When I heard the theme of this week's American Idol, I knew the finalists were in trouble, especially the female finalists, who would risk a closer comparison to the pop diva whose songs they were performing: Mariah Carey.
FOX Broadcasting, 2008
David Archuleta kicked off the night with "When You Believe," which was the perfect song for him and allowed him to show his strength. He sustained a really good tone throughout much of it, though he did get a little nasally in the middle. He wore black leather pants with a rust-colored, patterned T-shirt.
Judge Randy Jackson said that he'd picked one of the hardest songs but that he can sing anything, adding, "That was the bomb." Nice judge Paula Abdul said that Mariah would be proud of that interpretation of the song. Tough judge Simon Cowell said he knew that David would choose that song and that it was very, very good. He said that he'd set the benchmark and performed very well.
Next, Carly Smithson tackled "Without You," dressed divinely in a deep purple V-neck dress with black pendant and black leggings, although she showed a bit too much cleavage. She started out soft and accidentally breathed really loud into the mic, and it only got worse from there, with flat notes throughout the middle section, as she had trouble with her lower register. Even on the higher notes, she had trouble, ending by belting out a really harsh note.
Randy said he liked that she'd challenged herself but said she's got to believe in herself as well as to support her lower range. Paula said she liked that Carly had shown vocal restraint at the beginning of the chorus. She complimented her for making it her own. Simon said he'd really wanted to hear her sing this, but that he didn't think she'd pulled it off. He observed that she's over-thinking everything and holding herself back.
The quintessential diva wannabe, Syesha Mercado, performed "Vanishing" in a good evening dress that she might have borrowed from Beyonce. If only she'd sounded as good as her dress. Her tendency to throw in vocal flourishes really undid her this time, as a lot of her runs were noticeably off-key. Like Carly before her, she had trouble with her lower register and then, subsequently, was also flat at the higher notes following. If anything, this week is proving why Mariah deserves the praise she's won for her vocal talents over the years.
Randy said that she'd chosen one of the toughest songs of the night and he liked that she was bold. He said she did a good job despite a couple pitchy moments. Paula said that she was smart in picking a song that not many people know, so that she wouldn't fall prey to comparisons. She liked that she changed up her voice and didn't just always power through, calling the performance "unbelievable" and "magical." Simon said that technically, it was very good but he wasn't sure he would have chosen a song that not many people know.
Seated at the piano, wearing a sparkly black dress with blousy sleeves, Brooke White performed "Hero," the unplugged version. She was more heartfelt than Carly without the showboating, but this was clearly not her comfort zone. Still, her simple performance stood out amongst the vocally cluttered renditions before her.
Randy said that he liked the singer/songwriter version of it but didn't like the bridge and thought she'd lost her confidence at the end. Paula said that "every ounce of you is authentic." She said she thought the unplugged version was very brave. And she counseled her that, if she messes up, she should be careful not to speed up. Simon said that, while she hadn't had a choice but to do it the way she did, it was a little like ordering a hamburger and only getting a bun. He said her voice wasn't strong enough to carry the song.
Also clad in a gold dress (maybe she and Syesha are in the same sorority?), Kristy Lee Cook performed "Forever" with a little pit of a country vibe to it. Personally, I think the song would have benefited from countrifying it even more, Tammy Wynette style. She started out strong but had some trouble in the middle. Still, I thought this was her best yet.
Randy said it wasn't amazing and noted that she had pitchy notes in the first part and started stepping up at the end. Paula called her a very smart girl and said that she was blown away and liked the arrangement. Simon observed that she probably hadn't been jumping for joy that it was Mariah Carey week. In response to Kristy Lee's assertion that she'd given her chills, he said, "You didn't give me chills." He said that he found it whiny at times but she'd done what she could, given the week wasn't her genre.
With one of the biggest departures of the evening, David Cook restyled "Always Be My Baby" as a rock ballad, and while it was rough at the beginning, he hit his comfort zone in the chorus and rocked it at the end. This was definitely a better performance than last week. He wore a simple white button-down shirt with a skinny black tie and gray vest, making me wonder if Danny Noriega had left some clothes behind when he was booted several weeks ago.
Randy said that he's ready to make an album and called it the most brilliant performance this season. Paula said that song could be on a movie soundtrack and added, "You're it." Simon said hearing that song was like coming out of karaoke hell into a breath of fresh air. He called it original and daring and said that he's a great potential artist, someone who takes risks.
Capping the night, Jason Castro performed "I Don't Wanna Cry," in a denim jacket with black V-neck shirt but without his favorite accessory, his guitar. He started out a little quiet, almost hesitant, but then found the heart of the song. He's worked on his phrasing and his mic technique, and I found the performance to be engaging.
Randy said that he didn't love it and thought it sounded like music from a weird beach luau. Picking up on that, Paula said that she'd love to be at that luau, listening all night long. She said, "You're in the zone" and called the performance amazing. Simon said that he agreed with Paula. He said that while it wasn't the best vocal, it was a cool version. He declared that the guys had won the night.
Kudos to David Cook, David Archuleta and Jason Cook. The men should be safe tonight, having turned in strong performances on a challenging night.
Presuming that we're looking at an all-female bottom three, who will find themselves at center stage? I'm predicting Kristy Lee Cook, Carly Smithson and Brooke White, but as for who's leaving, it's anybody's guess. Maybe we'll see another, lesser surprise, and the oft-criticized Kristy Lee Cook will be packing her bags after outliving eliminations on weeks when her performance was far worse.
Don't even try to sing it like Mariah.