‘American Idol’ Recap: David Cook, Michael Johns Rock To The Top, David Archuleta Might Miss The Prom

Kristy Lee Cook plays to patriotic fanbase; Brooke White stumbles.

Time to double-check those birth certificates and prepare to feel like an old coot because Tuesday night’s “Idol” was all about songs from the contestants’ birth years! Nigel Lythgoe hoped to use this theme last season too, but producers hit a snafu when they realized that music didn’t have lyrics back when Melinda Doolittle was born. Rimshot!

The increasingly smarmy Seacrest opened the show by boldly declaring, “The countdown to the finale has begun!” I guess the first 23 episodes we saw this season were just placeholders. In your (creepy) face, Jason Yeager !

Paula incorporated the “birth year” theme into her nutso outfit. Television hasn’t witnessed that much jewelry over elbow-length gloves since AMC ran a Marilyn Monroe marathon. But I give her a round of seal claps for cutting the fingers off the gloves. That made the look much more modern (and by modern, I mean circa 1985).

Before I go on a rant about how I wish I had time to enter the “Idol” songwriting competition — my song is a schmaltzy surefire winner called “God Gave Me Wings (Your Love Makes Me Soar)” — let’s get to the performances!

Ramiele Malubay
Song: Heart’s “Alone” (1987)
Verdict: Cardiac arrest

The best part about this silly theme week is that we get to see baby pics and hear from the parents. Any excuse to watch more of the adorable mini-Malubay clan is fine by me, especially when said screen time is devoted to talking about their daughter being a “biter.” Fitting, then, that Ramiele bit off more than she could chew by picking Heart’s gargantuan rocker “Alone.” As tempting as it is to criticize Ramiele for attempting a song that Carrie Underwood devoured back in 2004, keep in mind that Rami was only 4 years old then.

The big problem I had with Ramiele’s performance was that she was either whispering like a hungover sorority girl or wailing like Yoko Ono in heat. This was probably due to her voice going “bye-bye” (her infantile words, not mine), but I think she should have picked a song that’s better suited to someone under the weather. (If only she were born a year later, I could think of 10 songs off the bat that require very little vocal prowess.)

PS: Ann and Nancy Wilson must be making a killing off royalty checks this season. Let’s hope they don’t use the cash to fund an “Elizabethtown” sequel for Nancy’s hubby, Cameron Crowe.

Jason Castro
Song: Sting’s “Fragile” (1987)
Verdict: Saba-d’oh! gigante

It took me six weeks but I finally figured out who Jason reminds me of, vocally. At first I thought he sounded like a bubble-gum version of Billy Corgan. Then Adam Daniel (I know, who?). But Tuesday night, it hit me. Jason Castro sounds exactly like Enrique Iglesias when Enrique sings in that breathy voice and doesn’t do the weird goaty yelp.

I made that connection thanks to Jason’s choice to sing some of Sting’s “Fragile” en Español. (He also sang some of it in Sting-ese, opting for a very British pronunciation of the word “fragile.”) But between this week’s Spanish and last week’s French , we can safely assume Jason will be A-OK if “Idol” ever throws a “German One-Hit Wonder” theme week at him.

Tuesday was Jason’s birthday, but I doubt a lashing from Cowell was on his wish list. Simon was none too happy that Dreadhead has turned into a glorified subway performer, and accused Castro of not taking the show seriously, which prompted the birthday boy to respond with a blank stare and an “ummm.” (He was probably daydreaming about Hacky Sacks.)

Syesha Mercado
Song: Stephanie Mills’ “If I Were Your Woman” (1987)
Verdict: Tamyra’s still my woman

Why do I feel like Syesha has yet to win over America? I liked last week’s “Yesterday” a lot, but cringed Tuesday night when the actress/model/singer did that stupid impression of a baby crying yet again in her preperformance package. And like Ramiele, Syesha foolishly chose a song that an “Idol” fave had perfected in the past. (Remember when Simon told Tamyra Gray that there’d be riots in the streets if she didn’t win, after she performed the same Stephanie Mills jam in season one? I guess he’s not always correct.)

Syesha’s voice is strange in that it has oodles of personality when she sings softly, but the louder she belts, the less interesting she becomes, a dichotomy that hadn’t been apparent to me until this particular performance. Simon hinted at this when he said the song “scratched” at the limits of her vocals. In an ominous foreshadowing, the audience barely booed his comments. Why do I feel like this song isn’t going to be Syesha’s big star-making moment, as Randy and Paula gushed?

Chikezie
Song: Luther Vandross’ “If Only for One Night” (1985)
Verdict: His last night?

Mama Chikezie was back and better than ever. We learned her name (Chika!), we heard her call the “Idol” golden ticket a “yellow” ticket, and she treated us to an impromptu “Stand by Me” that made me forget all about Josiah’s failed attempt during Hollywood Week. I. LOVE. HER.

