<em>American Idol</em> Top 7: The Results

My apologies to Mariah Carey. I thought she would be a disaster as a coach and that a week devoted to her songs would be a mountain of melisma overload.
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The gang sang Mariah Carey's massive hit duet with Boyz II Men, "One Sweet Day." And I do mean massive, it was #1 for 16 weeks -- that's four months in a row! NO SONG should ever be played that much. The Idol kids frankly made a mess of it; this did no favors to anyone. Later Elliot Yamin (who just lost his mom -- my sympathies) sang "Free" and then Mariah Carey sang "Bye Bye."

They started splitting the top 7 into two groups. On one side was Jason Castro and Carly Smithson and on the other David Cook and Kristy Lee. At this point, I wrote down, "David Archuleta will go last" because of course everyone knows anyone with the initials "D" and "A" will always be safe so putting him in one group or the other would end the suspense. Again, hats off to Archuleta for never seeming to acknowledge his front-runner status and yet not play it with false modesty either. He just goes with the flow, wisely. Then it became Jason Castro and Carly Smithson and Syesha on one side and David Cook and Kristy Lee Cook and Brooke White on the other. I admit I was a little flummoxed here and wasn't quite sure but just assumed Archuleta would be in David Cook's gang. Then they switched Cook with Syesha (the sneaky bastards) and suddenly it made more sense and clearly Syesha and Kristy Lee and Brooke were the bottom three.

They brought Archuleta out, told him he was safe (brief but not annoying sigh of relief from him -- again, this is a very difficult tightrope he's walking since EVERYONE knew he was safe) and then Ryan told him to choose which group he thought was safe. But Archuleta has been watching this show all his life and he knew enough to pull the old "I'm sitting in the middle" stunt until they made the obvious clear.

-- Syesha and Brooke and Kristy Lee. Any of them could go home. But Syesha was named safe first and she had a HUGE sigh of relief. (This could help to humanize her with the people who think she has too high an opinion of her own talent.) When asked to pick between Kristy and Brooke, Siimon rather politely (I thought) said sorry Kristy, but it's your night finally, sweetheart. Everyone booed and he responded, quite reasonably, "Well, it has to be ONE of them." No wonder he gets the most applause. Kristy boasts that at least she made it into the top 10 which is absolutely right. It's hardly a slam on your talent to make it farther than 100,000+ other folk who auditioned. Kristy is going home, Brooke cried (of course) and Kristy sang the first part of "Forever" right to Simon in a cute moment. (It's funny, but Simon likes the attention of speaking out but doesn't really want to be in the spotlight. I can relate, said the blogger.) I was wrong (again) about who was going home but it was perfectly appropriate for Kristy to say bye-bye this week.


First, my apologies to Mariah Carey. I thought she would be a disaster as a coach and that a week devoted to her songs would be a mountain of melisma overload. Carey appeared focused and helpful, giving those who seemed receptive very specific suggestions as far as melody, runs, and arrangements. And with only seven songs to hear and most of the kids wisely choosing from her earliest hits, we avoided the recent run of hip-hop influenced songs that have very little melody for other singers to dive into -- they might be good singles, but they don't make good songs. (It's the Grammy distinction between Record of the Year -- ie. best single -- and Song of the Year, ie best standard. Maybe you like her current hit "Touch My Body" as a single but it's not a song that you'd want to hear lots of people sing, unlike, say "Hero.")

Carey by the way has sold 160 million albums worldwide, 62 million of them in the US. (Clearly, she's even bigger overseas. I remember my dad's adult amah/maid in Hong Kong absolutely loved Mariah Carey with the intense devotion only a teenager in America could begin to approach.) And as they mentioned on Idol, she just passed Elvis Presley with the most #1 hits by a solo artist and will soon pass the Beatles for the all-time record. Generally dismissed by critics, it's telling that two of the seven songs performed tonight weren't written by her. (I would have sworn someone would tackle the Motown gem "I'll Be There" as well just to avoid her songwriting.) Again, even if you like her music, those high-pitched notes that "sell" them are nigh on impossible to hit.

