‘American Idol’ Recap: Teary David Cook, Powerful David Archuleta Master Mariah Carey Night

Jason chills, Carly wails, Syesha shouts, Brooke shakes and Kristy Lee continues her OK streak.

Question: When it comes to picking a song on “American Idol,” whose catalog, aside from Whitney’s, Aretha’s and Celine’s, should you avoid at all costs?

Answer: That of Tuesday night’s guest mentor (who also happens to be MTV’s Artist of the Week), Mariah Carey!

Devoting an entire night to an artist the contestants are never able to top makes about as much sense as Mariah hijacking Einstein’s theory of relativity for an album title . But I suppose if producers are ready to go off the deep end, Mariah Carey’s the perfect person with whom to do it.

(See what our four soldiers in Iraq had to say about the gang’s performances, in the Newsroom blog.)

Mimi actually turned out to be a pretty awesome coach. She was in great spirits while working with the contestants and displayed little of the, um, offbeat charm we all witnessed during that infamous “Cribs” episode. There were no wardrobe changes, no impromptu stripteases and no diva attitude (aside from that whole “you can only film my right side” thing). She even hugged Jason “Looks Like a Homeless Dude” Castro! All in all, Mariah acted more like a seasoned songwriter than an eccentric millionaire, which was great news for the top seven, but bad for jerks like me who make a living by poking fun at pop culture.

So, to earn my paycheck, I’ll pepper my recap with hypothetical Mariah-isms that could have happened, had “Idol” asked her to mentor the contestants back in the good old crazy days of 2001-02. (Just so you don’t get mixed up with current, sane MC, these fantasies will be in italics.)

Ryan Seacrest opened Tuesday’s show by blaming Michael Johns’ surprise departure on viewers not voting last week. Hey, Seacrest, nobody called in because last year you set the precedent that you wouldn’t kick anyone off during “Idol Gives Back” week. Don’t crap in our dinner and then ask why we aren’t eating it!

Before my brain starts painting that frightening image, let’s get to the performances.

David Archuleta
Song
: “When You Believe”
Verdict: The Prince of “Idol”

With Passover just around the corner, David honored his Jewish fans by singing the theme to “The Prince of Egypt.” (And for his gay fanbase, he wore leather pants.) Like any good diva in training, Archuleta freaked out when meeting Mariah Carey. “I’m not worthy to be in your presence!” he giggled. (To which our fantasy pre-2002 Mimi responded, “Have you met my unicorn?”) I licked my lips in anticipation when Mariah advised Archadorable to use his falsetto, something we have yet to hear on his “Idol” journey. Sadly, those three iffy notes were the least impressive moments of his powerhouse performance, but regardless, David’s segment summed up everything I love about “American Idol.” Where else in the world would an awkward teenager in leather pants singing like a castrato elicit shrieks from females in the audience? This show rules.

Carly Smithson
Song
: Badfinger’s “Without You” (Cheater!)
Verdict: Without a prayer

In an unexpected twist, Mariah was awed by Carly’s presence. (And in an uncomfortable moment, she asked Carly for a quarter or two so she could buy a gumball for her dog.) Even more shocking, Irish Ink was allowed to sing “Without You,” a song Badfinger recorded before Harry Nilsson made it famous. Don’t tout Mariah Carey night and then let the contestants sing songs Mariah covered. If that’s the rule, then Kristy Lee Cook could sing “The Star-Spangled Banner.” (You know she would, too). Besides, Mariah has at least 90 other octave-jumping ballads in her wheelhouse. Couldn’t Carly have shrieked one of those instead?

Even taking my song-choice quibble out of the equation, Carly’s performance was still a massive failure. While she’s never looked better, she’s never sounded worse, switching her vocal-chord settings from “belt” to “wounded animal.” Her final three notes wails were absolutely painful to endure. Last week’s misstep (and near-elimination) should have been a wake-up call, but I’m afraid this subpar offering won’t encourage viewers to pick up the phone.

Syesha Mercado
Song
: “Vanishing”
Verdict: Withering heights

Syesha was the first singer of the night not to hug Miss Mariah at the beginning of their encounter. (Which prompted Mimi to take off her stilettos and attack Syesha with them.) But that didn’t stop Mariah from helping her master a particular run in the obscure “Vanishing.” Aside from the glitter in her hair, the best part of Syesha’s performance was the song choice. She was brilliant to pick a deep cut off of Mariah’s debut album. It made it harder for us to compare her performance to a recording we hear a million times a year (all thanks to Delilah).

Vocally, things weren’t as tight. Syesha started off on the right track, keeping things soft and restrained. By the time the chorus arrived, however, she foolishly alternated between SHOUTING AT THE TOP OF HER LUNGS and cooing like a dove. As a result, the song didn’t build as well as it should have and felt wildly inconsistent. (And she still hadn’t mastered that damn run she and Mariah were working on. D’oh!)

