Since last week’s Lennon-McCartney Night was so successful — I’m not being sarcastic there, though I know it’s hard to tell sometimes — it’s back to the well once more on Tuesday (March 18) night’s American Idol, with a Beatles theme. Would lightning strike twice or would the second time on the huge Idol stage not be the charm? Let’s find out, shall we?
Singer: AMANDA OVERMYER
Song: "Back in the USSR"
My Take: Mommy, what’s the USSR? I’m very glad that Amanda isn’t rockin’ the striped black-n-white pants this week, opting for a tight vest and straight-forward jeans instead. From the beginning, this is a more mumbly performance from Amanda. This isn’t an Archuleta situation where she’s unsure of the words. She just doesn’t decide they matter until at least the half-way point, but since a disheartening percentage of the American Idol audience couldn’t tell you what "U.S.S.R." means anyway, that isn’t a disaster. The light show is lively, Amanda makes solid use of the stage, she rarely ventures outside of her limited vocal comfort zone and the audience seems happy. I’d have preferred to hear her do "Helter Skelter" or any number of later, edgier Beatles tunes, but I didn’t get a vote.
The Lion, Scarecrow and Simon Say: Randy thinks it was the perfect song choice, but he only gives her a 7-out-of-10 for the pitchy beginning. Paula calls Amanda "the quintessential, authentic who-you-are." Was that another Horton Hears a Who plug? For Simon, it was what it was. He’s decided to get tired Amanda. This is the part where he tells Amanda to mix things up. Then next week she changes things up and Simon says, "No no no, I didn’t see any of you in that song at all." "Ballads are boring," Amanda scoffs.
Singer: KRISTY LEE COOK
Song: "You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away"
My Take: Last week was a hilarious disaster for Kristy, a disaster I mostly blamed on the arrangement of the song. But the Idol producers like Kristy (or like being able to torture her on elimination night), so she gets to take viewers through her personal photo album — She loves horses and dogs… Love her, America! — before her clip package. If she made "Eight Days a Week" too fast last week, she went the opposite direction tonight, turning "You’ve Got To Hide Love Away" into a slowed down country power ballad. It isn’t inherently a bad strategy, but did the arranger of the song ever listen to Kristy’s voice? She doesn’t have a very good low register and the song keeps dipping into deep notes where she vanishes entirely. It moves high at the end and she does, predictably, sound better. Why is it that Chikezie found a way to take the Beatles down a country path last week, but Kristy’s clueless?
The Lion, Scarecrow and Simon Say: Randy doesn’t like the arrangement and wanted more melody. Paula thinks this is the best Kristy’s ever looked — and in a short skirt and cowboy boots she’s bound to be matching somebody’s fetish — but still calls it "safe" and "good." Simon comments that she isn’t a good performer, prescribing hypnosis and describing her as musical wallpaper. He cautions that she’s only memorable when she’s terrible. Kristy warns Simon that she can blow him out of his socks. Ummm…
Singer: PRESUMPTIVE AMERICA IDOL WINNER DAVID ARCHULETA
Song: "The Long and Winding Road"
My Take: I guess if you had a blunder like Presumptive American Idol Winner David Archuleta did last week, it’s better not to ignore how bad you were, so David’s entire clip package is dedicated to how much he stunk. So much for that theory about how you have to have a short memory in this business. In his spare time, David appears to have been cutting his own hair. He now looks spectacularly elfin. Or maybe like a leprechaun for St. Patrick’s Day? He’s got the lyrics down this week, looking relieved and ever-so-humble at the end. I’m not going to argue with the basic vocals, but it’s another uber-serious, mega-sincere performance from David. Would anybody like to see some evidence that he’s having fun with this?
The Lion, Scarecrow and Simon Say: Randy requests that we check it out, baby. "David Archuleta’s brought the hotness back to his game," he yells. For Paula, it was his most exciting and wonderful performance, raving about his ability to rise above adversity. I’m sorry, but one bad performance isn’t "adversity." Ask one of the performers who have spent a decade living hand-to-mouth to try to make a living about "adversity," OK Simon calls him amazing and raves that it was a master class.
