Spoilers for "American Idol" coming up just as soon as I tell the band to start over...
At this point, are the producers messing with the contestants, or are they just trying to tick off the judges? This is two weeks in a row now where we've had a theme designed to play into a classic "Idol" judge's trap. First the people who always tell contestants not to sing Mariah had to judge Mariah Carey Night, and tonight we got Broadway-hating Simon having to judge the contestants singing the works of Andrew Lloyd Webber.
This wasn't quite as excruciating for me as Mariah week, but it still wasn't good, and has as little bearing on the show's alleged mission as a Gregorian Chant Night would have. But at least Webber himself was a good mentor; more people need to tell these kids to actually read the lyrics and try to figure out what it is they're singing about.
Syesha Mercado, "One Rock 'N Roll Too Many": She cribs from Michelle Pfeiffer by starting in a slinky red dress on top of the piano, eschewing the roller skates of "Starlight Express" in favor of bare feet (had she worn roller skates on the piano, I can only imagine the entire performance turning into some kind of Fonzie stunt), and she eschews her usual imitation diva persona for imitation cabaret. She's an actress, and you can tell she's faking it by the way she naturally snaps into the cabaret persona when she's rehearsing with Webber, but she fakes this far more interestingly than she ever did the imitation Whitney. Given that Broadway is turning out to be the best employment opportunity for most non-winners (or even winners, in Fantasia's case), this was a nice showcase for Syesha. I can imagine hundreds of out of work New York actresses doing the same or better, but compared to what Syesha's done in the past -- and compared to the two performances to follow -- this wasn't bad at all.
Jason Castro, "Memory": Proof once again that Jason is dumb as a box of hammers: he picks Webber's aging diva classic not because it in any way fits his voice, but because he's heard of it. The arrangement basically guts the song to accommodate Jason's complete lack of range, and if Archuleta's going to keep his eyes open this week, then, by gum, Jason will go through a whole song with his shut. Boring, and I'm not even sure you could call it music.
Brooke White, "You Must Love Me": This is the second time now that Brooke has had to start and stop a song -- and, unless I'm going as nuts as Paula, I could swear that Paula actually praised her for doing it the last time, on "Every Breath You Take." While I agree with the male judges that she did the right thing rather than follow Paula's idiotic advice to make up words until she found her bearing, Brooke seems to be in the middle of a prolonged nervous breakdown the last few weeks. It becomes hard to tell whether she's trying to tell the story of the song, as Webber told her to, or if she's just freaking out because she flubbed the opening again. She at least attempts to stretch herself vocally in a few spots, but I feel uncomfortable watching her lately.
David Archuleta, "Think of Me": Again, am I going nuts, or did David completely muff several lines in the middle without any of the judges noticing? If so, maybe they didn't notice, because his attack of the mumbles didn't derail his performance the way it did on "We Can Work It Out," or the way Brooke's problems affected her. But if David's regained his confidence, he still functions as sonic Tylenol PM for me. I can barely remember the performance 20 minutes after I watched it.
Carly Smithson, "Jesus Christ Superstar": The happiest, most comfortable and confident Carly's seemed in weeks, maybe all the way back to "Come Together" on Beatles Night, Vol. 1. I like her so much better on slightly up-tempo rock numbers than when she's trying to be a balladeer, and good on Webber for teling her to change her song choice to match her strengths. There were some rough patches in the middle, but overall I really enjoyed her tonight.
David Cook, "Music of the Night": Doing the song perfectly straight was a brilliant strategic choice -- I think. David gets to show he's not a one-trick pony who just re-arranges every song to fit his style, and that he has a very versatile, powerful voice -- the high note on "Where you long to be" was killer. At the same time, when Daughtry did this exact route -- doing a faithful, non-rocking version of "What A Wonderful World" -- he wound up in the bottom three, because his hardcore fans apparently wanted him to do the Nickelback thing 24-7. Will Big David be rewarded for taking a real risk (as opposed to Cook-ifying "Always Be My Baby"), or punished for stepping out of his box?
Best of the Night: Cook, again. I still stand by my Inevitability of Archuleta theory, but at this point it's on personality and fanbase, because talent-wise, Big David's been mopping the floor with Little David for weeks. Who would have thought, on Andrew Lloyd Webber Night, Big David would be the David to get the pimp spot -- and deserve it?
In danger: Jason was the worst by far, and Brooke was a mess, too. On the other hand, even though Syesha was the best she's ever been, she wasn't the best of the night, and she went first, and the Castro/White fanbases could mobilize while whoever's been voting for Syesha all these weeks could get complacent.
What did everybody else think?