Jason Castro did the impossible not once, not twice, but three times up on the American Idol stage tonight. With his disappointing performances of ”I Shot the Sheriff” and ”Mr. Tambourine Man,” the gentle, dreadlocked troubadour from Rockwall, Texas, likely gave the Unsinkable Syesha Mercado a free pass into the final three, helped me begin to understand why 90 percent of the people I know are rooting for a David Cook-David Archuleta finale, and, perhaps worst of all, made me momentarily miss Luke Menard. (For those of you fortunate enough to have forgotten, he’s the dude who ”sang” ”Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” during the last week of semifinals and who gave a typically cheesy thumbs-up from his seat in the Idol audience tonight. Yeah, him.)
The sad part is, I’ve been rooting for Jason ever since he first appeared on my TV screen three months ago — without the smallest kernel of hype or hope, and with what was probably less than 30 seconds of prior airtime — to deliver a magical semifinal rendition of the Lovin’ Spoonful’s ”Daydream.” But to suggest that Jason’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame night performances were akin to waving a pair of giant white flags would be giving him too much credit, as that would suggest he spent any energy at all fighting against the David-David finale that Idol‘s judges and producers so desperately crave.
Yeah, I know. A trip to the Idol finale would’ve locked Jason into a contract (not to mention a ”This Is My Cliché” first single) that he’d likely spend the next several years trying to overcome. And it’s somewhat understandable that after hearing Paula Abdul critique his ”September Morn” last week — prior to his actually taking the stage to sing it — the guy might be feeling a little disillusioned with American Idol.
But why make excuses? At this point in the competition, shouldn’t Jason’s time on the Idol stage be about something more than winning or losing or inspiring rabid voters to investigate the latest speed-dialing technology? And if the prospect of disappointing millions of deeply invested fans wasn’t enough motivation, then how about wanting to go down in history as one of Idol‘s great third-place finishers, alongside Elliott Yamin, Kimberley Locke, and Melinda Doolittle? (It’s not like the folks at 19 Entertainment spent any time writing those names with hearts and flowers on the fronts of their notebooks.) Or maybe thinking back on all the contestants who’ve been booted before you — Brooke White, Carly Smithson, Michael Johns, Chikezie, David Hernandez, even Kristy Lee Cook — who’d have likely given anything for a chance to perform two additional songs for an audience of some 25 million folks?
Instead, Jason gave a shoulder shrug of a performance on ”I Shot the Sheriff,” lazily strumming a few chords on his guitar while failing to infuse the Bob Marley track with the originality he brought to ”I Don’t Wanna Cry,” or the raw passion he delivered on ”Hallelujah.” The way Jason sort of backed away from the mike as he tossed off his last few notes broke my Idol-lovin’ heart. And while I’m not exactly sure why Simon declared that ”I Shot the Sheriff” is ”a song you do not touch” — Eric Clapton scored a huge hit with a completely different arrangement in 1974, after all — it certainly shouldn’t be handled with so little care.
NEXT: Words fail Jason