In their second week of competition on American Idol, the male semifinalists tackled songs from the Seventies.
When The Gryphon heard this theme, his comment was: "Anyone who sings the Bee Gees should be automatically cut." Would anyone dare? Sadly, someone would, and not one we might have expected, given his previous selection. But other contestants made smarter choices, thankfully.
Michael Johns had the thankless position of starting off the show, with the Fleetwood Mac song, "Go Your Own Way." Wearing an orange T-shirt with a white logo that said words like "music" and "peace," he started rough, turning in a mellow version that reminded me of the way James Taylor might do it. That is, if James Taylor was occasionally flat. He definitely didn't seem like the same guy who ended the show strongly the week before.
Judge Randy Jackson said it was a nice way to start the show, though the song started slow and he was waiting for him to let go but was disappointed when he didn't. Nice judge Paula Abdul called him consistent and observed that he got the crowd working. She called him charismatic and a seasoned performer. Tough judge Simon Cowell said it was OK and that it was his weakest performance so far, that he was just coasting along.
Next was Jason Castro, with the Bee Gees song "I Just Want to Be Your Everything." The Gryphon smirked and gave me a significant look. Wearing a printed shirt that looked almost exactly like the week before, Jason was once more tied to his guitar on center stage, this week channeling Cat Stevens, it seemed.
Randy said that the guitar is cool as an act but that the vocals were just OK. He called the performance kind of karaoke and "cute." Paula said it was a clever choice of song and that she liked his interpretation. She agreed, though, that she'd like to see him without the guitar. Simon called the song horrible and schmaltzy, adding that it didn't suit his voice and that he'd looked uncomfortable. Overall, he called it a very average song.
In his behind-the-scenes interview, Luke Menard revealed he had toured with an a capella group, which suddenly explained everything about him, from his failure to stand out to his theatrical interpretations of songs. He was in full bloom on Queen's "Killer Queen," in a charcoal button-down shirt. He got really cheesy at the bridge, talking some during the song. Just like he was singing at a community center in the Midwest with his a capella group.
Randy noted it was a difficult song but that he'd liked it better than last week, that it was theatrical but pretty good. Paula said it was a great week for him vocally and that he'd picked the perfect song. Simon called the performance a mistake, because he'd be compared to Freddie Mercury of Queen, who has a lot more charisma. He called the performance theatrical and whiny.
Would-be rocker Robbie Carrico took a shot at the Foreigner song, "Hot Blooded." After revealing in his backstage interview that he drag races, the song was anemic and tepid, at best. He wore a white-patterned button-down shirt and actually spoke during the song: "Come on, girl," and "tell me." Let's just say he's no Bo Bice.
Randy said he doesn't know if the rock thing is really Robbie's thing but said it was pretty good. He added that he'd been waiting for it to be "wow." Paula jumped to Robbie's defense about the question of whether he's a "rocker": "How does anyone know who you are but you?" That said, she said he'd played it safe. Simon said he thought the vocal was OK but cautioned Robbie not to be defensive about the rocker label. After all, he said, the criticism was meant to be constructive. If he sticks around, Robbie would be wise to listen and try a pop song.
Next to take the stage, Danny Noriega performed the Carpenters song, "Superstar," once more dressed, I swear, in girl's clothing: a white button-down shirt with a light gray and black checked cardigan I'm almost certain I saw in the girls' juniors department somewhere. Nevertheless, he was more emotional with this performance than he had been the previous week, but he lacks power in his voice and was often drowned out by the band.
Randy said that he's a fan but there was a problem with the vocal. He told him that he appeared to be thinking too hard and advised him he could have speeded up the song. Paula praised his amazing vocal skill (maybe she's thinking of the audition week?) but advised him not to overthink his performance. She called his vibrato "magical." Simon said that last week was a disaster but this week was better. Again, he said that he'd been trying to hard. On the plus side, he said that he stands out in the crowd and looks terrific on camera.
Determined to show he deserved to stay, David Hernandez sang the Temptations song, "Papa Was a Rolling Stone," with conviction and soul. He seemed very comfortable on stage, dressed in a gray T-shirt, a black hoody jacket and dog tags. Nearly flawless.
