Sun. March 30, 2008 12:00 AM
by Jim Verraros
American Idol: Season Seven; Top Ten Perform
March 25, 2008—-[After two consecutive weeks of Beatles-themed episodes, "American Idol's"] down to the top ten finalists and I'm bouncing out of my seat; the contestants won't be doing another Beatles night. I have great respect for the influential band. It's just that the second time around on "Idol" seemed to be the weaker performances—-the contestants were probably pretty much over it too.
This round's theme consists of songs that were hits during the birth year of each contestant.
Ramiele Malubay starts the show with her rendition of Heart's, "Alone." Heart songs are so incredibly difficult to sing—hitting those high notes takes a lot of range and power. I appreciate her choice of song because it says that she's pushing herself vocally, and proving to America that she's in it to win it. Although it wasn't a spectacular performance, there was a fire in her eyes that she didn't have before. I think this is just the beginning for Malubay. As the show progresses, she'll continue to choose difficult songs to sing.
Jason Castro was next, and sings, "Fragile," by Sting. Although I can respect Castro for sticking to his acoustic guitar performances, [his shtick] is almost starting to become stale and—dare I say?—predictable. Castro comes off as likeable, but doesn't seem the type to be in this for the title. It's almost as if he's just perfectly content with being on a show, period. He stays within a few notes with each performance, and doesn't have much of a vocal range. On the flip side, he's very good at emoting and connecting with his songs. Jason Castro is one of those love him or hate him contestants, similar to Brooke White. In these cases, it's about preference.
Syesha Mercado blows me away with, "If I Were Your Woman," by Gladys Knight. Mercado sang that song. She felt every word. She connected to the camera and to the viewers, and she sold it the best way she knew how. This is a performance that needs to be youtube-d to be believed. Then, something interesting happened. Both Randy and Paula agreed that she's now, based on that particular performance, become the "dark horse," and has just given one of the most memorable performances she's ever had on the show thus far. Simon disagrees with the other two, and practically kills this high Mercado must've been on, claiming that he didn't think that performance was as good as everyone said. This to me comes off as the judges trying to influence the votes of America, therefore keeping who the producers and judges want to win.
Chikezie serenades the audience with the Luther Vandross classic, "If Only for One Night." His performance was definitely solid. The judges have told Chikezie that he's best doing up-tempo, or faster, more upbeat, songs. Yet, he doesn't get the credit he so desperately deserves when he chooses a ballad. Luther Vandross is an icon, and trying to do a song that he has performed is incredibly difficult. In my opinion, Chikezie truly did the song justice by staying as true to the original arrangement as possible. With a ballad like that, it's very dangerous territory to change it and "make it your own." so I appreciated his rendition very much.
Brooke White comes next, and chooses "Every Breath You Take" by The Police. Again, with White, it's a preference thing. You either like her, and her acoustic guitar/stripped-down piano performances, or you don't. She begins her song in the wrong key, which could've led to disaster, but she stops herself, and starts again in the correct key. She is another contestant who stays within four or five notes and is incredibly predictable. On the other hand, she's got a "nerdy-dorky-clumsy" quality about her, which can be very endearing. Although I don't see her winning the title, simply because there are much better singers in the competition, she is developing a fan base. White could very well come out with a decent Tory Amos-esque record a year or two from now.
The real surprise of the night came from Michael Johns, who chose Queen's, "We Are the Champions." Everything about the performance was flawless. His vocals were perfectly on, every note was pitch-perfect, and there was a command he had over the song—as if the song belonged to him. Any song from Queen is almost impossible to sing anywhere near as good as Queen, but Johns did an incredible job. He went from being a good singer who was somewhat forgettable, to delivering the performance of the night, and possibly the season. Even Simon made the comment: "...that was the first time I thought you had star quality." I couldn't agree more.
The resident Irish Rocker, Carly Smithson chooses, "Total Eclipse of the Heart," by Bonnie Tyler. It was good, just not "Carly-good." She started out strong, as she's known to do, but faltered somewhere in the middle. She doesn't quite get back on track for the rest of her performance. It was almost as if she was thinking as she was singing, and didn't trust her initial gut instincts. She didn't have that confident swagger that she's had in past performances, and a look of worry was all over her face. I almost feel for her a little, because she's surrounded by so much hype, and is always consistent, that if she has a bad night, she's heartbroken. At the end of the day, she's an amazing vocalist with a huge range and has chosen songs that have been difficult to sing since day one. So, although this wasn't her best, she'll definitely stay for at least three or four more weeks.
David Archuleta, another hyped contestant, chose, "You're The Voice," by John Farnam. Although I feel it was the wrong song choice (simply because most of America wouldn't have been able to recognize it), he still sang with conviction and, as he said, "had fun with it." The only thing about having fun with a song is that it can come off cheesy, and awkward if you question how your body is moving while singing, and that's exactly how it came off for Archuleta. In a ballad, he commands everyone's attention, and has everyone in the palm of his hand. With a faster song, he's a bit more awkward and sloppy, and his age really shows. It's not as if I'm looking for some Britney-type choreography, it's just a matter of coming off less awkward, and using the stage to your advantage. If you're that uncoordinated, walk across the stage, sing to one side of the audience, and do the same with the other side. There are ways to cheat or get around stage presence, as long as you know how to do it. It was a very good vocal; definitely good enough to keep him around.
Kristy Lee Cook decides to sing to the red states with, "Proud to Be an American." This song did absolutely nothing for me, except picture her driving a beat up, red ford truck with a confederate flag hanging in the window. However, I will say this: she was very smart to choose that song. She knows her fan base, and she knows who's voting for her, so this song went straight to them. A little patriotism always helps, especially in the state that America's in today. I don't know if it was enough to save her, but Simon said it was her best performance, "by a mile." Ugh.
Last and certainly not least, David Cook takes us to a Chris Cornell version of, "Billie Jean." I had never heard this version, but I considered going to iTunes and downloading Cook's. It was pretty incredible, passionate, pitch-perfect and believable. This guy always sticks to his guns, chooses what sounds good on him, and does an incredible job. All the judges agree that Cook could win this whole thing—though I don't see that happening, he could very well be in the final two. Definitely a blow-you-away performance by this guy; always on, always authentic, and always puts on a show.