After two lackluster performances on Tuesday, Jason Castro seems suspiciously happy to be voted off, leaving a reportedly neck-and-neck final three
Jason Castro, Syesha Mercado, ...

‘Idol’ recap: It’s anyone’s game

Paula didn’t dub her s-YES-ha for nothing.

Indeed, the Contestant Most Likely to Ruin Your Chances in the Office Idol Pool, Syesha Mercado, is now just one week and about a million swing votes away from cracking the American Idol season 7 finals and, in the process, forcing the folks at 19 Entertainment to do something I suspect they never wanted (or thought they would have) to do — give the woman a record contract.

Tonight, in the aftermath of Tuesday’s lackluster, poorly sound-mixed Rock and Roll Hall of Fame night, Syesha had to wait till the end of the episode to hear her fate but ultimately outlasted yet another early front-runner, dreadlocked troubadour Jason Castro, who appeared somewhat elated when Ryan Seacrest informed him that he was headed home.

In fact, by the end of Ruben Studdard’s ”Celebrate Me Home” — which, after nine weeks, is still making me wistful for Daughtry’s ”Home,” or even Daniel Powter’s ”Bad Day” — Jason admitted to being a little relieved, especially since he would have had to learn three more songs before next Tuesday’s top-three performance show. ”I don’t know what I would’ve done,” he said with a chuckle, alluding to his prior comment that his inexperience had started to catch up with him, causing him to forget the lyrics of Bob Dylan’s ”Mr. Tambourine Man.”

And though I was disappointed, perhaps even a little angry, after Jason seemingly threw in the towel on Tuesday, I have to admit I howled when he cheerfully recounted to Ryan that ”somebody told me I shot the tambourine man.” After all, it was Jason’s refreshing lack of camera readiness, his random, bewildered sound bites, that made me a fan in the first place. And let’s not forget that for a guy who didn’t get a second of significant airtime until week 1 of the semifinals, Jason exceeded expectations, leaving behind a pretty long list of memorable performances, including ”Daydream,” ”I Just Want to Be Your Everything,” ”Hallelujah,” ”If I Fell,” ”Travelin’ Thru,” ”Over the Rainbow,” ”I Don’t Wanna Cry,” ”Memory” (which I still contend was touching, and misunderstood by Simon and Randy), and ”Forever in Blue Jeans.”

Jason’s exit package and onstage banter tonight further highlighted his goofy folkster charm: watching him duet on ”Since U Been Gone” with Renaldo ”Brothers Forever” Lapuz while waiting his turn to audition; succumb to the will of that crazed kissing bandit while arriving at the Beatles’ Love show in Vegas; and, of course, nervously ask Ryan if he was planning to reveal the voting results just 30 minutes into tonight’s telecast. (If only!)

NEXT: The possible spoiler

Syesha, meanwhile, is refusing to go gently into the Broadway footlights that Simon and Randy envision for her. If we’re to believe Ryan’s numbers (and, um, why wouldn’t we?), Idol tallied almost 51 million votes on Tuesday , a season high, and the top three — Syesha, David Cook, and David Archuleta — were all within a million votes of each other. (I’m assuming Syesha ranked third, but only Nigel Lythgoe knows for sure.) The suddenly close race seemingly flies in the face of Simon’s recent remarks about Syesha in last week’s issue of Entertainment Weekly: ”She’s got no chance. There’s a ceiling and she can never rise above that.”

Given that Syesha’s head is currently banging relentlessly against said ceiling, I could certainly understand her explanation of how Paula’s glowing critique of her Tuesday-night performance of ”A Change Is Gonna Come” sent her into a fit of joyous sobbing. As Paula succinctly put it, ”I helped give Syesha her moment of recognition,” which is more than anyone else involved in the season 7 production has done this year.

Although I felt Syesha performed significantly better during Neil Diamond, Andrew Lloyd Webber, and Mariah Carey weeks than she did covering Sam Cooke and Tina Turner on Tuesday night, I have to admit I admire the way she keeps doggedly fighting for her right to remain in the competition. If only she could master the fine art of giving good onstage banter, she might actually be able to find a crack in the aforementioned ceiling and make Simon eat his words.

