Critics of the horrendous soundtrack to the even worse film "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band" may need to rethink their assessment now that "American Idol 7's" final 11 have mangled songs by John Lennon and Paul McCartney and a single George Harrison tune. That film took a beating in the late '70s, but nothing like the ugly stick these kids took to some of the most beloved songs or their parents - and grandparents' - generation.

Critics of the horrendous soundtrack to the even worse film “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band” may need to rethink their assessment now that “American Idol 7’s” final 11 have mangled songs by John Lennon and Paul McCartney and a single George Harrison tune. That film took a beating in the late ’70s, but nothing like the ugly stick these kids took to some of the most beloved songs or their parents – and grandparents’ – generation.

Simon Cowell rightly wondered late in Tuesday’s two-hour show whether it was wise to do Beatles tunes two weeks in a row. At the top of the show, the assessments of the material at hand were appropriately glowing, but after the last singer, Ramiele, had yawned her way through “I Should Have Known Better,” Cowell decided that too many of the singers had chosen “mediocre songs.” You’d think they were doing “You Know My Name (Look Up My Number),” humming “Flying” or re-creating the laughter and applause in “Revolution No 9.” Mediocre? Them’s fightin’ words.

Leave the historical impact on the table for a moment – these versions were inappropriate, ill-conceived or bland, save for two: Kristy Lee Cook clicked for about 30 seconds on “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away” and Syesha Mercado did a respectable “Yesterday.” This night did not do anything to raise the clamor to get the Fab Four’s songs onto iTunes.

As suspected, most of the contestants had no clue as to what they were singing and the reasons for singing the songs were not good ones. Michael Johns wanted to pay tribute to a late friend by a doing a condensed version of “A Day in the Life”; if this were a film class would he reduce “The Godfather” to 16 minutes because it was his buddies’ favorite pic? Bum notes galore and absolutely no sense of cohesion in the performance.

A lack of cohesion, actually, was repeated several times: Kristy Lee Cook tried to knock the Dylan-ness out of “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away” and inject it with the perkiness of Marie Osmond; Brooke White twisted “Here Comes the Sun” out of proportion after appearing to be playing it straight; Chikezie made a mockery of “I’ve Just Seen a Face” by starting in a tepid-soul vein and then shifting into half-baked bluegrass.

David Cook went the extra mile by proving a lack of understanding of rock history. David, doing the Whitesnake version of anything is never good. Those of us who were around know that if Tawny Kitaen had never crawled on that car in her Velcroed undies we would not be able to distinguish between Whitesnake and Kingdom Come. Since she did her thing, we know who Whitesnake is but on our planet there are no T-shirts or bumper stickers that read “What would David Coverdale do?” So what would possess Cook to think that playing the Whitesnake version of “Daytripper” – which is not much different than the original – is a good idea, complete with vocoder? Is Peter Frampton week coming up and he wanted to prepare “Show Me the Way” or is he connecting a bizarre set of dots between Frampton and his career-killing role as Billy Shear in “Sgt Pepper’s”? I’ll stop here.

Having to reduce Beatles tunes to about 90 seconds – and in some cases, that means very little music is removed – did prove how deep and complete the storytelling is within these numbers. The later songs especially are three- and four-verse tales and the last verse is crucial to understanding how the first verse should be sung. That’s obvious – or so I thought – on “A Day in the Life” and on a song such as “She’s Leaving Home,” which was not performed. In the latter tune, it’s the final lyrics that indicate the “she” in the story is pregnant, which certainly informs the delicate presentation at the song’s beginning.

And that’s what made David Archuleta’s performance of “The Long and Winding Road” so troubling. He received glowing praise from the judges, but in truth he showed no command of the meaning of the lyrics. His version did not include the words “many times I’ve been alone and many times I’ve cried,” but a singer can’t approach the tune without knowing why they are on this particular long road. He hit notes, but his connection to the song was as distant as White’s “Here Comes the Sun.”

Cowell missed the opportunity to accurately term a rendition as cabaret: Cary Smithson’s overblown “Blackbird.” He called it indulgent, which I can see, but she needs to be slapped around a bit. She’s on key, but dull. Hers was one of nine perfs that received a negative reaction from Cowell; Jackson and Abdul were not feeling it on three of the perfs.

It looked like it might be one of those “what is Paula drinking?” nights when she assessed Amanda Overmyer as “quintessential authentic who you are,” but (unfortunately?) Paula recovered.

Quote of the night, though, belonged to Kristy Lee Cook, who apparently has been locked up with the farm animals a bit too long. Not only was she unfamiliar with the Beatles songs, she vowed to return and impress the judges by saying, “I can blow you out of your socks.” Um, is she friends with any governors?

American Idol - March 18, 2008

Fox, Tues. 9 p.m.
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