Wed. April 2, 2008 12:00 AM
by Jim Verraros
American Idol: Season Seven; Dolly Parton tutors the top nine finalists
April 1, 2008—-Hearing that Dolly Parton would be this week's mentor to the contestants, got me a little excited. Then, after watching the final nine perform, I realized that my excitement was for nothing: None of the contestants chose some of Dolly's biggest hits. I was hoping for "9 To 5" or "Straight Talk," but no such luck...
...Brooke White starts the show with "Jolene," and performs it with—what else?—an acoustic guitar. Nonetheless, her performance was honest and she connected fairly well to the number. Yet personally, I just lean towards not liking her, no matter how hard I try to like her. It's like the feeling I have with vagina. I can appreciate it; it's just not for me.
David Cook followed with his rendition of "Little Sparrow." Though unfamiliar with the song, I can appreciate the direction that Cook took it in because he showed his range and vocal ability. He chose to sing some notes in a falsetto, along with a full-head voice. He wasn't as "rock out" as much as his previous performances usually are, but he was still very clean and polished. Cook continues to do well, and will easily sail through to the following round.
Ramiele Malubay was up next, and chose, "Do I Ever Cross Your Mind." She always seems a little awkward when it comes to performing an upbeat number, [as was the case in this performance as well]. It looked liked she was thinking something like, "Do I move here? Do I shake my ass a little? Maybe I should interact with the fans down below. No—-I'm going to march in the middle of the stage and hope for the best." Hers was a decent vocal, as always, but the personality seemed a little contrived and forced. It was as if she was giving just enough to get through to the next round, and I'm over that. It's so frustrating to see the talent that you know someone is capable of exuding, but they never have their one moment.
After Malubay was Jason Castro with, "Traveling Through." It was a nice choice of song for him because it's a bit funky in its arrangement. He, of course, stayed within his niche and brought out the acoustic guitar, but he seemed to sing through the song as if he really couldn't wait to get it over with. Though his performance lacked a "stand out" moment, Castro remained mellowed-out, as always. [His demeanor] consistently comes off as a fresh breath of air, and [audiences seem to enjoy him because of it.] Maybe Castro is what America wants in a recording artist. Or perhaps it's preference; you're either for him, or not.
Following Castro was one of my favorite females in the competition, Carly Smithson. With its gorgeous melody and beautifully written words, Smithson chose "Here You Come Again," one of the few songs that Parton hasn't penned but performed. Its stunning arrangement is very simple and empty, conducive to letting Smithson's vocals shine throughout the song. She sang it in a very subdued and controlled manner, not unlike that of her performance of "Blackbird." After she finished strong, Randy and Paula praised her. Yet Simon criticized the stylist, saying, "You don't quite look like a star yet." However the outfit was, in fact, a vast improvement from her past outfits. It was simple, yet edgy and fit Smithson's vibe. So, screw you Simon.
David Archuleta was next, performing a Parton favorite, "Smokey Mountain Memories." It's a lovely song, and David sang it with the perfect mix of vocal prowess and emotion; it's clear to me that this is a song that he's connected with in some shape or form, making his rendition amazing to hear. A beautifully sung ballad by Archuleta—-again. My fear is that Archuleta might be coming off a little too wise beyond his years; that it may be difficult for other 17-year-olds to connect with him. Although I'm sure his fan base is monumental in size, it would be nice, as a viewer, to see him be just as comfortable doing something upbeat.
With her country roots and horse-grooming past, I knew Kristy Lee Cook would sail through this round. She chose "Coat of Many Colors," a heartwarming song about Parton's mother stitching pieces of ratty material onto a jacket of some sort. As was to be expected of her, Lee Cook seemed completely comfortable in this episode's element. She even performed barefoot—-and leave it to Ryan to notice her French manicured toenails. Her vocal was really decent but, after this performance, it's clear that Lee Cook may be just a country artist. And that's fine, but that's not what I think America is out to find this year.
Syesha Mercado came next with the ballsy, "I Will Always Love You." I call it "ballsy" because no matter how well this song is performed, a comparison to Whitney Houston's version can't be escaped, [and Whitney Houston's version was monumental]. With that said, Mercado started out very simplistically. No strain put on the vocals, as if out to prove nothing to the viewer, she was just singing. The key change in the song was a direct Whitney rip-off, and nowhere near as good. Mercado has an amazing voice, and she's a gorgeous girl, but she's having a hard time choosing the right songs that define who she is as an artist. She always performs well and sings beautifully; there's just always a sense of something unsettling after she performs. Whether that's a lack of identity or confidence or connection to the audience, I'm not sure; but whatever it is, she better find it and fix it real quick.
The closing performance was done by Michael Johns, singing "It's All Wrong, But It's All Right." A perfect example of how to make a song your own in the best possible way, this performance was definitely another stand-out by Johns. He took the country tune into a blue-sy-soulful direction with a pitch-perfect voice and confident presence. This guy delivers amazing vocals, but I still always forget his name. Week after week, when I try to remember the names of the Idols, his is the one I get stuck on. It's not that he's not memorable as a performer. There's something about Johns that I can't seem to connect with and I'm not sure why. Maybe he's not that memorable a person.