In nearly every year of “American Idol,” the elite eight comprises four or five strong performers, one or two genre specialists and two singers who need to be voted out promptly. This year’s eight were given the theme of “inspirational,” which one fears may produce a healthy dose of schmaltz, yet instead nearly every singer took the instruction to mean a song or sentiment that inspired them. How misunderstood was the assignment? Michael Johns, who chose Aerosmith’s sing-or-die anthem “Dream On,” must have heard them say “perspirational.”
Misguided song choices revealed the singers’ ignorance of history, interpretation skills and the do’s ‘n’ dont’s of the telecast. Syesha made a major blunder singing not just a former champ’s tune, but doing perhaps the most famous song to ever be sung in a finale, Fantasia’s “I Believe.” She said Fantasia is her idol, which I hope does not translate to ”I have a baby and cannot read,” but it’s no excuse. Fantasia won because she invested herself in songs and that appeal was visceral in American living rooms; Syesha is an attractive woman with a nice voice and telegenic qualities, but week after week her stock goes down for not revealing an inner-self.
Carly Smithson is in the same boat. Her delivery is based on big fat notes followed by a piercing wail – regardless of melody or lyrical intent, and she relies on the same vocal tricks weekly. Queen’s “The Show Must Go On” borders on the absurd as a song selection and she did absolutely nothing with it.
Perhaps the saddest aspect of the elite eight was that the high points were found in the covers of the covers. Brooke White performed James Taylor’s emotionally manicured, arm-around-the-shoulder version of Carole King’s “You’ve Got a Friend,” failing to bring out the anguish found in King’s version. And Jason Castro sweetly played Israel Kamakawiwo’ole’s uke-‘n’-juke rendition of Yip Harburg and Harold Arlen’s “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” which discards rhyme schemes in the name of cuteness.
David Cook, like Syesha, would be wise to keep his musical taste private – Our Lady Peace is his favorite band; Kristy Lee Cook has extended her stay by sticking to pop country and wearing the perfect outfit; and David Archuleta, who will someday made a themed album called “Hits That Never Crossed the Pond,” did Robbie Williams’ “Angels” and earned the evening’s highest praise from the judges.
Now check it out: Randy Jackson never used his catch phrase but found fault with five of the performances; Simon was less abrasive than usual but was able to pinpoint specific problems in the renditions. Secretly, I believe all the contestants are safe as this is “Idol Gives Back” week. Bottom three: Johns, Mercado and Smithson.
Early in the evening, Paula Abdul made an obtuse reference to her “chihuahuas.” Piece of advice: When one is poured into a form-fitting strapless top, one should not make any reference to puppies.