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Dolly Parton does not inspire on ‘Idol’

Covering the country legend’s classic tunes, no one managed to stand out. David Cook and David Archuleta turned in the best performances, while Kristy Lee Cook and Ramiele Malubay were the worst.
/ Source: contributor

It was Dolly Parton week on “American Idol,” which had to be a little unsettling for the country music legend. Parton claimed a strong attachment to her material, saying, “I always think of my songs as my children.”

If that’s the case, it’s hard to rationalize the decision to leave the custody of her songbook to the likes of the “Idol” singers and judges, even for just a couple of nights. While the judges liked some singers’ takes on the material better than others, nobody gave a truly memorable performance.

And Simon Cowell did not appear to be a big fan of the Parton canon. He commented frequently on the poor song choices and forgettable performances, at one point joking that he might lose his season pass to Dollywood. Perhaps Parton’s next album will feature a song or two about British men and how they lack the intelligence and common sense necessary to deal with country women.

All about the guys
On the night where the guest mentor was a legendary woman, it was the guys who tended to get the highest praise from the judges.

David Archuleta went with “Smokey Mountain Memories,” and the “Idol” favorite got back in the good graces of all three judges. Paula Abdul praised the “amazing tone in your voice. Just gorgeous,” and for the first time in a long time Simon praised the song selection. Not that Archuleta would have been in danger even if he’d sung the lyrics backward, but it helped him keep the rest of the pack at bay for another week.

David Cook chose to write his own arrangement for “Little Sparrow,” after duly crediting where he found the arrangements he’s used for his previous songs during his pre-performance interview with Ryan Seacrest. It was a little simpler than his recent efforts, but considering that his musical style doesn’t come anywhere near Parton’s, it did the job of melding the material to his range and talent.

“If you can make a song about sparrows good, which actually you did, congratulations,” Simon said.

Michael Johns closed the show with “It’s All Wrong, but It’s All Right,” and because Fox was in a hurry to get to the “Hell’s Kitchen” premiere, there wasn’t much time for idle chitchat from the judges. That’s a shame for Johns, since he got nothing but praise.

Randy Jackson praised him for “bringing it up a notch every week,” while Simon said it was the best he’d ever heard Johns sing.

Message received
Two other singers did a nice job of doing what the judges told them to do in recent weeks, though the feedback wasn’t 100 percent positive anyway.

Each week, Simon has been getting more insistent that Jason Castro change things up a little bit, or at least make it seem like he cares whether he wins or loses. He did that this week, showing a lot of energy on his rendition of “Travelin’ Thru.”

Simon still wasn’t impressed and said that the style didn’t suit Castro. But Paula Abdul was effusive in her praise, even for Paula. “To me, this was one of your strongest performances,” she said. “Your voice was stronger … it ripped.

Carly Smithson has been criticized for looking like she’s passing a kidney stone when she sings. She was much better with “Here You Come Again,” even going so far as to smile during the performance.

The audience cheered, and Randy and Paula loved it. But Simon passed over her vocals with a couple of sentences, and immediately picked on how she dressed. “You’ve got to start looking more like a star,” he said. Perhaps she’ll show up next week in one of his trademarked T-shirts.

Forgettable women
The women didn’t do themselves any favors this week, as nobody really stood out from the crowd.

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Syesha Mercado made a smart choice in “I Will Always Love You,” in the sense that it’s a song that much of the “Idol” audience is familiar with because of the Whitney Houston cover. But it was not smart for her to sing the first half in the original Dolly Parton style, and belt the latter half out like Whitney. The predictable result was that the first half of the song was better-received than the latter, because very few “Idol” contestants have ever won praise for doing a Houston song as well as the original. 

On a positive note, the performance did result in a rare positive comment from Simon, who mused that “you forget what a great songwriter Dolly Parton is.”

Somehow, Ramiele Malubay has managed to make it this far without ever being memorable or in danger of being voted off, but the latter is definitely the case this week. “Do I Ever Cross Your Mind” was very ordinary, or “cute … and forgettable,” as Simon said. She connected with the audience better than she usually does, but not many viewers are going to remember what she sang by the time the Wednesday results show hits the airwaves.

This should have been another week for Kristy Lee Cook to shine, and following last week’s strong performance, she could have had a chance to stick around for awhile. Instead, her “Coat of Many Colors” was just ordinary. She’ll likely at least find herself back in the bottom three after last week’s vacation, and might be the one sent packing.