"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.
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?