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‘Idol’ finalists tackle Beatles songs

As the “Idol” final sprint to the finish officially began on Tuesday, the show offered a new stage and a new songbook to choose from.
/ Source: msnbc.com contributor

As the “Idol” final sprint to the finish officially began on Tuesday, the show offered a new stage and a new songbook to choose from.

Ryan Seacrest was excited enough about the new set, which approximately zero percent of the viewers care about, to wear a suit and tie for the occasion. Simon Cowell cared enough to cover a full 50 percent of his chest area with his half-open shirt.

It was also the first time the show’s gotten the rights to the John Lennon-Paul McCartney canon. Not surprisingly, given that the Beatles were a male group, the guys tended to do better than the women. But both genders offered finalists who impressed the judges.

Stars of the nightFour performances stood out on Tuesday. Two came from singers who have been strong throughout the competition, while another is making a run at the contenders, and the fourth may have saved himself from elimination.

Carly Smithson may have had a record deal in the past, but she says she’s now working seven days a week at an Irish pub. Whether she winds up winning this competition or not, odds are very good that she’ll get to make another album. She did a great job with “Come Together.”

“Week after week so far, I think that you have chosen the wrong song … until now,” Simon said. “This reminds me … six years ago, exactly the same week, of Kelly Clarkson.”

Another of the women who has surged to the head of the pack is Brooke White, who changed things up this week — she played the piano instead of the guitar for “Let It Be.” Once again, the judges and the audience all bought into her old-school singing vibe.

“This is your niche, Brooke … it’s picking songs where we can feel your heart,” Paula Abdul said.

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“I thought it was again one of the best performances of the night,” Simon added. And White cried in joy and relief, in case anyone didn’t realize that she’s truly happy to be there.

With a strong song a week ago, David Cook went from the danger zone to the middle of the pack. He made it two in a row by acing “Eleanor Rigby,” surviving a rocky start to get everyone in the audience moving.

“I’ve been telling everyone you’re the dark horse. This is showing everyone that there’s more than one horse in this race,” Paula said.

And it was a rare case where Simon agreed, saying “Paula’s right — if this show remains a talent competition rather than a popularity competition, you could actually win.”

While the other three were relatively secure entering the week, Chikezie was nearly eliminated on Thursday before learning that Danny Noriega was getting the boot instead.  As Ryan pointed out, he has come a long way from his former job as a security screener at LAX, and he sang on Tuesday like he’s in no hurry to go back to telling cranky travelers to dump out their water bottles.

“She’s a Woman” went from bluegrass to rock over the course of his two-minute arrangement, and was by far his best performance on the show. It surprised everyone, even the judges. Randy Jackson spoke for them all when he said, “I was thoroughly entertained. Who knew?”

He was almost sent home last week, so he’s not totally safe, but Chikezie is in very good shape after this one.

Five can work it outFor others, the reviews were more mixed. Some were dinged for taking chances and others for playing it safe, but most of the singers had a hard time standing out from the crowd.

Jason Castro brought back his guitar to sing “If I Fell,” but it didn’t match the success he had last week with “Hallelujah.” Though Paula loved him, neither of the other judges was impressed.

“Last week you were incredible. Tonight, if I’m being honest with you, it was a like a student in the bedroom at midnight.” Simon said. “Good enough to stay in another week? Definitely. But not as good as last week.”

Amanda Overmyer sang “You Can’t Do That,” and also wasn’t as good as she was a week ago. But the judges had nice things to say about her anyway and are clearly hoping she sticks around.

“Guess what, you took a Beatles song and you brought it to a southern bar, a southern club, and you rocked it out,” Randy said.

“I didn’t think it was as good as last week, and I understood about 30 percent of what you sang,” Simon cautioned. “Having said that, I think it’s a very good thing that you’re here, because you are like a breath of fresh air when you come on.”

Syesha Mercado has also added a new twist for much of the competition, but didn’t do very well this week. She opened the show by singing “Got to Get You Into My Life,” and looked uncomfortable with the song.

Randy and Paula mixed a little vocal criticism in with their usual praise, justifiable since she struggled with the ubiquitous “pitch problems” early.

Simon was in a much kinder mood and called out his fellow judge. “I thought it was better than ‘all right,’ Randy,” he said. Then he turned to Mercado and said “I just think you looked very, very nervous, and you’ve got to get past that.”

That was the worst of it, so she’s probably safe, but singing first is always a disadvantage and Mercado may be in trouble.

Michael Johns went with “Across the Universe” and did not do a good job of “making the song his own,” as the frequent “Idol” cliché goes. Everyone expected better from one of the more experienced finalists.

“Carly (Smithson) did something brilliant with her song — that’s what you should have done. You’ve got to let yourself go,” Simon said. “I’m still a big, big fan of yours, and I’m still a little bit frustrated that we haven’t seen that come through.”

David Archuleta is in no danger whatsoever of being voted off, since he’s been the star of the series so far this season. Anyone tuning in for the first time on Tuesday, however, had wonder what all the fuss was about. He closed the show with “We Can Work it Out,” but misfired on the lyrics early in the song and generally lacked the swagger he’d shown in earlier weeks.

“This kind of vibe is not your vibe,” Randy said. “It felt very forced and it didn’t quite work.” Ironic, since he did so well a few weeks ago singing John Lennon’s “Imagine.”

Trio has a hard day’s nightWhile nearly anyone could find themselves in the bottom three, three singers in particular have reason to worry.

Ramiele Malubay sang “In My Life” for “my close friends who have left the show already.” Her vocals were fine, but she sang right after Chikezie’s series of sprints around the stage and her performance looked dull by comparison.

“I was bored to tears throughout the entire song,” Simon said. “I expect a lot better from you, because you’re a lot better than that.” Randy also expressed skepticism. She might get to see those close friends sooner than expected.

The other two got themselves in trouble by overdoing their performances. David Hernandez sang “I Saw Her Standing There” and tried to make the song more complicated than it was, a move that left nobody happy. Even Paula thought he overdid things.

“David … no, no no,” Simon said. “I thought it was corny verging on desperate, to be honest with you. It was all a little bit rabbit in the headlights,” Simon said.

Kristy Lee Cook heard what the judges said last week about becoming more of a country singer, and tried to change “Eight Days a Week” into a country song. It didn’t work, and nobody even gave her credit for trying.

It may help her that she sang late in the program, and that the judges were mean enough to earn her some sympathy votes. But she’s the contestant most likely to go home on Wednesday.