." She also said there were too many runs. Simon didn't equivocate: "No, no, no. I thought it was corny verging on desperate." He also said "It was all a little bit rabbit in the headlights," which started a discussion of whether it should have been deer in the headlights between him and Randy (who cares, we got the point). Simon added that he thought it just wasn't very cool and that he didn't think it was a particularly strong performance. Yup, he's right.

Watch video of David Hernandez "I Saw Her Standing There"

Amanda Overmyer, while not at her stunning best, reversed the flow of bad vibes surprising us with a decently sung "You Can't Do That." We were a bit concerned when she said she had never heard the song before this week (we keep forgetting how young these contestants are) and that she was going to put her own Amanda spin on it. She turned the song very bluesy and, we thought, her retooling of it to her vocal specialty worked out very well. She has redeemed herself the past couple of weeks and we're glad.

Randy said Amanda took a Beatles song and brought it to a southern bar and rocked it out, adding that he loved it and thought it was cool. Paula called her star and said, "I'm blown away by you." Simon didn't like it as much as her Joan Jett performance last week and said he only understood about 30% of what she sang. (We understood everything perfectly). He said, "It was like you were slurring a lot of the words and it all got a little bit shouty." But he also said, "I think it's a good thing that you're in this competition because you are like a breath of fresh air when you come on."

Randy said she took a Beatles song and brought it to a Southern bar. Paula noted that Amanda was smiling and having fun. She is blown away by her. Simon didn't think it was as good as last week, and understood only about 30% of what she sang. He thought it was shouty. But he does like that Amanda is in the competition because she's a breath of fresh air.

Watch video of Amanda Overmyer singing "You Can't Do That"

Michael Johns seems to have the whole package -- good vocals, good looks, good stage presence -- yet there's still something missing. It's as if he doesn't connect emotionally with the audience. He sang the touching "Across the Universe," yet we felt nothing. Technically, it was a good performance, but it touched us not in the least. Perhaps when Johns sings rock he can get past this flaw more easily, but when he sings a song such as "Across the Universe" if becomes more readily apparent what is missing from his performances.

Randy said it was good, but that he was waiting for something big to happen, so when it didn't he found the performance "a little sleepy." Paula disagreeing with Randy (and us), said it was a brilliant performance because of Johns' quiet confidence and the way he connected with the audience. Guess we weren't plugged in to that connection. Simon said, "I'm going to agree with Randy," adding it was a bit monotonous, though solid. "It was good, but now is the point where you've got to let yourself go a little bit," Cowell said. "I'm frustrated still that we haven't heard what you're capable of doing."

Watch video of Michael Johns singing "Across the Universe"

The prize for Worst Performance of the Week belongs solely to Kristy Lee Cook, who took Simon Cowell's critique last week that she should stick to country music SO literally, that she decided to turn "Eight Days a Week" into a country song. Disaster would be putting it kindly. John Lennon was not only spinning in his grave, he could probably hear the moans across America. That Kristy Lee should have gone long before this week is a given. That she'll go this week is not, much to our dismay and consternation.

Randy was on the fence (we sat on a picket) over the performance, saying there were some parts he liked, including the arrangement (Ugh!). However, he didn't like the runs in the vocal, concluding with half of me liked it, half of me didn't. (All of us HATED it) When Paula tells you, "I didn't enjoy it and I'll tell you why," you know you're in BIG trouble. We agreed with her (OMG!) when she said, "I just feel like what we say like 'go for the country thing' too much to heart.' You've got to be able to kind of infuse your own thing. I didn't get it." Simon, in spite of Kristy Lee's hopes that he would like the risk she took, said, "I thought it was horrendous. You sounded like Dolly Parton on helium," (*tee hee*). He added, "It was a very brave but probably foolish thing to do because that song just doesn't work in that style. It was like being at some sort of ghastly country fair or something with a couple of banjo players and you." Ahem, brother.

(Don't) Watch video of Kristy Lee Cook singing "Eight Days a Week"

The surprise of the evening came from David Archuleta. Why? Did we actually like him? No, because he actually sucked! At this point in the competition, if you forget the lyrics, if should be grounds for elimination. And forget them he did. And not just once. His rendition of the Stevie Wonder version of "We Can Work It Out," was also his weakest vocal to date. Could it be that he's not so great when he hasn't sung a song a million times already in the past? Could be. But no doubt the tongue lashing from the judges (instead of his usual tongue bath) brought out his fans in force. DialIdol places him No. 1 (what a joke!), with no possibility of elimination or even placing lower than No. 1. America, open your ears and your minds. There are better competitors than this kid. It's supposed to be a talent, not a popularity, contest.

Randy said, "This week, it was not on point. This kind of vibe is not your vibe for me. It felt very forced and it just really didn't quite work." Paula agreed, with "You know what, this wasn't your best week ... Forgetting the lyrics, it gets a little tough. You can never let it show on your face." Simon, keeping it real, said, "That was a mess. You stumbled over the lyrics in the beginning ... It was just all over the place and at this point in the competition, I expect incredible performances. It wasn't. It was your weakest performance so far."

Watch video of David Archuleta singing "We Can Work It Out"

The Top Three: David Cook (1), Chikezie (2), Carly Smithson (3)
The Middle: Brooke White (4), Jason Castro (5), Michael Johns (6), Amanda Overmyer (7), Sysesha Mercado (8), Ramiele Maluby (9)
The Bottom Three: David Archuleta (10), David Hernandez (11), Kristy Lee Cook (12)

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