Tuesday, April 22, 2008

American Idol Top 6 Perform
Music of the Night

"Blaming it all on the nights on Broadway
Singin' them love songs,
Singin' them straight to the heart songs.
Blamin' it all on the nights on Broadway
Singin' them sweet sounds
To that crazy, crazy town."

-- The Bee Gees' "Nights on Broadway"

The Top 6 met their greatest challenge of the season to date, singing not only the sounds of Broadway, but specifically the sounds of Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber. Webber mentored the six proficiently but wasn't overly forthcoming with praise and gush. His at times dour and/or sour expressions (especially from the audience after David Archuleta's performance), made him look like a dyspeptic, fussy old dowager. But you can't deny his talent. He has composed probably half of the musicals that have appeared on Broadway and London stages for the past 40 years, racking up such hits as "Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat," "Sunset Boulevard," "Evita," "Cats,"
"Starlight Express," "Jesus Christ Superstar" and, perhaps his greatest accomplishment of all, "Phantom of the Opera." So it was with great anticipation and trepidation that we awaited Tuesday night's show. Generally, people either love or hate show music. We are part of the former group and are especially passionate about "Phantom." Here is how it all came down on Tuesday.

We feared for Syesha Mercado when we scanned the night's spoilers and saw that she was not only first up, which has not proven favorable this season, but also singing a more obscure number, "One Rock 'n' Roll Too Many," from "Starlight Express." We knew that combination could be lethal, although we also knew that her set of pipes would probably lend itself to show music better than those of the other remaining females. Happily, she did not fail to impress. Starting the number atop the orchestra's grand piano, and looking killa great in a clinging red bandage dress, Syesha was more animated than she had appeared all season and sassed it to the max, even dancing with musical director Ricky Minor. In her preperformance video, Andrew Lloyd Webber predicted she just might bring the house down and she did, to an impressive standing O. The evening began to show great promise.

Randy Jackson told her "Not only is this your element, I think you could be a huge Broadway star. That was your best performance to date, right there." Paula Abdul said, "You brought the house down right, right at the very beginning," and Simon Cowell, much to Mercado's delight, began with, "Syesha, that was very sexy," then continued, "I think this was one of your strongest performances so far. You showed masses of personality, which we haven't seen before."

Watch Syesha Mercado singing "One Rock & Roll Too Many" from "Starlight Express":

Sadly, our happpiness was short-lived with the next performance, the train wreck named Jason Castro. To say Jason was a fish out of water would be a gross understatement. He was more like a whale on a mountain-climbing expedition. It was immediately apparent that Jason knew nothing about Broadway music. To make matters worse, he chose the iconic "Memory," a song usually sung by a diva-ish voice, such as the great Betty Buckley's. He then demonstrated his complete ignorance of the song and the show it came from when he uttered, "I didn't know it was sung by a cat." Well, duh. But worst of all, he massacred the song. He looked pained singing it and it was painful to sit through. Webber said he never thought he'd see a man in dreadlocks singing "Memory" from "Cats," and perhaps it would have been better if he never had. It was also the second time in as many weeks that a mentor said of Jason, he'll probably not listen to anything I told him, and was correct.

Randy said, "It was a little bit of a train wreck." Um, not just a little bit, there were very possibly fatalities, including a good chance of Jason's deserved elimination tonight. Paula absurdly said, "I think it was a very wise choice for you to do this song, because it allows you to put your influence into it and further identifies your unique being as an artist." Earth to Paula. We had to laugh, though, watching Simon getting so totally exasperated by Paula's stupid rambling critique that he leaned back in his chair, puffed his cheeks and exhaled with a "oh god, will you shut up already" look on his face. Simon laid it out correctly. "Jason it felt to me, and I'm sure to you, like the longest two minutes of your life, right? The reality was it came over as a young guy being forced by your mom and dad to sing a song at a wedding you didn't want to sing. (as booing begins) It did, it did. You were miserable throughout, I was partly miserable throughout, it's not your style of music."

Watch Jason Castro singing "Memory" from "Cats":

Things didn't improve much with Brooke White up at bat next. For the second time this season, Brooke stopped and restarted a song. Earlier in the year, she did it when she hit a wrong note near the beginning of "Every Breath You Take." Tuesday night, she "lost her lyrics" after singing the first stanza of "You Must Love Me," from the film version of "Evita." The first time it was a bit human and endearing. This time it seemed totally unprofessional. Pros don't get do-overs when they screw up. You cover the best you can and carry on. Webber pointed out in White's video that at first she didn't get the meaning of the song at all, but after he explained to her that Evita is dying when she sings this, she really got it. Guess so, she seemed to us like she was dying throughout that performance, and we didn't feel an ounce of sympathy. The only thing that should save Brooke is Jason, but she could become the sacrificial lamb because of all his female fans. We won't cry, Argentina.

