This is a the second annual pre-"Idol Gives Back" performance show. The contestants were asked to prepare inspirational songs, which apparently is open to interpretation. We heard everything from Queen and Aerosmith to Robbie Williams and Martina McBride. Certainly not all the song choices, nor all the performances, were inspired. In fact, it was an upside-down kind of night where David Cook failed to impress while Kristy Lee Cook had her best perfomance of the season, probably one of the best three of the night. Yes, you read right. Many will consider Kristy Lee one of the top performances and David Cook one of the worst.
This week's DialIdol.com rankings look like a leftover April Fool's joke, with Jason Castro and Kristy Lee Cook, two contestants many predicted would be eliminated this week, ranking No. 2 and 3 respectively with no chance of elimination tomorrow night, while Michael Johns and David Cook are in a dead heat, tied for the third from last spot, with Syesha Mercado in the next-to-last spot and Carly Smithson, the so-called "ringer" many early in the season thought had been set up to win the competition placing at the bottom and likely to get the boot on Thursday. As Frankie Valli might say, "Oh, what a night!"
Michael Johns took the stage first to sing Aerosmith's "Dream On." It was an odd choice of song for us, which Johns justified by saying you should never give up on your dreams and that his dreams had come true because he is living in the United States. (Wonder how his former fellow Aussies will feel about that swipe? It's not as if he was previously living in Sierra Leone during rebel warfare.) Johns also looked semi-ridiculous with that ascot or neckerchief or whatever he thought he was wearing around his neck. Don't know why he thought to sing hard rock dressed as a dandy. The performance was OK, but paled when compared to the past two weeks, when he shined with "We Will Rock You/We Are the Champions" and his bluesy version of "It's All Wrong, But It's All Right." It was an inauspicious opening to the show.
Randy Jackson told Michael that it was a pretty good song choice, but that there were pitch problems and that he really didn't buy him as an Aerosmith-like singer. Paula Abdul chimed in with "I couldn't disagree more. First of all, I think it was the perfect song for you to pick. You sound as good as you look. The high notes that you hit -- my Chihuahuas are going to come join you on stage." Simon Cowell, whose running joke of the night then became to ask Paula what her Chihuahuas thought of the performance, said "I thought it was a very good performance. Why I am slightly with Randy is, I don't like it when you do an impersonation of a rock star. I prefer when you do blues or soul. I preferred last week."
Watch video of Michael Johns singing "Dream On" by Aerosmith:
As soon as we heard the spoilers for Tuesday's show, we knew that Syesha Mercado was in trouble. After getting bashed last week for taking on Whitney Houston's "I Will Always Love You," she unwisely chose to pay tribute to her idol, Fantasia, with "I Believe," a bad choice for two reasons: Fantasia has a very distinctive voice; and it's always stupid to do an "Idol" coronation song because it is attached in perpetuity to the winner who sang it first. Her blunder reminded us of LaKisha Jones from Season 6, who, after failing with Carrie Underwood's "Jesus Take the Wheel," also sang "I Believe" during the "Idol Gives Back" show the following week. It was like watching history repeat itself, although we'll give Syesha props for singing the song better than LaKisha did. Still, although beautifully sung, Syesha failed, once again, to connect with the audience, a challenge she has faced numerous times this season. The only thing that likely will save her tomorrow is Carly Smithson leaving instead. But, as always, Syesha looked stunning.
Randy said. "You took on another tiger this week. Fantasia is one of the best singers. I didn't find the connection with you. It was just okay." Paula said, "Not many people can take on songs like that. Fantasia has her own style. You made [the song] your own. I think this is hands down one of your most shining nights." Er, not. Simon added, "I think technically you sang it well. What it lacked for me was that big wave of emotion that I got when Fantasia sang it that I didn't get from you." He and Randy hit the nail on the head.
Watch video of Syesha Mercado singing "I Believe" by Fantasia:
For us, Jason Castro had the most inspired song choice of the evening. He chose "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" by the late Israel Kamakawiwo'ole, more commonly known as Iz. Iz's arrangement has gained popularity over the past several years after being used on numerous TV shows whenever the program's producers have a segment where they wanted to bring a tear to your eye. We bought two of Iz's albums right after we heard his rendition for the first time. It is amazing how differnt and heart-rending this version is, set to ukelele, with the verses somewhat askew. We like it even better than the original, which is saying a lot, as it comes from our all-time favorite movie. Anyway, the song was perfectly suited to Jason, who literally pulled a David Cook by his wise choice of both song and arrangement. And his rendition did not fail to please. It was delivered with as much tenderness and feeling as the original. It was a major coup for Castro, who hadn't scored definitively on the show since his fantastic version of "Hallelujah." After a few weeks of lukewarm and noncommital performances he had stood on the brink of elimination. He now, instead, has two "Idol" moments that will be remembered over the coming years.
