Tuesday, April 22, 2008

American Idol, Top 6: Andrew Lloyd Webber night

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.

In order...

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?


Anonymous said...

I heard Archuleta mumble through a few lines, too, but when I commented on it, my girlfriend said she hadn't heard it. I'm positive he did though. I really hope he doesn't win, though-- the kid's so boring. He's what, 16, and he's bound for adult contemporary radio.

I'm hoping David Cook wins. I think playing it straight was a good idea tonight, and it was sort of the exception that proves the rule of why I like him: you're never quite certain what he's going to do. With Archuleta, you know you're going to get a slow-to-mid tempo earnest ballad with lots of affected emotion.

Unknown said...

Speaking as someone who loves musicals but can't stand Andrew Lloyd Webber, the night got off to a bad start during Ryan's voiceover, when he said something like "ALW is responsible for most of the greatest contemporary musicals". OY.

But ALW really made me chuckle when he said, of both Jason AND Archuleta, that he'd never heard their song choices sung by men before -- AND HE STILL HASN'T. (And that's not intended to be homophobic at all, just a comment on the relative masculinities of the two of them.)

I loved Carly and even Syesha. Brooke's lost me for good now, Castro and Archuleta never really had me. Cook was ok, but I thought there were a couple of times he went into a "Jason Segel singing Dracula puppet musical" voice. Which was kind of appropriate, I guess.

Nicole said...

I'm very familiar with POTO having seen the musical and the movie way too much so I spotted that Archie was just mumbling in the middle. He wasn't pronouncing even when he knew the words. It sounded like "thinkame" and more enunciation would have helped. I didn't hate this version, but this was not the week to "cookify" the songs.

David Cook was really good. His version was close to the Gerard Butler version in the POTO movie, so a classically trained voice isn't necessary to make this song work. (Colm Wilkinson is the best in my opinion, but you need to be a real tenor to pull off his approach)

Syesha and Carly were also good, although they will probably end up in the bottom two. Castro was bad and should have done "Any Dream Will Do" from Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat, but he may have a strong enough fan base to keep him on.

ALW has had practice mentoring in his UK shows - where he's picked a Maria for the Sound of Music, and a Joseph , and is at the moment picking a Nancy for Oliver! - so it's not a surprise that he knows how to get good performances from young performers without much training. He has a real stake in those shows, because the winner needs to be able to perform the show in the West End, and not hide behind studio magic.

If you think that Idols have it bad on elimination night, try enduring a singoff, and then once "not saved" by ALW , having to belt out the toughest song of the musical as a coat is ripped off your back. That's what they did for the Joseph show, and it was hilariously awesome. [Any Dream Will Do for those who want to you tube it]

Michael said...

I scored it as (top to bottom) Syesha, David C, Carly, David A, Brooke, Jason.

I think Syesha should do well on Broadway. That's what her singing style is more appropriate for.

On a total non-sequitur, Alan, I saw that you talked to Johanna this weekend at the NYCC. It finally clicked that the reason your name seemed so familiar was because of RAC from about 10 years ago.

Eric said...

Nicole - I'm hoping that ALW's appearance tonight this week is because he's going to bring "Any Dream Will Do" to US TV and mount a Broadway revival. Probably not the case.

I think Syesha was my favorite performance of the night, but at this point I'm pretty meh about everybody. Wake me up when it's Sondheim week. (As if!)

Anonymous said...

David A is boring. I agree that 20 minutes after his performance he was forgetable.

Great job Carly and David C.

Jason needs to go.

Alan - I agree with your comments. You are an excellent reviewer.

Anonymous said...

As ever, you're dead-on, Alan. But a night devoted to the music of Andrew Lloyd Webber had so many built-in confusions and ironies that I have no understanding of why AMERICAN IDOL's producers allowed it. I'm not the first to point any of them out, but they bear repeating: When the judges say a performance is "Broadway" or "musical theater," they mean it as an insult, implying that a singer doesn't have what it takes to make an impact on the pop charts, which is where AMERICAN IDOL wants its winners to succeed. Then again, there's the reality that many of the also-rans that don't fit into the pop or country scenes are making their living in Broadway musicals.

