Beatlemania continued last night on American Idol, a questionable decision on the part of the producers, and one which gave us one of Idol?s most uneven nights yet. Even Simon conceded that the second week of Beatles tunes was ?weird? and perhaps inadvisable. Be that as it may, the 11 remaining contestants tackled the Lennon/McCartney songbook with a heartfelt, if misapplied, vigor. Let?s take a look:
Rock has never found a true home on American Idol, despite the success of not-winner Daughtry, and this season?s remaining rockers are beginning to lose their charm in the eyes of the judges. Gritty blueswoman Amanda Overmyer, feeding off the energy of the audience (or so she claimed), delivered a passable ?Back in the USSR,? a Joan Jett-style romp of exactly the sort we?ve come to expect from her. (?It was what it was — predictable,? said Simon. ?You are in danger of becoming a bit boring.?) She seems to have tapped into some legitimate vein of American taste, however — my Indianapolis-born co-viewer swears that Amanda?s earlier take on ?Carry On Wayward Son? brought the entire Midwest to its feet. Likely as not, she?ll be here next week.
So too should Michael Johns, whose ?A Day in the Life? was all but indistinguishable from his performance last week — except for a totally missed high note at a crucial moment. Michael?s suavity has carried him pretty far, but he needs to move past a performance style that’s best described as sexually harassing the microphone. All three judges called it ?not the best,? with Simon chiming in his typically sunny take: ?The long and short of it was, it was a mess. You didn’t hit the right notes, the song went all over the place,? he said. ?You have got to start sorting yourself out.? Not the best, but not the worst. It should guarantee him at least one more shot at Idol?s top prize.
Lastly, David Cook — who was told last week that if Idol were a talent contest instead of a popularity contest, he might win (don?t worry: it?s not) — was taken to task for turning in another solid but predictable performance on the Beatles? ?Daytripper.? Paula thought he was ?ready to go sell records? but Simon cautioned that he wasn?t as good as he thought he was. Rock on?
The Country Stars
Poor Kristy Lee Cook, who ruefully admitted it?s been tough to be in the bottom three in every judging to date, tried again to be the country-crooning diva she?s certain America is looking for. Unfortunately, she had all the presence of a cardboard box, a fact the judges delighted in pointing out to her. She?s never looked better — Paula agreed with me here — so her one chance at survival is a horny male fanbase, furiously calling in votes. Will that be enough? Given her stilted, mumbly ?You?ve Got to Hide Your Love Away,? it?s hard to say. ?I?m going to blow you out of your socks,? Kristy Lee insisted to the judges, sounding half-sure at best. ?Aim for that,? replied Paula.
A safer bet is Brooke White. Though not beloved by the judges this week, loopy Brooke turned in one of the evening?s best performances with ?Here Comes the Sun? — accessorized, as we?ve come to expect from her, with ear-to-ear grin and color-coordinated yellow dress. Her vocals were strong but her dancing, which mostly amounted to weird arm-flapping that approximated a penguin, won her the disapprobation of Randy, who expressed his distaste in the strongest terms he could muster: ?It was not hot for me.? Simon called it ?wet? and ?an absolute mess,? but given the sorry state of this week?s competition, she should stick around.
Joining the country brigade this week was Chikezie, to the surprise of all. His ?I?ve Just Seen a Face? began in his typical Babyface style, but after a regrettable (Simon: ?atrocious?) harmonica solo, he dove head-first into country, complete with steel guitars. An unexpected deviation from his usual scene, and not one adored by the judges, but Chikezie?s courage should be his ticket to stay. Paula remarked, ?You?re showing us who you are,? her signature line, utterly meaningless in context (or out of it) but in Abdul-speak, a good bit of praise nonetheless.
The Pop Stars
Darling David Archuleta can do no wrong in the eyes of the judges, and especially Simon, even when he phones in a fairly boring performance like last night?s ?The Long and Winding Road.? ?That was a master class,? said Simon, forestalling any criticism I or anyone else might be tempted to bring.
Likewise, Jason Castro?s ?Michelle.? Jason has come a master of the wide-eyed earnest slow jam, the sort of thing skinny boys have been crooning to skinny girls during midnight study sessions at liberal arts colleges since the beginning of time. The feedback wasn?t all positive — ?You look disconnected away from your guitar,? said the usually-adoring Paula — but Jason?s future looks bright.
Carly Smithson, usually lavished with praise, was also taken down a peg tonight. She delivered a vocally adept ?Blackbird? that Paula and Randy loved; ?a heavy cooliosis vibe,? said Randy. Simon, on the other hand, found the song indulgent, and became uncomfortable when Carly described herself and her fellow musicians as blackbirds with broken wings themselves, battered by the record industry. Careful, Carly: developing a rapport with the audience is the quickest way to fall from Simon?s favor.
The R&B Divas
R&B languished on Idol tonight, with only Syesha Mercado and Ramiele Malubay daring to bring a soul groove to the Fab Four. Syesha?s ?Yesterday? was championed by the judges, for reasons unclear to this reviewer: it was slow, torchy and dull (though we must admit that Syesha?s bust never looked better). Paula mistook cleavage for vulnerability, insisting that vulnerability is exactly where she needs to be. Simon called it her best performance yet, surely a case of Idol amnesia, but promised her a spot in next week?s competition based on her efforts last night.
As for Ramiele, her ?I Should Have Known Better? inspired the judges to think that she should have known better. Simon called it ?like Chikezie on harmonica? (ouch!), and declared it amateurish. ?I wasn?t jumping up and down,? said Randy. Uh oh.
Stay tuned to see who?ll be off tomorrow as Idol drops down to 10!
– Matthew Schneier