Not that I’m under any illusions that that will ever happen. Then again, 12 weeks ago, wouldn’t most of us have considered it a big victory for Syesha if she’d managed to make the Idol tour? (Somewhere Asia’h Epperson is shedding a tear.)

And then there are the Davids, the contestants so omnipresent in my life for the last three months that I have (I kid you not) begun to have dreams in which I am watching their performances on TV. (See, if I could only find an ingestible version of the show, I could say that I ”eat, sleep, and breathe Idol” without stretching the truth!)

Disturbing, I know. Let’s forget I even wrote that. (It’s okay, Mom, don’t worry: There are only two more weeks left this season. Paula and I will both get the rest we really, really need.)

NEXT: Awkward moments

So, getting back to the Davids, and the remainder of tonight’s results show, let me pose a few questions and make a few observations:

Which was more awkward: Watching Mr. Cook unsuccessfully try to reject the offer of a blind date from a complete stranger from Pittsburgh with a squeamish ”we’ll see,” or watching Mr. Archuleta try to think on his feet when asked about the biggest challenge he’s faced on Idol? (I half expected Archie to say, ”My dad didn’t tell me the answer to this question!” I kid, I kid!)

Which was more alarming: Paula’s uni-shouldered Dynasty-era top (which appeared to have been through a trauma similar to that suffered by Whoopi Goldberg’s blue ball gown from Jumpin’ Jack Flash) or Ryan’s comment that ”Taylor Hicks is ready for you to lick and send through the mail”?

(Side note: Don’t you hate the way Ryan Seacrest says ”David Cook”?)

What did you make of Rocker David’s explanation for his subpar performances on Tuesday night: that he woke up feeling off, with his head in the wrong place? Is it possible he’s worried about what kind of record he’ll have to make if he wins the whole thing? And might he be wise to take a long look at the iffy sales history of Idol runners-up like Justin Guarini, Diana DeGarmo, Bo Bice, Katharine McPhee, and Blake Lewis?

Oh, and speaking of Mr. Bice, I have to say I rather enjoyed his performance of ”Witness,” which seemed a lot more up his alley than anything off his debut disc. Still, I had a moment where I wondered if his praise of the two Davids (and failure to acknowledge Jason and Syesha) was a producer requirement if he wanted to score some screen time.

Interestingly, I thought Bo was in much better voice than Maroon 5’s Adam Levine, who sounded a little tinny during ”If I Never See Your Face Again.” In his defense, though, the sound mix during the performance all but muted the band (and any backing vocals) and made it almost sound like Levine was performing to a track. (I detected similarly jank audio during Tuesday night’s performance show and wondered if I was going crazy.)

Then again, in a brutally drawn-out hour that included a ”Ford Music Video” that desecrated the venerable ”Ring of Fire,” a grotesquely choreographed group number to ”Reeling in the Years” (Paula, they need your help!), and some utterly unfunny call-in guests (save for Simon’s snappy ”Your Majesty, if you’re watching, I’m available”), Levine’s advice to the contestants — ”You’re gonna get jaded and you’re gonna say, ‘God, I hate this,’ but you really love it. So just try to remember that” — was unexpectedly bracing. Now if the dude had only weighed in on the horrible Swaybots (TM) who looked ready to crawl onto the stage during his interview with Seacrest, he’d have instantly become my Idol, my hero, and my favorite person on the planet.

What do you think? Wouldn’t it be better (and more cost-effective) if the producers replaced the Swaybots with those scary Sims people from the new (but not necessarily improved) opening credits? What does the future holds for Jason Castro? Are you, like me, looking forward to hearing what kind of album he’ll release in the future? And finally, is there any way Syesha can break up the dual-David finale?

Episode Recaps

American Idol

Ryan Seacrest hosts as Katy Perry, Lionel Richie, and Luke Bryan guide aspiring singers on their way to superstardom.

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