Brooke White
Song
: “Hero”
Verdict: Zero

Mariah advised Brooke “I Missed My Sister’s Wedding” White to sing how she’s feeling “in the moment” (while flossing her teeth with one of Brooke’s plucked hairs). Judging from Nanny Goat’s horrific performance, here is what she was feeling while singing Tuesday night: doubt, anxiety, terror, frustration, hunger, regret, shame, insanity. From the botched notes to the sloppy piano playing to the rushed pace to the uncontrollable shaking, Brooke’s “Hero” was hard to watch. (In Brooke’s defense, her trembling was only noticeable because the camera was zoomed in so close, it very well could have ended up being Katie Couric’s colonoscopy all over.)

Somehow, the judges were easy on Brooke (perhaps because they were concerned about her mental health) — except for Simon who likened her performance to ordering a hamburger and only getting a bun. (Ironically, most ArchAngels would be perfectly happy ordering a DavidBurger and only getting the buns.) Speaking of burgers, now seems like a good time to bring up Dan Schneider sitting in the audience. He played Dennis on “Head of the Class” back in the ’80s before going on to write and produce the movie — wait for it — “Good Burger.” See? You can connect “Idol” to even the most random “celebrity” audience members. Take that, Kevin Bacon!

Kristy Lee Cook
Song
: “Forever”
Verdict: ‘Fraid so

Kristy Lee Cook continued her streak of picking smart songs and singing them moderately well. This week, she gave “Forever” a country slant, thus appealing to her fanbase more than a blue-light special on ammo. Kristy might actually be swaying some independent voters too. Hell, Mariah claimed that the country crooner gave her goosebumps! (Note that that particular insane sentiment was not in italics.) Like Simon, I didn’t get chills during her performance. Instead, it was a headache, which turned into cold sweats when it occurred to me that if she keeps on playing her cards right, she’ll probably end up the last female standing this season. Gasp!

David Cook
Song
: “Always Be My Baby”
Verdict: Goo Goo Balls

Songwriter Mariah was like a proud mama when she heard David strum “Always Be My Baby.” “He could have a hit with that song!” (She immediately began celebrating by frolicking in a nearby fountain.) I’ll admit, I rolled my eyes when I first heard him practice in front of Il Diva. I’m starting to grow tired of David’s “I’ll sing pop songs slowly and angrily” shtick.

But wouldn’t you know it? David’s gutsy “Iris”-inspired arrangement turned out to be an emotional highlight of the season. (It certainly helped that his brother, who is suffering from cancer, was in the audience cheering him on.) Between finally figuring out what the “AC” on his guitar stood for (his bro, Adam Cook) and David tweaking the lyric to “You will linger on” (as opposed to Mimi’s original “we”), by the end of the segment he was crying, I was crying, and I’m sure ArchuStageDad was crying (although for a different reason entirely).

(It also got us thinking about past “Idol” season-stealing performances from Kelly Clarkson, Melinda Doolittle, Blake Lewis, Clay Aiken and others.)

Jason Castro
Song
: “I Don’t Want To Cry”
Verdict: Too late

I felt bad for Castro having to perform after David Cook. When Seacrest announced Jason coming up after the break, he had a look on his face that said, “I give up!” And, as I feared, Jason’s mellow vibe felt like small potatoes after Master Chef Cook’s five-course meal of emotion. (Besides, hearing “I Don’t Want To Cry” while I was still grabbing Kleenex felt incongruous.)

That being said, Jason is getting more confident as the season rolls on. He almost looked comfortable onstage without a guitar. He deserves a ton of credit, like David Cook, for flipping a Mariah Carey hit we’ve all heard a thousand times into something fresh and new. Bonus points for putting bongos in the arrangement. The judges aren’t kidding when they say Jason knows who he is.

Hasty predictions

On one hand, I’m shocked that the boys dominated Mariah night. On “Idol,” it’s always precarious when males have to sing female-focused songs. But on the other hand, it was a blessing, because it forced them to do something radically different with the tracks. (Unless you’re ArchuLeatherPants, who might be able to out-sing Mariah on a bad day. Sorry, David Cook fans. Like death and taxes, an ArchuVictory is inevitable.)

Meanwhile, expect to see an all-female bottom three Wednesday night. None of the four ladies could escape Mariah’s looming shadow (puppets), but I think Carly and Brooke are the ones in serious danger this week.

Enough of my ramblings. I want to know what you thought of Mariah night. Which David was your favorite? Were you as distracted by Teri Hatcher in the audience as I was? And were you also infuriated when Simon knocked Syesha for picking an obscure tune after telling her for several weeks that she needs to stop picking well-known songs? Comment me below. (Or I’ll send my minions of butterflies after you!)

Get your “Idol” fix on MTV News’ “American Idol” page, where you’ll find all the latest news, interviews and opinions. And relive six seasons of “Idol” hot messes and high notes in six minutes with our video timeline .