It's American Idol cliche at this point to talk about song choice, but I'm going to do it anyway: Considering how treacly and dull the show's Inspiration Night had the potential to be, I was really impressed with the variety of songs the top eight performed. It wasn't the overall best Idol performance night of the season (I still give that to Beatles Night, take one), but it was pretty good for still having so many darn singers in the competition.
There were a few other things that stole the spotlight last night, namely Randy's crotchetier-than-average commentary and Paula's odd boobs. But for the most part, the night was a chance for some singers to step up (and some favorites to falter). Don't forget to vote for who's going home, and to get my take, just
Michael Johns — After last week's detour into bluesy rock, Michael was back to the '80s/'90s alternative scene this week with Aerosmith's "Dream On." At the risk of sounding like Randy, I didn't like the beginning but thought he worked it out by the time he got to the chorus. He does have a good classic rock voice (though I don't know about that falsetto), but I think I like him better when he's not trying to be a capital-R Rocker. Randy thought it was pitchy, Boobilicious Paula said he sounded as good as he looked, and Simon said he doesn't like Michael's rock-star impersonations either.
Syesha Mercado — First thought on hearing she was singing Fantasia's "I Believe"? Dangerous! Poaching an Idol-winning song is scary in the first place, and Syesha just keeps picking songs that will leave her compared (unfavorably) to someone else. It wasn't a bad performance, but she sounded a little out of control on some notes and never seemed that into it. It was a pretty song, not a passionate ballad. Randy said she didn't connect enough, Boobilicious Paula said it was one of her better nights, and Simon called it technically good but not emotional.
Jason Castro — Driving home the stoned-folkie image further, Jason performed a Hawaiian ukulele take on "Somewhere Over the Rainbow." First of all, I think ukuleles are hilarious, so just watching him play the teeny thing was enough to make me laugh. But more importantly, his voice sounded so pure, and I was utterly captivated by him for the first time since his "Hallelujah" performance. Randy called it "blazing molten hot," Boobilicious Paula said it was the perfect song, and Simon deemed it fantastic.
Kristy Lee Cook — She's getting smarter about this whole country thing, picking a song ("Anyway" by Martina McBride) that's country on purpose. And it hurts me to admit this, but I thought she did well. She has the vocal range the size of a pea, but it's obvious when she's doing a song that's exactly in it because her voice has a strength behind it that disappears otherwise. This was one of her good ones. Randy loved it, Boobilicious Paula said she'd outdone herself, and Simon said she was very good and looked like a star.
David Cook — First of all: I still can't get over how much better his hair looks! David picked one of his favorite songs, "Innocent" by Our Lady Peace, and I don't think it was a good call. The song seemed to force his voice artificially low, which he'd make up for by getting screamy in parts, and he clearly didn't draw the crowd in the way he usually does just by opening his mouth. Nice touch with the "give back" on his hand, though. Randy said it wasn't his strongest, Boobilicious Paula still loved him, and Simon didn't like it at all.
Carly Smithson — Have we heard a woman try to sing Queen on this show before? Carly's voice is actually pretty suited to it, so I was excited to hear what she'd do with "The Show Must Go On." If I closed my eyes, it sounded cool, but watching her, something just seemed off, as it does with so many Carly performances. Randy said she was pitchy on the high notes, Boobilicious Paula said she just isn't feeling engaged with Carly, and Simon said she lost control of the song and came across as angry, which I agree with. She also still seems to get rattled so easily, and we can all see when it happens.
David Archuleta — After some of the lite-rock dregs David's chosen already this season, I was downright terrified to see what inspirational song he'd pick, but thankfully "Angels" was at least a song I've heard. He did his typically excellent job with it, but here's the question: Is it bad to be an adult-contemporary singer when you're 17? David's a technically great singer, and there is something about his voice that's instantly captivating, but I just can't see him being a pop star (despite the outpouring of teenybopper love). Randy called the performance his hottest of the season, Boobilicious Paula said it was fantastic, and Simon said it wasn't his best vocal but admitted he was nitpicking.
Brooke White — I like Brooke best when she's being an innovator, but I can also understand why inspiration week would have seemed like the time to pull out some Carole King and sing it straight. "You've Got a Friend" was clearly her thing, very folky and sweet, though not different or unusual in any way. Randy didn't love it, Boobilicious Paula thought it was a great way to close the night, and Simon dubbed it "a pleasant walk in the park" — but not necessarily in a positive way.
My favorites: Jason Castro and, um, Kristy Lee, kinda?
Bottom three: Based on performance, David Cook should be there, but he won't be, so I'll say Brooke, Carly, and Syesha.
Going home: Syesha.
Photos courtesy of Fox