Tuesday, May 13, 2008

American Idol: Top 3 performances

"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.

In order...


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?


Anonymous said...

Well, you've hit on my two major talking points of the night:

1. I cracked up when David A. started singing Dan Fogelberg's "Longer," which brought back waves of nostalgia (or is it nausea) for the times when I was stuck in the back seat of my parents' station wagon, taking in my mother's second-hand smoke while being subjected to the local easy listening station. And yes, so many tacky weddings could use David's services, provided he stepped into a time machine and was sent back to the year he was born.

2. OMFG, as a Gossip Girl ad might say-- that horrible "Pearl Harbor" song is one of the greatest of all time?! Making that claim about something Diane Warren has written is like saying Pauly Shore is one of the most brilliant comedians ever to grace the silver screen. Scary.

And one observation you didn't make: Syesha really played the Scarnato card tonight, didn't she? Gams as far as the eye could see.

Unknown said...

wasn't "don't wanna miss a thing" on the armageddon soundtrack? the only reason i remember (i swear! i swear i hate it too!) is cuz it was my effing 8th grade graduation song.

Unknown said...

oh and scott, whatever happened to the gossip girl reviews for the av club? i miss them terribly.

J said...

I didn't see Happy Feet. Was it about a bunch of television producers hammering nails into an aspiring actress-singer's coffin? Because that's what I got from it, here.

Cook's turned into Marty Schottenheimer down the stretch. His early appearances seemed to take chances -- though maybe only in context of the show and only because we didn't know him, yet -- but the play calling's gotten real conservative down the stretch.

I think Ariel Pink probably loved Archuleta's Fogelberg moment.

Anonymous said...

You're right, Alap. It's Armageddon. The horrible Diane Warren song written for Pearl Harbor was for Faith Hill.

And I appreciate that my Gossip Girl column is missed, because it didn't really seem all that treasured while I was writing it. Much as I enjoyed (and continue to enjoy) it, the show never quite caught with our readers and the recent addition of an infant daughter to our family sorta convinced me to retire it quietly.

Nicole said...

David Cook was the best, but there were some horrible song choices. I don't know if it was funnier to watch YDA try act like he can dance or sing the most depressing dragged out ballad ever. Also, I was creeped out when YDA was looking at me through the camera. Perhaps it was supposed to convey romance, but instead I was icked out and wanted him to shut his eyes.

Syesha wasn't given very good options either, but I too would agree that she deserves to make it to the final. Aren't there better Rihanna songs she could do?

I will also admit that Cook is starting to get one note, especially with the song about the frickin' Animal Crackers and other fake romantic garbage.

Is Diane Warren the worst song writer ever? With that one, and her many horrible Celine Dion songs, I don't think I can tolerate anything she does. I can see how one would confuse this song with the Pearl Harbour song, because they are both same bad movie with Ben Affleck.

I can't wait to hear if the Rainbows and Puppies final song is one Cook can rock to or if it is set up for a YDA win.

And Scott, I too miss your Gossip Girl recaps. Maybe you can do the new 90210?

Anonymous said...

carolyn moore says best of luck to you all syesha kick butt i'm rooting for you girl

Joe Reid said...

The camera just seems to get closer and closer to David A's face during those slow songs, doesn't it? Despite what the arm-wavers in the studio might suggest, I don't think the home audience wants to go inside young David's mouth. I have also never seen someone so consistently garble/mumble/forget words to his songs and barely get dinged for it.

I also found the arrangement on David Cook's Armageddon song to be completely overcrowded and junky. How are we going to hear the melody of the Greatest Song That Ever Was with all those guitar flourishes on top of it?

Anonymous said...

I'm rooting for Syesha or David C. Anyone but Archie.

Anonymous said...

"I will also admit that Cook is starting to get one note..."

Impossible, David Cook totally ROCKS!!

He's brilliant, I mean, just listen to those innovative arrangements that Cook creates week after week! His brooding and unique version of Billie Jean was just INCREDIBLE.

