The 12 finalists on American Idol got to select from the Beatles catalogue for their first week in the finals.
While some chose well-known songs, others went for obscure tunes, and still others took an original take on beloved hits.
FOX Broadcasting, 2008
First up, Syesha Mercado performed "Got to Get You Into My Life," one of my personal favorites. But she lacked the urgency of the original, opting instead for a jazzy version that took all the oomph out of it. In a black (again) tank top with champagne sparkly shrug and skinny jeans, her outfit was, like her singing, good but nothing special.
Judge Randy Jackson called it a nice arrangement, likening it to Earth, Wind and Fire. He noted that it started rough and that by the middle she got into it. Nice judge Paula Abdul told her that she's a very good singer but had started off-pitch and then, midway, found her zone. Tough judge Simon Cowell disagreed, saying it was "better than all right" and that it had been a great song choice. He said that she looked nervous, but it was better than last week.
Taking a risk, Chikezie went for a less well-known song, "She's a Woman." Wearing a green, gray and cream argyle sweater vest with a short-sleeved white shirt and lime tie, paired with dark jeans, he started sitting on-stage with the band, who began the sound with a bluegrass flavor. Then he stood up and moved to center stage as the song began to rock out. The arrangement was exciting, but more so, his performance of it. I would suggest, though, that he refrain from slapping his own butt in the future.
Randy said he was thoroughly entertained and loved the arrangement. He said, "Chikezie smashed it." He added that he'd liked the falsetto. Paula observed that it started out a little like the music in O Brother, Where Art Thou and then rocked out, and that the risk had paid off. Simon said he was really surprised that he agreed with the other two and that he loved that Chikezie had changed from the previous week and taken control of the stage. He called the performance terrific.
Ramiele Malubay followed him with "In My Life," singing it as a traditional ballad, with well-modulated vocals that had the audience waving their arms in time. She switched up her look a bit with a strapless dress with a white belt, which looked terrific on her.
Randy called it "pretty but pretty boring," saying it "didn't move the earth" for him. Paula said that she looked lovely but had played it safe. She said that she's an amazing singer but needs to stop holding back. Simon said he'd been bored to tears and that it was a dreary song choice. He called the performance forgettable and said that he expects better.
Next up, Jason Castro sang "If I Fell," which was a pretty standard Jason Castro folkified number, complete with him playing the guitar in an outfit ripped right out of the '70s: white printed shirt with light denim vest and faded jeans. The only thing I really loved about the song was a key change he hit perfectly in the middle.
Randy said that he liked it but didn't love it. He also didn't like the changes to the melody. Paula said that "I feel your heart" and complimented him for eschewing rifts and runs in favor of an emotional connection with the audience. Simon said that last week he'd been incredible, but this week he sounded like a student playing in his bedroom at midnight. He called the song boring and said that, while the performance was good enough to stay in, it definitely was not as good as last week.
Wisely, Carly Smithson chose "Come Together," a song that she has performed frequently with her band. Wearing a no-sleeved royal blue tunic dress with black leggings, she turned in a funky performance of the song that showed both her vocal capabilities and her performance skills.
Randy called the performance "strong and confident with not a note out of tune." He said it was a stellar performance. Paula said she'd felt like she was watching a star. Simon said that until now, she'd chosen the wrong song every week but this performance reminded him of six years ago when Kelly Clarkson first began to show potential.
Determined to stick with his rocker ways, David Cook tackled "Eleanor Rigby," wearing a black leather jacket, gray V-neck shirt and dark jeans. He did a hard rock version of the song which, like the week before, robbed the song of its original wistfulness. Once more, he just slammed out vocals, with a wicked smile on his face that had me convinced he'd never listened to the lyrics. Why couldn't he have chosen "Helter Skelter," "Why Don't We Do It In the Road?" or "Get Back," any of which would have worked better as a hard rock tune?
Randy noted that he'd had a pitch problem in the beginning but was rocking in the chorus. Paula called him the dark horse in the competition and expanded on the analogy, adding, "You're a thoroughbred." Simon called it brilliant and said that if the show continues to be a talent competition, not a popularity competition he could win.
Seated at the piano, Brooke White turned in a haunting rendition of "Let It Be," wearing a dove gray shirt dress and kicking off her pumps to play the piano barefoot. While she seemed a little unsure at times, she still managed to deliver the emotion necessary for this song.
Randy said he didn't know if it was her strongest performance but he loved her conviction and thought it was heartfelt. Paula complimented her for picking songs "where we can feel your heart" and complimented her for making an emotional connection. Simon called it one of the best of the night, adding that it was a brilliant choice of song. He said she was believable and summed up her performance as great.
