It only took them 12 weeks, but on Tuesday night, “American Idol” finally found a theme that would allow the contestants to truly shine. No Broadway curveballs, no Mariah mountains to climb, no Beatles tunes to desecrate. Nope, instead the top four had access to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s list of 500 (!) songs “that shaped rock,” and with artists as varied as Elvis Costello, Arrested Development and Dion and the Belmonts represented, there was no excuse for any of the remaining singers to pick a loser. (Although, admittedly, if I were a finalist on “Idol,” I’d be tempted to turn Kraftwerk’s 20-plus-minute German opus “Autobahn” into a 90-second nugget of trainwreck television.)
Ryan Seacrest opened the show by noting that three out of the four singers standing onstage have been the top vote-getter in previous weeks, so it’s anyone’s game. Anyone except that fourth odd duck, who is totally like the 10th dentist who hates Trident for some reason. Seacrest also reminded viewers Paula that the judges will be critiquing every single performance, so don’t expect an encore performance from Abdul the Soothsayer this week. (“Jason, things are hazy but I’m seeing a Bugles binge and a “Boobah” marathon in your future!”)
Before I go on a rant about how I nearly choked on a pretzel when the “Idol” producers replaced John Lennon’s photo with Syesha’s mug in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, let’s get to the performances!
Song: Duran Duran’s “Hungry Like the Wolf” and the Who’s “Baba O’Riley”
Verdict: Who are you?
I’ve always considered Simon Le Bon more of a pretty boy than a brilliant vocalist, but after hearing David Cook hiccup and grunt his way through the Duran Duran anthem, I owe Bon Bon an apology. David’s sloppy performance teleported me to MTV circa 1999, back when instead of “Top Model” and “Hills” marathons, we aired “Say What? Karaoke” all the time. All David’s rendition needed was a cloudy Bahamas sky, three bikini-clad Jersey-girl backup dancers and Devon Sawa as a celebrity judge.
The resident rocker shook off the judges’ mixed reviews and tried a little harder in round two by taking the Who’s “Baba O’Riley” and playing it at half speed. Actually, his chopped and screwed take sounded so zonked out on cough syrup, I wouldn’t be surprised if Slim Thug stole it as a sample for his next mixtape.
Unfortunately, the slow Cook’ed arrangement didn’t really sizzle like it did with, say, “Hello” or “Billie Jean,” and you could tell that David knew he was having an off night, but it was still good enough to turn Paula into the Cookie Monster. Instead of saying, “C is for cookie, that’s good enough for me,” she said, “I just want more, I want more, I, I, I, I, I want more, I want more Dave Cook.” Also important to note: She put her hands over her face and said, “Om nom nom nom,” while crumbs fell out of her mouth. (OK, not really.)
Song: Ike and Tina Turner’s version of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Proud Mary” and Sam
ooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come”
Verdict: Cryesha’s river of tears
Before I go any further, I think it’s important we review a few guidelines from the “What Not to Do in an Interview” chapter of the “American Idol” bible.
1. Never remind viewers that the song you’re picking has been covered more than 100 times.
2. Don’t speak in the third person, even ironically.
3. Do not, under any circumstances, equate your struggle on a reality-TV competition to the friggin’ civil-rights movement!
I find it necessary to go over these since Syesha broke all three commandments during the night’s two interview packages. She also told Ryan, during a Coke moment, that she couldn’t wait to go on tour, because she wanted to finally meet all her fans. Honey, you’re gonna be sorely disappointed, because I don’t know one person who’s saying, “I can’t wait to hear Syesha’s voice amplified!” Even the Syesha sign-holders in the audience look bored beyond belief each week.
Boring is the last word I’d use to describe Syesha’s first song, however. She crammed more hip-pops and sashays into two minutes than “Pussycat Dolls Present: Girlicious” attempted in 13 episodes. (Her head-snaps need to improve if she’s going to try and pull this song off again, though.) In the end, I had to agree with Simon. It still boiled down to just a copycat performance of Tina Turner’s signature tune, which had my eyes rolling, rolling, rolling on the river. So scratch the first word of this paragraph and replace it with “Original.” That’s more like it.
