‘American Idol’ And The Beatles: The Good, The Bad And The Ugly

We look back on the best and the worst of previous Lennon/McCartney covers.

In choosing their John Lennon and Paul McCartney-penned tunes for Tuesday night’s (April 6) live show, did the [url id="http://www.mtv.com/news/topic/american_idol/"]“American Idol”[/url] hopefuls of season nine look back at the history of Lennon/McCartney renditions on the reality show? From Clay Aiken’s inaugural Beatles performance up through this season’s top 24, the “Idol” past offers success stories and cautionary tales. Let’s take a gaze back at the good, the bad and the ugly of the Beatles songbook on “Idol.”

The Good
Brooke White, “Let It Be” (season seven): White’s simple, breathy take on the final Beatles’ single was a perfect example of a true “Idol” breakout performance: the point at which we forget you’re a contestant on a reality show and start to envision you as a professional recording artist. Backed by a simple arrangement that slowly added complexity — first piano, then strings, then choral-like exhortations of her backup singers, finally the entire band — White didn’t attempt to refashion this classic. Rather, she introduced subtle variations in tone and phrasings, making the song her own until we saw the teary-eyed wild child within White for the very first time.

Carly Smithson, “Come Together” (season seven): Smithson took this Abbey Road opener and seriously funked it up with a fat bass line and some fierce rocker-chick vocal runs. It was a brilliant example that, if executed well, any song, no matter how familiar, can be made fresh and original. It was enough to make both the judges and the voters think Smithson was going to be a potential champ. Of course, that didn’t come close to happening. But at least for one night, it seemed possible. As Simon Cowell told her, “This reminds me, six years ago, exactly the same week — Kelly Clarkson.”

Lilly Scott, “Fixing a Hole” (season nine): With this Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band track, Scott proved that you don’t need to pick a current top 40 song to show you’re a relevant, contemporary recording artist. Instead, she brought a current sensibility — that quirky, jazzy, singer/songwriter vibe — and delivered ear-pleasing, toe-tapping tuneage. The performance gave us hope that the snoozapalooza that has been watching season nine might be turning into an exercise more exciting than picking your bellybutton lint. So much for hope. Scott was sent packing just two weeks after this stunning performance.

The Bad
Clay Aiken, “Here, There and Everywhere” (season two): Back in 2002, Randy called him “the bomb,” Paula called the performance haunting, and Simon called the whole thing “very pretty.” Time has not been kind to this live rendition. The harp? The lullaby-like pace? We should have known Aiken was headed to Broadway. The vocals may have been spot on, but he took this melodious-yet-haunting Revolver tune and squeezed out every single drop of vitality from it, revealing a gooey cheeseball center neither Lennon nor McCartney ever imagined existed there.

Kris Allen, “Come Together” (season eight): The eventual champ tried to go hard rock with this take on “Come Together,” which makes sense, considering the week’s mentor was guitar-shredding guru Slash. The instrumentation ended up overwhelming Allen’s vocals and leaving his brow soaked in a marathon run’s worth of sweat. All that work wasn’t worth it, nor did his rendition come anywhere close to the one Smithson pulled off a season earlier.

The Ugly
David Archuleta, “We Can Work It Out” (season seven): Where to begin? Archie’s take on this 1965 hit veered off course almost immediately, as he started “umm”-ing and “nah”-ing instead of actually, er, singing words. What’s rule #1 of “Idol”? Don’t forget the lyrics! Bungling the words was bad enough … until you consider the arrangement, which, combined with the there’s-no-problem smile frozen on his mug, was so creepily upbeat it bordered on “American Psycho” territory. After this one, Archie owed the greatest songwriting team in music history a sincere apology.

Kristy Lee Cook, “Eight Days a Week” (season seven): Now it’s our turn to apologize for reintroducing you to this county hoedown from hell. Kristy Lee Cook’s speedy, twangy mauling of the 1964 chart-topper sounded, as Simon declared, like “Dolly Parton on helium.” That might be putting it kindly. The performance landed Cook in the bottom three, a spot from which she managed to climb out only to bungle another Lennon/McCartney tune the next week.

Did we miss anything? Share your favorite Beatles covers (and train wrecks) in the comments below.

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