He's bringing real balls to the wall rockin' back to radio, I guarantee it. He definitely stands tall amongst the pantheon of great contemporary alt rock radio-- Finger Eleven, Our Lady Peace, Shinedown-- all the greats.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Re: Fogelberg, Adam from ALOTT5MA pointed out a link to the greatest Fogelberg pop culture reference of all time.

K J Gillenwater said...

I think David Cook is getting tired, to tell you the truth. His second song had so many off notes...and lately he's been perfectly on target. It just wasn't like him. So, I think either he's burning out on this competition, or he had a stressful week b/c of personal issues. He did the worst on the song of his choice...he should have done the best, since the excitement and enthusiasm would be there.

As for the producer's song choice, didn't anyone else feel like they were purposefully setting up David C. to win? First, the producer's choice song was the last of the night, the one that is most likely to stick in your head. And both Syesha and David A. were given sort of off, loser songs. Syesha's was too up-tempo and not the right genre; David A. was given a decades old song and he's only 17? But David C. was given actually a very good, popular rocker type song (despite what you think, Alan, a lot of people love that song).

It was just weird. I really felt bias with that last song choice...anyone else feel the same?

David A. lost it tonight...I could see the cracks forming. He did mess up the words at one point in "Longer" and his own personal song choice was the first time I've seen him happy and have his eyes open without effort...this kid WANTS to be a different kind of singer. Sadly, he is only good for singing cheesy ballads.

Anonymous said...

I think these kids are caught up in a whirlwind - all of a sudden their dream is offered up on a silver platter. Think back (if you can) to 17, 19, early 20's surrounded by professionals telling you what to do, manipulating you night and day. If thats not enough, there's your family and friends putting in their two cents. You're practicing till you lose your voice. Then there are the judges tell you that you can't sing that song, Whitney sang it, or you changed that song up and that is sacrilege, then another judge says 'I like what you did with the song' and your head goes spinning. I Know from reading your hype that you've got your violins out by now but what I'm trying to say is BACK OFF!!!!!!!

leor said...

what i find interesting about the armaggedon song is that i don't actually know anyone who likes it, yet it was a massive hit when that movie came out!

i wonder if simon meant what he said as more of a comment on the song's success, as well as the genre that it fits into, namely, schmaltzy ballad that (apparently) appeals to the masses...just the kind of demographic for an american idol winner.

on a side note, the ending montage last night was terrible, and very clearly rehearsal footage. a shame...

Anonymous said...

Ya, they totally set Syesha up to tank with that horrible song. So unfair.
Is it possible Simon was joking when he called that awful song one of the best songs ever? Yeesh. Doubt it - I've always thought he has horrible taste in music, despite being the best judge on the panel.
I'm thisclose to saying I'm done with Idol. Too bad - it's been my guiltiest of pleasures for so long.

Anonymous said...

Am I the only one who saw the "Cougars for Cook" sign in the audience? I had to rewind it twice just to make sure it was really there. Yup, for half a second, there it was. I can just imagine the producer frantically trying to cut away once he actually read what the sign said. Hi-larious! And really, really creepy.

Tom O'Keefe said...

I saw the "Cougars For Cook" sign. I had to do some quick thinking in order to explain to my 8-year old what it meant.

Anonymous said...

The fix is in. Cook gets what Simon calls one of the greatest songs ever (oh, and the songwriter happens to be sitting close by), and Syesha gets Happy Feet soundtrack? I can't stand the Aerosmith song either, but obviously the producers like it.

That's what's odd about producers/judges pick week: the contestants are forced to perform these songs, then are criticized for the choices. If you noticed, almost every critique was "You sang it well, but the choice was wrong." What more could they do but sing it well, if they didn't choose the song??

David Cook is almost as boring as Archuleta by now. Does the world really need another Nickelback?

How many great, I-would-buy-that moments have there been this season? Three? Last year I feel there were far more--Lakisha's Dreamgirls and Bon Jovi song, Blake's Bon Jovi, almost everything by Melinda. It is a disappointing season. Worst top 3 ever.

