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Two ‘Idols’ inspire judges to sing their praises

Kristy Lee Cook and Jason Castro gave the strong performances they need to stay on the show, while Syesha Mercado and Carly Smithson may be in danger.
/ Source: msnbc.com contributor

In honor of “Idol Gives Back,” the remaining eight finalists got to pick a song they considered inspirational this week. The two singers who had the most at stake did the best job at picking songs that inspired the judges to sing their praises, while others with a better history on the show got tepid reviews.

Jason Castro is perennially flirting with Simon Cowell’s bad side because of the judge’s perception that Castro isn’t taking the competition seriously enough. Given that situation, coming onstage with a ukulele to sing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” is somewhere between spending the night in a haunted house and investing in subprime mortgages on the riskiness scale.

Somehow, however, Castro made it work. Randy Jackson was a big fan, saying, “Jason Castro is back in the hunt. That was crazy, molten hot.” Even Simon called the performance fantastic, and it looks like Castro did enough to make it through another week.

That’s less certain for Kristy Lee Cook, who’s spent so much time in the bottom three that she’s building a summer home on that portion of the stage. But she did all she could to earn her place on the comfortable seats of safety this week by selecting her song wisely and doing a nice job with Martina McBride’s “Anyway.” It didn’t make anyone forget the original, but it also didn’t make anyone change the channel, which is progress.

Randy said that he loved it, and that “it was really good for you,” but he said it in a very non-Randy way, barely raising his voice. It sounded more like he was thinking “crap, she’s sticking around. I lose the office pool.”

Simon was more charitable. “With a choice this broad, you have an opportunity to show who you are as an artist, and I thought you were very, very good indeed. You look like a star tonight, Kristy.” That’s stretching the point, but it also probably will be enough that she’ll survive.

The third singer that everyone loved was less of a surprise, as David Archuleta once again drew raves for his version of Robbie Williams’ “Angels.” Always unpredictable in his song choices, the teenager made a great pick here.

“When you did that little refrain at the end … that’s the David Archuleta that I love. Crazy, crazy, crazy hot,” Randy said in his most animated comment of the night.

Some less inspiring than othersEveryone else finished the night in the same boat. Nobody was truly awful, but the other five singers each did enough to be nervous heading into Wednesday’s charity concert and Thursday’s results show.

David Cook is probably going to advance given his recent series of strong performances, but he didn’t impress with “Innocent” by Our Lady Peace. The most original of the hopefuls most weeks, and the most talented of the “Idol” finalists according to one recent poll, he sounded derivative here for the first time.

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Paula Abdul loved it, but she was the only one. Simon spoke for most in the audience when he said, “I didn’t like this performance very much at all. I thought it was a teensy-eensy bit pompous. It wasn’t anywhere near as good as the past two weeks.”

Another singer who took a step back in the judges’ eyes was Michael Johns, who opened the night with “Dream On” by Aerosmith. The song was right in his musical wheelhouse, but nobody besides Paula thought he hit it out of the park.

He’s not doing a good job of convincing Simon that he’s a rocker. “I thought it was a very good performance … (but) I don’t like it when you do an impression of a rock star. I thought it was a little wannabe-ish,” the judge said.

Brooke White had been sailing along until winding up in the bottom three a week ago. White is the most predictable of the finalists, in that she always sounds perfectly nice and pleasant without doing anything truly memorable. Disliking her is akin to kicking puppies or heckling little kids playing soccer, but where she’s fallen off in recent weeks is that she’s not doing much to get people passionately in her corner.

She was teary-eyed before she even finished, Carole King’s “You’ve Got a Friend,” and the judges may have tempered any criticism because, seriously, not even Simon can be mean to a sad-looking Brooke White. “I don’t think it was your best performance, but I wasn’t mad at you either,” Randy said. “It was all right.”

Syesha Mercado again took on a tough act, singing “I Believe” by Fantasia. The judges tend to not like it when “Idol” finalists choose songs recorded by previous winners, and it was a questionable call to pick something done by perhaps the most powerful voice in the history of the show.

The judges agreed that she sang it well, but it lacked Fantasia’s emotion from four years ago. That comparison may hurt her in the voting.

Carly Smithson did better than she did a week ago in one respect; according to Simon, she dressed better. But in becoming the latest contestant this season to choose a Queen song, she didn’t match Freddie Mercury’s vocals on “The Show Must Go On,” and it didn’t help that she sounded worse at the end of the song than she did at the beginning.

“I thought you oversang it to the point where you lost control of it at the end,” Simon said. “It came across as an angry performance, and you actually might be in a bit of trouble.” Even the perennially cheery Paula said she didn’t feel engaged, and that alone means Smithson’s in big trouble as she sweats out the counting of the votes.