Round two had a tenacious Syesha belting “A Change Is Gonna Come.” She connected with the song best during the second verse, when her quivering and cracked voice exposed a sincere vulnerability not seen since Brooke White forgot Evita’s death song. And like the recently departed nanny, Syesha was overcome with emotion during judging and shed a tear or two (thousand). Sy’s cry wasn’t because of Randy’s bad review (which, in my opinion, wasn’t as off the mark as Simon said it was), it was more because of Paula’s standing ovation and Simon’s reaffirmation.
I wish Syesha didn’t bring up the civil-rights movement a second time after judging. It reminded us how tasteless her initial comparison was and added plenty of fuel to the message-board fires, whose readers had cries of their own. “She’s an actress! She’s faking! She’s pandering for votes like Kristy Lee Cook singing about the USA!” Well, I say to the haters, at least this was her real cry, as opposed to that freaky “baby cry” she kept doing earlier in the season.
Song: The Wailers’ “I Shot the Sheriff” and Bob Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man”
Verdict: Up in smoke
On Tuesday, Jason Castro’s anti-establishment attitude came to a giant head as he derailed his “Idol” chances in the most awesome crash-and-burn way ever. First, he openly mocked Seacrest’s overly dramatic “This … is American Idol.” Then he made the “I’m singing Bob Marley, go figure” joke before I could. His goofy grin made several appearances onstage as he bounced and pounced through “I Shot the Sheriff” with unabashed glee. Like Sanjaya at the height of his absurdity, the judges’ negative comments were a moot point. In fact, Jason flipped Simon’s “What were you thinking?” into the climax of his “Fight the Power” narrative by retorting, “I was thinking Bob Marley!” This gonzo performance couldn’t have been more tailored to his rabid fanbase unless it was covered in patchouli and shot using black lights.
Jason’s second song wasn’t as aggressively terrible as round one. His vocals were on point … that is, until he forgot the lyrics. (And in a Bob Dylan song, if you don’t have the lyrics, what else is there?) In a move that was sure to drive “Idol” addicts nuts, Jason reacted to the judges’ lashing by cranking up the Spicoli charm and acting like he didn’t give a crap.
I guess that recent Entertainment Weekly article about Castro saying he’s ready to leave the show was accurate. But Jason’s reckless display was so disrespectful to the more deserving “Idol” contestants (like Carly, who was looking pretty miffed), that I’m now tempted to vote for him just to torture him another week! Did anyone else catch Jason mouthing the words “Don’t vote!” while Seacrest read off his phone numbers? Who knew the folk singer was such a subversive punk?
Song: Ben E. King’s “Stand by Me” and Norah Jones’ version of Elvis Presley’s “Love Me Tender”
Verdict: The velvet crusher
ArchAngels rejoice! Little David easily dominated the night, starting with a self-assured and surprising “Stand by Me.” The prodigy proved that you can run all over a simple melody but still make it recognizable (take note, Josiah!). Then, just to keep us on our toes, David slipped in a line from Sean Kingston’s “Beautiful Girls,” instantly making the ancient track sound fresh and new without relying on flashy distortion or emo-whine. (Am I the only one who read Arch’s quick reworking as a subtle jab at competitor David Cook?) Looks like all those hours spent alone in his room singing “Stand by Me” to himself “or to [his] dog or something” paid off. On a side note, what 16-year-old boy locks himself in his room only to sings oldies to himself? Maybe that explains all the awkward post-performance panting?
I wasn’t as blown away by “Love Me Tender,” but I still give ArchAdorable points for a brilliant song choice. You could practically hear his fans melting across America as he purred the lyrics over a simple piano accompaniment. I was hoping David would keep it restrained and quiet throughout, but I suppose any serious romantic encounter ends with a loud climax.
It’s pretty much a done deal that Jason Castro will be returning to the quad Wednesday night, isn’t it? Syesha was in the running towards becoming America‘s Next Top Model-Slash-Idol-Fourth-Runner-Up, but she pulled the Brooke White Meltdown card, so she’s safe this week. Plus, Jason seemed to go out of his way to get voted off, all but ensuring a Syesha/David/David showdown. But is it possible that Simon’s harsh Jason slams rallied viewers behind the Dreadhead? (I can’t remember the last time Cowell compared a finalist to an early-round audition reject.) Will the buzz of Jason bombing so bad make viewers forget about the mediocre David Cook, thus making him vulnerable to elimination? Maybe it’s not a done deal at all. … This show kills me!
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