Since so many “American Idol” alums eventually end up on Broadway, “Idol” decided to streamline the process Tuesday night by devoting an entire episode to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s music. It’s like they’re saying, “Psst, theater producers! Don’t bother auditioning these kids six months from now. You want to hear Syesha sing a ‘Starlight Express’ song? Voila! Now hire her for ‘A Chorus Line’ and get her out of our hair, would ya?”
Similar to last week’s Untouchable Mariah Carey theme, “Broadway” is often a pejorative term on the “Idol” stage, so I’m curious as to why producers thought an entire night of musical numbers would help viewers decide whose pop albums they’ll want to buy. But as I suspected during last year’s Gwen Stefani night, “Idol” is totally running out of theme weeks. Don’t be shocked if the top three are forced to sing Gerardo B-sides.
Before I go on a rant about how I wish Rickey Minor were allowed to speak and how I wish Ryan Seacrest would just shut the hell up already, let’s go right to the (theatrical!) performances.
Song: “One Rock ‘n’ Roll Too Many” from “Starlight Express” (the one about trains)
Verdict: One good note too few
For a so-called “actress,” I was expecting Syesha to blow me out of my socks roller skates. Things looked promising when she showed off her sassy neck-snapping ability to Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber in rehearsal, but when it came time to deliver the goods live, her performance was disappointingly scattershot. There were moments of brilliance, for sure. (Syesha + guitar player + flirting = adorable.) But far too often Syesha didn’t look “present” to me, and her lack of focus (and some notable pitch problems) derailed it for me. I expect an actor be able to commit to a role better.
Apparently I’m a tough critic because Randy and Simon think she’ll have a huge career on Broadway. I guess I’m the New York Times to their Long Island Gazette when it comes to reviewing theater.
Song: “Memory” from “Cats” (the one about junkyard cats)
Verdict: Litter vox
Lloyd Webber was shocked to hear Jason tackle the iconic “glamour puss” ballad, incredulously saying, “I’ve never seen a man singing ‘Memory’ with dreadlocks.” As if a woman dressed up like a friggin’ cat is any less bizarre.
So how was Jason’s performance? Ack.
Song: “You Must Love Me” from “Evita: The Movie” (the one about Eva Perón)
Verdict: A showstopper … literally!
And now a word from this week’s guest fashion judge, my wife: “Brooke White needs to stop being styled by the people who do the windows at the 34th Street H&M.” We now return to your regularly scheduled program.
Brooke’s rehearsal started with Lloyd Webber hissing, “I don’t think that girl had a clue about what she was singing about.” Meow! So he did what any good mentor would do. He told her to shut up and then filled her in on the background of the song. Actually, he made up some BS story about Perón’s deathbed. What he should have said was, “The studio that turned this into a movie demanded that we write a new track so that it was eligible for the Best Song Oscar. Also, not content with the 90 other songs she got to sing on the soundtrack, Madonna wanted another one for herself. So Tim Rice and I crapped this one out in, like, five minutes while we were waiting in line at the bank to cash our checks.”
Brooke White was … I’m sorry, can we do that again?
Yep, that “false start” stunt is exactly what she pulled on Tuesday’s “Idol,” and it caused a gasp heard ’round the world. After singing the awesomely appropriate first line — “Where do we go from here?” — Brooke’s face contorted, the next lyric escaped her G-rated mind, and she demanded a do-over. Without missing a beat (well, I guess technically they missed a couple) the band went “back to one” and the singer tried again, visibly shaken by the mulligan.
Randy and Simon cut Brooke some slack, but always the professional, Paula Abdul had some stern words for the do-over diva. Well, I think they were stern. See if you can translate: “You must never start and stop. Having said that, this is the biggest show and biggest platform that no matter what, if you’re strong enough and you’re great enough as an artist to pick up the pieces. What I did love about this performance, Brooke, is that you didn’t overact.”
And if you thought that nugget of wisdom was indecipherable, Paula then told Brooke to simply improvise lyrics “from the heart” next time her mind goes blank. (That explains that one time in ’92 when Abdul changed the second verse of “Rush, Rush” to “Emilio, Arsenio, pizza and jewelry.”)
Bonus points this week to Brooke for actually keeping her trap shut while being judged. That personality tweak might actually save her!
