‘American Idol’ Recap: Jason Castro Has A ‘Rainbow’ Connection, David Archuleta Sings One For His Fans

Poor song choices put David Cook, Carly Smithson, Michael Johns in harm's way.

Tuesday night kicked off Charity Week on “American Idol,” and although the show plans on raising a bajillion dollars for the less fortunate, they’re still allowing Kristy Lee Cook to sing. So as far as karma goes, it’s pretty much a wash.

I’m beyond ecstatic that the producers are making “Idol Gives Back ” a separate special this season. I was one of the few jerks who voiced my outrage at how incongruous and disingenuous last year’s fundraiser felt , partly because of the endless barrage of corporate shout-outs, but also because of the weird tone shifts between Simon knocking a singer’s performance in one segment and knocking African poverty in another. This year, “Idol” was wise to keep the begging for votes far, far away from the begging for money.

Speaking of charity cases, Sinbad was in the crowd Tuesday night! I’m so pleased he escaped that imaginary sniper fire in Bosnia all those years ago. But before I get all “Choose or Lose” on you, let’s talk about the performances.

Michael Johns
Song: Aerosmith’s “Dream On”
Verdict: Not so dreamy

I know in my last recap I admitted to having a man-crush on Aussie Mike, but after his so-so performance Tuesday night, I quickly halted production on my T-shirt, “I’d Be Michael’s John.” First of all, he took the least doable part of his appearance last week — the barf scarf — and kicked it up a few frightening notches Tuesday. Did he work out a deal with some local Atlanta ascotery the same way Ruben sported those area-coded jerseys back in season two? Even worse, Michael’s grand finale involved grimacing “O” faces and screechy high notes. Good news, honey. My bromance with a reality-show personality is over as quickly as it began. (Although, let’s face it, I still have a weird soft spot for Nick Arrojo.)

Randy (who was particularly harsh all night) pinpointed why this week was all wrong, and why last week was all right. Michael is as much a rocker as an ascot is an acceptable accessory for a 21st-century citizen. He needs to focus on the bluesy vibe that he oozed last week (and in his awesome audition) and leave all the rock-star posturing for David Cook. Paula, meanwhile, argued that Michael sounded as good as he looked, and then threatened to expose herself. (Actually, she said that his high notes would make her Chihuahuas join him onstage. I realize now that she was referring to her pet Chihuahuas and not the lady parts that were bursting out of her low-cut top.)

Syesha Mercado
Song: Fantasia’s “I Believe”
Verdict: She better believe in miracles

I know Syesha was great friends with the recently ousted Ramiele (in her Coke moment she revealed that Rami was the only contestant who “got” her, perhaps hinting that — drama alert! — nobody else in the cast likes her), but that’s no excuse for following Ramiele’s strategy of picking songs that previous Idols have nailed. And not only had Fantasia perfected “I Believe” on the season-three “Idol” finale, but most fans of the show consider that particular performance to be the best of all seven seasons.

The good news is that Syesha didn’t make as big a mess as LaKisha did last year when she sang it (incidentally, also on “inspirational songs” night). The bad news is that Syesha is no Fantasia. She’s no Mariah, either, so if she survives this week (which would be all thanks to the killer gospel choir backing her), I’d suggest she shy away from those Mimi-inspired octave leaps she attempted Tuesday, unless she too wants a visit from Paula’s pups.

Jason Castro
Song: Israel Kamakawiwo’ole’s “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”
Verdict: The wizard of ahhhhs!

Hallelujah! Jason stepped up and proved that he has a heckuva lot of talent behind that charm (and underneath those dreads) with a breathtaking homage to the late Israel Kamakawiwo’ole. What started as a faithful vox-and-ukulele arrangement blossomed into a sweeping strings-and-all affair. Swoon! At the center of all the gorgeousness was Jason’s flawless voice. (I actually squealed like a little girl when he went into his falsetto. Me = dork.) Even including his highly praised “Hallelujah” from the semifinals, this was, without a doubt, Jason’s finest performance on “Idol.” Well done, JC. You did my initials proud. (Pssst, John. I might need to borrow your T-shirt.)

Kristy Lee Cook
Song: Martina McBride’s “Anyway”
Verdict: Amazing waste

Before I get to her performance, I have to address the abominable Kristy Lee’s sequined and polka-dotted top. One of the polka dots fell smack-dab in the middle of her right breast, which was highly distracting and inspired my new nickname for her: Nippy Lee Cook. See? Inspirational night did inspire!

The one song Nippy has proven she can sing well on this show is “Amazing Grace.” (Remember her audition?) Why didn’t she pull that out from her (bedazzled) back pocket? Is she saving that for gospel night? Instead we heard a Martina McBride tune that should be the theme song to Bush’s Iraq “policy.” (The song’s message: When something doesn’t end up as you planned, keep doing it anyway. Oops, I know I said I wouldn’t get all political this time. Sorry.)

