Spoilers for the top 10 performance show of "American Idol" coming up just as soon as I put some Groucho glasses on my daughter and get the camera...
If we're sticking with the Inevitability of Archuleta theory, then tonight's episode was about definitively establishing David Cook as this year's bit of Bo Bice-esque misdirection. Some middle of the pack people raised their game a bit, some others fell back, but get ready for a whole lot of Big David vs. Little David talk over the next few weeks.
Ramiele Malubay, "Alone": The songs of the sisters Wilson are generally money in the bank for Idolettes -- Carrie Underwood's performance of this tune is basically the only time I ever liked her on the show -- but nerves or illness or both overtake Ramiele, and the big notes are too much for her to handle. Going first in a long show, her only hope is a passionate fanbase.
Jason Castro, "Fragile": The first of several songs in this show I've never heard before in my entire life. (Not that this is a bad thing -- I'd rather hear something new than the 80th performance of "Overjoyed" or "I Wanna Dance With Somebody" -- but it's rare that I'm so in the dark on so many songs in a single night.) After treating the French-inflected "Michelle" last week as one big joke, Jason takes this Spanish-inflected Sting tune more seriously, but Simon's right on the money when he calls it standard busking. You could hear that exact performance on street corners around the globe. Seacrest tried to help Jason out afterwards with the interview, but Jason's perpetually-baked affect doesn't exactly help the cause of proving he's putting any effort into any of this. Still, he's purdy, and I suspect that's going to carry him a long way yet.
Syesha Mercade, "If I Were Your Woman": First of all, Syesha? Stop doing the crying baby thing. It's not endearing; it's disturbing. As for the rest of it, this was a technically strong rendition of an extremely boring song. Even with all the runs and big notes and falsetto -- all pulled off with aplomb by Syesha -- I would have changed the channel or fast-forwarded through it if I wasn't reviewing each performance.
Chikezie, "If Only For One Night": Why, Chikezie? Why? You seemed to have figured it out, seemed to realize that the sleepy ballad thing was going to get you sent home and that the way to stand out was by doing those energy-filled mash-ups, and then you go back to the ballad box? Why? And yet... if Ruben Studdard had given this exact same performance in season two, the judges would have prostrated themselves about how Ruben was a genius and the one true heir to the Luther throne. I guess it speaks well of the show that it's come far enough in the last five years for that sort of thing to seem passe, but I really don't want Chikezie to go home yet, and I'm worried.
Brooke White, "Every Breath You Take": Randy is such a mush-head that I hate to agree with him about anything, and about music (his alleged area of expertise) in particular, but I was thinking the exact same thing as him as that song went into the bridge: had Brooke done the entire thing acoustic, accompanied just by herself, it could have been something special, but once the band came in, it was a very ordinary Police cover. Also, she's lucky that she was going solo at the start, because had she messed up her cue while working with the band, no way she would have had the chance to start over, James Blunt-style.
Michael Johns, "We Will Rock You/We Are the Champions": After admitting last week that he peaked when he sang Queen during the semi-finals, Michael finally gets his mojo back by... singing Queen. Ah, well. At least it was a different song, as opposed to Kristy Lee having to sing "Amazing Grace" again that same week to save herself. After seeming lost and uncomfortable on stage for weeks, Michael finally had his swagger back and kicked butt. I don't know if the sound engineer helped him out or if he just instinctively knows how to work with a rock band, but I could see a lot of contestants, past and present, getting swallowed up by that arrangement and the band, and his voice rang out like he was the only person on that stage. He's long since lost his chance to play Young David's stalking horse, but if Michael can be this good doing something other than the Freddie Mercury catalog, he might just stick around for a while yet.
Carly Smithson, "Total Eclipse of the Heart": Weird that two different contestants sang Heart songs and neither was Carly, and yet this Bonnie Tyler cheese classic is even more in her wheelhouse than the Wilson sisters are. The thing about Carly is that, if you close your eyes and just listen, she usually sounds terrific (though that attempt to go for a big, Randy-flavored run at the end was way off key), but she always seems so labored when you watch her. The really big stars make it look effortless; Carly can't help but show how hard this is for her.
David Archuleta, "You're the Voice": I'll be honest: I spent half this performance Googling the lyrics to figure out what the hell Young David was singing (it didn't help that I heard Seacrest's introduction as "You're the Boss") and I really don't recall much of anything about the actual singing. But with Archuleta at this point, does the singing even matter? He's no longer a singer; he's a cult of personality. Every girl who wants him to ask her to his prom is going to vote and vote and vote tonight.
Kristy Lee Cook, "God Bless the USA": I don't know whether to boo and hiss over her choosing maybe the song I hate most in all the world -- a pandering, lowest common denominator patriotic dirge whose subtext is, basically, "If you don't like America, you can go *&$& yourself" -- or applaud her for, as Simon hinted, being savvy enough to recognize that this kind of song is going to get her mad, mad vote totals from the "Idol" audience. I think Kristy just guaranteed her first completely safe week of the competition, dammit.
David Cook, "Billie Jean": The show seems to have learned its lesson from the Chris Daughtry Live-gate, as Seacrest introduces this as the Chris Cornell version of the Jacko classic. Cook is actually doing a very faithful rendition of this untraditional cover (follow that link to hear Cornell kill with an acoustic performance of it), but what it lacks in originality, it makes up for in charisma, and one huge rock god note near the end. Again, I think all this talk of Big David having a chance to win this thing is misdirection -- no matter how good or creative or edgy he may be, "Idol" is the kind of show that rewards schmaltz above edge -- but I'm always interested to see what he's going to do next.
Best of the night: David Cook, with Michael Johns a distant second.
In danger: Ramiele (went early, tepid praise at best from Simon), Syesha (went early, not as good as the judges claimed, don't know if she has a fanbase), Chikezie (went back to being boring), and Carly (tepid praise, iffy fanbase) are my top candidates to hit the seal. I'm hoping Ramiele or Syesha goes home; I'm afraid it'll be Chikezie.
What did everybody else think?