Tuesday, May 06, 2008

American Idol, Top 4: Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Night

"American Idol" spoilers coming up just as soon as I ascertain the well-being of the deputy...

I've said it before, and I'm gonna say it again: David Archuleta is going to win "American Idol."

On a night that could not have been more perfect for David Cook to take control of the season once and for all and leave the kid crooner in the dust, Big David stumbled, while Little David gave his two best performances of the finals by a long stretch. Factor in the nutty fanbase, and Archuleta may have just opened up too big a lead for Cook to close in the next two weeks. Keep in mind, also, that this was the week in season five when Daughtry got the shocking boot for half-assing it through what should have been a cakewalk theme (Elvis Night); I doubt history will repeat itself (Syesha's on borrowed time and Castro committed sepuku twice), but I kept thinking of Daughtry struggling to muster any emotion on "Suspicious Minds" for much of the night.

Song-by-song...

David Cook, "Hungry Like the Wolf": 500 songs to choose from (give or take what would clear legally), and this is one of David's two choices? Not to knock Simon, Nick and company, but when you consider the variety and depth of performers he had to choose from, I just don't get it. The way he described the choice in the intro clip almost made it sound like David let himself be talked into it by someone in production.

Whatever the reason, I think it could have worked if he had changed it up, but instead it was a fairly faithful cover, just delivered in Cook's trademark growl. The first of two chances for him to knock one out of the park, and he hit a weak single.

Syesha Mercado, "Proud Mary": I hate to borrow a page from the Paula playbook but Syesha looked sensational tonight. She also did a good job with the famous choreography of the Tina Turner version, but it all felt very phony in that Syesha way, where she nails the steps and most of the notes, and yet something's missing. There's a rawness to the Tina version that was lacking, and Syesha tried to substitute a lot of shouting and random whoa-oh-oh's at the end, to no avail. I admire her ambition a lot more than her execution.

Jason Castro, "I Shot the Sheriff": Really? "I Shot the Sheriff"? It's like he's so fed up of taking crap from the judges that he's trying to get voted off. A song about killing a cop isn't going to play well at all with the core "Idol" audience, who probably don't know or care about the song's origins any more than they did "Jesus Christ Superstar." Beyond the choice itself, it was an incredibly lazy performance, with the backup singers carrying much of the chorus and Jason giving up entirely on the last few notes.

(Can anyone remember the judges being as mad with a finalist before as Simon and Randy so clearly were here? This wasn't just "Sanjaya's been here too long" frustration; this was out and out contempt. I'm not saying Jason didn't necessarily earn it with what number, but it's rare to see Simon let himself get that worked up about anything to do with the show.)

David Archuleta, "Stand By Me": Where's this kid been hiding for the last two months? His voice hasn't sounded this rich and he hasn't had this much stage presence since his much-lauded "Imagine" in the semis. Yes, it's another ballad, but it's a great ballad, sung superbly by someone with a great instrument who finally remembered how to use it.

(More judging weirdness: Randy claims that Archie is the only contestant who delivers hot performances week after week. Praise him all you want for tonight, dawg, but what show have you been watching since the finals began? Cook's been singing laps around him until tonight.)

David Cook, "Baba O'Riley": I had such high hopes for this when I heard the song spoilers this afternoon. Yes, it's another one of those epic, multi-part iconic rock anthems that are hard to squeeze into 90 seconds (see Michael Johns on "A Day in the Life," or Bo Bice on "Freebird" in his season), but it can be done; just check out Jordis Unga's version on "Rock Star: INXS" a few years back. The problem is, David came up with an arrangement that desperately needed to be at least a minute longer than the usual allotment. The slow build only works if it has somewhere to build to, and after the broken-down opening, we got 30 seconds of David screaming "Teenage Wasteland" over and over again, and just as it felt like we were heading to somewhere potentially brilliant, the whole thing just stopped. It was far from the night's worst performance, but the way it played out left me more unsatisfied than anything else tonight, and maybe even this season.

Syesha Mercado, "A Change Is Gonna Come": First of all, did Syesha really start off by comparing her time on "Idol" to the struggles of people in the civil rights movement? I don't think she meant it that way (at least, I hope not), but I was so flabbergasted by the way she phrased things in her intro that I was tempted to just fast-forward through the performance.

As for the actual singing? I'm with Randy on this one -- incredibly, since he's normally the champion of unnecessary flourishes and glory notes. The song didn't need any runs, or Syesha trying to drill through solid rock with the power of her voice. But I did believe that she made some kind of emotional connection to the song -- this was the first time her tears have seemed genuine, and that was even before she turned into a sobbing wreck during the judging -- and so points for that.

