Pop Culture

Carly Smithson makes surprise ‘Idol’ exit

As “American Idol” pointed out in a video clip during Wednesday’s results show, plenty of former contestants have found a post-show life starring on Broadway. Judging from the way the audience voted this week, Carly Smithson shouldn’t plan on joining them.

Not that hitting the stage was one of her career goals anyway. Her ambition is to become a successful pop star, and pop stars tend not to put Andrew Lloyd Webber songs on their albums.

But for whatever reason, “Idol” periodically breaks out Broadway Week anyway, which means the finalists have to slog through songs they wouldn’t dare place on a future album. That must have been the case this week, because otherwise the choices for the bottom two don’t make much sense.

It has to be a particularly bitter pill for Smithson to swallow — not only was she voted off after a night where she sang well, she also got sent home by an audience that seemed to have just tuned out the night’s performances and voted for whoever they liked in previous weeks.

Smithson and Syesha Mercado, who was the second-lowest vote-getter, were among the better performers on Tuesday. The judges loved them both. Randy Jackson told Mercado that “I feel like you could be a huge Broadway star,” while Simon Cowell called Smithson’s number one of his favorites on the night.

Jason Castro and Brooke White, meanwhile, were bad enough that White had to do a re-start after blowing a lyric, and Castro was wishing he’d never started at all about 30 seconds into his performance.

The only rational reason for a viewer to vote for Castro based on his performance this week was the sheer terror of knowing that if he was the lowest vote-getter, he would definitely have to sing “Memory” again. 

A popularity contest

On the other hand, the votes make more sense if they were based on just the most dedicated of fans. The fact that Ryan Seacrest didn’t gloat over the vote total is probably a good indication that the numbers were down from previous weeks.

That was good news for David Cook and David Archuleta, who both sailed through to safety. In Cook’s case, he survived despite going away from his recent trend of making every theme week conform to his musical comfort zone by changing the arrangements accordingly. Instead, his performance of “Music of the Night” was reasonably conventional.

“I figured what could be more unpredictable than actually doing the song the way it was written,” Cook said.

Smithson and Mercado, meanwhile, both did the best they could with the Broadway theme. However, both have also struggled to build a fan base. Mercado is among the lowest vote-getters nearly every week, while Smithson had flitted back and forth between the stools of despair and the seats of safety all season. This week indicated that it’s hard to make new fans singing a genre that few associate with pop music stardom.

Ironically for Smithson, her exit came after a performance that earned some rare compliments from Simon. The British judge apologized to her afterward for his kind words, which ultimately proved to be the kiss of death.

“You can leave with your head held high,” he said.

But if the audience’s opinion holds sway, her next stop will be somewhere other than New York City.

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