The final five is far enough for “AI’s” resident space cadet judge Paula Abdul, who is ready to crown David Cook champ, send Jason Castro packing and did not even have the decency to tell Syesha Mercado how lovely she looked in purple. Abdul, more confused and unable to finish a sentence than in any other episode this season, may well be right about Castro – he does deserve to leave – but she refuses to acknowledge the dull incompetence of Brooke White.
Strangely, though, the selection of Neil Diamond songs proved trickier than even Beatles night. As was evident on Lennon-McCartney night, the kids are again unaware of the cultural baggage that accompanies an artists’ songbook not to mention this artist’s trademarks – the melodrama, the tempered pep and the MASSIVE choruses.
Unlike the Beatles music, which is treated like scared texts, there’s a modern context of Diamond tunes for people who did not live through the early 1970s: “Sweet Caroline” is for football stadium and wedding sing-alongs; “I Am I Said” is for overwrought Karaoke; “I’m a Believer” is for singing in the car when the Monkees come on the radio; and “Forever in Blue Jeans” is just a reminder of how awful soft-rock could be.
This was a show with no performance above the level of good. Cook did his usual throat rumble thing on a couple of Diamond obscurities that worked with the judges. Syesha’s pleasant performances required an understanding of nuance and understatement, which seems to go out the window every year in this competition once it gets to seven or eight contestants. She actually took his songs, lightly adorned them and made them personal.
If anything, she revealed the limitation of a Diamond composition: “Thank the Lord for the Night Time” is a Diamond version of a soul belter but not necessarily a soul belter when handed over to new singer and arranger. It’s a pop version of a musical theater version of a roadhouse blues, about three steps of pure emotion removed from Ray Charles’ “Night Time is the Right Time.”
David Archuleta went with bombast – “Sweet Caroline” and “America” – as if he was unaware of the heavy cheese factor associated with both. Has he been living in a cellar in Austria for almost two decades?
White butchered “I’m a Believer” and was hokey on “I Am I Said”; Castro displayed no redeeming qualities on “Blue Jeans” or “September Morn.” Diamond, who had generic platitudes for each singer, is hoping the music buyers in the audience remember his name for at least a week; his album “Home Before Dark” will be released Tuesday.
It was No. 10 on Amazon’s best seller list at 10 a.m. Wednesday.