NOTE: And Chikezie is gone. The gang began with a performance of Maxine Nightingale's biggest hit "Right Back Where We Started From," which hit #2 for two weeks in 1976. (They should have tied into the theme of birthdays and done one from Ryan's year of 1974 instead.) No one stood out except for the dorky chest-bumping of Michael Johns and David Cook.
We found out they keep the number of downloads on iTunes a secret each week so seeing how popular some singers are doesn't influence the vote. Cruelly, we see Brooke recording her tune and being told by a producer to "watch your pitch!" Ouch. Kimberly Locke had a solid debut album but took years to record a followup. During that time she opened a restaurant, lost weight and seems relatively balanced. I loved her debut single "Eighth World Wonder" and her new tune "Fall" ain't up to that standard but it's fine. Dolly Parton is the mentor next week (I couldn't be more excited) and they take those stupid calls again.
The Bottom Three -- It's Chikezie, Syesha (!) and Jason Castro. The only one I got right was Chikezie, proving yet again that I am way off base this season in predictions. Jason is the first to be safe, leaving Syesha and Chikezie, disproving those who look for block voting and figured the remaining two black contestants would get enough support for at least one of them to stay safe(r). Clearly the Filipino vote is on heavy speed-dial for Ramiele who was the worst last week by a mile. But frankly, with 30 million votes cast, it doesn't matter what contingent you have supporting you (evangelical, country, etc.), unless your initials are "D" and "A" you need to appeal to Middle America to stay safe. Still, seeing Syesha in the bottom three when she was easily one of the two or three best last night is shocking. Beware the power of Simon, who has been down on her for weeks. He's the one America listens to. Sorry Randy and Paula. Thank goodness Chikezie is sent home. Maybe this wasn't his week (I thought he'd be in the bottom two, though so I'm hardly shocked). But it was only a matter of time. Do you agree with him going?
BELOW IS MY INITIAL RUNDOWN OF THE PERFORMANCE SHOW ON TUESDAY
Now we're at the Top 10 -- the ten singers who know they'll be going on tour and now are quietly thinking to themselves, "Hey, I could WIN this!" According to the judges, we had four great performances. According to me, two.
Ramiele Malubay -- The theme of the night is songs from the year you were born, which meant an official rush on 1987, beginning with Ramiele. She sang Heart's "Alone," the biggest hit of the band's career (by far) which was #1 for three weeks. Dressed as if it were 1982 and she were singing a song from Flashdance, Ramiele had an off-the-shoulder sweatshirt sort of top and pummeled the song into submission. The slow moment at the beginning wasn't bad and the end was a relief. She was screeching in the middle and the highlight clip at the end of the show did her no favors. All three judges were negative. Simon was technically right in pointing out that it was better than last week but probably wrong when he said being better than the week before (when she was awful) means Ramiele should be safe. Doesn't work like that. People rarely give you a storehouse of good will once it gets down to the nitty gritty (unless your initials are "D" and "A").
Jason Castro -- He glided through Sting's "Fragile," a mellow sensitive number from 1987 that is right in Jason's wheelhouse. It was never a single, but it's a classic track from Sting's best solo album ...Nothing Like The Sun. It's a great choice for Jason, who sits down, strums away at his guitar and shows off some Spanish (or was it Portuguese?) to go along with the French from Beatles week. Definitely working the international tip. Yes, his voice almost disappears and he's still singing out of the side of his mouth, but a good performance. Randy and Paula are mixed and Simon is negative. Randy says Jason didn't do anything with the vocals since he's never happy when people just deliver the song rather than throwing in runs and trills. Simon says it sounds like someone busking in a subway. Yes, but someone good who would make you stop and listen. Wisely, Jason doesn't talk back or comment while the judges are talking. I swear, if Joao Gilberto were a contestant, they'd say, "Another bossa nova? Come on, mix it up, dude." Jason is wise to do what he does best. Go down swinging. My only concern is that many people might not know the song, even though it's becoming a standard in the jazz world.
Syesha Mercado -- Sings the Gladys Knight and the Pips 1971 classic "If I Were Your Woman," which was covered by Stephanie Mills on her album of the same name in 1987. The 'fro is back, the big earrings are in place and Syesha tops last week's peak cover of "Yesterday" with a sensational performance that is controlled and passionate. I've had a crush on her from the start and she's finally coming through and coming into her own at just the right moment. This is the real Kelly Clarkson -- someone who was overlooked repeatedly but keeps improving. Now let's see her do it again. The judges all rave, though Simon is ever so slightly less rave-ish.
Chikezie -- If Ramiele was the weakest, Chikezie is the most forgettable. Born in 1985, he covers a Luther Vandross gem, "If Only For One Night." His voice wavers a bit, he's very rough on the last line and it's rather dull. He was right to sing a ballad -- don't kick yourself for losing when you didn't do what you really wanted; accept losing when you went with your gut. And another manic song would have been awful. The judges run the gamut, with Randy negative, Paula positive and Simon mixed. I can't remember the performance as soon as it's over.
Brooke White -- Born in 1983, Brooke sings the massive Police hit "Every Breath You Take," which was their only #1 hit but at least they made the most of it: it was #1 for eight weeks and virtually inescapable for about a year. Unfortunately, Brooke thinks it's a love song instead of a song of suspicion and paranoia, which keeps her from really burrowing into it. Wisely she sits at the piano and sings it, first solo and then with the band kicking in. She gets complimented for screwing up and starting over (You're human! We love you!) and criticized for having the band join in halfway through. Of course, if she'd stayed with just the piano, the judges might have criticized her for NOT having the band joining in and insisting it was dull. Because what they're really saying is that it wasn't a very good performance. Competent and colorless. Again, she won't stop talking when the judges offer their critique. They're mixed, with Randy negative, Paula positive and Simon mixed. Randy's latest verbal tic is to say it was a "very interesting song choice." Really? One of the biggest hits of all time that works right into her singer-songwriter vein?
