”American Idol” recap: Beatle leftovers
Anyone want to take a bet that right now, American Idol‘s producers are wishing they’d followed up last week’s triumphant Lennon-McCartney night by taking the advice of Brooke White’s memorable number and simply letting it be? As we sat down tonight for a second helping of Beatles tunes, it was pretty clear someone forgot to refrigerate the feast over the last seven days, and the resultant 11-course musical meal mostly tasted dry, stale, and, in some cases, downright fetid.
In honor of my food-themed opening paragraph, I’d like to file tonight’s various performances from least appetizing to most delicious. (Apologies in advance if you can taste the DayQuil in tonight’s column; I’m fighting a cold while I write this!) Let’s get started, shall we?
Someone call 911 — I think I need my stomach pumped! Okay, maybe Kristy Lee Cook’s ”You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away” wasn’t bad enough to put anyone’s health at risk, but following the runaway train of last week’s ”Eight Days a Week,” it’s pretty clear that it’s time for Idol voters to flush the congenial blond country gal from the stage. You’d have had to hire a private investigator to find Kristy Lee’s lower register as she stalked the stage in her peculiar black V-neck minidress (with sheer arms stolen from Joan Collins’ Dynasty wardrobe), and the rest of the performance was about as flat as David Cook’s hairdo. I’ll admit I felt a pang of sympathy for K.L. when she delivered the lyric ”I can see them laugh at me,” but it was canceled out by her admission that her song choice was based solely on the title. As for her promise/threat to Simon — ”I can blow your socks off, and you know it” — unless next week’s theme is gospel, and Kristy Lee wins a three-way draw with Brooke and Carly for ”Amazing Grace,” I rather doubt it. Could it be that after eliminating one of three Davids last Wednesday, this week America will whittle down the top 10 to include only one Cook?
I think the milk is off Just keeping it really real, I’d be happy to pour Ramiele down the Idol drain this week — if I weren’t already down at the ER dealing with my Kristy Lee ailment. About the only thing right with Ramiele’s performance of ”I Should Have Known Better” was the prescience of the song’s title. Everything about the performance — Ramiele’s weird button-y belt-bustier thingie, the song’s hokey arrangement, her ”follow the bouncing ball” delivery — said ”tenth place on season 2 of Idol.” Seriously, while her competitors are at least making an attempt to try out interesting arrangements and interpretations, Ramiele is busy dedicating ”In My Life” to her fallen Idol comrades and saying that making friends with her fellow finalists has been the most memorable part of her Idol journey. (Ugh. Apologies for using the term ”Idol journey.”) Simon was right that the harmonica accompaniment was all wrong, but when I spend the entire 90 seconds transfixed by a contestant’s dazzling eyeliner and troweled-on lip gloss, then there’s something essential missing from the performance.
Also fast approaching his Idol expiration date is Michael Johns, who wisely mentioned his Hollywood-week performance of ”Bohemian Rhapsody” in his interview package, the better to remind voters why they put him into the season 7 finals in the first place. Unfortunately, his rendition of ”A Day in the Life” was once again an utter disappointment by comparison. Sure, Michael was bound to fail in his attempt to condense a long and winding number into 90 seconds — it all ended up very ”three songs for the price of one!” — but you can’t blame song arrangement for that gruesomely botched falsetto or a general lack of emotional connection. It seems like every week the judges try to tell us Michael is worthy of our votes — how hilarious was Paula’s one-two punch of saying that Michael was great during dress rehersal, then blaming his nonexistent earpiece for his shortcomings (whoops!) — but how many chances are we supposed to give him before we just give up?
I’ve got similar feelings about Amanda Overmyer, another contestant who seemed so terrific during Hollywood Week. Oh, Rock & Roll Nurse, I hate myself for loving you. Because, really, your rendition of ”Back in the U.S.S.R.” was, to quote the quote of the week, ”a hot tranny mess.” The way you seemed to be gasping for breath at the end of every big ”note” (And I put ”note” in quotation marks, because if I didn’t, it might imply you were trying to sing an actual tune, rather than howl like the world’s most dangerous former health-care provider.) But as Simon noted, personality counts in this competition, and I cannot resist howling with laughter when you say things like how you want to tease up a Beatles song really high and put some black eyeliner on it, or when you paint yourself as the anti-Archuleta by declaring, ”Ballads are boring!” Simon was right that ”your tickets aren’t on sale yet,” but here’s hoping you survive one more week. The Idol top 10 tour needs you!
NEXT: Falling, yes, I’m falling…
Please, don’t trot out that recipe again Here are some combinations of great ingredients that really shouldn’t be mixed: Brooke White and moving; Chikezie, country music, and the harmonica; Jason Castro and foreign languages. And while it will be a travesty if any of those three contestants goes home this week, here’s hoping they all learn some valuable lessons about their strengths and weaknesses from tonight’s show.
Brooke, clearly, needs to be anchored to a piano, or a guitar, or a seat on the side of the stage, if she’s going to have any chance of cracking the top three. As we’ve seen during group performances, she’s not much of a dancer, but apparently it’s beyond her scope to even move in rhythm to a psychedelic little ditty like ”Here Comes the Sun.” The minute she got up from a seated position, Brooke looked like a frightened child in need of a hug (and maybe some fresh-baked cookies) from her nanny, and that little spin (complete with a random ”whoo!”) practically seemed like a cry for help. And while Brooke at least scored points for admitting that the latter move was a mistake, she needs to learn that silence, not incessant babbling, is the best response to a tough critique.
