‘American Idol’ Recap: David Archuleta Gains Momentum, But Danny Noriega Almost As Bad As Sanjaya

Will this week's Internet scandals affect who gets sent home?

Unlike the last few weeks, when it was previously recorded, “Idol” was brought to us live Tuesday night! And in a week of Internet scandal, we were treated to the boys’ most embarrassing moments. For some, the confessions were just too damn easy. Makes me yearn for what Robbie Carrico might have admitted aloud.

Now we could chatter about Danny’s surreal, vulgar pre-”Idol” goth Christmas greeting or take it for what it is: a teenager trying to be outrageous in a video that was probably meant for his friends’ eyes only. Then there’s the “shocking” reveal that David Hernandez is a former stripper . But in the age of Perez Hilton and the paparazzi, do either of these “outrages” really count as disreputable? I’ll not partake in such rumblings as you’ve probably read about them ad nauseam.

We could snicker at the uncontroversial news item that Simon turned down a couple million bucks to be a spokesperson for Viagra. But like I said, it’s just too damn easy.

I’m already weary of this season, and we haven’t even reached the top 12 yet. Perhaps my disappointment arises from the lack of a new Fantasia or Jennifer or Elliott or Melinda. Early in those previous seasons we bore witness to the astounding potential of these great singers, and we were excited to see what was to come.

(Catch up on six seasons’ worth of talent and scandal with our “Idol” video timeline .)

Who do we have this season? David Archuleta ? Is he the most we can hope for? Love him or loathe him, he’s sweet-natured and seemingly real enough. But he isn’t exactly a powerhouse, and although he’s clearly headed in the right direction , I’m not convinced. And for the first time in years, there’s no great female vocalist to wrap our hopes around, and that’s a depressing truth.

The guys tried to pull it off Tuesday night, but the performances were far from stellar. A few surprises were tossed our way, but there was also a major letdown from the previous week. (Oh, Archuleta! Must you always be the talk of everyone all the time?!) Wednesday’s girls’ night out has to be better than this. Right? Right?

Luke Menard
Song: Wham’s “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go
Verdict: Go-go? Yep-yep. Bye-bye.

Isn’t Simon calling Luke’s performance “a bit girly” a moot point? At his most hetero-phonic, George Michael was about as masculine as Macy’s windows at Christmas. No, the biggest sin here wasn’t the milksop presentation, it was that it was about as thrilling as watching stale bread go moldy. And Menard was able to do the impossible — he made one of the cheesiest number hits of the ’80s into even blander Velveeta. While Wham weren’t exactly the Rolling Stones, the song remains a breezy and nostalgic — if fluffy and icky — ditty that Menard’s tinny, thin vocals rendered into a lumbering daze. I bet Luke has a new most embarrassing memory. I’d also wager that he’ll soon be another footnote in “Idol” history.

David Archuleta
Song: Phil Collins’ “Another Day in Paradise”
Verdict: More entertaining than Phil Collins

His claque asserts that his vocals never appear to be performed, to which I most certainly disagree, though I started to understand the hype last week during his performance of “Imagine.” But on Tuesday, Archu-D2 proved he’s a humanoid after all, returning to what bothered me about him from the get-go — he’s always performing. Now that’s not to dismiss his vocals entirely. As anyone who has gone spelunking in Archuleta’s Internet history knows, when he’s on, he sings like an angel and has a mellifluous head register. (Go find his “O Holy Night” and just try to disagree with me. Go. I’ll wait.) But more often than not, I am distracted by his breathy affect, incessant lip licking and camera awareness. (Not to mention his too-good-to-be-true modesty. Seriously, if you’ve lived all of your young life with everyone telling you how fabulous you are, how shocked could you really be? Even his most embarrassing moment seemed a bit egotistical, no?) You could almost hear the weeping joy of his vocal coaches wafting in the distant wind. He faltered in the lower register of his voice, which is normal for a 17-year-old, but he’s clearly the front-runner. So what does a mere mortal like myself know?

