Ask a bunch of 20-somethings to sing songs from the year they were born, and you're going to end up with an American Idol that's basically '80s Night: Part Deux. Thankfully, mercifully, there was no Whitney Houston in this round, just a lot of Heart, stadium rock, and Sting.
The night overall was a mixed bag for me, with some great performances, some terrible ones, and one that seemed like little more than an obnoxious stunt to me. Am I being too harsh? Don't forget to tell me your pick for who's going home tonight, and you can let me know if I'm being too cynical if you
Ramiele Malubay — She became the second contestant of the season (after Carly) to take on Heart's "Alone," and it was definitely not the right call for her. The backup singers utterly outsang her on the chorus, for one thing. When she hits, her voice is great, but that only makes it more obvious when she misses. Randy said it was shrieky, Paula gave her a pass for being sick, and Simon said it wasn't as bad as Randy made it seem.
Jason Castro — Aw, it was his birthday. He took on the Sting song "Fragile," and, well, here's the thing. If you've been liking Jason's stuff up till now, you probably had no problem with this; if you haven't, then you didn't like this one either. It was exactly the same as the rest, with the guitar strumming and the earnest looks and the campus-pothead vibe. Randy liked it but said it was nothing different, Paula said he was way too safe, and Simon likened the performance to busking outside a subway station.
Syesha Mercado — Is it bad that my first thought when she took the stage was "wow, she's still on this show?" I wasn't as into this performance as the judges were, but it was good; "If I Was Your Woman" was a boring choice, but she sang it well, and when she's on, she can probably outsing any of this year's contestants on a ballad. It just didn't really wow me. Randy, on the other hand, said it was stellar and the best he'd ever heard her sing. Paula said she's the new dark horse, and Simon concurred that it was her best.
Chikezie — Chikezie said in his intro that he was wary of going back to ballads after getting slammed the first week, but he had to follow his heart. The thing about that is, the guy needs to stay away from ballads. His voice doesn't handle them the way you'd expect, and for some reason he becomes automatically lounge-y when he sings something slow. His crooning of "If Only for One Night" was a big letdown after his fun performances of the past couple of weeks. Randy said it was too old-school, Paula thought the throwback-ness was good, and Simon thought it was cheesy.
Brooke White — I got nervous for her after the false start, but she pulled it together for her quiet rendition of "Every Breath You Take" at the piano, where she's clearly more comfortable. It was good when she started alone and quiet, and when it first changed into the faster part with the band, I actually liked it more — but when it switched into the weird key-changing stuff at the end, she lost me a little. Randy liked the start but not the finish, Paula said she's distinctive and consistent, and Simon agreed with Randy and said Brooke should have stuck to just voice and piano.
Michael Johns — OK, here's where I think I was watching a different show than everyone else. His combo of the stadium-rock classics "We Will Rock You" and "We Are the Champions" just didn't work for me. Both songs seemed a little like he was just singing them in a bar with his friends, and I just don't think there's that much singing in either one (well, certainly not in "We Will Rock You"). He did prove he had stage presence, though, and singing Queen is clearly something that works for him. Randy thought this was his best performance yet, Paula thought this was his big moment, and Simon said he saw star potential.
Carly Smithson — I'm now convinced Carly was born in the wrong decade, because she's at her best when she's doing '80s rocker stuff, and for about 80 percent of "Total Eclipse of the Heart," I loved how she sounded. But there was a misguided (and off-key) attempt at a big Idol glory run at the end, and the whole performance seemed a little off; it's like you can see the gears turning with her every move. Randy suddenly doesn't like her as a rocker anymore, Paula said Carly could make her like songs she hates, and Simon said she seemed really tense.
David Archuleta — Was born in 1990. Ohmigod, I'm old. Anyway, I spent most of this performance googling the lyrics to figure out what he was singing; "You're the Voice" is one of those weird social-conscience hand-clapping songs that seemed like it should be played during the Olympics or a Benetton ad. However, despite the song's cheesiness, I have to give Young David some credit, because he sang it well and even got down like a funky little white boy in some parts. The judges were confused by the song, but Randy and Paula said it proved that if you can sing, you can sing; Simon, on the other hand, thought it was a theme park performance (though that really seemed to be about the song itself, too).
Kristy Lee Cook — So, it's probably un-American to criticize Kristy's performance . . . and that's exactly my problem with her singing "God Bless the USA." Maybe I'm overly cynical, but I could almost see her thought process: "Well, they didn't like when I did twang, and they didn't like me when I ripped up my jeans, but maybe the country crowd will get on board when I sing about America!" To be fair, she didn't mess up the song, but it still seemed like something out of a high school talent show. In Montana. Randy said it was nice, Paula called it poignant and respectful, and Simon said it was her best by a mile and called the choice "clever," which I think means "manipulative — and I like it."
David Cook — Awright, a little good and a little bad here. First off, if you introduce him by saying he's doing the Chris Cornell version of "Billie Jean," you don't get to praise him for being original. It's not his rock "Billie Jean." It's Chris Cornell's. You just said that. On the other hand, it was a strong performance, and he knows exactly how to play to his audience without pandering (*cough* Kristy). All the judges praised him for being brave, which I still don't get, but I like that there seems to be a competition shaping up between Young David and Old(er) David.
My favorites: The Davids and Brooke
Bottom three: Ramiele, Chikezie, and Carly — if "God Bless the USA" can't keep Kristy out of the bottom three, nothing can.
Going home: Chikezie. Tear.
Photos courtesy of Fox