So what are the performers to think when they're praised for doing a good job? In Syesha's case, I think Simon was implying none-too-subtly that she found her niche tonight... as a Broadway singer.

Nevertheless, it was quite the rollercoaster ride. Aside from another snoozer of a performance from 'lil David, we have dizzying highs (David C. was fantastic, I thought) and terrifying lows (Jason, Brooke). I think Jason's time is up, but Alan might be right about Syesha: Maybe voters will give her a half-priced ticket to Broadway.

Anonymous said...

The top and bottom 3 are so easy to this week:

Top: Syesha, Carly, and David C. (I thought Syesha and Carly were both fantastic)

Bottom: Jason, Brooke, and the still over-rated Archie (welcome to the B3)

Going home: Gotta be Castro. He was abysmal.

Anonymous said...

I have to agree that the main thing this night proved is that Webber is a terrible songwriter. Either he's just mimicking well-known pop or classical song styles, or he's giving us music that's virtually impossible to sing. (Madonna didn't manage to pull off "You Must Love Me" in the "Evita" movie, either.) Meanwhile, "Jesus Christ, Superstar" sounds bizarre and off-putting outside the context of the musical.

Cook came off well, and Archuleta at least gave us the best song arrangement, even if his performance was kind of dull. Syesha was fine, but for some reason sounded a lot better in rehearsal than she did onstage.

The fact that Brooke and Jason floundered doesn't seem entirely their fault -- these songs are just plain hard to sing, and really hard to sing well.

Undercover Black Man said...

Well done, Alan. I missed the first half, due to watching "Pennsylvania Democratic Idol" on MSNBC.

You wrote:

... Brooke seems to be in the middle of a prolonged nervous breakdown the last few weeks.

You know what? People underestimate the degree to which "AI" is a real psychological test... as well as physical and strategic and all else.

I tuned in during the judges' comments to Brooke, and wish I could've seen her stop-and-start.

Give her this... she's adding some drama and viewing interest to a lackluster season.

Nicole said...

I don't think Brooke was that bad once she got started, after all, this song was added to the Evita movie to fit Madonna's minimal vocal range. I'm more concerned with the incredible lack of musical knowledge of so many of these alleged "artists". At the very least, a quick google of the song title would get them the wikipedia background on it.

Matthew said...

ALW ... said, of both Jason AND Archuleta, that he'd never heard their song choices sung by men before

Did he really say that? Makes sense for Archuleta singing "Think of Me", but has he really never heard a male singing "Memory" before? I've definitely heard it sung by Michael Crawford at least - in fact, that was where I first encountered the lyric changing "I was beautiful then" to "Life was beautiful then" as an obvious concession to change in gender - and I'm pretty sure I've heard it a few other places too.

As with Alan, I was confused by the selection of Mariah and ALW themes since they do encourage people to do things the judges are always telling people off for. (Although I find the idea of a Gregorian Chant night strangely appealing.) I'm looking forward to seeing the episodes in a few weeks.

Kenrick said...

I don't tune in to AI each week - I just watch the Davids' performances on youtube each week, and maybe others depending on your recommendations.

Is it really that surprising that they have Mariah week or a ALW week? It's all about ratings and maybe people who don't follow AI but like the theme might choose to tune in. Of course the producers also have to be able to get the singers to come on the show.

As Randy said, if you can sing, you can sing anything, so this at the least shows off their versatility if any.

Anonymous said...

I'm a sucker for Phantom and ALW generally.

I have to say... I kind of have the hots for David Cook after that. Mmmmm... Sweet intoxication. Slap a mask on him and I'd like him even more.

Carly kicked ass too. Go her.

I don't think Jason Castro could have been worse. Wow. The horror.

" ALW ... said, of both Jason AND Archuleta, that he'd never heard their song choices sung by men before"

In addition to Crawford, the three tenors sing Memory on their 1990 album.

Unknown said...

