For the first time this season, American Idol finalists had some advice from a musical mentor. Dolly Parton coached them for a week of performing her songs. As a country music week goes, this one was better than usual for the show.
FOX Broadcasting, 2008
Beginning the evening, Brooke White performed "Jolene," playing guitar with a stripped-down accompaniment, consisting of violin, backup singers, and two percussionists. She wore an indigo top, paired with khaki capris and high-heeled sandals, her golden hair spilling in curls over her shoulders. The image was shattered with the first phrase, where she broke at the end of it. But she soon recovered and seemed to gain confidence as the backup singers began to provide support.
Judge Randy Jackson noted the pitch problems and said that sometimes it felt rushed. He declared it "all right." Nice judge Paula Abdul called her consistent and praised her for making an emotional connection. "You're excellent," she told her. Simon said the performance lacked emotion and that it felt like she was "busking her way" through the song. He also said that the musical group on-stage looked odd and said it wasn't one of her best.
Rocker David Cook performed "Little Sparrow," wearing a white button-down shirt, paired with a white jacket and black pants, and playing an acoustic guitar. He did his own arrangement of the song and did a good job of hitting the higher notes, producing a haunting performance that really showed off his voice. This time it wasn't about the flash but about the substance.
Randy said that he's a rocker but is showing his range. He called it "another hot, consistent performance." Paula said she liked his haircut and noted she'd never heard a guy do that song but it was fantastic. She said it shows how well-rounded he is. Simon said it wasn't as good as last week but that "if you can make a song about sparrows good, which you did, congratulations." (It should be noted that "Little Sparrow" is no more about birdies than the Beatles song "Blackbird" was. Instead, it's a song about the fickleness of love.)
Ramiele Malubay performed "Do I Ever Cross Your Mind?" This was a bouncy little number, and she looked very young, dressed in a white scoop-neck T-shirt with high-waisted black shirts and suspenders (yes, suspenders!). At times she sounded like she was talking it, and she often was all but drowned out by the band and the background singers. She got a little more comfortable as she went but had pitch problems throughout and finished the song flat.
Randy said that he wasn't jumping up and down about it, but that it was pretty good. He gave it 6.5 out of 10. He said she'd showed strength and conviction. Paula said she was proud of her, because she'd been worried that she wouldn't connect. But she said that Ramiele had connected with the audience and had fun. Simon said that it was cute and forgettable, like something you'd hear on a cruise ship.
Next up, Jason Castro performed "Travelin' Thru'," playing guitar in jeans and a brown button-down shirt. The arrangement started off with bongos, and then he jumped in with guitar and vocals. As someone who has worked in audio, I was annoyed and distracted by the number of times that he popped his "p's" in the early part of the song. It's a very amateur mistake and easy to correct, and it could be because he was striving to put more power into his voice. On the positive side, it does seem as if he's working on his problem of trailing off in his phrasing, a problem he's nearly eliminated (although there were still a few instances). Overall, it was more upbeat and showed more expression, so it was definitely an improvement.
Randy said that it had started rough and then picked up and "you worked it out." Paula called it one of his strongest and said that his voice was strong and rich and that he was confident. Simon started by saying he was going to lose his season pass to Dollywood, because he didn't like it at all. He said the song didn't suit him and he didn't sing it particularly well.
Choosing a ballad, Carly Smithson picked "Here You Come Again," which actually wasn't a song written by Dolly but which had been performed by her. She wore a black sleeveless V-neck with brown leggings and boots and really dark eye makeup. Her pitch was good, but where she could have used some sweetness, she decided instead to belt it. The original song is a little sunnier, a little more optimistic. Overall, her performance wasn't bad, but I couldn't help feeling that something was missing.
Randy said that performance would probably be one of the best of the night. Paula called it beautiful and praised her voice. She added, "You look great." Simon said it was good, not great. He also said that she's got to have a word with whoever's dressing her, because she's got to start looking more like a star.
David Archuleta also went with a ballad, performing "Smoky Mountain Memories," wearing an argyle sweaters and a jacket. He said that he liked the song because it reminded him of how he feels about his home. His perfect pitch and his soaring vocals, in addition to really paying attention to and delivering on the emotion of the song, produced a mesmerizing performance.
Randy said that he stood corrected: that was the best performance of the night. Paula said he was a wonderful aura about him. "You're just glorious." Simon said that he'd been critical about his song last week but that this week, it was absolutely on the money.
Probably feeling as if she'd been hit a softball with this week's theme, Kristy Lee Cook still managed to make a strange song choice, selecting "Coat of Many Colors," a cheesy song about a girl who had to wear a handmade patchwork dress. She sang this wearing a flowered halter dress in bare feet, which seemed somewhat appropriate if a little forced. The performance was fairly good vocally, but she did have some pitch problems. She also failed to add any real emotion to it.
Randy said that country music is definitely her wheelhouse so this was her week. Paula said she's stunning and beautiful that this was her best performance. Simon said that last week was her best performance and that this week it was pleasant but forgettable.
Would-be diva Syesha Mercado chose to sing "I'll Always Love You," a song that is perhaps better known for the Whitney Houston cover. She looked great, in a yellow halter dress with red belt, and she sat on a grand piano throughout the performance. Her version of the song started simple, without the vocal acrobatics demonstrated by Whitney. It was a good choice, because when she launched into the second part of the song, where she imitated the Whitney version, her vocals lacked sparkle, especially with a last note that sounded pinched.
Randy said that she'd taken on the biggest tiger of the night. He said it was pretty good. Paula said that she was beautiful and complimented the velvety tone of her voice. She said that Syesha is growing and connecting with the audience. Simon said that this is one of the best pop songs ever written and wished she hadn't picked it, because the first part was good but the second part paled in comparison to Whitney.
In the money spot, Michael Johns sang, "It's All Wrong, But It's All Right" in a white button-down, black blazer and a purple cravat (so '60s!). He got very emotional, almost sultry, with his performance, really selling it and, in the process, sounding a little bit bluesy. I found the guitar in the background distracting, though, as it punctuated every line with a guitar riff.
Randy called it blazing hot and said that he brings it up week by week. Paula called him a star, "a rock star, a blues star" and said he looked gorgeous. Simon said that this is the best he's heard him sing.
Kudos to Michael Johns, David Archuleta, and David Cook with a nod to Carly Smithson.
Ramiele Malubay will almost certainly be in the bottom three again, and because she failed to shine on a week that was made for her, Kristy Lee Cook will probably be there, as well. If Jason's fans were shocked enough by last week's bottom three appearance, they might pull him out of the fire, giving us either Carly Smithson or Brooke White in the bottom three. Since Kristy Lee was mediocre on a week when she should have owned it, she just might go home. But if she doesn't, Ramiele Malubay will be crying for herself this week, instead of weeping on the sidelines for someone else.
On the night that's supposed to be your night to shine, you better shine.