Tuesday, May 13, 2008

American Idol Top 3 Perform
Triple Play

They came, they sang, they conquered. Well, not totally. Tuesday night, the contestants each performed three songs -- the first chosen by one of the judges, the second chosen by the contestants themselves and the final number selected by the producers. Surprisingly, the weakest round was the middle one, because the performers failed to pick songs that showcased their talents and ranges to their best advantage. Proving that they actually do profess skills were the judges, whose sometimes odd choices were tough yet fit the Top 3 very well and forced them (for the most part) to stretch their abilities. The producers' picks weren't far behind. And so it goes. An apt descriptive of the night's performances as well as the title of the first song sung.

First up was David Archuleta, whose song, Billy Joel's "And So It Goes," was selected by Paula Abdul. Kudos to Abdul. Though she selected a song that was perfectly suited to Archuleta, it also had a high degree of difficulty, which he handled deftly. He sang the first half a cappella, the second with music. It sounded very Irish and melodically was hauntingly beautiful, though as with Archuleta's performance of John Lennon's "Imagine" early in the competition, David lacked any emotional depth or connection to the words. He is neither mature enough nor does he possess enough life experience to relate to songs of that magnitude.

The judges gave him praise. Randy Jackson said, "Paula chose a dope song for you, you can sing anything dude, the Billy Joel thing works well on you ... You are in the zone. You are in it to win, baby." Paula gushed, "It was a pure and stunning performance and tonight I really felt you were a storyteller (in this she was wrong, because he didn't really connect with the words). You really were. It was a beautiful performance. Simon Cowell told Archuleta, "Yeah, it was very good, no surprises. A bit predictable (boos), not really a criticism. It was good. I don't think it was outstanding (to which the little girls in the mosh pit yelled back "Yes it was!" and Simon laughingly answered, "Oh really? You lot are now judging? I don't think so.") Anyway, good, good."

Watch video of David Archuleta singing "And So It Goes" by Billy Joel:

David's choice for himself was one of the stranger ones of the evening: Chris Brown's "With You." Little Davey singing "I need you boo. I gotta see you boo," was more like watching Casper the Friendly Ghost than Chris Brown. Yes, he tried, but this is not his style, not where he excels and it calls into question whether Archuleta could ever truly be a pop star. His abilities seem to be restricted to ballads, and while you'll usually find a few on most pop/rock CDs, they are more the appetizers or desserts of the recording rather than the entree. So Archuleta's own choice might have proven that he's not now ready to assume the pop/rock throne. His forte seems to be in the Josh Groban/David Foster arena.

Randy told him, "I applaud the fact that you're trying something new and young because I think that's really the kind of record you should make. But I'm not sure that was the right song. Seeing you sing "my boo" (boos) was like, I didn't believe it. I couldn't believe it. Paula said, "David, I think it fits perfect, right in the right tone of your voice. I really think you should be singing songs like this. You're so used to singing ballads, but this is another part of who you are. I think I would work on ... not extending the phrases and just shortening it up a little bit. I think you did a great job (not)." Simon agreed with Randy. He said, "I applaud you, that you didn't do a very treacly ballad, which I would've expected, however it was a little bit like a Chihuahua trying to be a tiger, in so much as it's not really you. I thought it was all a bit awkward."

"Watch video of David Archuleta singing "With You" by Chris Brown:

For his last number, the producers chose Dan Fogelberg's "Longer" for David. It was another perfect fit -- one of those treacly ballads that Simon hates with a passion. Archuleta carried it off rather well, adding a few runs but basically maintaining the melodic integrity that Fogelberg instilled in the song. It was his second best song of the night.

Randy thought it an odd song choice for David, but told him he could sing the phone book, and declared it "another hot one from you! Hot! Hot! Hot! " Paula said, "It was a lovely performance David. I expect nothing more. It was just very lovely." Simon added, "David, I'm not going to criticize you because I think you sang the song very well. I thought the song and the lyrics was absolutely horrible. I mean it so gooey, it's something you choose for like a 90-year-old, and you're 17 years old. Having said that, you've done enough to get into the finals next week."