Jason Castro, "Mr. Tambourine Man": If it seemed like Jason had given up during his first song, it wasn't apparent here. Yes, the lyric flub at the end of the chorus was heinous, and he looked suitably chastened for having done it, but if you can somehow remove it from the equation, this was the best Jason has sounded in weeks. He played and sang like he cared about the song, and about being in the competition, and if he had one of the worst brain-freezes in the show's history at the halfway mark, he didn't let it rattle him and kept travelin' thru.

David Archuleta, "Love Me Tender": Again, every performance David Archuleta gives is the same as every other David Archuleta performance, but this was another incredibly strong version of that thing he does. He probably could have even pulled it off a capella had he wanted to. And if I don't buy it as a love song -- romantic love seems kind of an alien emotion for Young David -- he at least put some kind of passion into it, even if it's his usual passion for wanting to heal the world, one voter at a time.

Best of the night: Young David, finally awakening from his finals-long slumber in an attempt to actually earn the crown he's likely to win in two weeks.

In danger: I honestly wouldn't be stunned by any of the other three going home. Again, Cook was perilously mediocre on a night when the bar was much higher for him than the others. Jason was disastrous in different ways twice, but the level of disaster -- and the venom from the male judges -- may rile his fanbase up enough. And I honestly have no idea about Syesha anymore. People last week pointed to the DialIdol numbers that said she was the top vote-getter and noted that Ryan never actually said she was in the bottom two during the results show, and tonight he said that three of the four remaining contestants had been the top vote-getter at some point this season; we know the Davids are two of them, and if Syesha was the third, then maybe her fanbase is much bigger than we all assumed. And given the prolonged crying episode (which made the episode run a few minutes overtime), those people could certainly be motivated to vote in waves for her.

What did everybody else think?

38 comments:

Linda said...

Man, you liked Archuleta a LOT more than I did. I cannot abide the way he has to add runs and flourishes and all that nonsense to literally every phrase of every song. It's simply not the way professional singers sing unless they are far, far more creative and polished than he is. He's afraid, it seems, to just sing a melody and see how it sounds, which is the mark of great singers.

I realized tonight that I've grown to despise him -- not the seventeen-year-old kid, because I'm sure he's very sweet and I bear him no ill will -- but the phenomenon of him, and particularly the preposterous refusal of the judges to criticize anything he does, ever, even when he blows notes as he did a couple of times tonight. (That weak-ass high note at the end of "Love Me Tender" was merely squawked out without cracking; it had zero artistry.)

I've always argued, for season after season, that the show isn't trying to manipulate the outcome, but I'm beginning to think there's literally nothing he could do that they would judge honestly.

Nicole said...

I was ok with ArchuD2's Stand by Me, but Love Me Tender was boooring. He sucked the soul out of that Elvis song. Also, he needs to stop breathing in his mic. It is distracting.

Of course tweens won't care and they will buy his crappy ballads for the first AI album.

Cook was mediocre, and I will admit that. In fact, if I could vote for him I would, because he does risk being Daughtry'd and if that happens, nothing will stop YDA from taking the crown.

I felt bad for Castro in the second song because he was actually pretty good and yet, he has to get called on the missing line, even though ArchuD2 did it during ALW week and nothing was said.

He's playing to his crowd and he might as well because he knows he won't win this. If he loses votes because of "I Shot the Sheriff" then people are morons and deserve the mindless pap. I disagree with the comments made by the judges on this one, especially that Marley is untouchable.

Syesha is a wild card, and could make it yet another week.

You are probably right about YDA winning, but I so want you to be wrong.

Mrglass said...

I thought Syesha crying and comparing her mediocre performance to the Civil Right movement was the worse pandering for votes the show has ever seen since... Kristy Lee Cook and 'God Bless the USA' a few weeks ago.

Jason will be eliminated for sure after the way the judges treated him, but I thought he was the most entertaining tonight. It is obvious he just doesn't care anymore.

With the Davids and Syesha in top3, I am not sure I will bother to watch the show anymore. The most boring season ever.

Adam said...

Did Clifford the Crunchy Muppet win the semifinal week when he did "Hallelujah," maybe?

I have many thoughts tonight, and few of them are charitable. If you're doing Duran Duran, don't stand still.

Anonymous said...

Is it just me or have they been turning up the vocals/turning down the band more and more throughout the season? It's now at a point where you can barely hear the band. I get that its about the singing, and we need to hear the singer. But it's now to the point where you can't even get the feel of the song.

J said...

the core "Idol" audience, who probably don't know or care about the song's origins any more than they did "Jesus Christ Superstar."