Song: “Think of Me” from “Phantom of the Opera” (the one that Japanese tourists love)
Verdict: An eye-opener
David’s segment started off with a Coke “Real” moment that was real, all right. Real creepy. Seacrest beckoned a bunch of “sisters” to come up and hug David, and the result was half “Tiger Beat,” half polygamist fantasy. Given that Archuleta — whose father recently denied rumors that he’s a “stage dad” — is from Utah (a.k.a. MormonLand), and the tween girls were dressed like they had just walked off the compound set of “Big Love,” I can’t imagine the LDS church being too happy about Seacrest inadvertently reminding America of all the recent headlines involving those fundamentalist sects.
During rehearsal, Lloyd Webber was emphatic that David keep his eyes open while performing: “I can’t watch somebody who’s got their eyes closed all the time.” (Apparently Mr. Phantom isn’t a Stevie Wonder fan.) I think Lloyd Webber’s advice threw David for a loop because every time the singer instinctively closed his eyes, he snapped out of it and forced himself to keep them open. With David focusing so much on his eye presentation, he lost track of the lyrics and fumbled through the second verse. (Unlike Brooke, David just mumbled nonsense until he recovered.)
Even with the lyric flub, David’s rearrangement of a “diva song” was the night’s most relevant performance. He was the only contestant smart enough to turn a Broadway tune into a contemporary song, albeit of the “adult” variety.
Song: “Superstar” from “Jesus Christ Superstar” (the one that taught me more about Catholicism than 16 years of Sunday mass)
Verdict: I don’t know how to love her
Carly was going to sing “All I Ask of You” from “Phantom,” but Lloyd Webber said, “Hell to the no,” and I say, “Hallelujah!” Not only because “Jesus Christ Superstar” is the only musical I dig from start to finish (heck, I’m even grooving to my dad’s old rock-opera LPs as I type this), but because I’ve been waiting for Carly to rock out since “Come Together” a month ago.
It was a blast watching Irish Ink go all in … for about 15 seconds. And then it dawned on me that Carly intended on shouting for the entire two-minute performance. I would have loved to hear her put more soul and nuance into her delivery. (Just imagine what Chikezie or Michael Johns could have done with this number!) Instead she made Syesha the Shrieker sound like Marlee Matlin by comparison. (And in the process, became the third person to botch the lyrics on Tuesday. The “Idol” caterers must have run out of Ginkgo biloba.)
The cranky Brit dug it, though, which allowed Carly to whip out a T-shirt that read, “Simon Loves Me (this week),” and forced this out-of-practice Catholic to break the 11th commandment: Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s custom pop-culture-inspired T-shirt.
Song: “Music of the Night” from “Phantom of the Opera” (the one that all “Idol” contestants want to perform, apparently)
Verdict: Pretty. Odd.
Watching David Cook completely nail “Music of the Night” was a lot like finding out that your girlfriend is a really good bowler: It’s cool that she can score a 290, but it’s not exactly something you’d want to tell your buddies.
I’ll let 19 Entertainment worry about how they’re going to market the Word Nerd/Theater Geek Rocker to the masses. In the meantime, I’ll be listening to David’s “Music of the Night” on repeat for next five to seven days. More specifically, I’m going to loop David’s glory note. (Remember that high note about a minute in that made all the hairs on your neck stand up?) I gave Archuleta the prize for “most contemporary” performance of Tuesday night, but I have to give Cook the prize for “most stunning single note on the ‘Idol’ stage ever.”
Yet I still can’t bring myself to call this performance a slam-dunk success. His devoutly faithful interpretation of the song was as off-putting as your favorite band going in a “new direction” on their sophomore album. From the way he was styled to the way he held the mic, the whole performance reminded me of a strange Panic at the Disco fever dream. And as much as I’m digging their new album, the world does not need another Brendon Urie.
Simon echoed my “I don’t want my dog walking upright” sentiments during judging by curtly saying, “This is not the side of you I like. But you made the most of the song you were given.”
At the very least, this performance will silence critics who have called Cook a one-trick pony.
Well, we’re another week closer to the “David squared” finale. And then there’s everyone else.
Brooke is the obvious choice to be booted. Her performance was downright uncomfortable to sit through. But I think her extended judging and mea culpa might have converted enough people to her cause that she may have had a few unexpected dialers this week. Jason’s the one who needs to be worried. His performance was a mess, but after Brooke’s meltdown, it was also a forgettable mess.
The singer rounding out the bottom three is anyone’s guess. Syesha doesn’t have fans and Carly doesn’t have an indoor voice. Keep in mind that it’s getting to be the “shocker” time of the season, so it wouldn’t be that hard to believe if David A. slipped into the bottom three (which would no doubt prompt the ArchAngels message boards to spontaneously combust).
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