Tuesday, April 15, 2008

American Idol Top 7 Perform
Hitting Some High Notes

Here are the videos. Reviews coming ...

Mariah Carey Week, the week of the multiple train wreck, or so we thought. Actually, it turned out to be not bad at all. Perhaps not great (there was only one performance worth putting on our iPod, thank you once again David Cook), but certainly better than, say, Beatles Week #2. We were surprised by some of the song choices, especially when they worked well (David C., Syesha) and even when they didn't (Brooke). Although we knew she wrote songs, we didn't realize just how many Carey had written and then turned into hits. It definitely raised her in our esteem quite a bit. She seemed to do a decent job of mentoring as well. We loved Carey's voice from the very first time we heard it on MTV, even before her first album -- yes in those days there were still LPs -- was released. We rushed right out to a music store to buy it, but they hadn't even heard of her yet. Through the years, we still paid tribute to the voice but grew to hate Mariah the Personality, with all of its attendant publicity. Her "Idol" appearance renewed some of our respect for her that had dribbled away over the years.

Ryan Seacrest opened the show talking about the shock of Michael Johns leaving last week, but did not address the issue of the cruel way in which Johns was dispatched, nor did he issue an apology as many viewers felt he should. After last week's results show, Seacrest interviewed Johns on his KIIS-FM radio show and blamed the whole thing on executive producer Nigel Lythgoe, telling Johns, "Nigel, you know, he concocts all of these scenes. ... the note from our producers was, refer back to last year, get them thinking that they may be staying another week, and then of course let them know that they’re gone." Seacrest also told Johns, "In no way did I mean to, if I did, come across as negative or mean." You can listen to the interview here.

David Archuleta was first up. He told us in his pre-performance video that Mariah Carey was scary because he didn't feel worthy to be in her presence. He is all giggly and acting like a 12-year-old with her. That he chose to sing "When You Believe," a song from Dreamwork's animated "The Prince of Egypt" came as no surprise. At this point, it's the kind of song you'd expect Archuleta to take on -- no real challenge. He gave a respectable theme-park rendition, but it was neither exciting nor as good as the judges, who gave him a tongue bath, proclaimed.

Randy Jackson told Archuleta "If you can sing, you can sing anything. You can sing anything. That was da bomb, baby." Paula Abdul said, "It must feel great for Mariah to be able to hear your interpretation of the song, and I know she was beaming, because you made her proud." Right. We're sure Carey was living for this moment. Simon Cowell added, "I would have bet a million dollars on you choosing that song in advance. I just knew that was the one from the opening line. I thought it was very, very good. ... You set the benchmark. I think the guys, funny enough, are going to have an easier time than the girls tonight because there's not the comparison ... but I have to tell you, you performed that very well."

Watch video of David Archuleta singing "When You Believe"

Although the night's spoilers, which broke yesterday, were again correct, we had read days ago that Carly Smithson was going to sing "Without You," apparently at the suggestion of Simon Cowell, who said on air that he had been waiting for her to sing that song all season. Unfortunately, he was disappointed with the outcome. More on that later. The video of Carly's meeting with Mariah was disingenuous at best. Carly tells Mariah how nice it is to meet her, when, according to a 2002 article in News of the World, the two met when they were recording for the same company:

"But Carly's casual approach to singing paid off when one of her pop idols nipped in for a chat after hearing her song being played next door. She said: "I knew Mariah Carey was in the studio next to me but I never thought she'd be bothered about meeting me.

"I had this image of her being a big diva, throwing tantrums and making demands, but I was so wrong.

"She told me she loved my song and thought I was a great singer.

"I was completely gobsmacked, one of the world's most successful female singers was praising me."

Hmmmm. Is there anything real about "Idol" any more? In that sense, we found the photo on the right, from VotefortheWorst.com, very amusing. Perhaps in deference to all of those who complain they can't stand looking at her right arm, this week Smithson covered her tats with sleeves. We liked the soft way that Carly started the song, but when she powered up the vocals it left us cold. All we kept thinking was "Are there any other lyrics other than 'Can't live, if living is without you.' " It felt as if she sang (screamed, shouted) those words 40 times. It was a relief when she finally finished.

Randy said he didn't like the beginning but, "I think once you hit the middle of the song and the power vocals it was pretty cool. The only thing is you gotta believe you have that lower range and trust yourself and support it. ... It was pretty good." Paula disagreed, saying, "I actually liked that you showed some vocal restraint in the beginning of the chorus and then swelled and soared, that's what I love about your voice." Simon said, "I really wanted to hear you sing this song, even before Mariah week. So, the difficult part now. Could you pull it off on the night? And I don't think you did. ... Sorry, Carly, because I think you're capable of it. ... I thought that it was an OK version."

Watch video of Carly Smithson singing "Without You"

We weren't familiar with Syesha Mercado's song choice
"Vanishing," but the results were pleasantly surprising. Many people we knew thought that Syesha would be brazen and choose "Hero," because they reasoned she thinks she just as good as Mariah or Whitney. Think that she might, but she went the opposite route, choosing an obscure song and singing the hell out of it. Her vocals and emotion were spot on, making it, in our opinion, the best female vocal of the night. She also looked stunning. The folks who call DialIdol.com obviously disagree, where Syesha sits in last place but in close proximity with Brooke and Carly. It looks like one of those three is gone for sure tonight.