Randy said, "Dude, Jason Castro is back. That was the hottest tonight. That was blazing, molten hot." "I love that version of the song," Paula agreed. "You did a great job." We waited, with a bit of trepidation for Simon. But, fortunately, he agreed, saying, "The first time I heard that version, I thought it was interesting. The second time, I loved it. The third time [nodding toward Jason] -- fantastic."
Watch video of Jason Castro singing "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" by Israel Kamakawiwo'ole:
An even bigger surprise was Kristy Lee Cook, who also chose a near-perfect song (Martina McBride's
"Anyway") for the week's theme:
You can spend your whole life building
Something from nothin'
One storm can come and blow it all away
Build it anyway
You can chase a dream
That seems so out of reach
And you know it might not ever come your way
Dream it anyway
God is great
But sometimes life ain't good
And when I pray
It doesn't always turn out like I think it should
But I do it anyway
Yeah, I do it anyway
This world's gone crazy
It's hard to believe
That tomorrow will be better than today
Believe it anyway ...
and gave her best performance of the season, both vocally and emotionally. And she did it without pandering to patriotism or showing off an inordinate amount of cleavage. In fact, she once again looked quite beautiful. Cook came into her own Tuesday night for the first time. We're not sure that we'd run out and buy a CD by her, but we applaud her for coming back with such a strong performance this late in the game, especially when many, including us, believed that she should never have made it to the finals.
Randy said, "You know what? There were a couple of pitch moments, but I loved that. It was good for you." Paula added to the praise with, "I think you outdid yourself tonight. This was your best by far. It is so easy singing songs that inspire you." Simon, Monday on Larry King's show said Kristy Lee's chance of winning are 1 million to 1, told her, "Randy made a point earlier on. With a choice this broad, you have a chance to show who you are as an artist. I thought you were very, very good indeed. You look like a star tonight." It was well-deserved praise.
Watch video of Kristy Lee Cook singing "Anyway" by Martina McBride:
Kristy Lee was followed by the Cook performance we were really waiting to see: David Cook's. We had read in spoilers that he was going to be singing "Innocent" by Our Lady Peace, one of his favorite groups. We weren't familiar with the song, so we boned up in advance, listening to it and loving it immediately. It seemed like a perfect match for David's talent. So we were really disappointed when we heard his performance. We disliked the point from which he started the lyrics, plus it sounded too fast to us. We hate to say this, but it was somewhat of a mess compared to the original. We must say though, that David is looking better and better each week. His outfit was hot (another great jacket). Add to that the new haircut and his beard growing in and he has literally becoming this season's ugly duckling-to-swan experiment for the show's stylist. We would have laughed if you told us at the beginning of the season that we would ever call this season's comb-over king "sexy." But sexy he now looks. He did pull a stunt at the end of his performance, half delivered at the judges' table, that was cheesy or touching depending on your point of view (we're tending toward cheesy and gimmicky). As his song ended, he held up his open left hand. On the palm was written "give back."
Randy told David, "I am a huge fan of yours. Every week you have been throwing it down. I didn't think it was one of your strongest weeks." Agreed. Paula told him that he is so well-defined as being the whole package and that she believed in him. Simon understandably told him, "I didn't like this performance very much at all. I thought it was a teensy-weensy bit pompous. ... It wasn't anywhere near as good as the last two weeks." Unfortunately, he's right. Paula then remarked about what David had written on his hand, to which Simon said, "That was a nice thing to do."
