Spoilers for Beatles week, part deux, of "American Idol" coming up just as soon as I blow my mind out in a car...
"I'm not sure it was such a good idea doing Beatles again. We had such a good memory from last week, and this is all getting a bit strange."
Truer words may never have been spoken on "American Idol," a show that has never grasped the concept of too much of a good thing. Last week was one of the best "Idol" performance shows ever. This week was a mess. I don't know how much of that was the best songs (for the most part) being used up last week (even though they apparently expanded the list this week to include George Harrison-penned tunes, in addition to the Lennon/McCartney stuff), but after paying money to download several of last week's performances from iTunes, I can only think of one performance from tonight that I ever need to hear again, and it wasn't even that great.
Amanda Overmyer, "Back in the USSR": Leave it to Pauler to provide the most cogent critique (don't worry; she'd make up for it later) by noting that it took Amanda nearly a third of the song to get in sync with the band. It was hard to tell early on whether she was off the beat because she was trying for a dramatic effect or if she just couldn't keep up, but by about the 30 second mark, she had the timing down, and I think it was just a mix-up. That said, within Amanda's extremely limited range, this was another very entertaining performance; I'm not sure any contestant feeds off of the larger crowd as well as she does. I know the judges want to see her stretch herself, but I suspect that the second she follows their advice, they'll slam her for seeming uncomfortable outside of her comfort zone.
Kristy Lee Cook, "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away": For the second week in a row, Kristy Lee goes for a radically different interpretation of the original. The Beatles version (from the "Help!" soundtrack) is the most overtly Bob Dylan-ish song they ever did, where this started off as some kind of Shirley Bassey number (it was very "I (Who Have Nothing)"), then drifted into this monotonous, melody-free thing that she tried to bail out in the end with a power note. Simon's right: the only time Kristy Lee has been memorable was when she was terrible last week. This was just dull enough to put her in danger again.
David Archuleta, "The Long and Winding Road": I figured he'd sing "Yesterday," but I knew that any song he chose would be a ballad, and one that he would knock out of the park for the inevitable "David Archuleta is back! We got a hot one here tonight!" narrative from Randy. I'm not a huge fan of young David -- even if he arguably has the best voice of any finalist, there are a half-dozen other contestants whose performances I look forward to more -- but this one was a fastball down the middle for him, and he knocked it out of the park. It's one of the schmaltziest songs in the Beatles catalog -- especially done up with the string arrangement that Phil Spector slathered on the original recording version (I much prefer the "Let It Be... Naked" remix), and with David's unfailing sincerity and clear, powerful voice, it was a natural fit. The kid's gonna win. No question. Ya think the producers wish they had saved his first pimp slot for this performance instead of last week's faceplant?
(Oh, and Randy? Shut up about your stupid love of stupid runs. Some of us just like to hear the notes as written, without all those Mariah vocal gymnastics inserted.)
Michael Johns, "A Day in the Life": Oh, Michael, Michael, Michael... I want to like you. I do. Your Hollywood performances (what we heard of them) were so strong and distinctive, but you coasted through the semi-finals, were good but unmemorable last week, and then tonight you go and give us this disaster. There's just too much going on in "A Day in the Life" to try to squeeze "the best parts" into 90 seconds. Beyond that, he messed up the high note going out of the first John Lennon passage (and you can see him, even from the distant camera angle, flinching at the sound that had just come out of his mouth), and he mashed up the lyrics of two different verses at the very end so that one line didn't rhyme with the next (and you could see him flinch again, too). The judges keep talking him up like he's one of the contenders, but it's been a long time since he's shown anything worthy of that status. I don't think he's in trouble of going home just yet, but his margin of error is getting awfully teeny.
(Also, on the list of all-time on-screen gaffes for Paula -- as opposed to whatever she did or didn't do with Corey Clark -- where do you rank her 18-hour rambling monologue about Michael's difficulty in adjusting to an ear monitor, given that Michael was not, in fact, wearing an ear monitor?)
Brooke White, "Here Comes the Sun": Brooke's been my favorite contestant this season, but I think we finally discovered her Kryptonite: she can't move. At all. Her four previous performances before an audience had her rock still, either playing the guitar or the piano, or one time perched on the edge of the stage. This was Brooke trying to dance around and be all flower child, and it was awkward. Beyond that, the song isn't very challenging vocally and also doesn't have any kind of dramatic hook to make up for that. It's just Brooke White smiling about how much she likes the sun. Bring back the piano or the guitar, stat.