Randy told her, "I like that you're bold and go for all of it every week ... and I gotta tell you something, you did a good job on it all things considered." Paula said, "You’re smart because you picked a song that not many people know. ... I just think overall, tonight was unbelievably magical for you." Simon began, "Technically, it was very, very good indeed," but added, "Having said that, I’m not sure at this stage in the competition that I would have chosen a song which not many people know about. So you run a risk."

Watch video of Syesha Mercado singing "Vanishing"

We don't think anyone would have imagined that Brooke White would have chosen "Hero," and perhaps she shouldn't have, because it didn't work well for her at all. Once again, she accompanied herself on piano, but her Carly Simon/Carole King take on the song didn't work for us at all. To sell this song you need power vocals and range, neither of which Brooke possesses. Plus it was very pitchy and White seemed overwhelmed by singing it. Her normal exuberance and confidence were nowhere to be seen. Overall it was a bleh performance. Certainly one of Brooke's worst of the season.

Randy said, "I like the fact that you brought a whole singer-songwriter to the thing; I thought that was kind of cool. And I was really digging it and really down until the bridge. And then the bridge kind of threw me a little bit. ... I thought it was pretty good." Paula told Brooke, "Every ounce of you is totally authentic to who you are. And that's a beautiful thing. ... I think this unplugged version was a very great thing to do. I think you sounded really good, with the exception of a few off notes, but don't ever let that speed you up. ... It must be challenging, but for you it didn't seem so." Um, OK. Simon said, "It's a bit like ordering a hamburger and only getting the bun. In other words, the vital ingredient, the bit in the middle, was missing. The important part. Because I don't think your voice is strong enough to carry that song." The three judges then got into a discussion of whether "the meat was in the bun." Oy. Suffice it to say, Simon's was the only accurate assessment of Brooke's performance.

Watch video of Brooke White singing "Hero"

It now seems that Kristy Lee Cook's song choice will be predicting the amount of time she'll hang on: "Forever." Was her performance great? No, last week she was better. Was it good? Yup. Was she better than Carly and Brooke? Absolutely. Cook could probably have a country hit with the song. We suppose the judges are right when they tell these artists to stay true to themselves. If Cook had tried to Mariah-cize the song, it would have been a disaster. In this case, turning it slightly country worked well for her. She, too, looked gorgeous in a beautiful dress and wearing her hair down. Fashion-wise, this week, she resembled Carrie Underwood. It's a good look for her.

Randy said, "I didn't think that was amazing, I mean, there were a couple of pitchy notes in the first part, but, I gotta tell you, you definitely started stepping up towards the end. You hit that note at the end and I said 'Whoa!' " Paula said, "It wasn't just the end. ... Kristy Lee Cook, oh my god, I'm like blown away. ... You could have a hit with it in the country-western world." Simon said, "I think you managed with what you could. I think it was a little bit whiny at times. ... It just wasn't great."

Watch video of Kristy Lee Cook singing "Forever"

Next came the moment of the night we were waiting for, for a couple of reasons. First, we always wait in happy anticipation for David Cook's performances. More importantly, David's older brother Adam, who is undergoing chemotherapy for brain cancer which has spread to the spine, was in the audience with his wife, Kendra, right behind the judges and next to Teri Hatcher. Would David be able to hold his concentration at this very emotional time? Oh, yes. He gave an amazing performance, punctuated by tears in his eyes after the judges threw well-deserved kisses his way. His arrangement of "Always Be My Baby" turned Mariah's playful and upbeat pop song into an emo love song. We can't wait to snag the studio version.

Randy gave David a standing O and said, "I think more than anyone else on the show right now, you're ready to make an album. You're a hot recording artist. And I thought -- I never stood up before this season (standing) -- that was the most brilliant performance yet. Wooooooooo!!!!" Paula enthused, "Wow! That's pretty awesome. That song could be in a movie soundtrack right now." (Hate to admit it, but she's right.) She continued, "And who knows? Maybe it just will. You're it! You're it! You've got the whole package." We got nervous, when Simon began with, "David, it was like sort of coming out of karaoke hell into (pause) a breath of fresh air, because (wild cheers, Simon smiling broadly) it was original, it was daring, it stood out by a mile. And this is the sign of a great potential artist: Someone who takes risks. Congratulations."

Watch video of David Cook singing "Always Be My Baby"

Last up, in the pimp spot, which has proven to not always deserve that name, including tonight, was Jason Castro with his version of "I Don't Wanna Cry," an ironically titled tune if you have to perform it following David Cook. It was OK, just OK for us, nothing more. Perhaps we're being overly critical because it would have been hard for anyone to follow David C. and sound really impressive. Jason's voice sounded pitchy to us, but he's most assuredly safe on a night when you ladies failed to bring it.

Randy said, "You know, for me, I didn't really love it. I felt like I was at a weird beach luau and somebody was playing some music in the distance. It was weird for me, I didn't get it." Simon, laughing, said, "What?" Randy answered, "You know, a luau on the beach." Simon: "A luau, don't know what that is." Apparently Cowell has never been to Hawaii and doesn't know the word luau. Could that be possible? Paula said, "Jason, I'd love to be at that luau, listening all night long." Simon thought "I thought that wasn't the best vocal of the night. Having said that, it was identified with you, it was a cool version. I've got to tell you by the way, the guys completely won the night."

Watch video of Jason Castro singing "I Don't Wanna Cry"

Best of the night: David Cook
Worst of the night: (tie) Carly Smithson/Brooke White

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