Singer: MICHAEL JOHNS
Song: "A Day in the Life"
My Take: Can we agree that Ryan’s awkward product plug for iPhones and then Coke was disgusting? Anything that makes me sorry for Ryan is bad. The arrangement is initially so sleepy that the only time I perk up is when Michael mangles his attempted falsetto. Even when the song picks up and the camera starts spinning around Michael in nauseating fashion, it’s a lackluster cover of what is, I agree, one of the Beatles’ finest moments. Something’s wrong with Michael, because this shouldn’t have been so hard. The indiscriminate audience cheers, but Michael looks chagrinned.
The Lion, Scarecrow and Simon Say: Randy wants to see more of Michael’s big old voice, closing with "It wasn’t one of your good ones." Paula attributes tonight’s problems to their earpieces and makes sure that viewers know Michael was spectacular in rehearsal. Simon says it was a mess, comparing him negatively to David. In a brilliant moment, Ryan asks a sheepish Michael to show the camera his earpiece. The problem? He’s not wearing an earpiece. Michael makes the sympathy play by saying that the song was a favorite of a deceased friend.
Singer: BROOKE WHITE
Song: "Here Comes the Sun"
My Take: I believe Brooke just described her performance of "Let It Be" as one of the greatest moments in the history of the world. Brooke has a sunny yellow dress on and she has an orange sun rising on the screen behind her. I get it. The sun’s coming. Where? Here. But without a guitar or piano, she’s laughably unsure about what to do on stage. I find myself thinking of Abigail Breslin’s performance in Little Miss Sunshine as Brooke does a goofy little spin and occasionally waves her arms wildly, like Big Bird on acid. Why doesn’t she make a big sun with her arms and start wiggling her fingers like she’s making rays? She looks beautiful, but spastic. She ends with a close-up grin so cloying it may give millions of viewers diabetes.
The Lion, Scarecrow and Simon Say: Randy describes the performance as "awkward," as Brooke quickly apologizes for her spin and admits that moving isn’t really her thing. Paula can’t help but smile. She starts rambling about Brooke’s low-notes. Simon says it was terrible. "It was wet," he says cryptically. Naturally, Brooke takes criticism like a gracious, sunny fairy. It’s the most sincere acceptance of of criticism in the show’s history. I half-expect Brooke to come down and pat Randy, Paula and Simon on their heads. Brooke is treating the judges and America like we’re her children and she’s our nanny.
Singer: DAVID COOK
My Take: Why are we asking the contestants for their most memorable Idol moments? They’ve been on the show for a month. When was the last time an Idol contestants gave a shout-out to Whitesnake? Smarminess aside, I’m liking David more and more each week, but I have to bring this up: I’ve yet to see any evidence that David is aware or cares about what any of the songs he sings are about. He makes no effort to work with the lyrics or the themes of the songs, to connect with anything he does. He just has fun with them. So was this anything other thank a little lark on "Daytripper"? No. Did he actually seem to understand what "Eleanor Rigby" was about last week? Not really. David Cook’s wink-n-nudge detachment is the flip-side to Brooke and Archuleta’s overstated attachment to everything they do.
The Lion, Scarecrow and Simon Say: Randy says it’s another solid look for David. Paula tells David that he could move albums tomorrow. Simon disagrees and posits that it wasn’t as good as David thought it was, criticizing the smugness that has, indeed, been on-going. Simon misses the element of surprise. David leads a tutorial on his voicebox mic.
Singer: CARLY SMITHSON
My Take: I’ve criticized Carly for being shouty in previous weeks, so this seems like a smart song choice. It lets her show off both some husky low parts and the higher notes where we already knew she was strong. But what’s with the frilly-necked red top — a poor pairing with her upper-arm ink — the slouched posture and the crazy-eyes? Vocally, I think she does a very nice job, but it’s not a fun performance to watch at all.
The Lion, Scarecrow and Simon Say: Did you know that Randy loves Carly? He does. He’s ridiculous. He says there’s a "heavy cooliosis factor." Ick. Paula loves the choices Carly makes and gives her "a capital ‘F’ for fantastic." Simon calls the song indulgent. Carly tries to explain why the song was very personal for her. Simon’s unsure how to deal with the image of all of the singers as broken birds.
