This season has brought a lot of firsts to "American Idol": Brooke White became the first contestant to stop a song and ask for a do-over. Carly Smithson was the first female contestant with a huge visible arm tattoo. Paula Abdul became the first judge to critique a song before it was performed.
Oh, and on Tuesday night, Jason Castro became the first final-four "Idol" contestant to seemingly take a dive on live TV in a bid to get kicked off the show.
At this point in the competition, the top four are typically shooting for the lights every week, pulling out their best stage moves, piling on the melismatic vocal runs and pandering to the crowd in a bid for votes and a shot at the title. Jason Castro? Not so much.
A week after a profile of the then-five finalists in Entertainment Weekly found Castro woefully unprepared upon meeting mentor Neil Diamond because he chose to hang with his brother and a friend over the weekend instead, Castro tossed a pair of serious bricks Tuesday night when he grinned his way through a frat-party-karaoke version of Bob Marley's "I Shot the Sheriff" and forgot the lyrics during a half-hearted take on Bob Dylan's "Mr. Tambourine Man."
Confronted with withering remarks from the judges — including Simon Cowell, who advised him to pack his bags — Castro shrugged, grinned some more and telegraphed a "who cares?" posture that suggested he was doing his best to get booted from the show. In that same EW article, Castro told the reporter as much, saying of the Diamond week, "What happens, happens. I'll sing, and if people like it, they like it. And if they don't, they don't. I'm kind of ready to go home."
"Last night was very strange, one of the stranger nights in 'Idol' history," said Michael Slezak, senior writer for EW.com, who did not write the magazine profile. "I felt really bummed, because I feel like Jason had the best shot of bringing some suspense to the competition and making it feel like the David/David finale was not a foregone conclusion, but he didn't have any of that passion that he brought to performances of songs like 'Hallelujah' or 'I Don't Want To Cry' during Mariah Carey week."
While the success of past top finishers, but not winners, such as Chris Daughtry and Jennifer Hudson might be driving Castro's quest to leave "Idol" without having to sing the traditional cheesy winner's ballad on finale night, Slezak said the difference was that those singers never stopped trying and didn't get kicked off because they appeared to give up. "Fans want to see the contestants keep trying and give their best performance," he said. "I don't know if this was his way of thumbing his nose at the show over Paulagate, or just a way to beg fans to stop voting for him, but it was unprecedented to see someone who has been such a good, consistent competitor crash and burn so bad. Even if he's not happy with the way the show has played out or how the production is seemingly not behind him, he owed it to the millions of fans who have voted for him to perform for them."
Perhaps the dreadlocked singer is just feeling squirmy about the sudden fame sprung on the show's finalists, as when he told the EW writer that he was overwhelmed by a bouquet of 150 balloons sent by fans who heard he'd been sick: "That's cool, but that's just weird."
Grammy-nominated songwriter Ace Young, the seventh-place finisher in the fifth season of "Idol," said he's heard from sources that Castro is just trying to "coast through" and get ready for the summer "Idol" tour and figure out his next career move. "I heard that it started a couple weeks ago, that he was kind of coasting," said Young, whose self-titled debut album is due July 15. "I hope it's not the case. I hope that deep down, he has a competitive spirit. I mean, I wanted it the whole time. I still do! It's funny when you see someone in a competition like this lose the fight out of the dog this early. What will happen later?"
How bad was Tuesday's performance? Dave Della Terza, founder of "Idol"-razzing site VoteForTheWorst.com, said he's not going to bother encouraging his site's devotees to get behind Castro, because it's too easy.
"He really doesn't seem to care anymore, and it's obvious he doesn't want to be there," Della Terza said. "It seems like there's gotta be something going on with him, because he's so over it. It seems like he's sabotaging himself, and maybe it's because he's finally seeing the machinations behind the scenes after they threw him under the bus last week. It just makes my job easier, though."
Perhaps Castro is holding out for his own Jack Johnson-style postshow career because he understands that he won't win the show in light of the long-predicted David vs. David finale. But Angel Cohn, senior editor of the blog Television Without Pity, said that in the process, Castro is "going out of his way to give the girls voting for him because he's cute a reason not to vote for him by messing up lyrics and singing songs about drugs." Cohn said Castro's calculated sabotage is probably not winning him any fans among the supporters of recently ousted singers Brooke White or Carly Smithson, either, both of whom seemed to genuinely want a shot at the title.
"Maybe he never thought he would get this far and he doesn't really want to work that hard," Cohn said.
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