Hey! New top 12, new set, new opening sequence, new dizzying camera angles, new rights to the Beatles songbook. American Idol is truly on!
Before Tuesday's performance show, I wasn't sure if the Idol contestants taking on the Lennon-McCartney songs for the first time would be awesome or blasphemous. While there did seem to be a few singers who took the legends' names in vain, most of the performances were at least respectable, with some truly awesome ones sprinkled in. Some people who had seemed on the verge of going home really stepped it up, while one favorite took a pretty dramatic fall. That said, it's always worse to be mediocre at this stage of Idol than to be awful, so tonight's elimination should be interesting. Don't forget to tell me who you think is going home, and for my take on the show, just
Note: Tuesday's talk-to-the-camera assignment seemed to be about where the singers live and work, so I've tossed some of those factoids in, too.
Syesha Mercado — She lives in Miami, where she's a student and a working actress. Singing first on one of these long nights is tough, because you have to do something really outstanding to be memorable later on, and I'm not sure she did that. She picked "Got to Get You Into My Life," and I had trouble following the song when it was in the lower notes on the verses; it was like I could barely hear her. The choruses were better, maybe because she could power through. Randy said she needed to loosen up, Paula said it started off pitch but eventually came together, and Simon thought it was a great choice and better than last week, though she seemed nervous.
Chikezie — He used to — his words — feel people up in an airport for a living. He picked "She's a Woman" and started out sitting on a faux porch with a banjo and a tambourine and a fake fire burning in the background, singing the song all bluegrass-style, which might be one of the cooler Idol performance ideas I've seen. Then, he stood up and let loose, dancing all crazy and running around the stage — and actually still sang well. Randy said he "smashed it," Paula said that's when taking risks brings reward, and Simon shocked himself by agreeing with the other two and said he liked how Chikezie took control of the performance.
Ramiele Malubay — We now know she works at a sushi restaurant and comes from a musical family. She picked "In My Life," sadly exactly the sort of Beatles cliche I'd thought she might go for, and dedicated it to her friends who had already left the show. It was definitely a Broadway or cabaret "In My Life," slow and boring; her voice is beautiful, sure, but she doesn't seem to know what to do with it, since so many of her performances have come off as karaoke lately. Randy said it was pretty but dull, Paula said she's holding back, and Simon was utterly bored and wants more from her.
Jason Castro — He's a college student, and part of his family is from Colombia. He sang "If I Fell" with his guitar, a delicate little version of the song, with all these emo-ish "it hurts too much to sing these words!" noises on the high notes. It's endearing, if a bit like the sort of thing you'd sing outside your crush's window. He and Brooke White could make beautiful folkie babies. Randy liked but didn't love it and was irked by switches in the melody, Paula felt an emotional connection, and Simon thought it was too "student in the bedroom at midnight."
Carly Smithson — She works a bunch of jobs, bartending and tattoo-shop-owning, in San Diego. She picked "Come Together," and I wasn't sure there would be enough grit or growl in her voice to pull it off, but there were some awesome moments, especially the way she pulled her voice down for a sultry "over me" after the power notes of the rest of the chorus. Randy liked that she was having fun and called it stellar, Paula felt like she was watching someone who was already a star, and Simon finally thought she picked the right song.
David Cook — David was a bartender in Tulsa, and he called it the only job he ever had where he could totally be himself. And this will go down as the week David Cook won me over, despite his bad hair and my better judgment. He delivered this power-pop arrangement of "Eleanor Rigby" and proved himself to be a more comfortable performer than I'd realized before — and his last "all the lonely people" run was awesome. Randy said it was proof you can rock on Idol, Paula said he was the dark horse, and Simon said he could actually win the competition if it doesn't devolve into a popularity contest. Which, I mean, it always does, but still. Rock on, David C.
Brooke White — She moved to LA to work on music and was a nanny to two little girls. Ah, I suppose somebody had to take on "Let it Be," and Brooke seemed like the best candidate. She performed it solo at the piano, and it was a beautiful performance and obviously emotional for her. I didn't see the same kind of artistic/innovative spark that her "Love is a Battlefield" had last week, though. Randy said it wasn't her strongest but he liked seeing what it meant to her, Paula said she felt the emotion, and Simon said it was one of the best of the night.
David Hernandez — He talked about working some place called the Pizza Bistro. Suuuure, "the Pizza Bistro." Anyway, he apparently took a Beatles class in college, so he knew some facts about "I Saw Her Standing There," but I can't say that made his performance any better, sadly. It's a pretty simple song, so he tried to add too much into the melody — and, even worse, the performance itself — and so it came off like a cheesy bar band version. Randy and Paula both thought he overdid it, while Simon called it "corny verging on desperate."
Amanda Overmyer — In case you somehow didn't know already, she's a nurse. She picked "You Can't Do That," which she hadn't heard before this week; it's not one I know well, either, but she made the Beatles into bluesy rock, so . . . that's cool, right? There's a little more pure singing than she's done in a while, but there's also the muttering/stomping that Amanda's best known for. Also, she was way more energetic, smiley, and generally nice this week, and it didn't seem fake; I wonder if she really didn't know how she was coming off before. Randy said she made the Beatles sound like they belonged in a Southern bar, Paula was glad to see her having fun, and Simon thought it was worse than last week and couldn't understand what she was singing.
Michael Johns — He worked a bunch of odd jobs since moving to the States from Australia. He sang "Across the Universe," and while it didn't seem as utterly lazy as his early rounds did, he's still not doing interesting or unusual things with the songs he sings, a la Brooke or Cook or even Chikezie this week. Maybe just good singing isn't enough for Idol anymore? Randy said it was a little sleepy, Paula actually liked that he just stood center-stage and sang, and Simon wants him to do something amazing with his songs.
Kristy Lee Cook — She worked that whole tomboy thing in her video interview, making me like her for a moment; then she came out with a laughably countrified "Eight Days a Week" and I was back where I started. I know the judges have told her to go country, but someone needs to tell her that doesn't have to mean ripped jeans and sparkles and over-the-top twang every time. Worse, she seemed like she couldn't keep up with the song and was rushing to get through it. Randy thought she was too forced, Paula thought it was too literal an interpretation of "country," and Simon called her "Dolly Parton on helium."
David Archuleta — In his video package, he claimed not to listen to music from the '60s, w hich struck me as a bit bratty. He tried the Stevie Wonder version of "We Can Work It Out," and I say tried because he . . . kinda failed. He forgot the lyrics multiple times, looked wildly uncomfortable, and went way cheesy with the parts he did know, maybe in an effort to compensate. Randy was baffled and said it was the wrong vibe, Paula said he can't let it show when he's having trouble, and Simon said it was a mess. Let's face it, though: His fans will keep him safe through this.
My favorites: Chikezie! Then David Cook and Carly.
Bottom Three: Kristy Lee, Syesha, David Hernandez. Ramiele should be worried, too.
Going home: As I said, worse to be mediocre than outright bad. It should be Kristy, but I bet her fans will vote in droves, so I'm betting on Syesha as a surprising first elimination from the top 12.
Photos courtesy of Fox