Singer: JASON CASTRO
My Take: Why do I think Jason spent the entire week tripping out over the lyrics to "I Am the Walrus" and then panicked and chose "Michelle" in a moment of confusion? Or that he was too busy playing his Beatles records backwards to find a good song to sing forwards? Language considerations aside, this isn’t a hard song. In fact, it’s probably one of the two or three simplest songs in the Beatles catalogue. Jason doesn’t mess anything up, but so what? This doodle of a love song wasn’t the best the Beatles had to offer Jason. Beyond one gesture that Jason appears to think is French, he stands in the center clutching the mic and making his goofy faces. He’s so unsure what to do with himself that at one point he nearly sticks his hands in his pocket.
The Lion, Scarecrow and Simon Say: Randy doesn’t know if he really got it and if Jason was really connected to it. Jason explains that this week came really fast. Paula can’t get enough of his "distinct charm," but she questions his connection to songs without his guitar. Whoa. She’s right. Simon’s right that we really shouldn’t have done Beatles again. Simon reflects that it’s Jason’s in-person goofiness that works for him.
Singer: SYESHA MERCADO
My Take: Syesha says she needed the kick-in-the-butt she got from being in the Bottom Three last week. Tonight she vows to touch everybody. It’s very low-key, just Syesha, the guitar and chair, a simple and straight-forward arrangement, augmented mostly to give Syesha one or two extra runs and power notes toward the end. Like Carly, Syesha is prone to yelling, so taking this kind of soft and sweet approach was a good call. You wonder about the logistics of song choice here, since it’s hard to imagine that everybody didn’t want to sing "Yesterday," which is one of the Beatles’ most predictable home run songs.
The Lion, Scarecrow and Simon Say: It Randy’s estimation, it was a very, very, very good performance. Paula loves her vulnerability, saying that sets her apart. Simon says that although it wasn’t incredible, Syesha sold the song and it was her best performance to date.
Song: "I’ve Just Seen a Face"
My Take: I may never use iTunes again after this show. Chikezie was last week’s star, which gives him a heck of a lot to live up to. Facing high expectations for the first time, Chikezie makes a very calculated choice starting the song slow, accentuating the flexibility of his voice. After a quick harmonica bridge, he goes back into rockabilly territory, more frantic and less organic than last week. There isn’t really a point to the harmonica and I’d have preferred to just hear Chikezie’s voice, which is superior. It’s one thing to show all of the sides of your personality, but do you have to show three or four different sides in the same performance?
The Lion, Scarecrow and Simon Say: Randy preferred the fast part to the slow part. Paula’s glad to hear all of the colors of Chikezie’s vocal rainbow. The harmonica killed it for Simon, who sneers that it was gimmicky.
Singer: RAMIELE MALUBAY
Song: "I Should Have Known Better"
My Take: In an effort not to bore the judges and America, Ramiele is doing one of tonight’s most up-tempo tracks. She’s comes into the song a bit early and I’m distracted by the fact that the show’s costumers seem to be treating her as a little dress-up doll. None of the changes to the song — out-of-left-field runs, mostly — improve things and, once again, it just feels like karaoke. It’s better karaoke than last week, but how could the producers really have thought this was the right performance to close the show?
The Lion, Scarecrow and Simon Say: Randy calls it "aight" and a happy-go-lucky kind of joint. Paula says it was better than last week, but still not the right song. Simon manages to work in another stab at Chikezie’s harmonica-playing, blaming song-choice.
TONIGHT’S BEST: Oh well. I guess doing a second Beatles week seemed like a good idea at the time. The results weren’t so great. Carly, Syesha and David Archuleta got the best songs for their voices and messed up the least.
IN DANGER: With a typically devisive performance and a slot at the start of the show, I’d expect to see Amanda in the Bottom Three (and wouldn’t be at all surprised to see her go home) and Kristy is bound to make another appearance. Will the pimp slot keep Ramiele safe? Because she wasn’t good. And Jason wasn’t good either, but his fans still love him, just like folks love Brooke too much for her to be in danger. My hunch? Michael Johns makes a surprise appearance in the Bottom Three. He kinda deserves it.
Agree? Disagree? Sound off on tonight’s show!
And, as always, check out all of our Idol coverage in Zap2it’s Guide to American Idol.