Michael Johns -- Born in 1978, Michael does a medley of the Queen double-a side hit "We Will Rock You/We Are The Champions," the greatest future-sports-standard single of all time, though it only hit #4 on the pop charts. The "We Will Rock You" half is very anonymous and you notice the difference when he jumps into the mellow beginning of "We Are The Champions" and suddenly there's color and personality in his voice. But not that much. He loses his breath at the end of one line and smartly thrusts his microphone triumphantly into the air to cover-up that fact. Michael, as always, poses like a rock star perfectly -- when they do a movie about Michael Hutchence of INXS, Johns is their man. And he does have a good finish. Really, it's his best (or rather only good) performance since...Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" during Hollywood Week. The judges love it unreservedly. If only every week were Queen week.
Carly Smithson -- Born in 1983, Carly tackles the Bonnie Tyler epic "Total Eclipse of the Heart." Bonnie Tyler is the only person to be a one hit wonder twice. First she did it in 1978 with the country-ish tune "It's A Heartache," which hit #3. Then she came back five years later with a complete makeover musically, really seeming like an entirely different person, thanks to the ktichen sink production of producer Jim Steinman (of Meat Loaf fame) who gave her this #1 hit which stayed on top for four weeks. Carly has serious heels on and lays into the tune, even doing a writhing sort of motion as she really gets into it. Mostly spot on, with a weak final flourish. Generally solid. Randy again says it was a "very interesting song choice." Really, I say again? A massive smash hit that lets Carly brandish that big voice? He insists it's really too rock and out of her comfort zone stylistically. The judges are mixed again with Randy negative, Paula positive and Simon mixed.
David Archuleta -- Born in 1990, David digs up Aussie singer John Farnham's "You're The Voice," which scraped into the Hot 100 that year, was a solid Top 10 hit in the UK, and a massive hit in Australia, where it appeared in 1986 on the best-selling album in Aussie history. (Farnham also sang with Little River Band.) Simon insisted David couldn't possibly have picked this song himself, but David being the pro that he is just said it was a terrific song and that John Farnham is great. Unlike the Beatles song, he certainly seemed familiar with it. A more lively upbeat tune, "You're The Voice" is still "inspirational," which is the house where David lives. He bounces back and forth, tries to keep his diva hands under control and does a credible, decent performance of a song almost no one watching has ever heard of. It's not great, he has a rough patch and loses his voice for a moment but he ends very strongly on a big Idol note. The judges are positive but it's not the usual Archuleta slam dunk.
Kristy Lee Cook -- Born in 1984, Kristy chooses the Lee Greenwood flag-waver "God Bless The USA," which is inextricably linked with Reagan's America in my mind. She gets giant American flags waving in the background, a big brass arrangement and delivers her best performance ever!! Though it's still pretty anonymous. Hey, if you can't sing "Amazing Grace" every week, this is your next best bet. Next week: the national anthem. Actually, she really does fine and though both Randy and Paula caution her about pitch, she sounds on key to me the whole time. And I just dare anyone to kick her off the show after singing this song! It would be like booing the beauty pageant contestant who waves the flag while twirling a baton and holding up sparklers on the Fourth of July. Insanely, the judges compliment Kristy on such a savvy, clever song choice. Are they out of their minds? It's the most patriotic, heart-tugging OBVIOUS song choice in the world for a country oriented singer who needs to tap into Middle America. You want the audience to stand up? You sing "God Bless The USA."
David Cook -- Born in 1982, Cook tackles the Michael Jackson career-defining classic "Billie Jean" via the cover by Chris Cornell of Soundgarden. It's really a triumph, with Cook delivering the goods especially during a tricky vocal passage towards the end when his voice goes up into a higher register. This slow-burning rocker is exactly what he does and I fear his album might be a tiresomely moody, mid-tempo affair. But contrasted with the pop and soul offerings of the other singers, his emo sensibility is always welcome relief. He was rough on the last note, but who cares? The judges rave and rightly so, though Cook needs to stop the hokey bowing with the "hands clasped in humble thanks" gesture. He's been very, very consistent the last few weeks and notice the judges don't complain a bit about him doing the same thing again and again. Not when it works this well. Chris Daughtry might have been jealous if his solo career hadn't been so explosively successful.
So the judges thought Syesha, Michael Johns, Kristy Lee Cook and David Cook were all terrific. I'd agree about Syesha and David Cook (the two stand-outs to me) and certainly Johns and Kristy are safe. I think David Archuleta is safe as well and given that he sang an utterly obscure song and not that well, that tells you how strong his fanbase really is.
Potentially vulnerable are Ramiele, Jason, Chikezie, Brooke and Carly. Don't forget, Carly was in the bottom three last time. But I think she was solid enough and she certainly delivered a straight rendition of the tune. Jason, I believe, coasts by on charm yet again. That leaves Ramiele, Chikezie, and Brooke in the bottom three. Chikezie and Brooke were both forgettable. But Ramiele was awful. I predict Ramiele and Chikezie in the bottom two. Since Ramiele was the first and the worst, she's going home. Who was your favorite and who do you think will be sent home?