Wait: Wasn't the point that the audience DID know who sang that song and held it against a performer who didn't seem to care?

I thought the performances were pretty much front-to-back godawful. Archuleta was horrid, horrid. Cook was dull (worst Baba O. ever). Syesha, who's letting her LA Actress out full throttle, was phony (but yes, looked great).

You know who I thought came off best? Castro. He muffed a line, sure, but he showed some life. Was having fun. "It's Bob Marley!" He obviously didn't care much about winning, and that's what made him totally tolerable tonight. The judges should be ashamed of themselves for getting self-righteous over the Marley tune but letting Archuleta pee all over Ben E. King.

Anyway, Castro'll probably have a blast playing the song as his outro tomorrow night. Smoke 'em if you got 'em.

Nicole said...

When I first heard that Castro was doing Mr. Tambourine Man, I thought of the William Shatner version and was really hoping he would go in that direction. It would have been a beautiful disaster.

Also, YDA can do no wrong in the minds of the judges. Their pandering is sickening and he has annoyed the crap out of me for weeks now.

J said...

"If you're doing Duran Duran, don't stand still."

DEFINITELY. As a board. Sad.

Erin said...

Just watching David A sing the lyric, "Love me tender, love me sweet" made me feel like a pedophile and I wasn't even into it. Also the judges' comments: "I liked how you were so tender and you caressed each word." Eeew.

I like that Jason Castro doesn't seem to give a damn. He was not any worse than usual.

Syesha's comparison to the civil rights movement fell really odd.

Kendra said...

I too cannot stand the mic breathing, does YDA not have a singing coach to point out that you should not sound like you are sucking the life out of the mic. And really adding runs to an Elvis song give me a break. If any other artist had done that they would have been taken to task, but not do no wrong David. He nearly lost the last note completely and yet nothing is said.

I also cannot believe I am saying this but Jasons interviews are by far the highlight of a very boring Idol season. I almost want him to stay just so we get more of the interviews. His complete and utter permastone is fantastic and I am sure to get a laugh from him.

Dave said...

Thank you, anonymous, for pointing out the band volume problem. The whole show sounded like the guy working the mixing board nabbed a batch of Jason's brownies.

And yeah, Randy went way over the line with his praise of little David. In any other context, a large middle-aged black man telling a little teenaged latin boy about how he tenderly caressed each word... ew... grounds for arrest, don't you think?

kate said...

I can't believe no one has commented yet on Castro mouthing "Don't Vote" when Seacrest was giving out his numbers after the first song! I had to rewind and watch a few times to make sure I wasn't going crazy!!!

Has there ever been a more blatant show of "I don't want to be here anymore"?!? Craziness....

LA said...

I for one cannot bear to look at or listen to the awkward man-child and his overblown phrasing. And every time they pan to his father, it's like watching a creepy pimp counting his money.

Maybe David C. wants off to spend time with his ailing brother?

Jeff said...

Boy...I don't know what you were hearing when Archuleta sang - I thought both performances were hideous (his breathing between notes sounds like Brenda Vaccaro on that infamous Tampax commercial from the 80s!). But on this night, that hardly mattered. The rest were almost as bad.

XWL said...

Jason Castro's performance clarified one thing for me.

They must not do any drug-testing on this show.

BigTed said...

To me, Syesha's version of "A Change Is Gonna Come" is the only time any of the singers actually connected with one of the songs they performed tonight. And that's despite the fact that it was technically imperfect, or that she had to get all glammed-up Beyonce-style to do it, or that she just heard of this thing in history called the Civil Rights Movement and it reminded her of her own situation on "American Idol. "She still made the song touching and beautiful, and that trumped everything else.

Jason Castro, on the other hand, was worse than bad. I don't think the judges seemed so offended just because his singing was so lousy -- they saw him performing a song with a specific cultural background that he obviously knows nothing about, and it made him seem almost like some pothead frat-boy singing Bob Marley in blackface. I actually found it kind of shocking.

(His next performance really was much better, although I don't think it's much of a compliment to say that he stays on melody better than Bob Dylan.)

I agree entirely about David Cook -- "Hungry Like the Wolf" was just him adding those patented David Cook grunge sounds to the wrong song, while his "Baba O'Reilly" could have been great but needed some time to build from the slow part to a rocking-out part.

As for David Archuleta -- to paraphrase Paula, he is what he is. His vocals are beautiful but incredibly boring, and he needs at least 15 more years of life experience before he has a chance of putting any soul behind the music. At least his "Love Me Tender" didn't sound like an Elvis impersonation, which is hard to do. I'm sure that by 2010 his voice will be ubiquitous on the radio, in elevators and in dentists' offices everywhere.