Randy told Brooke, "For me, this wasn't great. There were parts of it that got good once you got started ... but vocally it was just a little tough." Paula with a pained look on her face, was the only one brave enough to tell White, "You must never start and stop. ... if you're strong enough and you're great enough as an artist [you] pick up the pieces." In fact, in the post-critique chat with Ryan, Cowell and Jackson, supported Brooke's restart, a cowardly move. Abdul continued, "What I did love about this performance, Brooke, is that you didn't overact." Simon said, "This is why I love live TV. It was so dramatic, the beginning. The trouble is, Brooke, it completely threw you, because at the point you were so tense, trying to remember the song, your voice was straining in the middle of it all and it actually became quite uncomfortable. So, this is a tricky one. Um, I think you're going to be very disappointed when you watch this back."

Watch video of Brooke White singing "You Must Love Me" from the film adaptation of "Evita":

To his credit, David Archuleta tried to rearrange "Think of Me" from "Phantom of the Opera," changing it from a diva's aria into a pop ballad. We were actually surprised that Simon Cowell, who at the top of the show said that the contestants should try to make the music contemporary didn't credit him for that. For us, however, being emotionally wedded to "Phantom" and all of its music, it was just OK. It was just another rather bland pop ballad, another theme-park performance. It lacked the character and strength of the original and the elements we were looking forward to going into this theme night. Webber in the video said he was looking forward to seeing what a young boy would do with a song normally sung by a diva. Judging from the look on his face as he mechanically applauded at the end of performance, he wasn't thrilled with the results. He also gave Archuleta two suggestions: 1. Open your eyes when you sing, and 2. Open your eyes when you sing, saying he couldn't watch someone who keeps his eyes closed. Archuleta succeeded on this. Although squinty, he pretty much kept his eyes open throughout the performance. And has anyone else noticed that none of the contestants seems to be using an earpiece any longer?

Randy enthused, "You're exactly what this show is about." Then, using his same line from last week, he continued, "If you can sing, you can sing anything, and I knew this would be a big night for you, and you even put your own personality into it with a little Stevie riffs here and there. Dude, it was da bomb! This boy's the one to beat!" Paula said, "I think it was absolutely perfect, David. And the reason I think it's perfect is that you took a risk with a known theatrical song and were quite able to turn it into a pop ballad. I think that's perfect." Simon said, "David, I thought it was pleasant, one of your weakest performances over the live shows. It's just not one of those performances you're ever going to remember. It's absolutely going to get you through to next week, but it was all a bit forgettable to me. Sorry."

Watch video David Archuleta singing "Think of Me" from "Phantom of the Opera":

We were looking forward to listening to the other remaining Big Female Voice left in the competition, the one belonging to Carly Smithson. Carly was originally planning to sing "All I Ask of You" from "Phantom" until Webber advised her it was not the right choice for her "great big chest voice." He convinced to perform her second choice, "Jesus Christ Superstar," and she decided it was much better suited to her vibe and personality and that she was "just going to go out there and have the best fun I ever had." She certainly gave it her all, even if she was, as Simon correctly pointed out, a little shouty in the middle. However, we found it disconcerting that she seemed to be out of sync with the backup singers. It was so distracting we wished she hadn't been backed up on the number. Otherwise, the performance was fine. And, she no doubt pleased her tat-hating audience by again wearing a sleeved dress, this time one that actually blended in with the bottom part of the tattoo that remained exposed.

Randy said, "I don't know if this was you best performance (we agree), but it was definitely good. It was definitely good, it was definitely good. And I like the outfit. I think the outfit's kinda fly." Paula said, "I thought at first that it might be in too high a range for you, I love what you did in the chorus." Hmmm, for us, that was the out-of-sync part we found totally distracting. Simon said, "Other than the fact that it got a little bit shouty in the middle, it was actually one of my favorite performances of the night." Carly, screaming "yes! yes!" after getting Simon’s feedback, ran back to the piano and grabbed a blue T-shirt and held it in front of her. It read: Simon Loves Me (this week). It was hilar-
ious. Ryan Sea-
noted, "The parenthetical 'this week' is very appropriate, right?"

"Watch video of Carly Smithson singing "Jesus Christ Superstar":

Yes, we are an unabashed David Cook lover. Have been from Day 1 of Season 7. When we found out he would be singing "Phan-
tom's" trademark song, "Music of the Night," we were thrilled and actually hoped he would sing it straight, just so he could prove that he's not a one-trick pony. Well, saddle up, cowboys, 'cause David's leading the herd. We know others will disagree, but this was actually our favorite David Cook performance of the season (and we adored almost all of them), probably because of our passion for "Phantom." His phrasing was impeccable, his emotion shone through his eyes like laser beams and we didn't even mind his tiny bit of change on the final power note. We were captivated and rewatched the performance at least five times. It was an exceptional rendition and by far the best of the evening. Bravo!

Randy said, "Dude, that was an amazing vocal performance. Unbelievable. Another hot, molten hot lava bomb tonight! Right here!" Paula said, "This song just proved more and more that you are so well-rounded as a performer, and you have a beautiful instrument. And I thought it was fantastic." Simon added, "David, I think you made the most of the song. This is not the side of you I like. I much prefer the grittier, more raw. It was too rounded off, but you made the most of the song you were given." Not given Simon, claimed, took, possessed.

Watch video of David Cook singing "Music of the Night" from "Phantom of the Opera":

Best: David Cook
Worst: Jason Castro

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