American Idol: The Men vs. the ’80s

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The stakes have never been higher on American Idol. The boys are down to 8, and with only ’80s week standing between them and the Final 12, the pressure?s on. The ’80s are a decade whose vogue hasn?t ended yet, but most of the guys opted for balladry, slow-tempo jams not entirely suited to the bombastic decade that brought the world Duran Duran, Culture Club and Madonna’s early singles. This week, the contestants’ video revelations of their most embarrassing moments brought more spark than most of their performances. Who will still be with us for Beatles Week? Let?s take a look.

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Luke Menard
Luke?s most embarrassing moment was when his older sister dressed him as a ballerina, with tutu and barrettes. Cross-dressing is always good for a laugh, but it?s a dangerous gambit for poor Luke, whose dull rendition of Wham?s ?Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go? could only have been enlivened by some ladies? garb. Luke never looks quite comfortable onstage, and fell back on the strange shimmying half-dance that he tends to do in all performances, whatever the rhythm or beat of the song he?s performing. It didn?t win him any admirers. Paula and Randy gave half compliments, but Simon hit closer to the mark with brutal honesty: ?I thought it was weak, a bit girly, and I’ve got to tell you, there’s no chance you’re going to make it through, not even to the Final 12.?

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David Archuleta
Golden boy David Archuleta, who has of late been given to moody, introspective songs like last week?s ?Imagine,? could have taken the ’80s as an opportunity to ratchet it up a few notches and bring the noise. It would have been great to hear David on an adored, peppy classic like ?Take On Me.? Instead, he gave a soulful but snoozy take on Phil Collins?s ?Another Day in Paradise.? Anthems on the plight of the homeless don?t tend to get the hands in the air, despite David?s confident performance (and self-accompaniment on the piano). Paula was grateful David wasn?t perfect (?It shows you?re not a hologram,? she said), but Simon wished for a little less gloom. Us too.

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Danny Noriega
OMG. Danny Noriega, who every week impresses us with his IM-speak and Mean Girls-style sass, declared much of last night TMTH (?too much to handle?). He seemed to get the young ladies working (girls, don?t get too attached to this one) but his draggy, Cage aux Folles take on ?Tainted Love? was as bad as anything we?ve seen from him. He?s got stage presence, but can?t dance, can?t (for large stretches) sing, and, this week, struggled to keep the hair out of his eyes. Simon and I agreed on this one: ?”I thought it was horrible, the whole thing. Absolutely useless. Didn’t like anything about it.? C U L8R!

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David Hernandez
David?s most embarrassing moment, admitted on video, had something to do with a booger (full disclosure: I was getting a snack during the big reveal). If he had it to do again, David might admit that he?s slightly more embarrassed by the Internet-fueled and very public revelation of his past as a gay stripper in the Arizona area (to say nothing of the mixed reviews patrons of his club have written in). Less embarrassing was his vocally proficient take on ?It?s All Coming Back to Me Now,? and the bravery required to take on a song made famous by love-her-or-hate-her Celine Dion. It wasn?t the night?s most interesting performance, and David still needs to work on the weird grimaces he makes when he sings, but as Simon said, it?s enough to secure him a spot in the Top 12.

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Michael Johns
I love Michael Johns, you love Michael Johns, my mom loves Michael Johns, even Simon loves Michael Johns. What?s not to love? He?s charming, charismatic, has a great voice, and brings energy to all of his performances. He?s tended to stick with a tried-and-true song style, going this week for ?(Don?t You) Forget About Me,? the immortal Breakfast Club classic. True, it even sort of sounds like last week?s ?You Can Go Your Own Way?; true, he did the same heaven-pointing gestures and bouncy kicks. But we?ll forgive him anything. See you next week, Michael.

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David Cook
Despite being Idol?s dark horse and most inconsistent contestant, when David Cook is on, he?s on, and last night, he was on. More than most of the other Idol hopefuls, David can take a song and totally reinterpret it, as he did with Lionel Richie?s schmaltz classic ?Hello.? In David?s electric-guitar-toting hands, it became an emo single, and somewhere in the world, caused Pete Wentz to think of stealing it. David may not have the look of a traditional Idol, but the judges all loved it, even Simon — not least because it gave him the opportunity to name-drop that he grocery shops with Lionel Richie at Whole Foods. (Aficionados: Lionel was buying cereal.)

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Jason Castro
Told to come this week without his favored guitar, Jason gave us Leonard Cohen?s ?Hallelujah,? a vocally challenging song that won the judges? respect. Jason has a lovely voice, though he looked lost and somewhat aimless without his instrument. To win this competition, Jason will have to bring energy and verve to a new kind of song, but for now, he?s still winning hearts. Simon was effusive: ?I thought it was absolutely brilliant . . . arguably one of my favorite performances of the whole night.?

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Chikezie
Poor Chikezie, who impressed us last week with his soulful, stirring Donny Hathaway cover, returned to the cabaret roots that made him so unpalatable to the Simon and so unlikely to win. His ?All the Woman I Need? was torchy and dull. He looks safe for next week (your tentative oddsmaker puts his money on Danny and Luke to go home), but farther than that, watch out.

The boys had a soft week, so it?s up to the girls to bring the heat back to the competition. Tune in tonight to see if they?re up to the task.

– Matthew Schneier

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