American Idol, It's the Song Stupid!

When Bill Clinton ran for President in 1994, his campaign staff came up with a brilliant slogan. Not for the public, but for themselves. Knowing that King George the First was woefully out of touch with the public, they put up a big poster in the Clinton traveling RV that read, It's the Economy, Stupid!

The idea was simple. No other single issue was as important in the minds of voters. It paid off, of course. Clinton won the election handily, defeating the elder George, who didn't even know what a grocery store scanner was.

My point in telling this story is that someone should put up signs in the American Idol contestants' dressing rooms that read, It's the Song, Stupid!

This week's performances demonstrated that song selection, almost above anything else, will probably be the difference between winning and losing.

When are these kids going to get it? How many contestants have we seen hit the bricks because they chose a song they couldn't handle or a song that nobody knows?

Let's face it. This competition is about covers. Pick a song that everyone knows, then either sing it better than the original, or put a new twist on it.

Some day, deity of your choice willing, many of these budding young stars will get a major music label deal and record a whole album of their own songs. But until then, they need to stick to the beaten path. Especially given how good everyone is this year. The talent is so strong, and the difference between the best and the worst so marginal, that ultimately song selection will be one of the most critical factors.

You'd even think that American Idol producers might make choosing a well-known song a mandatory part of the competition. I mean, the program is not all about the Idols. The audience is part of this too. If the contestants sing obscure songs, we don't enjoy the show. If we don't enjoy the show, we don't watch. If we don't watch, the ratings drop and the show goes bye-bye.

I think I've made my point. Song selection is huge. More so this week, as the Idol-ites were asked to sing something that inspired them. Dangerous ground considering that most of us probably know a song or two that inspires us that nobody else on the planet either knows or likes. A couple of contestants fell right into that trap. Hopefully they'll learn their lesson after this week, but it will be too late for at least one.

So how'd they do? Here's my take.

TOP TWO:

Kristy Lee Cook -- Okay, I know I'm going to take a lot of guff for this, because Kristy Lee has been in the bottom three for the last umpteen weeks and a lot of people want to see her go. But Kristy kicked arse! Singing "Anyway" by Martina McBride, she looked great, sounded great, and was clearly inspired by the song. I just hope it's enough to keep her around. The dark forces against Kristy Lee have been ominously gathering the last few weeks. Perhaps this performance can stave them off. Randy called it really good. Paula said she outdid herself. Simon said she looked like a star and was "very very good." That's high praise coming from Simon.

Jason Castro -- Who'd-a-thunk that we'd see Kristy Lee and Jason in the top two on the same night. The odds are about the same as being struck by lightning while winning the lottery. But Jason blew everyone away with a unique version of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow." Playing the ukulele, Jason sang it a la Israel Kamakawiwo'ole, better known as Brother Iz. Anyone who's been to Hawaii on vacation knows who he is. Simon apparently doesn't. While Jason's performance was subdued, it was terrific. Randy called it molten hot. Paula said it was the perfect song. Simon simply said it was fantastic.

MIDDLE OF THE PACK:

Michael Johns -- Sporting an ascot, Michael was first up and came out singing Aerosmith's "Dream On." Good song choice I thought, but the judges disagreed. I thought Michael rocked it and set a pretty high bar. The Aussie crooner has definitely found new confidence. Randy thought it wasn't as good as last week. Paula spewed out something incoherent about her chihuahuas. I got lost.

Syesha Mercado -- Last week Syesha took on Whitney Houston's "I Will Always Love You" and was bashed for not doing it as well. This week she tackled Fantasia and got the same criticism. I'm not a big Fantasia fan, so I didn't like the song. But I can forgive that. Still, if you're going to do it, put your own spin on it or do it better. Syesha didn't do either. Randy said he couldn't connect. Paula disagreed and called it a "shining night." Simon said she was technically okay, but lacked emotion.

Brooke White -- Singing James Taylor's "You've Got a Friend," Brooke was at least smart enough to pick a well known song. Just not a really great well-known song. Foregoing the piano this week, Brooke did a good job. Her vocals were solid enough, and she looked fine. But that was the problem. The performance was just ... fine. After being in the bottom three last week, I think Brooke was hoping for a home-run. But she didn't get it. Randy called it okay. Paula said Brooke is "definitive," whatever that means. Simon said it was nice, akin to a pleasant walk in the park.

David Archuleta -- The boy wonder showed off his lack of experience yet again by picking another strange song, at least in my book. David sang "Angels," and played the piano. His voice is great, there's no doubt about it, but I thought the song was a poor choice for him. It didn't showcase the talent we all know he has. Frankly I felt like I was watching Billy Gilman. Randy disagreed with me and said it was crazy hot. Paula called it fantastic. Simon said the song choice was right, but the vocals were just okay.

BOTTOM TWO:

Carly Smithson -- If you think song selection isn't important, just ask Carly when she surely lands in the bottom three this week. Carly sang Queen's "The Show Must Go On." Taking on Freddie Mercury is dangerous for anyone, and you better be ready to knock our socks off, which Carly didn't do. Like David Archuleta, we all know that Carly has talent oozing out of her ears. But this song just didn't show it. Randy said it started good but ended "just okay." Paula said she didn't feel engaged by the performance. Simon thought Carly over-sang it.

David Cook -- Who'd-a-thunk we'd see Carly Smithson and David Cook in the bottom two in the same week? The odds are about the same as surviving a plane crash and winning a gold medal in the Olympics. David gets my bottom spot this week for picking the worst song. He sang "Innocent" by Our Lady Peace, a song I've never heard before, and I know I'm not alone. David skipped the guitar, and sang alright, but without knowing the song I had no basis for comparison. At the end of his performance, David held up his hand with the message "give back" scrawled on his palm. A nice touch for Idol Gives Back, but probably not enough to save him. Randy kindly said it was not David's strongest performance. Paula said

he's still "the whole package." Simon thought it came across as pompous and didn't like it.

No elimination round on Wednesday night so that Idol can do it's second annual beg-a-thon, Idol Gives Back. So we'll have to wait to see who goes home until Thursday. See you then.

Ethan Morris: "Not always right, but never in doubt." Go ahead and write me.