J said...

Big Ted, were you shocked at Castro's performance or the judges' reaction? Because I agree with you about why they reacted the way they did, and find that deplorable. Because what Castro did was so far from minstrelsy and so much more honest than Mercado's bizarre rationalization for her "Change" tears, that booing (and booting) Castro for a spirited performance of a song he obviously loves just further drives this show towards the soulless void of suck where the Archuletas of the world reign supreme.

Mo Ryan said...

Is it just me or have they been turning up the vocals/turning down the band more and more throughout the season? It's now at a point where you can barely hear the band.

Yes yes yes! That drove me nuts all night. What a disaster the sound mix was. It didn't do the singers any favors.

Wake me when this is over. Cook is the only thing worth watching.

Thank you, Kendra, for adding the word permastone to my vocabulary. mwah.

Dark Tyler said...

I cannot for the life of me understand how can Archie's 'Imagine' be considered a golden standard when it's a symbol for every single thing I hate about this show. And tonight he did it again, effectively ruining one of my favorite songs. Why on earth would someone go all Archuleta on 'Stand By Me'? (yes, this is totally a phrase now) Just sing the frakking song, dude.

So far in the finals, Archuleta was just boring and mediocre, tonight he infuriated me. Yuck.

mrsb said...

My husband mentioned that nails on a chalkboard would be an improvement over having to listen to David Archuleta again.


Screw ups or not, Jason Castro is the ONLY contestant left who ever looks completely comfortable on stage. He looked like he was having a blast last night when he sang his first song. I enjoyed it more than any other performance.

He will surely be kicked off tonight. It seems no one is allowed to have fun on Idol without being chastised and asked to leave.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Man, you liked Archuleta a LOT more than I did.

More than a lot of people did, apparently.

I'm not saying I'm actually a fan of what Young David does. I wasn't even that dazzled by his Imagine. But I understand what plays well with the Idol audience, and this was the first time in months that he seemed to be bringing that sort of performance instead of coasting on a nutbar fanbase.

Kristin said...

Jason Castro was so bad, I felt sorry for him. I mean, why do that to yourself in front of millions of people? It is clear he has given up and wants to be gone. When he was singing "Tambourine Man," I imagined him set up on a street corner in NY with his guitar case open and full of quarters. It was god awful. Please send that kid home. He is in the time of life when he believes he understands Marley's music and Bob Dylan, but really he had no frickin' clue.

David Cook disappointed me so! Rock n' Roll Hall of Fame and you pick these 2 songs? Baba O'Reilly must be sung from beginning to end in order to work. 90 seconds of it? Bad choice. Same with "Hungry Like the Wolf." I can think of a number of Duran, Duran songs (if he so wanted to do one of their songs) that would have worked better for him. But better to choose something entirely different.

But I did vote for him a few times, because he deserves to be in the final two.

Syesha? Well, I have to admit I LIKED her version of "Proud Mary." I sorta liked that she started it out slow, her dancing was really very good, and she seemed to have latched onto her 'stage' self which works much better than her real self. However, the 2nd song was not good.

And I thought she started crying b/c of what Paula said...that she 'had made it' and achieved her dream. Which was rather refreshing to see...Syesha with some real emotion up there.

David A. - if this kid wins...the record producers are setting themselves up for another American Idol failure. He doesn't have the depth or musical talent to go anywhere. He would be a flash in the pan and then disappear into obscurity. He needs 10 more years and a restraining order against his father....then get back to me.

Whenever this kid talks about song choice, all I can ever think is...he's lying. His dad chose these songs, and now he's making up reasons. Ugh.

Anonymous said...

I can't believe people are actually defending Castro's first song. It was horrifically awful and borderline offensive ("minstrely", whether it's a word or not, described it well). Randy and Simon were 100% right. It seemed like he so badly wanted to go home---hopefully he will.

Syesha might be acting, but she looked great and didn't sound bad either.

Cook botched two golden opportunities but could still win if he comes up big on the last show.

Archuleta will sell a lot of copies of his first album. Where he goes when the 10-year-olds who buy it grow up I don't know.

Anonymous said...

Jason should've been booted a month ago. He's monumentally overmatched, and his singing is high-school cabaret level. As for Syesha, I think the judges have been brutal on her week after week.

Anonymous said...

David Cook blows.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Wait: Wasn't the point that the audience DID know who sang that song and held it against a performer who didn't seem to care?

I don't think the audience has that kind of musical sophistication, and just took it as Carly screaming about how Jesus is overrated.

leor said...