Watch video of David Archuleta singing ""Longer" by Dan Fogelberg:

Syesha Mercado was the contestant who couldn't afford a misstep Tuesday night to make it into the finals. Although her competitors were less than perfect, Syesha had to be beyond perfect to zoom past the two-headed David monster into the final stage of the contest. And although she was good, she was less than she needed to be. Her first number, chosen for her by Randy, was Alicia Keys' "If I Ain't Got You." She did a perfectly nice, if not extraordinary, rendition, but it should've been her time to shine. Why? Because she performed the same number on the short-lived ABC reality singing competition "The One" only a couple of years ago. We find it hard to swallow that Jackson did not know this. Of all the songs in the world he could have selected for Mercado he just happens to pick this one? Uh-uh. We smell a setup. And although she sang it better than she did on "The One" (check out her performance then by clicking on this link), it still wasn't enough to propel her to next week's show. Although, as both Paula AND Simon pointed out she looked gorgeous in a slinky and glittery gold gown.

Randy said, "I thought that would really work well on you. You did an amazing job on it. I could see your heart beating and smiling (huh? is this Randy or Paula?) all the way down here. I'm so happy you are peaking at the right time in this competition. That's why you're standing there in No. 3. You know what I'm saying (well, er, maybe)." Paula said, "I'm very proud that you are the last lady standing there. It's difficult to do a song that so identifiable with a beautiful artist as Alicia, and I applaud you for that. And aside from all of that, you look absolutely stunning. Simon said, "Yeah, I have to say you sang that very well, Syesha. I just wish that Randy had chosen something for you where you were not just going to try and sound like the original." Randy interjects: "Actually, if you listen back, she changed quite a few notes." Simon: "Well, not enough in my opinion, but listen, overall is was, and you look gorgeous, by the way."

Watch video of Syesha Mercado singing "If I Ain't Got You" by Alicia Keys:

Mercado selected Peggy Lee's "Fever" for herself. Wearing a slinky and glittery mini dress (do we see a theme here? Yes! It continued even to Round 3) and using a chair as a prop, she didn't vamp nearly enough (or even as much as we expected her to) to make this a standout performance. It might have garnered raves at the beginning or even the middle of the season, but it was not a number for the semi-finals. She would have done much better with something on the order of Beyonce's "Crazy in Love," a song that would have defined her as both sexy and contemporary. Though, we have to admit that the final note she sang on "Fever" was deliciously good.

Randy said, "A very interesting song choice at this point, but what I liked, to me, is that you sang it amazingly well. Again, a great performance." Paula, not quite as enthusiastic said, "Well, you look lovely tonight, Syesha (the kiss of death), and I've got to tell you, out of all the songs that you've chose to sing, I'm surprised you picked this song, because ... I'm not sure it shows me who Syesha is as an artist." Simon said, "Syesha, I think you will probably regret that decision tomorrow, because you had a chance to prove that you are a contemporary recording artist with your own choice of song. Instead, you did quite a lame cabaret performance."

Watch video of Syesha Mercado singing "Fever" by Peggy Lee:

The producers chose "Hit Me Up" by Gia Farrell for Syesha's final number. It was upbeat and fun, a great dance tune from the "Happy Feet" soundtrack. Dressed like a sexy penguin in a (all together now) slinky and glittery silver top and tight, tight black pants, Mercado hit all the power notes with ease and shimmied her hips throughout, but it was just too little too late. Though it did prove she had what it takes to cut a Rhianna- or Beyonce-like CD. With her knockout looks, the right material and a killa video she could yet become a recording star. But it won't be as the American Idol.

