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American Idol recap: Rock of Ages

Choosing songs from their birth year, most of the contestants do way better (Michael Johns) or way worse (David Archuleta) than we expected

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Michael David

American Idol

TV Show
Current Status:
In Season
Harry Connick Jr., Jennifer Lopez, Keith Urban, Ryan Seacrest
Reality TV

If you had told me a month ago that in this week of the American Idol finals, Jason Castro or David Archuleta would be in the bottom three — while Kristy Lee Cook, Syesha Mercado, and Michael Johns looked on from the comfort and safety of those hideous blue chenille couches — I’d have said you were crazier than the bespangled, black-leather half gloves that Paula pulled out from the back trunk of her closet tonight.

And, yeah, while the above scenario is about as likely to happen as Simon wearing a rainbow-hued button-down to Wednesday night’s results show, it wouldn’t be the most shocking turn of events — not after a bizarre set of performances on the bizarre ”Songs From the Year You Were Born” theme night.

Then again, it’s been that kind of season — with momentum zipping among the contestants in wildly unpredictable fashion. Except, of course, for the one man who — despite a decided lack of early-season hype — is looking more and more like a potential champion every time he takes the Idol stage. Ladies and gentlemen, let’s hear it for…

…David Cook and His Steadily Improving Hair!

Indeed, the man whose baby pictures made him look like a supervillain from a Marvel Comic (thank God he said it so I don’t have to!) gave the performance of the night, twisting the highly danceable 1982 smash ”Billie Jean” into a dark and stormy ballad.

We now interrupt this paragraph to note that, as Ryan Seacrest pointed out, Rocker David was actually reinterpreting Chris Cornell’s 2007 take on Michael Jackson’s original. Which means Rocker David will likely be fending off ”rip-off” and ”copycat” accusations regarding his performance. And while on some level I do wish that Idol contestants would (or could) rearrange well-known hits without relying on someone else’s recipe, that might not always be a realistic request, given the fact that each one of ’em has to pick and learn a new song (while getting the Idol band on board and recording a version for iTunes) every seven days.

Either way, even if you stripped Rocker David of any extra credit for originality, there’s no denying his vocal on ”Billie Jean” tonight. The physical and emotional power of his glory note toward the end of his number alone exceeded anything sung by any of his nine rivals this week. As Simon succinctly summed it up, Rocker David was ”amazing.”

I’m not sure I’d dole out an adjective quite that strong to describe either Syesha Mercado or Michael Johns, but I’ve got to give credit where it’s due and rank them as the evening’s second and third best performers — despite the fact that I’ve never been a huge fan of either one of them.

Syesha boldly chose the super-size ballad ”If I Were Your Woman” — the third time in six weeks she’s sung about her yearning for a man who’s otherwise engaged! — and for the second straight performance, she hit practically every note, without resorting to flat-out shouting. There’s still something slightly off-putting about Syesha’s interview packages — I can’t shake the weird feeling that she’s been programmed from birth to hunt down fame like Anton Chigurh going after double-crossers — but there’s nothing Idol voters like better than contestants who show week-to-week growth.

Michael, meanwhile, received some help this week, getting bathed in a blinding glow of Nigel Lythgoe’s love — or was that merely some extraordinarily blinding ”I am rock star, hear me roar!” lighting? — as he sang ”We Will Rock You/We Are the Champions” (coincidentally, a wise suggestion by my colleague Kristen Baldwin on this week’s Idolatry). But the lighting and collective hand claps from Rickey Minor and the band didn’t detract from the fact that for the first time in six weeks of live performances, Michael delivered a number with gobs of charisma and (as with Syesha) barely a note out of tune. No, he didn’t really color outside the lines of Queen’s template, but you’ve got to start the momentum-building somewhere, right?

NEXT: Rally round the flag!