David Archuleta -- Sings her Oscar-winning song "When You Believe" from the animated film The Prince of Egypt. (A duet with Whitney Houston, it was a Top 20 hit written by Broadway's Stephen Schwartz who went on to pen the biggest hit musical of his long career, Wicked.) Hilariously, Carey urged Archuleta to go for that falsetto. Though she would prove savvier as the night went on, this was exactly what I expected her to do since Carey LIVES for falsetto. She hoped he would follow her advice, Mariah said modestly, as in, "Boy, you BEST follow my advice." He did. Archuleta was decked out in leather pants for his naughtiest look yet, albeit in service to yet another message-y tune. If ever his diva hands (the inability to sing without gesturing dramatically with your palms) was appropriate, surely Mariah Carey week was it. Archuleta was popping his "p's" very noticeably tonight and the inevitable runs and trills were kind of weak in the lower register and towards the end. Again, this is what I expected on Mariah Carey night: a feeling that the singers were offering two notes for the price of one at every possible juncture. I felt he was fine but not spectacular. Randy raved, giving the first standing ovation of the season, Paula seemed half asleep as she would throughout the night (maybe she was under the weather) but praised him and Simon also said he was great. He also joked after what one imagined was the first of many ballads that we weren't going to have a lot of laughs this week, a joke that went right over sweet little David Archuleta's head. Give the kid points for being a little oblivious to his surroundings: when girls are squealing your name, a casual friendly attitude that quietly acknowledges the pandemonium you're creating is a good approach to not looking falsely modest or too pleased. I thought the judges had over-praised, but on a second listen I up-graded him from pretty good to good. His growl was effective and the runs not as forced as I originally thought.

Carly Smithson -- Sang "Without You," a song made famous by the great singer-songwriter Harry Nilsson, though ironically it was originally written and recorded by Badfinger. (Do buy Nilsson Sings Newman, Nilsson Schmilsson and his standards album A Little Touch Of Nilsson In The Night if you want to live a happier life.) Carly was a bit dull at first, though it's always refreshing when people don't over-sing, especially on Mariah Carey week. For me, there's always an unpleasant tension on the high notes from Carly but she scaled the heights in a so-so manner. She was also dressed nicely, though fans of her ink might not have liked the long sleeves. Randy was non-plussed, Paula mumbled some platitudes and Simon was indifferent.

Syesha Mercado -- Sang "Vanishing" from Mariah's 9 million selling debut, one of the biggest albums of all time, debut or not. An album track, it wasn't even a single though obviously since it's such a big album, the tune is hardly a rarity, though Simon later acted as if it was. Mariah described Syesha as "very cool" and "composed," and I had the feeling Syesha didn't quite play the gushing fan enough to suit Mariah. Syesha looked smashing, in a sexy adult dress that avoided prom night or cabaret or slutty. Really, the wardrobe people have done a great job this season. Her 'fro was in full force, with some more huge earrings to top it off. And Syesha was sensational. I wrote down "Awesome!" and "Pro!" as she glided through the number with complete confidence. When she had a soulful run tearing into the word "vanishing" Syesha bore down and tilted her body into it and gave the tune her all. Then at the very end she hit a great note while looking back over her shoulder at the camera with a defiant, Diana Ross-like confidence. It reminded me of the heyday of Justin Guarini, who really knew how to work the camera. Clearly, this was her night. Then the judges spoke. Randy thought it was "good" if a little pitchy. Paula was still sleepy but said nice things, and Simon said it was "technically" very very good, but that it did nothing for him. This week, Syesha managed not to look peeved or defiant at their critiques, though I admit they stunned me and probably stunned her as well. What are they listening to when they listen to Syesha? Will one of them come back tomorrow night and say that after listening to the playback they realized they'd missed a great performance? They should. This is the only one of the night I recorded onto DVD and it's a major rebound from last week for her. I hope the voters heard what I heard.

Brooke White -- Sang "Hero," one of Mariah's many #1 hits. Brooke had a good pre-song interview, joking about her tendency to cry, this time over the fact that she missed her sister's wedding. Bizarrely, Brooke said, "She was understanding. She sent me a text. 'I'm glad you're there.'" First, duh -- of course she understands. Brooke is in the middle of a talent contest on the biggest show on TV and if she could get away she would have loved to have been at her sister's wedding. But they only texted each other? You mean Brooke didn't speak to her by cell on her wedding day? That's a little odd. "Hero" was a very good choice for Brooke, proven as soon as she strummed it on her guitar for Mariah. For the performance, she played the piano and it sounded like it fit right into her singer-songwriter wheelhouse, more Carole King (again!) than Mariah Carey. But Brooke tried to get overly soulful in the bridge and then she lost the melody completely, panicked and rushed through the rest of the song, going faster and faster as she approached the end. Randy was mixed. But Paula, who I suspected was tired or a little ill, proved especially perceptive. After insisting that "every ounce of you is totally authentic to who you are," she pointed out that Brooke got a bit lost and flipped out. "Don't ever let that speed you up," she counseled. Simon dropped the hammer on Brooke with an elaborate hamburger metaphor that for some reason I found quite amusing, especially when Randy and Paula insisted Simon was wrong to say it was all bun and no meat and he responded fine, then there was meat but no lettuce or tomato or relish or onion.