Linda: it's like you read my mind, i feel EXACTLY the same way about archie...now i just don't have to post my feelings :)

Anonymous said...

i was terribly scared for David C cause this is his genre ..thx heavens he wasnt a disaster... luved the 2nd song more than 1st though

Jason C was a total disaster.. im sorry but dont think his cuteness gonna save him....

Syesaha really pulled all strings with the tears and the song being written during civil war ..soo here comes patriotic votes!!!

now i seriously cant get y Randy said everytime David A comes on he's produces amazin vocals.. come on i know they like the guy but that's that's just wrong.. david a forgot his words, last wk was called amatuerish which it was.. and u tellin me he's ALWAYS bring it? gemme a break...

Stacie said...

Jeff's Brenda Vaccaro reference made me spew coffee all over my monitor! Good one.

To whoever said watching YDA sing "Love Me Tender" made her feel like a pedophile: you are so right. I felt dirty and was glad he botched the song. Leave out the flourishes!

Castro: How do you not know "in the jingle jangle morning"??????

I thought Syesha started welling up after Randy gave her negative feedback.

Gapers said...

No one should ever be allowed to sing "A Change is Gonna Come." EVER. I have never agreed with Randy more. She took a quiet and contemplative song and added unnecessary screeches. And to compare it to her "struggle" was completely offensive and degrading to a man whose death was probably in some part due to his race. Her tears were bogus. The entire thing was disgusting.

Mo Ryan said...

The best part of the night was Randy being genuinely angry about Castro's non-performance. I mean, when you've made Randy mad, how much more clear could it be that you've wasted everyone's time?

That would have been embarrassing for even a high school talent show.

YDA -- what a conundrum. Reading that EW article and seeing other mentions of the behavior of his dad --- I genuinely feel sorry for the kid. And he does have a voice. Yet the fakeness that is so pervasive on Idol seems to have found a poster child in him.

Ah well, only another couple weeks to go. and at least there was no mentor, woohoo!

rhamilton said...

Did anyone catch that Archuletta did a little bit of Sean Kingston's "Beautiful Girls" in the midst of stand by me? I think maybe his dad-manager has been flipping through some mash-ups.

J said...

I mean, when you've made Randy mad, how much more clear could it be that you've wasted everyone's time?

I would suggest that making Randy mad would be a clear sign that you've done something very, very right.

And the word, anonymous, is "minstrelsy," which is a historically heavy noun. Thank God Elvis or Jagger or Ari Up or Joe Strummer or Terry Hall or even the early Police never performed on Idol. And it's a shame Simon couldn't get to Eric Clapton early enough to let him know that "Sheriff" is a song "you don't touch."

dez said...

He needs 10 more years and a restraining order against his father....then get back to me.

I often wonder how much of his fanbase is squeeing 10-year-old girls and how much is simply people afraid of what his father might do to him if he doesn't win! And I don't even watch the show (I just enjoy the hell out of what you all write about week after week).

Anonymous said...

"Syesaha really pulled all strings with the tears and the song being written during civil war ..soo here comes patriotic votes!!!"

Song being written during the civil war? What did she sing "When Johnny Comes Marching Home"?

Emily said...

One thing that has not been mentioned (at least up to the comments I read; perhaps it was somewhere here) regarding Syesha and her comments about Sam Cooke's Civil Rights-era song and her own American Idol experience, is that perhaps Idol success such as what she is experiencing IS an emotional testament to the changes we've seen in American society in the past few decades. I actually do not think she meant her comments to be taken the way they were (is she really directly comparing her Idol experience to that of black Americans in the first half of the 20th century? I don't think so); however, if we think about it, it makes sense for her to feel choked up after researching and listening to that song. She is just a person, yes -- but in the vein of civil rights, the implications of being black and female today, knowing certain opportunities will be offered her after Idol is a nice sock-it-to-history.

Of course, the music industry has always been a force in regard to the movement ... it can also be misleading and full of typecast.

crazylady said...

I have to say that after the show ended, I turned to my husband and commented, this is the worst top 4 night I have ever seen. I think Jason Castro and David Cook are tired and want out. David A doesn't know what he wants, and Syesha is an actress playing the part of a soul singer. I think it's anyone's guess at this point, since there's not a clear winner. I see the judges trying to figure out who to back since their favorites are gone. It is all a game, but I hope in the future to hear more from David C.

Undercover Black Man said...

No one should ever be allowed to sing "A Change is Gonna Come." EVER.

Elliott Yamin could've rocked it.

Fantasia too.

Bo Bice even.