Danny Noriega
Song: Soft Cell’s version of “Tainted Love”
Verdict: Someone get this kid a wind machine and a tambourine

With ’80s night in full bloom, was it too much to hope that Noriega would pay homage to Paula by singing “Forever Your Girl”? First, there’s no way it could have been vocally inferior to the original. But more important, it would have saved us from what actually occurred. I was unsure whether to smile or cry at the horror of it all. This wasn’t just bad, it was practically Sanjaya bad. And that’s a shame because, despite his flamboyance and diva attitude and weird Internet holiday messages, Noriega does possess some vocal finesse. But Tuesday’s performance was like watching a drunken drag act after an all-night vogue-a-thon at the House of Extravaganza.

David Hernandez
Song: Pandora’s Box’s “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now”
Verdict: I hope it doesn’t come back to haunt you, David

Technically, he’s the best overall vocalist in the competition and was one of the strongest of the night. While it was disappointing that he had no stripper pole with which to demonstrate his other apparent talents (I had a fistful of dollar bills ready), the song was thankfully more subdued than Celine Dion’s over-the-top, caterwauled cover. I’m not sure if Hernandez will be around for much longer, but in the meantime, I’m enjoying the ride.

Michael Johns
Song: Simple Minds’ “Don’t You Forget About Me”
Verdict: Breakfast crud

Well, it seems one judge is reading these MTV recaps! Last week, I called Johns a Michael Hutchence wannabe, and after Tuesday’s performance, Randy made the comparison. Furthermore, Johns proved more Aussie-brotherhood with the late INXS singer than ever before. Choosing an INXS cover would’ve been too obvious — though it seemed Judge Jackson actually thought Simple Minds’ 1985 hit was an INXS song — but from his theatrical arm flapping to his vocal inflections, it was clear that Johns has studied their video collection fiercely. The difference is Hutchence’s voice was sexy — he got to your erogenous zones with a single verse. Johns can’t seem to balance his overt sexiness with his vocal upheaval, and proves almost weekly to be a one-trick pony. While he’s far from the worst male contestant this (or even last) season, methinks we would be rid of this token heartthrob if America would vote with its ears, not its eyes.

David Cook
Song: Lionel Richie’s “Hello”
Verdict: No goodbye … this time

Some things are just not supposed to work. They start as absurd ideas and morph into even shoddier results. That’s why props have to go to Cook for being the best-case example of what the judges are always carping about. Last night he took a schmaltzy, dreary ’80s ballad by the king of guilty pleasures (I love me some Lionel) and actually contemporized it with darker, more sinister undertones and an intentionally creepy vocal. I’ve been hard on this guy; generally he’s nothing more than a would-be Chris Daughtry (who, let’s face it, is a caricature of all “rockers” who’ve come before him). Tuesday, while not a revelation, Cook proved to be the surprise of the evening.

Jason Castro
Song: Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”
Verdict: My faith was strong – I needed no proof

John Cale, Rufus Wainwright, kd lang, Bono, Willie Nelson, even Sad Kermit. Hundreds have covered Cohen’s epic poem, but none so definitively as Jeff Buckley. For Simon, Randy and a million others around the world, Buckley’s version remains a personal invocation. Assured and graceful, Castro displayed veneration with his gossamer tones and guitar-less confidence. He brought nothing new or innovative. Rather, he paid respect with a beautiful, faithful rendering. My favorite of the evening. Nothing more needs to be said.

Chikezie
Song: Whitney Houston’s version of “All the Wo(man) I Need”
Verdict: Hell to the d’oh!

Although I’ve always thought Houston’s catalogue was wan, diluted R&B for mass appeal, it habitually proves to be a major blunder when female contestants attempt to re-create Whitney staples. If nothing else, I have to give Chikezie an A for pure chutzpah in attempting Houston’s version of the Linda Clifford song. She might be a hack or a has-been or both, but Whitney is neither a hack nor a has-been to be imitated, especially by the male species. (I’m sure it was the first time a male contestant has taken a stab at her catalogue.) Unfortunately, though, it was also the most forgettable performance of the night, and I’ll be surprised if he makes it past Thursday. His voice is stentorian by nature (proven as such when he displays an iota of confidence), but his type is a dime a dozen, and he’s no more or less talented than any neo-soul singer lingering on Billboard.

Is this season of “Idol” total nirvana or an American dystopia? Will scandal mean early ousters of Danny and David, or will the worst performers actually be the ones to leave?

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