Kristy Lee Cook -- Sang "Forever," the first single from the massive hit Daydream that DIDN'T hit #1. I was actually scared for Kristy since Mariah Carey week seemed designed to torpedo her. But Mariah insisted she liked Kristy's arrangement of the song better than the one Mariah recorded. (At least, I assume Mariah was referring to the arrangement and not Kristy's actual vocals, no offense Miss Cook.) It's a very weird sort of performance, with Kristy diving into the second line so abruptly I thought she'd messed up or forgotten the words for a moment but she did it consistently again and again every time she got to those lines. It was very draggy and rough when not just odd and surely the first time Mariah has been covered with a steel guitar. Kristy looked great, but at the end there was a weird close-up of her that turned out to be a camera focused on one of the video monitors in the auditorium -- something we realized as the song was finishing and the camera began to pull back from the monitor and we realized that Kristy was actually far away on the stage. Even more than the simple step of ending with the camera far far away from the singer (which dampens any emotional finale), this was a very distracting, cold technique that could subliminally hurt her. Randy was indifferent. Paula vehemently disagreed and said Kristy was great and happily suggested Kristy was diabolically pretending not to be a very good singer in the past so she could keep improving and sneak up on everyone. Simon was nonplussed. I think they're just waiting for her to get eliminated and have nothing to say. That was four women in a row, by the way, when the more obvious arrangement would have been girl-boy-girl-boy-girl-boy-girl. I wonder why they did it this way, unless it's the simple fact that the men are much stronger and so the show works better musically by beginning and ending with them.

David Cook -- Sang "Always Be My Baby," also from the 9 million selling hit Daydream. Cook naturally gave it the moody rocker makeover (or "Cookified" it, as I like to say) and Mariah seemed to dig it. It was a bit awkward at the beginning, with Cook's lower register having little personality. I was waiting and waiting for it to kick in till finally it did. He definitely got better as he went along and was quite strong in the middle and a decent if not great ending (it sounded better on a second listen than I originally thought). News reports said Cook's very ill brother would be in attendance and we got a quick glimpse of him at the end as they flashed on his friends and family. Classily, it wasn't mentioned either before or after the performance. Randy raved, Paula raved (adding what I imagine she considered the high high compliment of "That song could be on a movie soundtrack right now!") and Simon raved too. Cook was clearly feeling the emotions of the moment, they cut to a close-up, Ryan pointed out the obvious (that cook was tearing up) and then the producers got even more cloying by cutting to his brother again. Cook behaved graciously but the show didn't.

jason Castro -- Sang "I Don't Wanna Cry," the fourth #1 hit from Mariah's debut. Rudely, I'll point out again that two of the songs weren't written by Mariah and that of the other five, the most recent is from 12 years ago. Mariah said he was interesting and different and if he chose to do any of the little ideas she offered it could be really good. So I'm not sure what was going on there -- one thing is clear, Jason knows exactly who he is and what works for him. But his arrangement didn't seem to take any dramatic license from the original (which had an acoustic Spanish guitar-like run of some sort in it) and he seemed to deliver the vocal run she suggested. In any case, it was another winning performance with charm and confidence making up for his lack of vocals. You don't need a great voice if you make great choices (Jimmy Durante, anyone?), even if you do sing out of the side of your mouth. Randy was very negative, insisting it sounded like some Hawaiian luau, which he meant as an insult. Simon was utterly confused and said he had no idea what a luau was. (He really does have some of the most interesting gaps of knowledge. Who hasn't heard of a luau?) Paula retorted that she'd LOVE to be at that luau listening to Castro all night long and in this case I agree with her. Significantly, she also zeroed in on his strong suit: confidence. She may have been sleepy tonight, but she was paying attention. Simon was also very laudatory.

Bottom Three -- I think all three men are completely safe this week, especially since the only negative comment about any of them was Randy's luau diss of Jason Castro. With more women, the bottom three will come from them. I have to believe the audience heard what I heard from Syesha so I'm hoping the bottom three is Carly, Kristy and Brooke. Kristy was the most forgettable and Brooke the most disastrous. Carly wasn't very good either and she did go second, but might benefit from the very wide appeal of her song "Without You." That leaves Kristy and Brooke in the bottom two. Kristy was given the worst presentation by the producers but Simon really dropped the hammer on Brooke (who again couldn't keep from talking while the judges critiqued her). I think Brooke is going home in a very tight vote.

Who did you like and who do you think is going home?

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