Randy said, "This is the David Hernandez we fell in love with." He added, "That was hot." Paula said that his voice is so pure and that his personality had come out. She called it perfect. Simon said it was the best of the night so far (not saying much, sadly) and he liked that, when given criticism, instead of sulking, he treats it as a challenge. He said that while he wasn't a fan initially, now he was.
He was followed by Mr. Generic, Jason Yeager, who did the Doobie Brothers song, "Long Train Runnin'." When I look at this guy, I swear to God I went to high school with him, down to his black button-down shirt, tucked in, his spiky hair with the self-conscious blonde streak in the front, and even a split heart necklace! I don't know where this guy came from, but maybe he fell into a time machine at a high school chorus concert in about 1988. At any rate, he really tried this time, but his strange smiling and his swaying to the music couldn't help his karaoke performance. In his backstage interview, he said he plays a lot of instruments but was waiting for the "right song" to pull one of them out. He may not get the chance.
Randy said that this is not a singer's song and that it was very pitchy and karaoke. Paula said it was "fun to see this side of you" (well, I guess it was marginally more fun than watching him sing all the life out of a song on a stool, but really!). She conceded the song didn't show his vocal range. Simon said that last week was boring and this week was awkward and ordinary. He called it a horrific ending, as if he'd been drunk on-stage.
If Chikezie was looking for redemption, he found it with his red-hot rendition of the Ray Charles song, "I Believe to My Soul." In two layered polo shirts (so '90s) he looked at least marginally better than in last week's red suit, and he threw himself into the performance, giving Simon a significant look when he sang, "Last night you were dreaming and I heard you say 'Oh, Steve, when you know my name is Chikezie." Simon has had problems remembering his name. Few should now!
Randy proclaimed that "Chikezie is back." He said the performance was "blazing" and "hot." Paula said it was clever to choose that song and praised his interpretation. Simon said that he looks better and sounded better, a million times better. However, when he asked Chikezie to acknowledge how horrible the red suit had been, Chikezie still insisted he liked it, then added, "I don't wear the same thing every week, like you." Realizing how the snarky comment might sound, he fell all over himself apologizing.
Proving he was the real rocker in the competition, David Cook took an electric guitar on-stage with him for the Bad Company song "All Right Now." Unlike Jason Castro, he still managed to move and perform, putting out rocking vocals. His guitar playing was also considerably more impressive.
Randy called the song a smart choice and said, "You're our real rocker." Paula said that "you are the real deal" and said that was the song every kid learned, and every girl fell in love with the guitar player. Simon called it solid and believable, though he said that the backstage interview revealing that he's a "word nerd" who likes crosswords didn't help him. I disagree; it shows that he has dimension. Besides, "word nerds" are cool. He really didn't help himself when he talked back to Simon, saying it was the audience who had to like him now, not the judges.
Capping off the evening, David Archuleta did a soulful take on the John Lennon song "Imagine," turning it into a real vocal performance, building as he went. He looked a little retro, in an '80s looking black naugahyde jacket, paired with a fussy blue print shirt. But that couldn't detract from his solid performance. He's going nowhere. Interestingly, his backstage interview showed a video where he'd met the season one finalists and performed for them, receiving enthusiastic praise from winner Kelly Clarkson.
Randy said that was one of the best vocals ever on the show and complimented him for singing with a maturity beyond his years. He called it brilliant but wanted to know why he'd skipped the first verse. David replied that he'd only had time for one verse and that the third is his favorite. Paula gushed that she wants to "squish you" and "dangle you from my rearview mirror." She called it one of the best songs ever written and one of the most moving performances of it. She said he was destined for super stardom. Simon said it's risky to take on a John Lennon song, but it worked. He proclaimed, "You're the one to beat."
Kudos this week to David Archuleta, Chikezie and David Hernandez, with a nod to David Cook. Because they were strong the previous week, Michael Johns and Jason Castro should be safe, but they need to step it up.
Once more, I predict that Jason Yeager will be going home, joined by either Robbie Carrico or Luke Menard.
If you're going to play guitar, don't use it as a crutch.