May 7, 2008By Joe Diliberto Posted: May 7, 2008
With the contestants dwindling to a precious few, it was time once again to check in with SO YOU THINK YOU CAN KARAOKE...er, I mean, AMERICAN IDOL.
David Cook led off the parade of non-threatening boys by rushing through a pure karaoke version of "Hungry Like the Wolf" that was so toothless it made Duran Duran seem dangerous. Call it Dull Dull. Randy called him "just okay," while Simon deemed him "good enough." And those raves were undeserved.
OMG, you guys! Syesha is, like, so excited about the upcoming tour. Gee, I wonder if Ryan will find time to mention when tickets go on sale (but that would be so mercenary). What's that, Mr. Seacrest — May 17? Thank you. Back to the singing… Syesha poured herself into a short dress to channel Tina Turner for a version of "Proud Mary." And what's this — attitude? Personality? Has she forgotten what show she's on? Syesha doesn't quite have the pipes to pull off the power portion of the song, but she did well enough imitating Turner's strut to turn in an enjoyable performance. She handled the slower early portion well, but her voice was not strong enough for the full-throated roars of the refrain. As I've noted before, loud is no substitute for good. Randy noted she was "showin' the heat," but Simon scoffed at her "bad, shrieky" vocals in a "bad impersonation" of Turner.
Dreadlocked goofball Jason was next, and the best thing about his interpretation of "I Shot the Sheriff" was that he properly credited it to Bob Marley, not Eric Clapton (as most young people do). As for the song — well, talk about a bad choice! His timid, soulless voice has never sounded more ill-suited to the material. His performance was exactly what I mean when I refer to these contestants as bad karaoke. Even Randy backed me up by blasting Jason as "really karaoke." And you know the song had to suck on a galactic scale if even Paula hated it. Simon stuck a fork in him by calling it "utterly atrocious" and "a massacre" that was "as bad as I've ever heard." Jason responded with his best doofus grin, which set the prepubescent audience screaming. (BTW, where do they find these adoring audience members? And must they sign pledges to unquestioningly worship absolutely everything?)
When it comes to unquestioning adoration, David Archuleta rules the AI roost. I despised his arrangement of "Stand by Me," but I have to admit that it flattered his voice, which was the point. The elongated flourishes at the ends of lines worked for him (if not for me). And it worked for Randy, who gushed that he "brought the mad-hot vocals." Simon called it the "best performance so far." And the audience went batspit crazy. (I want to thank my colleague Mala Bhattacharjee for introducing me to my favorite new adverb, batspit.)
Cook opened the second go-round with "Baba O'Riley," and made it his own — in the sense that it will never be confused with the iconic version by The Who. He simply did not have the vocal capacity to pull off the "teenage wasteland" refrain; in fact, his voice squeaked like a teenager's when he tried it. Astonishingly, Paula claimed to be "humbled to watch your soul." (Yikes! Just how close is that judge's table?)
Syesha next tackled Sam Cooke's "A Change is Gonna Come," and it was a change for her, in the sense that her other song was better. Naturally her version hinged on being loud, loud, loud, and her voice managed to hold out long enough to impress Paula and Simon. Paula crowed, "Welcome to your dream," causing Syesha to burst into tears (presumably the happy kind).
For his second song, Jason selected "Mr. Tambourine Man" — but he should have taken a crib sheet with him, as he forgot some of the lyrics. Still, he soldiered on, right to an overly sentimental ending. "It is what it is," Paula observed. Even Randy had to note, "Jason's not in the zone tonight." Simon warned him: "I'd pack your suitcase."
Archuleta wrapped up the night with a lifeless interpretation of Elvis Presley's "Love Me Tender." If David hadn't mentioned it ahead of time, I might not have even recognized the song. Still, the arrangement once again played to his particular strengths (even if his voice did crack at the end). Randy still credited him with "the hot vocals of the night," while Simon declared, "You crushed the competition."
My bottom two: Jason and Cook, no question. But the question is, did Jason's drubbing by the judges trigger a huge sympathy vote that will save him?
Tune in for the next Night Shift...