The theme was ’80s music, and the question of the week for the eight male semifinalists was to name their most embarrassing moment. Considering one headline-making story, the setup seemed too good to be true.
David Hernandez has made news this week in a way he’d probably prefer to forget, as word of his previous career as a stripper raised some Internet buzz about his future on the show. The producers decided to keep him around, but he had to be nervous that the judges would try and get him out the old-fashioned way — by trashing him to the point where America would send him home.
But Hernandez chose not to cite anything from his stripper days as embarrassing, which at this stage is probably the smart move. And if he gets sent home this week, it will be strictly up to viewers, because the judges loved his performance of “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now,” a song made popular by Meat Loaf.
“It was a nice song choice because you’ve got a big ol’ voice,” Randy Jackson said.
“I really feel like you’re finding your niche. You’re really becoming a very good performer,” Paula Abdul echoed.
And Simon Cowell made it unanimous. “Last week was better, but you 100 percent secured a place in the final 12 with that one.”
Somewhere, Frenchie Davis is preparing a press release on how the show did her wrong back in the second season, when the revelation of some topless photos caused her to get booted off the show. Fortunately for Hernandez, everyone on “Idol is a lot more forgiving these days, including the judges.
Other starsDavid Archuleta continues lead the class of the men, though his rendition of Phil Collins’ “Another Day in Paradise” saw the judges ding him up a little. That’s no surprise, since he’s so far out in front of the pack at this point that they’re looking to reel him in and make him seem more vulnerable, lest he get sent home early by overconfident fans failing to text in their votes.
The judges couldn’t quite manage to make the negativity stick, however. “I loved that there were a couple of notes that were off, because it shows you’re not a make-believe person,” Paula said.
“I think you’ve got to be careful. You’re 17 years old … and it’s starting to get a bit gloomy here. Lighten up a little bit,” Simon said. But he then added that Archuleta would probably be in the final two, and Ryan Seacrest helpfully pointed out that “any song that involves intimacy is depressing for Simon.”
While Archuleta remains the most talented of the men, David Cook took the biggest risk of the night and made it pay off with the best performance. His “slightly emo” (according to Randy) performance of Lionel Richie’s “Hello,” complete with an electric guitar and a strong rock vibe, was either going to be very good or utterly unlistenable. He made it the former, and probably secured a spot in the final 12 after getting mixed reviews a week ago.
“That was a very brave thing to do … and I loved it,” Simon said. “I think Lionel Richie would be very proud of that, and I really, really hope you’ll be here next week.” Considering he and Cook had a brief war of words after his song last week, that’s high praise indeed.
Jason Castro didn’t bring his guitar onstage, per the directive from the judges last week. Still, he chose a similar song, in “Hallelujah,” made famous by Jeff Buckley.
“Hallelujah” isn’t a song that gets them dancing in the aisles, and it offers some challenging vocals to play with, but the judges all thought he pulled it off.
“The Jeff Buckley version of that song is one of my favorite songs of all time, and I loved it. … I think it was absolutely brilliant what you just did. You’re getting better and better,” Simon said.
Meanwhile, Michael Johns caused the most random comment of the night when he sang “Don’t You (Forget About Me).”
Randy liked that he “went home” and said “you kind of remind me of Michael Hutchence” of the Australian band INXS. Johns looked like he didn’t know what to say, perhaps because the song was actually a hit for the group Simple Minds. Either Randy’s comment was a random comparison, or he needs to brush up on his old Billboard charts.
Trio in troubleThough all the men sang relatively well, three look to be at the back of the pack at this stage. All are hoping for either a late wave of fan support, or a backlash against Hernandez from viewers penalizing him for his previous job.
Chikezie is probably in the best shape of the three, since he had the enviable position of closing the show. “All the Man That I Need,” made most famous by Whitney Houston, was an odd song choice, and Simon slammed him for it. “No, I don’t think that worked at all. I don’t think that was a very smart move, personally.”
Still, because he sang last and there were a few extra seconds to fill, Ryan got to ask Randy if he deserved to make the final 12. “Chikezie definitely deserves a spot,” he said. Whether that last-second endorsement made the difference will be revealed on Thursday’s results show,
Also having reason to sweat for the next 48 hours is Danny Noriega, who sang the Soft Cell classic “Tainted Love.” Simon thought he was horrible, and Randy wanted to see some more confidence from his vocals, but Noriega has a huge fan in Paula Abdul.
“You’re fantastic and you deserve to be in the competition because, what, it’s a singing competition,” Paula said, mocking Simon’s frequent criticism.
But Simon got his biggest shot out of the way early, when Luke Menard opened the show with Wham’s “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go.” “I thought it was weak, a bit girly. There’s no chance you’re going to make it through, I think, to the final 12,” he said.
That was a bold statement, since he made it before anyone else had even taken the stage. And in a normal week that kind of criticism might have helped Menard stay alive by creating some sympathy. But singing first and not singing well on a night when nobody stood out for being terrible will probably turn the British judge into a prophet.