I've filled in for Claire on the performance show, and I've filled in for Claire on the results show; this week, I'm eating the whole enchilada. So lets dig in
Jason Castro, "Forever In Blue Jeans"/"September Morn" The first song was a perfect choice for Castro's laid-back style–it's maybe my favorite Neil Diamond song, actually–and I appreciated that he picked up the tempo and added some grit to his voice, which is something he's been doing more often as the season's progressed. (He reminds me a little of Ryan Adams at times, if not quite as rangy.) My wife complained that the song needed a big vocal push in the second half and that Castro didn't supply it, but I think she's looking for something that's never going to be there. Castro's dynamics are much subtler. As for "September Morn," it was in that strange balladeer mode that Castro's been in the last few weeks. It's not really the mode he'll be most likely to explore as a recording artist–and he looks incredibly awkward sitting up there on stage without an instrument–but I honestly enjoy the fact that he's not really a typical "Idol," because I don't think he's bad per se, just different. Watching him during the results shows, Castro rarely seems to give a shit, but during his performances, it looks like he's enjoying himself, even when the song's not his style. I think he just wants to get on stage and perform for an audience, and the rest he could do without; and I find that strangely attractive.
David Cook, "I'm Alive"/"All I Really Need Is You" I've had kind of a love/hate relationship with Cook through this whole season–for stupid reasons really. I liked him when he was the self-proclaimed "word nerd" who was the other rocker, subordinate to Michael, and as he's become the front-runner, and has played the good boy by contemporizing his arrangements and his "look," I've rebelled a little. As I was trying to explain to my wife, my problem with Cook is mainly that while I think he's one of the best, most modern "rocker types" the show has ever had, the kind of music he makes doesn't interest me much. (I had the same problem with Chris Daughtry, quite frankly.) And yet, I acknowledge that Cook seems like a nice, smart, sincere guy, and there are times when I enjoy him quite a bit. On his "I'm Alive"–a song I knew, anyway–I felt like he was kind of fighting his own arrangement, but the idea was good, and I'd even consider buying a recording if it were performed with a little more polish. As for the second song, it was pretty much everything I don't like about Castro. I found it overwrought, and though Cook sung it well, unlike Castro, there's no ease to his voice. That's a real sticking point for me, though my wife (and the judges) were wild about it. So it goes.
Brooke White, "I'm A Believer"/"I Am I Said" As sometimes happens to unconventional Idol contestants–and as happened to Carly until she got it together last week–White seems to have checked out of this competition a little. It's like she's been getting sick of her own shtick: the quaveriness, the apologetic bickering with the judges, the crying on elimination night, et cetera. That sense of being totally at sea was evident in her first song, for which she gave a Kristy Lee Cook performance–pointlessy bouncy and off-key. But then she pulled it together and gave what was easily my favorite performance of the night on "I Am I Said," which found her working well with the band, and finding her place within the arrangement. As I've said before, what I ultimately like about White–and Castro–is that they seem like viable performers on their own, apart from the demands of American Idol. I think both of them feel pretty ambivalent about the show, which to me makes them interesting, although I guess if I were viewing AI as a game–which it ultimately is–I should probably be annoyed with them for not being smarter players. But I watch this show looking for compelling performances, and White in particular has delivered some of my favorites of this season.
David Archuleta, "Sweet Caroline"/"America" Am I the only one who finds Archuleta kind of a sympathetic character, in a melancholy sort of way? He comes out every week in the same basic outfit, in the same fog of confusion over what he's singing and why, and he delivers more or less the same performance with the same remarkably rich (but oddly disconnected) vocals. His "Sweet Caroline" was fairly well-sung but indifferently performed, while his "America" was, well, exactly the same. I feel bad for the kid, and yet aside from Simon, every other judge–and America too apparently–still thinks of him as the front-runner. Is there any chance that Randy means something else when he says "the bomb?"
Syesha Mercado, "Hello Again" / "Thank The Lord For The Nighttime" Syesha was teriffic last week–and no wonder she is a theater geek after all–but I fully expected her to be sent home. So, given another reprieve, what does she do? She delivers a dreary sub-Whitney performance of the drippy "Hello Again" and then she gives a touring company performance–an understudy for a touring company performance, really–of the fairly generic "Thank The Lord For The Nighttime." Yawn.
Best of the night: For me? Cook's "I'm Alive," White's "I Am I Said," and Castro's "Forever In Blue Jeans." For the judges? Cook's second song, Brooke, and–improbably–Archuleta.
Bottom three: Mercado, Castro and–I'm going to go out on a limb here–Archuleta. And bye-bye Syesha, about three weeks later than I predicted. (The rest of my final four would then be intact by the way not to toot my own horn.)
-The most entertaining moment of the night? Paula having no idea what she was talking about when asked to judge the first round of songs. A real peek behind the curtain there.
-How do we feel about Neil Diamond? When I was a teenager, and his strained '80s ballads were all over the radio in my parents' car, I considered Diamond something like my musical nemesis. In the '90s, I got more familiar with his bouncy '60s pop, and grew to like the songs, even if I was still skeptical about Diamond's raspy voice and schmoozy persona. In the '00s, I've come to like schmooze, and now I'd pretty much consider myself a Diamond fan. Although those '80s ballads are still tough for me.