Never before had American Idol finalists faced such a challenge as Andrew Lloyd Webber's music. The show gave some of them a chance to show they could really shine, while some former favorites floundered.
FOX Broadcasting, 2008
Beginning the night, Syesha Mercado performed "One Rock 'n' Roll Too Many," wearing a slinky red knee-length dress and using the opportunity to show off her performance skills. For the first time, she came alive, dancing around on the stage and even smiling for part of the song, instead of her usual pained expressions. This genre is really her forte.
Judge Randy Jackson said that this is her element and that it was her best performance to date. He said she could be a huge Broadway star. Nice judge Paula Abdul said that "This is your happy place." She added, "You brought the house down." Tough judge Simon Cowell said that the performance was very sexy. He said it was one of her strongest performances and that she'd showed personality we hadn't seen before.
Often, the celebrity coaches are useless, offering nothing but syrupy compliments. But composer Andrew Lloyd Webber was openly skeptical of Jason Castro's choice, "Memory." Rightly so, as it turns out. Dressed in a cream suit with a white patterned button-down shirt, seated on a stool, Jason turned in a whispery performance, full of audible breaths. While it was OK in the beginning, he had trouble with the lower register and it was, admittedly, strange to hear a guy singing it. Maybe if he'd nailed it, I wouldn't be saying so, but it's the most overplayed song of Webber's catalogue, and it would have been tough to fight that legacy.
Randy said that musically it was a little bit of a train wreck, although he liked the idea of a guy with dreds singing this song. He noted, though, that the song was too big for him. Paula said that everyone is used to hearing this song by a female power balladeer, but he took a unique spin on it. She said it reminded her of the Joe Cocker song, "You Are So Beautiful." Simon said that this must have been the longest two minutes of Jason's life. He said he'd come over "as a young guy being forced by Mom and Dad at a wedding to sing a song you didn't want to sing."
Brooke White immediately made Jason look better by faltering in the opening of "You Must Love Me." She forgot the words and restarted. Noticeably shaken, almost crying, she stumbled through the initial part of the song, wearing a long silky white dress with an empire waist, decorated with inappropriately cheerful butterflies. As the song progressed and her performance grew emotional, she seemed to be pleading with the audience to keep her around: "You must love me."
Randy said that it wasn't great. He said that parts were good when she got started. He said that she'd listened to Andrew Lloyd Webber about the need to believe what you're singing. Paula cautioned her that you must never start and stop. She said she liked that Brooke didn't overact and showed emotional strength. Simon remarked, "This is why I love live TV." He said it was dramatic when she faltered and that he could tell it completely threw her, which got uncomfortable. He said that she'll be very disappointed when she watches this back.
David Archuleta chose a challenge, "Think of Me" from "Phantom of the Opera," which was originally performed by a woman. Andrew Lloyd Webber advised that he keep his eyes open while he performs. Wearing khaki pants, a white button-down and olive drab jacket, David struggled in the beginning of the song to keep those eyes open. But his rendition of the song was syncopated and fresh. As the song progressed, he colored it up with some runs and finished with a beautiful sustained note.
Randy said that "you're what this show's about." He complimented him on the riffs and called him the one to beat. Paula called it perfect and praised him for taking a risk on a known song and turning it into a pop ballad. Simon called it pleasant but one of his weakest. He said it will get him through, but it's forgettable.
Carly Smithson kicked out the stops with "Superstar" from "Jesus Christ Superstar," wearing an appropriate paisley mini dress covered with sequins, paired with black leggings and boots. This song was definitely a good fit for her. She clearly had fun with it, but her performance was one-note, as she belted her way through the song. She is very lucky, though, that Andrew Lloyd Webber talked her out of her previous choice, a syrupy ballad.
Randy said it's no surprise that the bigger voices in the show are doing better tonight. He said he didn't know if it was her best performance but it was pretty good. He added that he loved her outfit. Paula said that the choice was unexpected, adding that she'd been worried that it was too high for her. She said she loved what she did in the chorus. Simon said that, even though it was shouty in the middle, the performance was one of his favorites of the night.
Pulling from his background in musical theater, David Cook performed "Music of the Night," with a technical perfection worthy of any stage. Who knew that the same guy who rocked out with a guitar was capable of this range? If he hadn't dressed like himself, in a simple black jacket and black button-down shirt, I would have thought somebody knew had entered the competition. No doubt, he won himself some new fans.
Randy said that was an amazing vocal performance, "another molten hot lava bomb." Paula called him well-rounded as a performer and called the performance beautiful. Simon said that he'd made the most of the song, although he likes him grittier, more raw.
Kudos to David Cook, Syesha Mercado and David Archuleta, with a nod to Carly Smithson. The four of them offered the strongest performances of the night, but someone's got to fill out the bottom three, so who will it be?
Jason Castro is a given for the bottom three, and Brooke White should join him. Since she's been in the bottom three before, Carly might find herself rounding out the bottom. Or perhaps David Archuleta will get the rudest awakening of his Idol career, thanks to a performance Simon called "pleasant" but "forgettable." Whoever rounds out the bottom three, it's most likely Jason or Brooke who will go home. Since Brooke might get a sympathy vote for her false start, Jason may soon be a memory.
Never let them see you sweat.