After two weeks of John Lennon and Paul McCartney tunes, “American Idol” finally and mercifully retired the Beatles theme. That made the contestants, the audience and Heather Mills all very happy. Instead, the theme for the week was birthdays, with everyone singing songs released in the year they were born.
The big beneficiary of that was Kristy Lee Cook, who may survive for another week based on the luck of sharing a birthday with Lee Greenwood’s patriotic anthem “God Bless the USA.”
Knowing that she entered the week as the odds-on favorite to go home, she made the red-white-and-blue choice and got the judges’ unanimous approval for the first time in approximately forever.
“Your best performance by a mile,” Simon Cowell said, “and I have to say that was the most clever song choice I have heard in years.” That might be stretching it a bit, but since Cook has survived up to this point, she’ll likely stick around another week.
Though her effort was the most surprising, David Cook had the best performance of the night. He’s not afraid to take risks. Already this season he pulled off an emo version of Lionel Ritchie’s “Hello,” and he went down a similar path on Tuesday, singing Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” in that same rock/emo style.
It was a strange choice of songs, but he’s now two-for-two in reinventing ’80s classics. Randy Jackson, who liked almost nothing all night, was effusive with his praise. “I gotta say, I think you’re probably the most original, the most bold contestant we’ve ever had,” he gushed.
Simon agreed. “That was brave. It could have either been insane or amazing, and I have to tell you it was amazing,” he said.
Michael Johns has been outshone by Cook in recent weeks, but he finally came through with a strong performance after a series of subpar efforts. After having success earlier in the competition singing “Bohemian Rhapsody,” he went back to Queen and sang a “We Will Rock You/We Are The Champions” medley. Both the crowd and the judges ate it up.
“This is the first time with you I saw star potential,” Simon said. “Tonight you just got it right.”
Syesha Mercado also impressed with Stephanie Mills’ “If I Were Your Woman,” but because she sang so early in the evening, her performance faded into the background. Though Paula Abdul called it “fantastic” and Randy thought it was “the best I’ve ever heard you sing, including when you auditioned,” Mercado may be more vulnerable than she should be, given how well she sang.
Mixed signals for someBrooke White talked in her video intro about being able to play the piano by ear, and then flubbed her first note and had to restart the song. Ironically, the judges liked that she did that, and thought her rendition of “Every Breath You Take” by the Police would have been better had the band stayed out of it entirely.
“We’ve always wanted contestants that are unique and have their own niche, and you do,” Paula said. That uniqueness will likely keep her safe for another week.
David Archuleta, in case anybody doesn’t know it by now, is really young. Ryan Seacrest teased him about his high-school prom and who he was going to take.
The judges weren’t crazy about the song choice, “You’re The Voice” by David Foster. Simon called it “reminiscent of a theme park performance.” But judging from the audience reaction, it was still good enough that his prom date should expect to have to have a backup plan ready for the evening, since he’ll likely still be on the show.
Carly Smithson seemed shocked to find herself in the bottom three last week, and looked to rebound with her cover of Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart.” But the judges weren’t buying the vibe, in part because she looked tense enough to squeeze the microphone stand into dust. Though the beginning was nice and controlled and she hit her notes, the judges thought that there was something missing.
“Something didn’t quite work. I think you were so tense and uptight during the performance ... you’ve got to lighten up a little bit,” Simon said.
Maybe Simon is looking for Smithson to switch personalities with Jason Castro for a week. Castro, who sang Sting’s “Fragile,” brought out his trademark guitar and as Randy said, the vocals were as usual “very nice and pleasant.”
But while the audience and Paula both loved him, Simon is getting a little sick of the mellow-guy-with-a-guitar act. “I think it’s time that you start taking this a little more seriously,” he said. “That was the equivalent of someone busking outside a subway station. Everything about it was too laid back. You’re not going to win if you keep doing that week after week.”
It’s hard to imagine that Castro’s going to be able to radically transform his personality enough for Simon, but the audience seems to like him.
Two in troubleWhile it was one of those weeks where nobody stood out as being truly awful, two singers look to be in worse shape than the rest.
Ramiele Malubay started off the show with Heart’s “Alone,” which was fine but not as strong as other “Idol” hopefuls have managed with the same song. Part of the issue may have been that she was under the weather, as was hastily acknowledged by Ryan and the judges afterward. But there was a clear disconnect between the judges on this one; Randy hated it, Paula talked about how talented Malubay is, and Simon thought the beginning, at least, was OK.
Simon was optimistic, saying that she’d probably make it to next week. But that was 10 minutes into a 90-minute show, and the rest of the performers did well enough that he may be proven wrong.
Chikezie decided to go with a ballad and sang “If Only For One Night” by Brenda Russell. It wasn’t terrible, but for a singer who has survived up to this point by the virtue of some well-timed up-tempo numbers that allow him to use his energy and personality, it wasn’t the smartest choice of songs. That puts him in danger heading into Wednesday’s results show.