Last night on American Idol, Mariah Carey was the mentor/honoree (just in time for the release of E=MC2!), and boy, was it rough going. Randy said at the show’s outset that he was “looking for identity,” but hidden in that cryptic phrase was an unspoken message: The ladies were pretty much sunk unless they radically reinvented the songs. Rankings and reactions after the jump.
1. Jason Castro. Did a version of “I Don’t Wanna Cry” that skipped the Mariah-isms for a take that was probably inspired by a late-night Idol-dorm-room spin of Beck’s Mutations My only question: How did Saturday Night Live‘s producers not include Jason in the sketch about the Jack Johnson-hosted “Mellow Show”? Slap some dreads on Jason Sudeikis and you’re golden.
2. David Cook. Hey, I have an idea: Let’s remove the most charming part of “Always Be My Baby”–the “bo do doops” on the chorus–and then turn the song into your typical David Cook nu-grunge ballad slog, complete with his version of a “big note” and an unresolved chord at the end! I guess I give him points for originality (there’s no Finger Eleven version of this song lurking out there, right?) and not getting tripped up by the Tower Of Mariah that the judges have been erecting week after week. But only a few.
3. Carly Smithson. Clad in a cleavage-revealing, tattoo-covering top, she sang “Without You,” and the first half seemed shaky–perhaps because she had to put some restraint into the proceedings. But once the song veered into big-note territory she sounded a bit more comfortable. (Randy actually agreed with me on this point, for what I think is the first time all season.) Of course, she suffered from Simon’s inevitable Mariah comparisons. Is this episode designed to just package all the ladies into one big lump of doom? Because it’s kinda working.
4. David Archuleta. A very boring, all-big-note version of “When You Believe,” which I guess constitutes a “deep cut” since the Mariah-Whitney duet was only on the Prince Of Egypt soundtrack and it peaked at No. 15 here, although a Simon Cowell-produced version went to the top spot in the UK. Tried a falsetto bit that really didn’t work, but the judges lapped up his treacle anyway. Were they encouraging him or trying to discourage his crazy fans from calling? (Also: He actually said he “wasn’t worthy” of being in Mariah’s presence, which made me wonder what an Archie-hosted version of Wayne’s World would be like.)
5. Syesha Mercado. Another relatively deep cut–this time, “Vanishing,” from Mariah’s self-titled debut. (Which, it should be noted, came out 18 years ago.) The second half of the song did not do it for me at all, what with it being just a lot of Syesha nasally wailing the word “vanishing” over and over again, but at least the viewers at home don’t have an automatic Mariah comparison to draw on. If any viewers at home even care about Syesha at this point.
6. Brooke White. I’m not really sure what key Brooke’s version of “Hero” was supposed to be in at the beginning, although turning it into a piano ballad a la “Imagine” did strip the “Mariah” from it and make the song a little more Brooke-ish. But you could see that she was pretty uncomfortable with the song as a whole, singing off-pitch (especially on that bridge!) and rushing the song in parts, then visibly shaking after she got off the piano bench and almost crying when Simon compared her performance to a Vegetarian Whopper–i.e. no meat. The latter fits in with Paula’s proclamation that “every ounce… is totally who [she is],” I think.
7. Kristy Lee Cook. Oh, “Forever.” You are so one of my least favorite Mariah songs, because of the way you remind me of the much superior “Always And Forever.” And Kristy Lee’s awful performance in the lower registers, still-inert personality, bad glitter eyeshadow, and churlishness during her critique pretty much didn’t change my “meh” opinion of her overall.
WHO’S GOING HOME: Probably Carly, thanks to early placement in the show and unenthused comments from the judges. But I have a feeling that David Archuleta is going to land in the bottom three, with his fans lulled into a false sense of security thanks to his Mariah-weening and first-up-on-the-show status.
PAULA ABDUL OUT-OF-IT SCALE: 7/10. She seemed OK until Simon’s hamburger comment, after which she started saying “Where’s the beef” over and over again. Whether the ghost of Clara Peller possessed her in that moment or she was just really peeved about the green room’s skimpy deli plate we’ll never know.