Last night began the last round of semifinalist competition for American Idol, with the male semifinalists performing songs from the Eighties.
Perhaps because they knew these songs better, or perhaps because they knew this was their last chance to prove they deserved to be a finalist, they took risks and showed their potential.
Kicking off the show, Luke Menard (whom I can't resist calling Luke Canard, as I can't believe he made it this far), sang the Wham song, "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go." This week in their backstage interviews, the guys were asked to reveal their most embarrassing moment. For him, it was that his sister once dressed him up in her ballerina tutu and took a photo, which they showed. Cute moment, and a little endearing, but sadly he gave the same karaoke performance as always, dressed in a bland gray button-down. He just can't shake the "blend into the background" habits picked up from when he toured with an a capella group, it seems. He did get in some nice falsetto notes, though.
Judge Randy Jackson said that it started out rough, with him rushing ahead of the band. He said that, while he got it together, the performance was "a little corny." Nice judge Paula Abdul said she was surprised he'd picked this song and that she loved his interpretation, especially on the upper notes. Tough judge Simon Cowell said he didn't like it, that he thought it was weak and "a bit girlie." He pronounced that there's "no chance you'll make it after that performance."
Next up, David Archuleta started out at the piano for the Phil Collins song, "Another Day in Paradise." His backstage revelation was that he'd been singing at a fundraiser when his voice gave out and his mom had to finish. Put that together with his previous mention of singing for the first season American Idol finalists, and you can tell he's been working for this day for a long time. It showed. Dressed in a tank argyle sweater with a tan jacked pinstriped with chocolate brown, and chocolate brown pant, he started at the piano, which didn't prevent him from getting emotional with his vocals. halfway through, the band took over and he stood up, letting the lyrics soar.
Randy said that it was like watching a concert but that the song hadn't showed off everything he can do. He also noted a couple pitch problems. Paula, though, said that the off notes only proved he's not perfect. She gushed over him, telling him that otherwise, he is perfect. Simon acknowledged it wasn't as good as last week and said he should have stayed at the piano. He also advised him to sing some more upbeat songs, because this marked two weeks in a row of "sad songs." He predicted David will probably be in the top two.
After revealing his most embarrassing moment, having a female friend trip him in a movie theater right in front of "his crush" (gender not specified), flamboyant Danny Noriega pulled out all the stops for his version of the Soft Cell tune, "Tainted Love." He really vamped it up in tight black pants, a deep purple shirt and a black naugahyde jacket, with purple streaks in his hair. If he gets cut from this competition (which wouldn't be a surprise), he should seriously consider a future singing in a drag club.
Randy said it started rough and pitchy but conceded he liked the arrangement and praised his confidence. At the same time, he said he'd seemed unsure vocally. Paula called him a bright light in this competition and said he has great vocals. She praised him for being himself. Simon called it horrible, "absolutely useless." He added that he'd hated both the arrangement and the vocals.
David Hernandez chose to reveal an unsavory moment about having photos taken with a huge booger in his nose. (Am I alone in having that image stuck in my head while he began to sing?) He chose the Meatloaf song, "It's All Coming Back to Me Now," which I don't know terribly well, but he showed off his powerful voice and sounded very professional, only faltering a little in the middle. He wore a black button-down shirt with jeans and black Kicks.
Randy said it was really good except for the pitch problems. Paula said that he's really finding his niche and becoming a good performer. She called his performance one of the best in terms of vocals. Simon said it wasn't as good as last week. He did say, however, that he had 100 percent secured his place in the finals.
Aussie Michael Johns had a very Australian story, about how he'd been beaten up by four guys while dressed as a kangaroo mascot for a rugby match. He put his all into the Simple Minds song, "Don't You Forget About Me," dancing a little with the microphone in the middle and pushing out more power at the end. This is one of my favorite '80s songs, because of The Breakfast Club (I sooo wanted to be Molly Ringwald back then). In a gray collarless T with a rusty brown leather jacket, he certainly looked the part of the pop star, too.
