American Idol: Inspiration? No, Perspiration

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In honor of tonight’s Idol Gives Back charity broadcast, the American Idol contestants were charged with singing ?inspirational songs,? a genre apparently fluid enough to include anything from Judy Garland to Queen. The eight remaining finalists inspired less than they ought. Let?s review:

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Michael Johns
Michael donned his ascot for the second week in a row to give a typical, bellowy version of Aerosmith?s ?Dream On.? His awkward-dancing, mic-seducing tactics are wearing a bit thin, and the judges weren?t thrilled: ?Alright for me,? weighed in Randy, and ?wannabe-ish? to Simon. Paula, predictably, leered, ?you sound as good as you look,? and, more obscurely, ?I think my Chihuahuas are going to come join you onstage.?

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Syesha Mercado
Syesha has long overestimated her own abilities, and takes on (to quote Randy) ?tigers? of songs originally sung by more gifted performers. She?s escaped the chopping block despite unfavorable comparisons to Whitney, and now she?s taking on one of Idol?s, well, golden idols: Fantasia. Admittedly, her take on ?I Believe? was one of tonight?s best — as well as evidently inspirational, not something to be said for many others — but the judges immediately seized on her not-Fantasia-ness. ?She [Fantasia] has this special connection that I don?t find with you,? said Randy, and Simon thought it lacked ?that big, big wave of emotion,? though nevertheless ?you did sing it very well.?
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Jason Castro
Ladies? man Jason took a risk this week and performed with a ukelele, one of the unsexiest instruments one can find, especially for someone used to caressing the business end of a guitar. Nevertheless, his polky ?Over the Rainbow? was actually, and surprisingly, kind of sweet, a winning moment from a contestant who?s long seemed to be phoning it in. The judges were enraptured, and so was the audience. To my embarrassment, so was I. So we?ll just leave it in the words of Randy: ?Molten hot!?

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Kristy Lee Cook

Kristy Lee may be the savviest of this season?s Idol competitors: She?s figured out who votes for her, and she lobs her hits to them, time after time. It?s kept her in the competition for weeks longer than her talent, stage presence, or judging merits, a fact repeatedly pointed out to her by Simon. Tonight she tackled Martina McBride?s ?Anyway,? did a far more credible job than we?ve come to expect, and may, to the utter stupefaction of most, stay with us. She?s improving, if only slightly, for what it?s worth.
Paula: ?You outdid yourself tonight. This was your best, by far.?
Simon: ?You were very, very good indeed. Tonight, you look like a star.?

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David Cook
David, now convinced that he is, in fact, a rock star, has started behaving like one: strutting, preening, straining and, alas, sucking. His ?Innocent? by Our Lady Peace was wretched, capped off by an outfit easier to imagine on Michael Jackson. His dramatic closing moment, revealing the ?give back? scrawled, high-school-style, on his palm, rang false and self-important. Paula believed in him; no one else did.

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Carly Smithson
Carly turned in one of the night?s strangest performances, an angry, rocking version of Queen?s ?The Show Must Go On.? Likely more inspirational to an Idol contestant than to an Idol viewer — or, for that matter, anyone whom Idol might purport to help — Carly rocked and rolled but seemed unaccountably enraged and disconnected. Her voice, as always, was her saving grace, but Simon admitted that she may be in trouble now.

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David Archuleta
David?s choice of Robbie Williams?s ?Angels? gave the judging panel a chance to express their opinion that Robbie Williams writes some of the best songs ever written. This is not an opinion that America holds much truck with, and it seemed to me that David?s rendition won?t convince anyone: Too low for him, he managed a fuzzy, if emotive vocal. The judges disagreed with me here, and universally loved it. He?ll certainly be around next week.

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Brooke White
Poor Brooke can?t figure out the Idol formula, and there?s no more uneven contestant: some weeks they love her, some weeks they hate her. This week was the latter, with her ?You?ve Got a Friend? savaged for inoffensive pleasantness. That it was, but Brooke?s still giving better stuff than most, and it will be a shame if she?s sent home Thursday night.

Tune in tonight for Idol Gives Back, then join us Thursday to see who gets the axe.

– Matthew Schneier

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