Watch video of David Cook singing "Innocent" by Our Lady Peace:
The oddest song choice of the evening was Queen's "The Show Must Go On," chosen by Carly Smithson, who said she found the lyrics very inspirational. Odder than the song choice was the way in which Carly performed it, as if she were angry. Although she looked good (her eyes are startlingly blue, something we never noticed before) and dressed better than in previous weeks, the whole renditio was unsettling and off-putting, making us immediately think, "Well, Syesha, Carly might have just saved you." We've been supporting Carly all season, but think this was her weakest performance. We weren't grabbed by her voice, whose tone we usually rave about, and there was absolutely no chemistry between her and the audience. Most telling, was when Simon critiqued her negatively you could hear a pin drop. Not one boo or complaint from the audience. Cowell even turned around a couple of times during his critique, as if to see whether the audience had split. If that's how the rest of the country felt she's almost certainly doomed Thursday night.
Randy said, "It started out good, got a little pitchy and ended up okay. It was disconnected for me." Paula told Carly that "Your voice, as always, was pretty perfect," but agreed with Randy on the disconnect, saying, "I didn't feel engaged with you and I usually am." After bashing Carly on her appearance last week, and explaining himself ever since, Simon started with "Carly, you look good," but continued with, "I thought it was an unusual choice of song ... I think you over-sang it to the point where you did lose control of the song towards the end. And it actually came over, strangely, as an angry performance, which kind of felt out of kilter with the evening. So, I think again, you've chosen the wrong song. And you actually might be in a bit of trouble after tonight." His appraisal was absolutely spot-on.
Watch video of Carly Smithson singing "The Show Must Go On" by Queen:
Golden child David Archuleta was up next. Acting in his opening video as if he had never heard Robbie Williams' "Angels" before, he said there were a few songs he had been thinking about, but he chose this one because "When I came to 'Angels,' there was something about that song that was so different from the other ones, that I just felt so strongly with the music, the power of the song, the message in it where that despite what you're going through there's always the light at the end of the tunnel." Well, that sounds really heartfelt and genuine, until you discover that Archuleta has been singing "Angel" since at least 2005. Check out his performance of it here. So his supposed revelation in choosing this song was just another piece of savvy marketing BS cooked up, no doubt, for David by superstagedaddy Jeff. For a change, Archuleta didn't wear his earpiece, and if memory serves, this is the first time we've seen him play an instrument. He accompanied himself on piano. Although it added nothing to the rendition, the singing, as expected, was fine, but we felt the same emotional disconnect as we did when Syesha performed. Here was another technically fine vocal that didn't touch us one whit. Of course, we knew the judges would disagree with us, and they did.
Randy began with, "You know what I loved about this performance? ... When you fdid that little refrain at the end, where you stopped and you did those runs, that's the David Archuleta dude that I love. That was your hottest moment the whole season! Crazy! Crazy! Crazy hot! Loved it! Loved it! Loved it!" Paula said, "You know what? That sums it up for me. Fantastic." Simon called it "Best song choice of the night so far. ... This is one of the best pop songs, in my opinion, written. I'm not going to say it was your best vocal. however. I thought it was a bit nasally. I thought the end part was better than the beginning." After a chorus of boos, Simon ended with, "David, I'm nitpicking here, because you are going to sail through to the next round."
Watch video of David Archuleta singing "Angels" by Robbie Williams:
Closing the show was Brooke White. When we read she would be performing Carole King's "You've Got a Friend" (which she attributed in her video to James Taylor than revealed to us, as if we didn't know, that it was actually written by Carole King -- well, DUH!), we figured it would be an easy slam dunk for her. After all, if you can't sing Carly Simon sing Carole King instead. Wearing her flower power dress, the performance was, strangely, flat. Technically nothing was wrong, it was on pitch, but there was nothing especially captivating about the performance. In fact, if Michael Johns' and David Cook's fans rallied last night on the phone, Brooke could very well find herself in the Bottom 3 again. As someone in our household noted, Brooke seems to weaken as Kristy Lee gains strength.
Randy said that he didn't thing it was Brooke's best performance and that it was just OK for him. "I wasn't jumping up and down, but I wasn't mad at you either. It was all right." Paula, speaking Abdulese, said, "I think it is the perfect way to close the evening. And once you again you were very definitive (huh?). You are very definitive and I love you." Brooke had the same puzzled look on her face as Paula said that, as well did. Apparently she didn't understand what being "very definitive" was either. Simon said, "It was sort of like a pleasant walk in the park. Wasn't it? I mean, it was nice. Was it original? No. Was it pleasant? Yes. Thank you." Well, alrighty then.
Watch video of Brooke White singing "You've Got a Friend" by Carole King:
Best: Jason Castro
Worst: Carly Smithson
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