Too bad I’m not as blindly passionate about her son.

Chikezie, Chikezie, Chikezie. There has to be a happy medium somewhere between his country-bumpkin persona of weeks’ past and this old-fashioned balladeer. When he’s not overloading our senses with frenetic folky freak-outs, he’s lulling us to sleep with half-baked old-school retreads. I wish he were more consistent because he’s got everything else going for him. Aside from the mom factor, he won the cute baby-picture contest hands down. Plus, his appearance made the director cut away to Shar Jackson in the audience for some reason. That’s gotta be worth something, right?

Brooke White
Song: The Police’s “Every Breath You Take” (1983)
Verdict: Arrested developments

Brooke White bragged about learning piano by ear in her taped piece, only to flub the first note of her live performance. She recovered nicely with a quick redo that reminded me of a skipping record, but the irony lingered.

As Randy and Simon noted, White’s performance was most successful when she kept the arrangement stripped down to her voice and a piano. (“Idol” season-six watchers will recall that to Haley Scarnato , the words “stripped down” meant something entirely different.) Brooke’s Tori Amos-like mannerisms worked in the creepy song’s favor, but the annoying audience members in the pit haphazardly waving their arms killed the mood faster than Bea Arthur popping into your head when you’re about to get busy. Bandleader Rickey Minor made the performance limp too, once he put his signature “wedding band” touch on the arrangement. Follow your instincts next time, Brooke!

Michael Johns
Song: Queen’s “We Will Rock You/ We Are the Champions” (1978)
Verdict: The Demon Barber of Theme Weeks

Michael Johns holds the distinction of being the only top 10-er older than me this season, so it’s a miracle he’s even able to stand upright, let alone sing a song. That dinosaur is a trooper, folks! (We also learned that Johns is from Perth, Australia — is there a Heath Ledger connection there?)

Incidentally, that dinosaur is also a butcher. Last week the Aussie turned the Beatles’ “A Day in the Life” into chop suey, and this week he struck again by cramming two sports staples into one two-minute nugget.

The crowd and the judges were delighted to see Michael knock one out of the park, but part of me wishes he had ditched the first half and just stuck with the slow build of “We Are the Champions.” “We Will Rock You” is one of those numbers that must sound great live (the audience was approaching Archuleta levels of “freaked-out”-ness), but on prime-time TV it felt like Cheez Whiz. “Champions,” meanwhile, perfectly showed off his powerful voice, which was eerily reminiscent of Freddie Mercury, especially in the upper register. Save the medleys for Wednesday-night results shows, old man.

Carly Smithson
Song: Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart” (1983)
Verdict: Still holding out for a hero

Carly’s (kinda hot) mom told us that she named her daughter Carly because a Carly Simon song played on the radio as she drove to the hospital. Good thing Juice Newton wasn’t on the playlist that day. (Especially when you consider Smithson’s maiden name: Juice Hennessy, anyone? Put your hand down, Snoop.)

Juice’s Carly’s childhood photos all looked like promo stills from a failed ’80s sitcom about loveable Irish street urchins called “Me Pot of Gold.” Was she always being followed by a press photographer growing up? Are we going to find out that she was a professional child now, too? I give up.

Anyone who reads my recaps knows I’m not the biggest Carly fan, so you might be surprised to read that I think she got a bum rap from the male judges, who both shrugged off a pretty stellar performance. As far as difficulty goes, “Total Eclipse of the Heart” is off the charts (remember when Jessica Sierra tried it? Yeesh!), so the fact that Carly serviced it well, save for a gnarly run at the end, says a lot about her talent.

Simon complained that Carly looked stiff and told her to lighten up. I say she looked appropriately intense and in the zone. (Did he expect her to sing that bombastic song with a pageant grin on her face?) Unfortunately, Carly claimed she looked distracted because she went to the bathroom right before and had to run onstage to catch her cue. First of all, TMI. Second of all, that’s a good way to quash those pregnancy rumors. [Slaps forehead.]

David Archuleta
Song: Who the hell even knows? [Oh, apparently it's John Farnham's "You're the Voice," which was rerecorded in 1990 by David Foster and Jeff Pescetto and, incidentally, was once covered by Heart!]
Verdict: I just can’t deal with this show anymore

In a Coca-Cola “Real” moment, David A. kvetched that he missed a couple of dances at his school and he might miss his prom because of this silly show. Like a dad in a fringed leather jacket, Seacrest embarrassed the hell out of the young’un by pointing out Archudorable’s lady friend in the audience. I wouldn’t be surprised if that poor girl receives threatening phone calls from 12-year-old girls on a regular basis now. (Same goes for his older sister, who was seen dancing with a young David in his “America’s Creepiest Home Videos” segment.)