Randy said it was like "the Aussie man goes home for '80s week" and repeated his previous observation that Michael reminds him of Michael Hutchence of INXS (maybe he thought that's who did the song). Paula called it the perfect song and said she loved his strength in the low register. She said he has a presence that's unique. Simon, though, said he "liked it but didn't love it." He said he has huge talent but hasn't yet connected with the right song. He said he likes him doing soul and added that he really, really likes him and felt he'll do very well.
Rocker David Cook has a similar embarrassing moment to David Archuleta, revealing that he'd once frozen during a talent show. But he certainly wasn't frozen last night as he tore a hole in the Lionel Richie song "Hello." Not only is this one of my favorite '80s songs, but I actually had an entire Lionel Richie songbook for the piano, of which this was one of my favorites to play. I know this song in and out, and I was a bit put off by his rendition of it. First of all, is it too much to ask that he tune his electric guitar? Secondly, he smiled through it, which was completely inappropriate. This is a wistful song about the heartbreak of unrequited love, not some sort of a balls-to-the-wall rock anthem! He tried to rock out, but it just wasn't believable, and I felt that he totally missed the heart of the song. Only the last moment did he save himself with a breathy last note, giving the camera a smoldering look not seen on the show since Constantine Maroulis. Sure, he's safe, but Lionel Richie must be throwing his songbook at the TV.
Randy called it a slightly emo version of the pop song but said it could be a single and called it brilliant. Paula said she loves it when he comes on stage and predicted he'll be "a great shining star." Simon called it a very brave thing to do and said he'd loved it. He liked people who take risks and said he hopes to see him next week.
Dred-locked Jason Castro had a story to relate about his dreds. Apparently, one of them came out in his hand while he was trying to pull his hair back to eat while on a date. I've known enough hippies with dreds to not be surprised by this revelation. Still, ew! He saved himself, though, with a passionate performance of the Leonard Cohen song "Hallelujah." Taking the judges' advice, he left the guitar off-stage and sat on a stool to begin the song. His performance was riveting, and as the lyrics built, he stood up, clutching the microphone as if in prayer. Absolutely beautiful. I actually got goosebumps.
Randy called it a great Leonard Cohen song and said he did a pretty good version. He gave him props for coming out without the guitar. Paula said he'd made it sound effortless and showed "beautiful vulnerability." She said that he's unique and recognizable and that his phrasing makes him great. Simon said he loves the Jeff Buckley version of this song, that it's one of his favorites of all-time. He called Jason's rendition "absolutely brilliant" and called him the strongest so far.
Finishing off the night, Chikezie chose to reveal that he used to accidentally use a women's bathroom in high school until he realized what it was. He followed that by singing a woman's song, the Whitney Houston hit "All the Man That I Need," although he changed the lyrics to suit. He wore a pink button-town shirt with a tan jacket with white pinstripes, paired with jeans. It made him seem much older, which isn't good in this sort of competition. Despite a weak opening, he got into it, with a little falsetto. It wasn't, though, the sort of performance he needed to stand out on such a strong night.
Randy said it was an interesting song choice and said he'd done a good job, although he observed that the last night "looked like it surprised you." Paula said she was waiting for the song to become more upbeat and said the vocals sounded really good. Simon, after noting that it was a Whitney Houston song, said that it didn't work at all. He said that it was more cabaret than last week and wasn't a smart move.
Kudos this week to David Archuleta, David Hernandez, Michael Johns and Jason Castro. While I wasn't in love with David Cook's performance, it will keep him in the game.
Who's going to leave? Once more, Luke Menard's on my chopping block (prove me wrong, if you dare, America). As far as who's going to join him, I'm not certain. By rights, it should be Danny Noriega, but if he's attracted a strong enough contingent of teenybopper fans, it could be Jason Castro, David Hernandez or Chikezie singing under the closing credits.
Gender swapping song choices are rarely a good idea.