For six-and-a-half seasons now, American Idol contestants have heard near-weekly lectures from the judges about how covering certain singers — Whitney, Christina, Celine, Mariah — is just a recipe for disaster, Tuesday (April 15) night’s show is dedicated entirely to karaoke versions of Mariah Carey hits. Gee. That sounds like a recipe for disaster, right?
Singer: PRESUMPTIVE AMERICAN IDOL DAVID ARCHULETA
Song: "When You Believe"
My Take: Perhaps more than ever before, opening the show has been a death sentence this season. How did David Archuleta come to be performing first tonight, then? And, more importantly, how did he come to be wearing what appear to be leather pants? Ugh. I guess this wasn’t the week for David to break out of his power balladeering mode, was it? Anybody remember the last time he looked like he was having fun? I only remember his eyes half-closed and his hand raised up urging viewers to follow him on his Children’s March. Whether you’re viewing David as remarkably consistent or remarkably monotonous is completely subjective at this point. I think he’s aware that the only way he can lose is to make a horrible mistake and he has no interest in swaying new fans. I like how the only advice we saw Mariah give David was to go into his falsetto at the end. And that he didn’t. Mariah Carey has no advice to give David Archuleta. [Note: At least one reader says David did the falsetto and I was just napping through it. I can’t necessarily disagree.]
Garnett, Pierce and Simon Say: Randy was a little worried tonight, but he says that David can sing and therefore he can sing anything. This is factually inaccurate. Paula suspects that it’s a huge honor for Mariah to hear David Archuleta sing her songs. Simon says he could have predicted the song choice, but that David performed it very well.
Singer: CARLY SMITHSON
Song: "Without You"
My Take: This is an interesting choice, because it’s a song that pre-dates Mariah (not that you’d hear anybody mention "Harry Nilsson") and therefore hasn’t been completely defined by Mariah. The song has a slow build and for a while there’s a clear sense that Carly is holding herself back, trying to avoid over-singing. It’s a decent strategy and it prevents some of the excess she’s been prone to in her lesser moments. But do you really want to watch a performer who’s only showing you a third of her performance capacity? And since this should, at least in theory, be a mighty emotional song, how are you supposed to connect to a cover where the singer’s every thought is only "I’m trying not to yell at you"?
Garnett, Pierce and Simon Say: Randy urges her to check it out, but he cautions that she needs to trust herself in her lower register. Paula’s a fan of the new-found the vocal restraint. Simon just doesn’t think Carly can pull off the Mariah comparison. He suggests she’s capable of pulling it off, but she’s not confident enough.
Singer: SYESHA MERCADO
My Take: This is a trap night for Syesha, whose every song choice this season has suggested a diva’s confidence, if not the diva’s ability. Dressed fetchingly in a tight gold evening gown, Syesha isn’t taking the soft-sell here. The performance is almost nothing but runs and vibrato and vocal brinksmanship. It feels like a technical showcase more than a pure vocal performance and I think that if she had trusted the melody a bit more and showboated a bit less, it might have been better overall. That being said, there’s obvious skill to what she’s doing and there’s also more risk-taking here than in either David or Carly’s numbers. As Randy is so prone to saying, Syesha doesn’t take the easy road.
Garnett, Pierce and Simon Say: Randy likes that she’s bold and that all-things-considered she did a good job. Paula stammers something about Syesha’s intelligence, raving it was "unbelievably magical." Simon would have chosen a song that more people know.
Singer: BROOKE WHITE
My Take: Is Brooke going to win sympathy votes with the repetition of the story about missing her sister’s wedding? And is anybody else slightly confused by why Brooke did "Hero" on the guitar at her mentoring session and then tickles the ivories tonight? It is, as you would expect, the low-key, Carly Simon-ized version of the song, lowering its degree-of-difficulty from an "9" in the Mariah version to maybe a "4." Even with the big notes scaled down, Brooke’s nervousness is audible and the tight close-ups seem to capture some uncertain shaking. I continue to find something weird about the idea that Brooke’s whole gimmick is doing middle-brow singer-songwriter versions of other people’s songs. Have Carly Simon and Carole King released cover albums that I’ve missed? And leaving talent out of the equation, are this season’s Idol singers the least versatile we’ve ever seen?