Randy said, "Yeah, I could see you doing a song like that, kind of Rhianna-esque. It was just OK for me." (Boos) Paula said, "You did the song very well. As much as I like it, I don't know if it's the type of song that defines you as Syesha. I don't know if it's good enough to get into the finals of 'American Idol.' (boos) I love you, though." Simon added, "Syesha, look, it was better than the last song, that's for sure. If I'm being honest with you, you had your best moment last week, with the Sam Cooke song. I don't think anything this week has topped that and I think the problem with that song ... is that it's a little bit forgettable -- it's fun, it's young -- but it didn't give you the defining moment I would have liked at the end of this show."

Watch video of Syesha Mercado singing "Hit Me Up" by Gia Farrell from the "Happy Feet" soundtrack:

If you've been reading the blog, you know that we've already crowned David Cook the next American Idol, and Tuesday night he once again proved that it was with good reason. When we first heard that Simon had picked Roberta Flack's "First Time Ever I Saw Your Face" for David, we wondered whether Cowell was trying to sabotage Cook's chances of making it to the finale. We should have known better. Cowell, who has previously said that Cook's singing is his personal choice to listen to, knew that if David could pull off this quirky choice he seemingly would be unstoppable -- or, at the very least, guaranteed a slot in the finale. And pull it off he did, to the point that he gave us goosebumps by the final note. Fingers crossed, this will be Cook's studio release for the week, because we'd love to hear him sing the song in its entirety.

Randy, still chaffing over what Simon had said about his pick for Syesha, told David, "Love the high note at the end, but I wish Simon would have picked something that wasn't as predictable as this older kind of song for you. Because I want you to rock baby. You're a rocker. I needed more rock from it." (Huge boos, enough so Randy had to declare "I love him.") Paula, wisely said, nodding toward Randy, "It's so funny it's about the two of you," then gesturing to David, "Because it's about you, David. That is one of my favorite songs and now you're my second favorite person who sings it." Simon, fairly gloating, said, "Well David, this might sound a little bit biased, but I thought it was actually one of your best performances to date (we agree). This is what makes you brilliant. Because you take risks. It's original. Round 1 goes to Cook and Cowell. (tee-hee)"

Watch video of David Cook singing "First Time Ever I Saw Your Face" by Roberta Flack:

We were unfamiliar with David's personal choice for the evening, Switchfoot's "Dare You to Move." It was a song well-suited to his vocal capabilities but not really to the short time window. The song seemed to have an abrupt ending, though when we checked out Switchfoot's full-length video after the show, we discovered that it similarly had an unpleasing abrupt endng. We judged It a good, but not great, David Cook performance.

Randy said, "Great, great song choice ... performance-wise, let me just say, it wasn't your best tonight. A little pitchy, baby." Paula said, "You know as an artist I know how hard it is to get like a 3 and a half minute song into like a minute 30 and like the challenge is to get the audience to feel like they got the beginning, the middle and end, and I feel like you just got to the beginning when it hit the end of the song. And i wanted MORE." Simon said, "You know what, David? There's not much I can add to that. It was pretty much as I would've expected. I don't think it's the best melodic song in the world. And I think all three of you had an OK middle round."

Watch video of David Cook singing "Dare You to Move" by Switchfoot:

The producer's chose Aerosmith "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing," written by Diane Warren, who (not) coincidentally was sitting in the audience to watch David perform it. We loved the violin-laden orchestral opening, reaching a crescendo when David sang, "Yeah, yeah, yeah." But the music became muddied by the end of the number with the electric guitar fighting the violins and, we felt, David fighting both to be heard over them. But Cook's vocals never faltered and It was another strong performance for the next American Idol. He received a standing O from the audience and Paula Abdul.

Randy, who was not a Cook lover Tuesday night, told him, "I love the song, but it was OK for me. Sorry. Very predictable, very predictable." Paula, enraptured, said, "David, see ya in the finals. That's what I predict." Simon said, "David, one of the great songs of all time, and I have to tell you: David Cook wins the night."

Watch video of David Cook singing "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing" by Aerosmith:

Best of the night: David Cook
No. 2: David Archuleta
Leaving: Syesha Mercado

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