(Also, she needs to be careful about interrupting the judges. At first, it seemed like she was trying to quiet the crowd from booing Randy -- you know, "It's okay, audience. The judges are right to criticize me." -- but she Just. Kept. Doing it, to the point where it seemed like she was trying to shut down Simon before he could say anything more brutal. Not cool.)
David Cook, "Daytripper": On the one hand, I appreciate a clip package that actually credits the artists who came up with a different arrangement from the original. On the other hand, Whitesnake? Really? I'm 100 percent with Simon on this one; the novelty of what David's been doing the last few weeks is starting to fade, and then you can't help but notice the self-satisfied smirk, or how shoehorned in the vocoder stunt was. I like David the singer, even though I suspect David the person would be insufferable, but unlike Amanda, I feel like there's more he can show us, and I'd like to see that soon. Also, the judges need to start calling the contestants on using their instruments as a prop. David barely touched those guitar strings (Brooke had a performance like that in the semis, too), but he gets away with standing still at the mic stand, where a non-instrument guy like Michael Johns has to struggle with moving around on stage.
Carly Smithson, "Blackbird": First, a bit of housekeeping from last week. I gave Carly points for not making the "holds you in his armchair" lyric flub -- when, in fact, that's the actual lyric of the song, in keeping with all the other nonsense lines. So deduct points from me, if not from Carly.
As for her "Blackbird"... meh. Unlike Michael this week and Archuleta last, she managed to survive a lyric flub without completely losing her composure, and she's got a clean, powerful voice, but I could do without all the Celine flourishes, even though the crowd (and Randy) eats that stuff up. No idea what Simon was talking about with the song being self-indulgent; it's one of the prettiest that Paul McCartney ever wrote. I just would have preferred a simpler arrangement, and I think Carly has the voice to pull off a straight rendition. Also, she needs to have a talk with the makeup people, because I was afraid to look at her eyes whenever she was in closeup.
Jason Castro, "Michelle": This was the first performance of the finals (but not the last of the night) to remind me of a high school talent show performance in that very special Kevin Covais/John Stevens sorta way. The ladies love sweet, dopey Jason and his eyes and his dreads and all that, but I was embarassed to be watching him. Vocals were decent, but cheesey as hell.
Syesha Mercado, "Yesterday": Who is this Syesha Mercado person and has she been on the show before? I honestly could not remember a single thing she's done previously, but this was arguably the best performance of the night (though not the one I'd want to hear again; we'll get to that in a moment). It was understated where it needed to be, but threw in just enough power notes to play to Syesha's strengths and get the attention of people like me who had no idea she existed.
Chikezie, "I've Just Seen a Face": Brooke better have a good comeback next week, because Chikezie is awfully close to becoming my favorite contestant of the season, if not one of my favorites ever. Yes, the Luther ballad into bluegrass jam transition was awkward and gimmicky as hell -- especially compared to last week's brilliant, organic bluegrass-into-rock version of "She's a Woman" (one of my favorite "Idol" performances ever) -- yet Chikezie's chutzpah and versatility again put an enormous smile on my face. He has a great voice (had he just stuck with the ballad arrangement, it still would have been one of the night's best), but he also knows that he has to go for broke every week or he's going to go home in a hurry. Previous borderline contestants who killed one week and then went back to mediocrity the next tended to go home immediately (think Amy Adams in season three), and Chikezie definitely doesn't plan on being forgettable again. And the deserved respone to last week's number has dramatically boosted his confidence. It may be gimmicky, but I want to see what trick he pulls out of the bag next week.
Ramiele Malubay, "I Should Have Known Better": The only thing I have to say about this performance (other than that it's the night's other high school talent show-level number) is to question how on earth it got the pimp spot. Has anyone ever gone home after getting the pimp spot? If not, Ramiele could potentially blaze a trail tomorrow night.
Best of the night: Chikezie, Syesha and Archuleta.
In trouble: My guess is a Kristy Lee/Michael/Ramiele bottom three, with hopefully one of the ladies going home. I'd like to see Michael get at least one chance to live up to the potential everybody saw in him, even though he's now in so deep a hole that it would take a miracle to get him into the top half of the finals.
What did everybody else think?