And then there was the performance. Oy. David’s song sounded like it belonged on one of those Time Life “Songs for Worship” Christian propaganda rock compilations you see advertised at 3 in the morning on the Food Network. Weren’t you half-expecting the chorus to be about how awesome God is? Instead, it was about how we’re all daughters looking down the barrel of a gun and turning pages of some sort.

The judges were as confused as I was. Randy, afraid of getting booed probably, spun his distaste of the song into a positive: “It proves once again that if you can sing, you can sing whatever.” Paula defied all logic (and tact) by jokingly questioning the songwriter’s Australian background: “You couldn’t have picked an American composer for ‘American Idol’?” [Cut to imports Carly Smithson and Michael Johns weeping backstage.] But my favorite reaction belonged to Simon, who cunningly hinted at his disapproval of the ArchuStageDad by hissing, “I’d be amazed if you chose the song yourself.”

As much as David sucked tonight, his performance could have been a lot worse. Upon doing a quick online search for lyrics, I came across an especially horrid section of the song that the Young One thankfully skipped: “Instrumental (Bag Pipes).”

Kristy Lee Cook
Song: Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the U.S.A.” (1984)
Verdict: Jingo belle schlock

In her “Meet Ma and Pa” segment, Kristy Lee Cook told us that she was a loud child who sang all the time. Ty Pennington, if you’re reading this, you need to go over to those nice folks’ home and give ‘em some new Sears appliances, stat! They deserve it.

And America deserves better than an off-key tribute from a reality-TV also-ran, don’t you think? While Kristy’s “God Bless the U.S.A.” was her best performance so far, it still relied heavily on her patented wild eyes, robotic moves and sharper-than-broken-glass notes. Plus, inexplicably, Kristy wore a Japanese-inspired blouse … while warbling “God Bless the U.S.A.” Wanna take this one, Alanis?

Before you call me a cynical Commie for hating on Kristy’s (seemingly) good intentions, just imagine how moving this could have been if David Archuleta took a crack at it. Or even Carly Smithson (wait, never mind). Rickey Minor’s arrangement was spectacular, and with an able-bodied singer fronting it, it could have been a Whitney-sings-the-national-anthem TV moment. Instead, it came off vaguely like a calculated move by a mediocre singer, desperate to stay on television for one more week.

I’m curious to know what our servicemen and -women will think of her performance. (Actually, now feels like a perfect time to mention that we actually found a small group of folks in the Army’s 82nd Airborne division who are as obsessed with “American Idol” as we are! And thanks to the magic of the Interwebs, they’ll be sending us their thoughts each week. You can read what they thought of last week’s Beatles episode and this week’s birthday party in our Newsroom blog.)

David Cook
Song: Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” (1983)
Verdict: The arrangement was not his, son!

David Cook is only 25. I always thought he resembled Meg Ryan circa 2008, so I was shocked when I realized he wasn’t a 49-year-old with an affinity for chemical peels and collagen. But I digress …

Hoping to avoid another “David Cook cops another band’s arrangement as his own” scandal, Seacrest introduced the rocker’s performance by clearly noting that he was singing “Chris Cornell’s version” of the MJ classic, but the judges didn’t catch that detail because all they did was praise how original he was.

Granted, Cook’s vocals were unbelievable. He sang circles around Cornell (which, most days, is a difficult thing to do). But I have a hard time calling the Word Nerd a visionary when all of his visions are of the “tunnel” variety: Take a fast pop song, slow it down to a sluggish tempo and sing it menacingly. Isn’t that just as formulaic as Jason Castro doing Dave Matthews-lite every week, or Kristy doing “dying farm animal” all the time?

Hasty Predictions

Aside from the two highlights of the night — Michael Johns and David Cook, you can relax — this is a tricky one to call. There are pros and cons attached to every singer. Ramiele started the show (usually a negative) and gave a subpar performance (always a negative). But she has yet to land in the bottom three, which suggests she has a huge voting bloc that will likely keep her away from danger. Kristy Lee Cook is a poor performer but she appealed to her country fanbase in a major way with her song choice.

Thanks to process of elimination, I can narrow the potential trouble spots down to a few. Carly Smithson took a trip to the bottom three last week and, considering the judges’ middling critiques, she may be in trouble again. Syesha was also once a bottom three-er. But in the end, I think the formula will boil down to Chikezie + ballad = Snoozeville.

What did you think of Tuesday night’s performance show? Are the two Davids a lock for the finals? Are you as happy as I am that we won’t have to suffer through those despicable “Moment of Truth” promos after Wednesday night? And are they serious with that “Vote for your favorite new Coke cup” crap?

Comment below!

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