Garnett, Pierce and Simon Say: Randy likes that she brought the singer-songwriter side, but didn’t like the bridge. Brooke totally admits that it’s out there for her and she thanks him repeatedly. Paula goes into the same nattering about her authenticity, calling her version "brave." Brave? Brooke thanks Paula for recognizing her bravery. "It was a bit like ordering a hamburger and only getting the bun," Simon. Brooke is too confused to even thank Simon for making her hungry. Randy and Paula spend several minutes looking for the beef. A hamburger does sound good right now. Anybody want to join me at In-n-Out after the show?
Singer: KRISTY LEE COOK
My Take: Don’t look now, kids, but Kristy Lee Cook may be making her play to push David Cook to the side as Presumptive American Idol Runner-Up. She hasn’t suddenly become more talented in recent weeks, but she’s done a better job of working within her limitations. The country twang to the arrangement masks her pitchy moments well and she’s impervious to the background singers who have become more and more obtrusive this season. She’s a smidge mumbly and her performance style isn’t much more than being serenely pretty. You know know, though, that the execs are figuring if Kellie Pickler can somehow become a successful and award-winning country artist, Kristy can as well.
Garnett, Pierce and Simon Say: Randy isn’t calling it amazing, but she stepped it up at the ending. Paula’s blown away, babbling away. Simon calls it "whiney," but says she made the most with a theme night that was never going to be an advantage. You know, I felt good about Kristy’s performance at the beginning and it isn’t three minutes later and I’ve forgotten it entirely. That’s not good.
Singer: DAVID COOK
Song: "Always Be My Baby"
My Take: Thanks, David "The Leader" Cook. We would have figured you were thinking outside of the box without you praising your rebel instincts. The song is mostly unrecognizable in David’s hands, but unlike what Brooke and Carly did, David’s choices aren’t based upon making the song less difficult. It starts off too low and I’m initially concerned it may crumble into a mess, but the second half is really strong. I also appreciate what Mariah calls the "unresolved" final note. He hits that great power note and then, just when you think it’s done, there’s a half-a-verse more to leave you wanting more. Forget what I said about Kristy. David’s back atop the runner-up race.
Garnett, Pierce and Simon Say: Randy thinks David will be a hot recording artist and he actually seems to call it the season’s best performance to date. Paula reckons the song belongs in a movie soundtrack. "It was like sort of coming out of karaoke hell into a breath of fresh air," Simon gushes. David is overcome by emotion at the end and for those unclear on the circumstances, the camera cuts to his ailing brother in the crowd. This is one of those moments where I won’t make an accusation of showboating.
Singer: JASON CASTRO
Song: "I Don’t Wanna Cry"
My Take: Has Enrique Iglesias does a version of this song? Because that’s what this sounds like me. Now, frankly, I don’t think Iglesias has a very good voice. Everything he sings sounds like it traveled into his mouth through some painful nasal passage and, like Clifford the Muppet, Iglesias has a tendency to make funny faces that make me think less of love songs and more of passing a kidney stone. But he’s very successful and the ladies love him. That’s probably the niche Jason wants to gun for and tonight may be the first time I’ve been able to see his commercial potential as something more than a loveable puppet.
Garnett, Pierce and Simon Say: Randy says it was like traveling to a weird beach luau and hearing somebody performing in the distance. Paula would love to be at that luau. Simon agrees with Paula. Simon also scores the evening as a victory for the men.
TONIGHT’S BEST: The combination of a strong and distinctive cover, plus the show of human emotion makes David Cook the night’s best. Archuleta did his Archuleta thing. Syesha had a couple impressive runs. Jason didn’t totally stink.
IN DANGER: Carly’s had a couple close calls now and I think this week may be her time to go, with Syesha probably joining her in Bottom Three. That will leave one slot for either Brooke or Kristy. I think Brooke deserves it, but Kristy will take it.
Agree? Disagree? Was Mariah Carey Night better than you feared or worse?
And, as always, check out Zap2it’s Guide to American Idol.