The three finalists on American Idol each sang three songs this week. The first was chosen by one of the judges. The second was chosen by the contestant, and the third was chosen by the show's producers.
FOX Broadcasting, 2008
David Archuleta started off the evening with a song chosen for him by nice judge Paula Abdul, Billy Joel's "And So It Goes." Standing center stage in an outfit reminiscent of the Piano Man himself (black Member's Only jacket, white button-down shirt and black tie), he started the song a capella, then soared over violins. This song was a great choice for Archie, because it gave him the chance to show off his vocal strengths, and the performance was well-modulated with beautiful tone.
Judge Randy Jackson said that "Paula chose a dope song" and that Billy Joel works well for him. He said that he was "in the zone" and "you're in it to win it." Paula, not surprisingly, loved it, calling it a stunning performance and saying that he was a good storyteller. Tough judge Simon Cowell said it was very good but "a bit predictable." He said it wasn't outstanding.
Next, Syesha Mercado performed the Alicia Keys song, "If I Ain't Got You," wearing a sparkly evening gown, which is fast becoming her trademark. My main comment about her is something Simon told many hopefuls: she's not as good as she thinks she is. She fell flat on the chorus, for example, and she lacked the emotional intensity of the original.
Randy said that she did an amazing job and that he was happy that she's "peaking at the right time." Paula carefully avoided any words about the performance itself, saying that she was very proud of the last lady standing and telling her that she looks stunning. She also acknowledged that it's hard to do a song by a great artist. Simon said that she sang very well but he wished Randy had chosen a song that would encourage her to be original, rather than to imitate a well-known singer. Then again, has Syesha ever been original?
Finishing the first round, David Cook performed a song selected by Simon, the Roberta Flack song "First Time Ever I Saw Your Face." He did an acoustic version and slowed down to really concentrate on telling the story, wearing a simple black jacket and white shirt. The storytelling really drew the listeners in, and he showed the sort of vocal ability he hadn't shown since Andrew Lloyd Webber week.
Randy said that he's loved him since day one and he loved the high note at the end. But he criticized Simon's song choice and wished he'd chosen something "less predictable." Paula said it's one of her favorite songs and that he was now her second favorite person who sings it. Simon called it one of his best performances and said that "This is what makes you brilliant," the fact that he took an older song and made it original. He declared that David Cook had won the first round.
For his choice, David Archuleta selected the Chris Brown song "With You," wearing a brown patterned T-shirt and tan checked pants. It was an upbeat song, which isn't really his bag, and he had some trouble with the beginning. He got into the song halfway through and turned it around.
Randy applauded him for trying something new but said he wasn't sure it was the right song. Paula said the song was good for the tone of his voice and said "this is another part of who you are." Simon applauded him for not doing a "treacly ballad" and said it was like a Chihuahua trying to be a tiger. He also found the dancing awkward.
Syesha chose the Peggy Lee standard "Fever," saying that she did it because she wanted to use a chair. This gets right to the heart of Syesha: she's an actress/singer. She selected a song based on the potential for stage movement, rather than for how well it would show her vocally. She wore a sparkly silver mini-dress and silver high heels and tried to be sexy, but it was very forced.
Randy called it a very interesting song choice but said she sang it amazingly well. Paula said she looked lovely but was surprised she'd picked this song. She said it didn't show her "who Syesha is as an artist." Simon said that she would probably regret choosing this song. He added that she'd had the chance to prove herself but instead had done a lame cabaret performance.
Closing out the round, David Cook went with a somewhat obscure song, "Dare You to Move" by Switchfoot. Clad in a black T-shirt and jeans, with his electric guitar (a rose tucked into the neck), he started off a little weak but grew stronger in the chorus.
Randy called it a great song choice but said it was not his best, observing that he was a little pitchy. Paula criticized the adaptation of the song, since it felt like it was just getting started right as it ended. The finalists must condense songs to a minute and a half, and this can be a problem if they use a long introduction. Simon said it was what he would have expected. He summarized that everyone had had an OK middle round.
The final round were songs chosen by the show's producers, and David Archuleta performed the Dan Fogelberg song "Longer," an old chestnut that he could sing in his sleep. He wore a blue button-down embroidered shirt with jeans. In many ways the song seemed tailor-made for him, which is probably why the producers chose it.
Randy wasn't as keen on the song choice but proclaimed his performance was "another hot one." Paula simply called it lovely. Simon said that he sang the song very well, but he thought the song itself was horrible and called it "gooey." He proclaimed that David had done enough to make it to the finals.
For her final song, Syesha was given the Gia Farrell tune "Hit Me Up," from the Happy Feet soundtrack. The up-tempo song was fun, and for the first time she really looked contemporary, in black leggings and a silver tank top. The song was a little jazzy, which is her wheelhouse, although she still fell flat on almost every sustained note.
Randy said it was just OK. Paula said that she sang it very well but it wasn't the type of song that defines her. She said she didn't know if it was good enough for the finals. Simon said it was better than the second song but said her best moment was the previous week with the Sam Cook song. He called this song "fun but forgettable."
This is the season of Aerosmith on American Idol. Maybe if we get lucky, we'll see them next week on the big finale. For David Cook, the producers chose "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing," knowing he'd knock it out of the park. In a black jacket with frilly shirt and vest, he started the song a bit up-tempo with strings (a good choice, because it kept it interesting). He rocked it out but took liberties with the time signature to make it his own. While he was off melody with the first line of the chorus, overall it was a beautiful performance.
Randy said that he loved the song but the performance was "OK for me." He said he found it predictable. Paula complimented the songwriter, who happened to be in the audience. She added, to David, "See you in the finals." Simon said it was one of the great songs of all time and that "David Cook wins the night."
Kudos to David Cook for springing back from a mediocre middle performance for a strong finish. The other contestants had both good moments and bad.
The question is, which one will make it to the finals. Viewers have been predicting a showdown between the two Davids. That's certainly what I expect to see, unless Syesha's gyrating on her second song produced a fever amongst her fans.
Dancing can't make up for a poor song choice.