Chikezie, meanwhile, may have felt a little too invincible after last week’s stellar take on ”She’s a Woman.” Why else in the world would he have chosen to make his first performance on the harmonica in front of 30 million people? Indeed, Simon was completely right when he told Chikezie that his playing was ”atrocious” and rendered his performance of ”I’ve Just Seen a Face” a little gimmicky. But in the buoyant contestant’s defense, if he’d selected a slightly less countrified arrangement, I think he’d have fared better with the judges. Here’s hoping Chikezie lasts long enough that we get to hear him try his voice out on something written later than 1989.
As for Jason, what is there to say? He looked almost embarrassed doing that little hand toss when he hit the French portion of the lyrics of ”Michelle,” and while Paula had a point that he seems slightly disconnected when he puts down his guitar, I can’t say I didn’t enjoy his performance. Jason’s biggest problem at this point isn’t that he’s a more limited vocalist than, say, Carly or Little David but rather that he hasn’t yet branched out beyond the kind of arrangements you could imagine him playing down at his local coffeehouse. With an entire band there to back him up, maybe it’s time Jason took a gamble and tried something with a harder rock edge, or a more driving tempo, next week.
Which brings us to the evening’s four most successful performances, three of which I really liked, and one of which left me ambivalent. Let’s start with the last one:
That was done perfectly well, but it’s just not the kind of dish I’m crazy about First off, kudos to David Archuleta for not pretending last week’s botched lyrics never happened; his interview package was charming, and goofy, and age-appropriate. Unfortunately, his cover of ”The Long and Winding Road” was none of the above. Sure, it was completely in tune and showcased the fact that the kid can truly, madly sing (and keep the lip licking to a minimum). But there’s also something slightly off-putting in listening to an exuberant 17-year-old get bogged down in the fusty orchestral stylings of a dreary adult-contemporary station. It didn’t help that the insanely annoying producer plants in the Idol ”mosh pit” swayed robotically out of rhythm through the entire performance — Nigel Lythgoe, please make them stop! — but until David cuts lose and proves he’s more than a windup power vocalist whose future will involve a 12-month residency at Caesars Palace in Vegas, I’m not sure I can ever root for him with any enthusiasm.
Of course, ”root for” is a relative term for me in a season where momentum and confidence and relevance and vocal power seem to zig and zag and careen more frequently than Paula’s lucidity. One contestant in particular proved that point this week:
Hey, you wrapped the Brussels sprouts in bacon! Ouch, I know I’m comparing Syesha Mercado to the vilest veggie known to Western civilization. Except, recently, I discovered I actually kind of like the little green cabbages. And heck, after weeks and weeks of rooting for her ouster, I actually really liked Syesha’s version of ”Yesterday,” too. Maybe she was right and that brush with the bottom three was exactly what she needed. But Syesha, dressed in a long green dress with a Pocahontas-y neckline and waist (outfit of the night!), stripped down the Beatles’ most famous ballad and (without shouting a single note) managed to deliver it with a tunefulness and passion she’s never shown before. Sure, Simon gave her the backhanded compliment that ”you chose the song Brooke should’ve sung,” but I actually think all 10 of Syesha’s rivals could learn something from her performance tonight: It’s still not too late in the competition to convert new fans.
NEXT: The fab two
Which leaves me with my two favorites of the evening, who I enjoyed so much that I won’t slap them with the tragic leftover-oriented labels that (at this late hour) are feeling as gimmicky as Chikezie’s harmonica.
Okay, David Cook’s rendition of ”Day Tripper” was inspired by Whitesnake’s cover, and yeah, maybe a 90-second performance doesn’t really leave enough time to break out the vocoder and make it totally work, but unlike last week’s overrated ”Eleanor Rigby,” this cover found Rocker David singing totally in tune and, as Randy pointed out, delivering his number as if it were part of his own concert, rather than one-eleventh of a massive televised talent show. Simon said Rocker David has lost the ”element of surprise,” but couldn’t the same be said for the competition’s other David too?
I also thought Simon was unnecessarily harsh on Carly Smithson’s ”Blackbird,” but of course, I sometimes wonder if when the cranky Brit calls a song ”indulgent,” he actually means ”unfamiliar.” Either way, aside from that almost-flubbed lyric toward the end of the song, Carly’s performance was spectacular — from the extraordinary power and restraint of her vocals to her believable explanation of how she interpreted the lyrics to fit her (and her fellow contestants’) struggles in the music industry. Hey, how can you not love spontaneous stage banter that has Simon lamenting that he now feels like Idol‘s contestants are ”all broken birds”? Just as long as he doesn’t stop whispering ”sparrow” into Paula’s ear, right?
What did you think of this week’s show? Did you feel, like me, that it was a letdown compared with the first week of Beatles music? Who was your favorite, and do you feel your allegiances shifting at all? And who will and should go home? (By the way, if you watch tomorrow night’s results show and can’t wait for my column to post your opinions, check out the reader blogs and message boards at EW’s new TV Fan site!)