I’ll give Nippy some credit. She actually sang the song well … for her. (Admit it, Kristy, er, Nippy fans. The second verse was pitchier than Roger Clemens at a double-header.) Paula called it her best by far, adding, “Isn’t it easy singing songs that inspire you?” I don’t know how Paula knows what that feels like, unless there’s some other meaning of “horny horns” of which I’m unaware.

I will admit that I giggled when Nippy, a perennial bottom three-er, sang the lyrics “You can pour your soul out singing/ A song you believe in/ That tomorrow they’ll forget you ever sang.” Perhaps this was the perfect song choice for her.

David Cook
Song: Our Lady Peace’s “Innocent”
Verdict: Guilty of self-indulgence

Similar to the way Chris Daughtry pooped out Creed’s heinous “What If” on season five, David thought he could get away with singing one of his favorite (read: indulgent) songs. The result was an iffy vocal and a Bono swagger that left me (and the male judges) cold. Daughtry escaped elimination that week a few years ago. I hope David’s so lucky this Thursday, when the Chris Martin-like “Give Back” scrawled on his hand will have faded.

Carly Smithson
Song: Queen’s “The Show Must Go On”
Verdict: Off with her head

Carly claimed to have witnessed Freddie Mercury perform at Live Aid. Let’s do the math, shall we? She was born in September of ’83. Live Aid happened in July of ’85. Either she has a freakishly amazing memory or her family was one of the first on the block to have a VHS recorder because, according to my math, Carly wasn’t even two years old when Queen rocked Wembley Stadium. More troubling was Carly’s downright scary performance of the song. The always-intense singer was especially evil-looking Tuesday night. The judges complained that she was disconnected, and I totally agree. You can’t sing shout the line “But my smile still stays on” while scowling like an out-of-control teen on “Maury.” And in a very un-Carly-like move, she veered off pitch by the end of the performance, an issue she later blamed on seeing Simon in the audience. Not a smart choice. I’m worried that after Thursday night, the show will go on … without Carly. (Oh drat, just when I was starting to warm up to her, too!)

David Archuleta
Song: Robbie Williams’ “Angels”
Verdict: Sing when you’re winning

Archadorable continued his inevitable march toward the finish line with yet another stellar appearance, this time singing a song with a title that references his rabid fanbase (who will no doubt send me hate mail when the read the next sentence). There were moments of brilliance — especially in the final runs, as Randy enthusiastically pointed out — but overall I was expecting more from him. “Angels” is pop perfection, yet the Chosen One didn’t do it justice until the chorus kicked in. The first half felt like he was tiptoeing with trepidation, mostly because he still doesn’t look comfortable behind a piano. You can call me a Commie all you want, ArchAngels. The night was all about Castro.

On a personal note, I don’t know what creeps me out more: the fact that an 8-year-old girl was holding up a sign that read, “LICK THOSE LIPS,” or that David Archuleta is looking more and more like my college roommate with each passing week.

Brooke White
Song: Carole King’s “You’ve Got a Friend”
Verdict: Friendly mire

The nanny better thank her lucky stars (also known as the “Idol” producers) for positioning her as the show closer this week. If she were any earlier in the broadcast (especially in the dreaded first spot) she would be a goner thanks to her quaint but ultimately forgettable rendition of King’s classic. Her performance was an easy, breezy, beautiful cover, girl, but it was also lazy and uninspired. It’s never a good sign when Paula is grasping at early childhood memories to come up with something (anything!) to mumble in her critique. But aside from Abdul’s sister playing the song over and over again in the ’70s, what else is there to say about Brooke that hasn’t already been said about that vaguely unstable girl you met twirling at a Phish concert, who you promised to e-mail but never did?

Hasty Predictions

Anyone with half a brain and a basic knowledge of music wants Nippy Lee Cook to bite the dust, but I’m afraid she shrewdly played to her fanbase yet again. That leaves a crop of immensely talented singers in danger. The seventh season is due for a shocking elimination, and I worry that this is the week. Both foreigners are definitely at risk. Aussie Michael Johns had the misfortune of going first (and wearing a fugly man-scarf and singing like a banshee) and Irish lass Carly Smithson suffered from a bad case of Lewinsky-itis (symptoms include excessive sucking). Meanwhile, David Cook’s unappetizing selection might leave fans shrugging, and I’m still not sure Syesha has any fans.

But what did you think, “Idol” fiends? Did Jason or David A. give the performance of the night? (Uh-oh. I just started a war between Dreadheads and ArchAngels, didn’t I?) Are you anticipating or dreading Wednesday night’s more-than-two-hour telethon? And did anyone else see that bizarre Meat Loaf/Tiffany cell phone ad, or did I have a fever dream in the middle of the show? I’m dying to read your comments below!

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