Last night’s American Idol was a bumpy ride, complete with misguided song choices, false starts, and gross pandering to the “America First” crowd. But it was a notable episode for one key reason. A new front-runner emerged: David Cook, whose strategy of picking songs that other rock bands have covered and then making those covers “his own” reached its pinnacle with his version of Chris Cornell’s version of “Billie Jean.”
1. David Cook. His performance of “Chris Cornell’s version of ‘Billie Jean’” was anything but my cup of tea–I likened it to “the worst parts of Chris Cornell, mixed with a heaping of Scott Stapp” to a friend–and the judges really need to listen to some music from the last 10 years, because so far every “original” version of a song he’s done was first arranged by someone else. But his turning the Idol stage into something vaguely resembling a rock club, instead of a massive televised talent show that rewards Mariah-style vocal noodling over all else, gave him the top spot.
2. Michael Johns. “We Will Rock You/We Are The Champions” is a hoary song that’s been done to death, but he pulled it off well. And yes, I’m probably giving him sympathy points because he is o-l-d. But he deserves even more because his backup singers were absolutely awful, and they nearly capsized the performance with their screwup of the pre-chorus.
3. Syesha Mercado. On a night with a lot of dismal song choices and even worse performances, Syesha stuck out by picking a big belter and not screwing it up. If she does the baby imitation one more time, though, I may have to downgrade her on principle.
4. Jason Castro. As Simon pointed out, his Sting performance was a little late-night-dorm-room, but it was fine, further setting him up for a top-six exit and an opening slot on the next Jack Johnson tour. And really, for the judges to say that he needs to expand his repertoire… have they looked at the Billboard charts lately? Then again, these are the same people who booted Josiah Leming in favor of Luke Menard, so all bets are off.
5. Chikezie. The judges slammed Chikezie’s Luther Vandross performance for not being “modern,” but with every week, every comment to David Cook about his “originality,” every suck-up to David Archuleta, you realize more and more that the judges really don’t know anything about modern music. He was fine, he worked the crowd, he missed a few notes. His performance wasn’t great, but it wasn’t terrible, and it surely didn’t deserve the wrath that it received.
6. Brooke White. A false start, an arrangement that started off light and then got completely gloppy, and the creepy-stalker lyrics of “Every Breath You Take” all worked against her.
7. Carly Smithson. I shudder to think what the song lists were for each contestant, since so many of the performances last night were of songs that have been burned out to a crisp by the world. Did the Idol producers run through Oxygen’s “Karaoke On Demand” channel for inspiration? Because Carly’s version of “Total Eclipse Of The Heart” earned way too many mental comparisons to drunk chicks at Sing Sing simply by virtue of her picking that Bonnie Tyler track. It’s unfair, but as the judges say, song choice is important.
8. David Archuleta. No, really: What was that song? It really did sound like David had been beamed in from a Star Search episode from 1990 instead of born in that year. Cheesy on every level, and I’m sure that the introduction of his girlfriend last night caused a few of his preteen fans to flip to the Jonas Brothers on ABC in order to stave off their tears.
(Also: Anyone notice how Ryan and Simon made references to David’s father, with Simon going so far as to claim that Daddy Dearest was the one calling the shots? I’m guessing those rumors of his overbearting stage presence aren’t untrue in the slightest.)
9. Ramiele Malubay. Continuing the “bad song choice” theme, Ramiele’s voice got completely swallowed up by Heart’s “Alone”–and her standing stock-still during the entire performance didn’t help. She looks more deer-in-headlights on the Idol stage with each passing week.
NOT RANKED: Kristy Lee Cook. Congratulations, longtime Confederacy fan Kristy Lee Cook. By singing “God Bless The USA,” you managed to make the most cynical competitive choice in the entire history of televised singing programs ever. And by not muffing it like you did to every song you chose every week prior to this one, you really did give people the opportunity to say “what, do you hate America?” to anyone who dared raise the fact that you suck out loud. Well done. I can’t wait until next week–country week!–because you’re so going to come out in a red white and blue sequined bikini. And cowboy boots, since you’ll probably sing that Toby Keith song about sticking boots in all comers’ asses.
WHO’S GOING HOME: Ramiele and David are safe because of their fanbases, and Kristy is safe because it’s American Idol, so I’m going to say Carly. Because what this competition needs is more blandness!
PAULA ABDUL OUT-OF-IT SCALE: 9.6/10. She babbled and bobbed and weaved, and at one point I thought she was actually sleeptalking. I knew from the beginning of the show–when I got a look at her dress and it seemed to be on backwards, or at least turned around slightly–that last night was going to be a doozy, and, well, it was.