KrisMrsBBradley said...

Considering that tweens and housewives make up the biggest 2 blocks of voters, the producers should have been thrilled of the "Cougars for Cook" sign.

I thought it was hilarious! Better than another "Archie, be my prom date!!1!!1!!" sign.

Mo Ryan said...

I totally get this sense from Cook that he's over the competition. Not in a smirky way, but that he honestly doesn't care if he wins and just wants the whole thing to be over. I get that from his demeanor when the judges are talking. He just looks like he's not even listening, just grimly grinning and waiting for these yahoos to stop talking.

Young David scares me anymore. I can't look at that fake plastic grin anymore. He's like a Chucky doll -- plastic grin, dead eyes, very scary.

Poor kid, he should be starring in a high school musical right now and trying out for the touring show of Hairspray. What he's going through now is clearly taking a toll.

For what it's worth, Scott (sorry to go off topic), I've gotten fully into Gossip Girl lately.

Ray Bridges said...

This is my first and probably last season of American Idol. It's okay for reality tv, I guess. I've enjoyed it on several levels, and I like David Cook's voice. I bought his Billie Jean, and I plan to buy his First Time Ever I Saw Your Face. I have yet to vote for any contestant, and see no compelling reason to start. I do win about $300 if David Cook wins, since I picked him at during auditions and got good odds. I agree with the previous commenter who suggested that maybe he was tired, but he's definitely over AI.

I feel sorry for little Archuletta. He is out of his league. He should be at home starring in his high school musical. Maybe when he's about 30, has had a couple of love affairs and has some emotional depty, he'll be good. Maybe.

Syesha deserved a lot more respect that what she was showed last night by the judges. Her performance of Fever was respectable. A co-worker said that she thought they beat up on her to get a sympathy vote for her from Jason Castro's fan base.

I thought from the beginning that Archuletta was being pushed as the inevitable winner, but his performances plateaued a few weeks ago, and now they're just grating.

I like the general level of commentary of your commenters. I found you through a Google search.


Joe said...

In addition to the questionable camera moves, the lighting on Syesha during Fever was horrible. I understand setting a mood, but she was in the dark for the first half of the song.

Again, Syesha is the only one who performs in addition to sings. I like her. I like her even more as she Scarnatos all over the stage.

David Cook wins in a mild upset.

Unknown said...

Since Cook appears to be done with doing alternate versions of songs he needs to pull out the hit songs designed for his type of singing.

Nickelback for the win! (Or any of the Nickelback like bands)

Anonymous said...

"David Cook is almost as boring as Archuleta by now. Does the world really need another Nickelback?"

That's the funny thing-- Cook is continuously praised for his "originality" when he clearly sounds just like every other generic asshole on modern rock radio.

K J Gillenwater said...

I think the 'originality' comment is because he actually dares NOT to sing most of his songs identically as written. Sure, he might be using someone else's cover of the song. But most of the singers on Idol are too stupid or too afraid to really do anything new with an old song.

He definitely sounds less Nickelback-y than Chris Daughtry. His voice isn't as grinding. And he proved with the awful Andrew Lloyd Webber night that he can sing very well. Not just scream out the lyrics.

Anonymous said...

Pilfering another artist's alternative arrangement of a song isn't grounds for being hailed as some sort of visionary on Idol. It's no different than just singing the song as is. Trotting out the same basic song structure over twelve weeks isn't exactly earth shattering either.

I will agree that he doesn't sound that much like Nickelback-- it's more along the lines of Lifehouse (!) or Three Days Grace (!!).

Anonymous said...

This sucks. Bring back Rock Star.

Bobman said...

I remember reading an interview with Steven Tyler once where he made a vague reference to "I Don't Wanna Miss a Thing" as one of the few songs in his life that he's more or less been "forced" to sing and is ashamed of. He didn't call it by name but pretty unequivocally alluded to it.