Well I'm glad at least one other person enjoyed Brookes performance. She did start off shakey, probably blew her cool when she had to restart but she picked it up quickly and I thought she was the one that really caught the performance of her song, she sang it like an actress if that makes any sense.

As for Castro. Wow... that was sort of horrible. Youtube Elaine Paiges version of this song if you want to hear what it's suppose to sound like.

As for the rest nothing memorable.

Anonymous said...

Alan, I read your recap before I watched the actual episode and there are definitely a few patches where Archuleta's a little mumbley. Whether that's because he actually forgot the words or he just needs to open his mouth, I don't know.

Cook, on the other hand... whew. I'm also a sucker for Phantom, and he blew me away. The "beeee!" gave me tingles, and I'm not ashamed to admit it.

KrisMrsBBradley said...

I agree that David Castro was the best of the night, by far. However, I guess I'm the only one (!) who actually enjoyed Jason Castro's performance. He wasn't vocally hitting it out of the ballpark, but I thought he showed a lot of raw emotion (he even wiped a tear away at the end) that just touched me.

And, usually, when a song gets a contestant so emotional, the judges jump on that immediately in comments (God knows Brooke has faked emotion enough times). I thought the judges were overly brutal in this case.

Anonymous said...

I agree with those who have said David A has a good voice, but "forgetable". There are so many show-stopping songs in the ALW catalog, and he did choose one, but he didn't impress me with it. I don't get Randy's way over-the-top support, unless it is to Alan's theory that Little David is the predestined winner.

THe funniest thing I've read about Jason Castro's performance that was so breathy (apparently he was sick all week), was that "it is a microphone, not a bong!" I'm still laughing about that now.

Anonymous said...

One nitpick - why didn't David Cook sing the real last notes of Music of the Night? Not power note enough? Too high? His last two or three note s were odd choices.

Nicole said...

Music of the Night ends on a D flat one octave above middle C with a note to be held for 16 counts. Only a classically trained tenor could do that note justice in a live setting.

It's funny how these guys are so interchangeable because I've seen both Jason Cook and David Castro used on various boards. My favourite though has been ArchuD2.

Anonymous said...

Why do the tweens and grannies love David A. so much? He has absolutely no personality and as Alan says you instantly forget about him when he's done. When Ryan asked the girls to come on stage, he looked like he was saying "please don't touch me." Not in a stuck up way, but really freightened.

I'm really scared for Brooke. Her mental health has rapidly declined over the last few weeks. I was almost waiting for her to stop the song again and walk off the stage mumbling "I can't do this anymore." It would not surprise me if she is the first contestant in AI history to drop out. That's how much of a wreck she is. She and Jason should be the bottom two; with her going home, only to prevent her from fainting on stage next week. Everyone else ranged from OK to great (David C.)

J said...

What, this show's still on?

Whatever happens, you have to hand it to Syesha for not regularly playing the skin game to pander for votes. 'cause - yowza - she totally could.

J said...

And was anyone else creeped out by the way ALW said "sensual" and "Pretend I'm a 17-year-old girl from the chorus line?" Ick.

Anonymous said...

I thought ALW was almost as good a mentor as Barry Manilow was last year (his mentor week was a GREAT week for the live performances). Constructive and positive criticism.

Poor Jason. I like him, but think he may get booted tonight. But I HOPE Brooke gets booted. She can't take the pressure and it's only going to get worse as more contestants leave...

Anonymous said...

Heh J, I made the same comment about ALW's "17-year old" at Throwing Things.

I thought last week that Brooke was encouraging Kristy Lee at the very end because Brooke wanted to be the one to go. If she survives to the point they have to do 2 songs a night, I fear for her.

Anonymous said...

Anon: "I have to say... I kind of have the hots for David Cook after that. Mmmmm... Sweet intoxication. Slap a mask on him and I'd like him even more."

Exactly! I've been resistant, but he's wearing me down.

J: "And was anyone else creeped out by the way ALW said "sensual" and "Pretend I'm a 17-year-old girl from the chorus line?" Ick.

Most definitely.