"American Idol" spoilers coming up just as soon as I write a song about a cockatoo just to drive Simon nuts...
With the exception of last season, when Melinda got the boot, the pecking order has clearly been established by the time we get to top 3 night. Everyone in that theater -- including Syesha -- knew that it's going to be an all-David final, just like fans in season two knew Kimberley Locke had no chance of advancing (even though she outsang both guys that night), just like Vonzell Solomon had no shot against Carrie and Bo in season four, etc. So what makes the night interesting -- albeit a bit less so since Sith lord Clive Davis stopped participating -- is to see, through the three choices for each contestant, what kind of sound the judges, the producers and the contestants' themselves think is an ideal fit.
David Archuleta, "And So It Goes": Paula was lucid long enough to recognize that little David enjoys singing sincere, earnest ballads that function as sonic Tylenol PM, and so she chose one of the duller songs from the Billy Joel catalog. (And one where the only interesting part of the song comes from a world weariness on the part of the piano man that young David doesn't remotely possess.) Technically a fine performance, I guess, but wake me when he's got the crown (or when crazy stage dad Jeff is busy flipping out in the event of a Cook win).
Syesha Mercado, "If I Ain't Got You": Randy has two different levels of R&B divas: the untouchable Whitneys and Mariahs (though he did give Melinda a Whitney song last year), and then the Alicia Keys types whom he worships but wants to hear contestants sing. Syesha starts off okay, and admirably restrained for her -- there's a moment early in the chorus where her voice blends in with the backup singers as well as anyone on the show other than Melinda -- but then she has to go to her shouty place, followed by an annoying, triling falsetto at the end.
David Cook, "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face": Simon is smart enough to recognize that most of David's big successes have come on songs you never would have expected him to choose ("Hello," "Billie Jean," "Always Be My Baby") and hands him a Roberta Flack love song. Much like last week's "Hungry Like the Wolf" David doesn't change it up nearly as much as he has some other tunes. It's a power ballad take on Flack, but still pretty faithful to the original. His falsetto, unlike Syesha's, sounds great (and not needlessly show-offy). Good performance, but I feel like I've seen/heard him do something like this a lot of times already.
David Archuleta, "With You": Good for David -- or for his creepy stage dad Jeff (who was barred from certain aspects of the show this week, but not so many that he would have had no say in this choice) -- for recognizing that the 80-year-old ballads were getting stale. On the other hand, this performance was another reminder of why he's better off staying in his ballad box. Not only was it disturbing to hear him singing about his "boo" (not a black/white thing; a soul/Archuleta thing), but he kept running out of breath, even though he wasn't moving much more than usual. Not a disaster on the level of "We Can Work It Out," but not good. The start of the semi-finals was so long ago, but didn't he sound good on the uptempo "Shop Around"?
Syesha Mercado, "Fever": I think the judges totally missed it with their complaints that this choice didn't show who Syesha is. This is exactly who she is: a pretty, slightly above-average vocally, cabaret performer. Paris Bennett sang rings around this version when she did it in season five, but at this point, Syesha has decided to embrace her inner vamp, wear as many flattering and sparkly dresses as possible, and turn her final weeks on the show into an open audition for any Broadway parts where an ex-"Idol" finalist might be a box office draw. And I at least appreciate that she doesn't give us the same performance nearly every time out, which is more than you can say at this stage for either David.
David Cook, "Dare You To Move": Despite his billing as this season's "rocker," David is a very specific kind of rocker, leaning more towards mournful power balladeering than anything that might inspire the sorority girls in the mosh pit to, you know, mosh. (Though I doubt they, or Nigel, would tolerate any actual moshing, no matter the song.) And so we get another slow builder, like last week's "Baba O'Riley," where he sounds fine, but where the arrangement is just starting to build momentum when the 90-second limit runs out. Another solid but very predictable performance from big David.
David Archuleta, "Longer": With all due respect to the several members of my extended family who love Dan Fogelberg enough to have made this their wedding song, there may be no more coma-inducing song to ever make the Top 40 -- which, of course, makes it an ideal L'il Archie joint. I couldn't even tell you whether David had any problems with the lyrics or the notes, as I came to the end of this one feeling like I was just waking up from the anesthetic after dental surgery. One question: is this what Nigel and company actually want to hear on David's first record, or have they just come to understand, like the rest of us, that it's the only kind of song he can sing?
Syesha Mercado, "Hit Me Up: After her Peggy Lee tune in the last round, the producers obviously wanted something more contemporary, but most of this featured Syesha at her shrillest. Also, a complaint for the director: if someone's doing a song with a bunch of dance breaks, could you maybe avoid cutting to the drummer or the back-up singers every time the singer starts to move? Particularly the only contestant this season who actually knows how to move? (In fairness, though, the back-up singers were the only good thing about this one.)
David Cook, "I Don't Want To Miss a Thing": "One of the greatest songs of all time"?!?!?! Really, Simon? I get that he's on the panel not because he has great taste but because he has great instincts for what will sell, but this song is a massive, artery-clogging piece of cheese. The arrangement's not quite the same as the original, which is probably a good thing, because Steven Tyler is a sort of male equivalent of Whitney for this show (see what happened to Michael Johns with "Dream On"). That said, it felt, again, like the same performance David's given us for a few months now. At a baseline level, I vastly prefer David C's schtick to David A's, but the longer the season goes on, the more he starts to seem like yet another "Idol" one-trick pony.
Best of the night: Nothing really moved me, I hate to say.
In trouble: Melinda going home was a mild surprise last year, but that wouldn't be half as shocking as Syesha outlasting either David. Congratulations on sticking around at least a month past when anybody thought you'd make it; now it's time to pack your knives and go.
What did everybody else think?