David Hernandez, on the other hand, made perhaps one of the worst song choices in the history of the show, taking on "You Can't Do That," a bouncy number from the early part of the Beatles career. He tried to infuse it with a sexy rock vibe, peppering it with runs that felt awkward, much like his odd turn through the audience, where he failed to get much of a response from the people he was passing. The worst part, for him, were the lyrics, which asserted, "How could I dance with another when I saw her standing there?" As you might have heard, David Hernandez coped with some controversy about a week and a half ago when it was revealed that he used to be a dancer in a gay club. Surely, a song with lyrics about dancing was not the best plan. And one last thing: his white button-down shirt with a vest and plaid tie made him look like he was trying to be the male Britney Spears. Oops, he might not be here much longer.
Randy called the performance "a little overdone" and said there was too much going on. Paula said, "I love your voice" but conceded that he overdid it. She advised him to scale back, especially on the runs. Simon said simply, "No, no, no," calling it "corny verging on desperate." He said that he'd seemed like a "rabbit in the headlights" and that it was "not cool."
Rock chick Amanda Overmyer admitted she'd never heard "You Can't Do That" before this week, but she chose to perform it anyway. Maybe not the best decision. I'm sure there are many who liked it, but I thought that her amped-up rendition of it didn't work. Only the section where she scatted a little sounded believable to me as a performance. She has hit on a look that works for her, though, with a black tank, black and white striped pants and lots of gold scarves and necklaces. She's even toned down the makeup a bit, which makes her look younger, rather than like a burned out rocker who's passing around the gin and mourning her glory days.
Randy said that it was like she'd "taken a Beatles song to a Southern club and rocked it." Paula said she looked fantastic and added, "You're a star." She repeated that this is the best season in terms of talent. Simon said it wasn't as good as last week and that he'd only understood about 30 percent of the lyrics, due to her slurring her words. He also labeled the performance "very shouty."
Aussie singer Michael Johns offered up one of his favorites, "Across the Universe," which he said was personally important to him. Yet, he might have tried to put more emotion into it. While the song started out promising, I lost interest partway through. Even his outfit was forgettable: a charcoal gray blazer with a white V-neck and jeans.
Randy said he didn't think it was his best and that he should have taken a little liberty with the song. "It was a little sleepy," he said. Paula said that it takes inner strength and quiet confidence to stand at the center stage, do nothing and sing brilliantly. (Maybe it does, but that's not what I saw Michael Johns doing.) Simon said he should have done more, like Carly (although he had to be reminded of her name, remembering her only as the Irish one). He said America hasn't yet heard what he's capable of.
Following the advice she'd been given the previous week, to stick with the country vibe, Kristy Lee Cook made the poor choice of turning "Eight Days a Week" into a country song, rather than, say, "Don't Pass Me By," "The Long and Winding Road" or even "Blackbird," any one of which might have been more effective. None of that would have mattered, though, because even with a better arrangement, Kristy Lee Cook would have still given a similar performance, standing with a wide stance and singing passionlessly into the microphone, looking like the world's youngest Botox patient. Even her outfit was an unsuccessful mix of two styles, combining a sparkly silver tank top with torn jeans.
Randy said he liked the arrangement but thought she'd forced some runs. "It was half and half for me," he said. Paula said she didn't enjoy it and advised her that, when she takes advice from the judges, she should still make it her own. Simon called it horrendous and said she'd sounded like Dolly Parton on helium. He said the arrangement was "a very brave but foolish thing to do" and that it reminded him of a "ghastly country fair."
Once more, the producers put David Archuleta in the final slot of the evening, probably figuring he'd deliver another near flawless performance. He chose "We Can Work It Out," no doubt because he'd been advised to stay away from "sad songs." Maybe it was the faster tempo that threw him, or maybe it was the new stage and the bigger audience, but Archie no longer looks like the inevitable winner of this competition. He forgot the words near the beginning, stumbled over the tempo, and was fading in and out uncertainly on the vocals. He's lucky he's already turned in some strong performances, or he'd be in danger.
Randy said that this week he was not on point. He added that the performance felt very forced and didn't quite work. Paula said it was not his best week but he's a front-runner. She advised him that, if he forgets the lyrics, he should never let it show on his face. Simon didn't hold back, saying that it was a mess and noting that he'd stumbled over the lyrics and was all over the place vocally. He called it David's weakest performance so far.
Kudos this week to Chikezie, Carly Smithson and Brooke White, with a nod to Ramiele Malubay. Even if I didn't love David Cook's performance, others likely did, and I also expect Jason Castro, David Archuleta to be safe.
In the most danger of standing at center stage this week are Syesha Mercado, David Hernandez, and Kristy Lee Cook. If Paula's right and Kristy Lee Cook has a big fan base, they might rescue her once more, which means one of the other two will probably be heading home. If not, Kristy Lee Cook will be back at her ranch next week, riding horses.
It's OK to mess with the arrangements, but make sure you pick the right song.