OK. Check it out. “American Idol” instantly became Idol dilemma on Tuesday. It was Dolly Parton night, which in reality means drawn on a collection of country, pop and bluegrass tunes from the last 40 years, some of which have been interpreted by R&B stars and some by punk bands. What it should not mean is exactly how it was interpreted – country night, save for a behemoth of a hit record from some movie about a bodyguard. Genre nights can reshuffle the deck in a hurry, extending the TV life of a weak voice and sending a strong voice home early.
On a night when Simon Cowell was in solid curmudgeon form – and refusing to say he just plain does not care for Parton or fiddles – all nine singers delivered OK performances; nothing brilliant, nothing awful, which means America will either attempt to distinguish nuance or go with the singers with the personalities they like best. I’m guessing it’s the latter.
It”s a week where the judges may actually be determining the outcome. Michael Johns’ bluesy “It’s All Wrong But It’s All Right” oddly won raves from the judges but four bars in and I was thinking bottom three. Now some of that may owe to his questionable post-punk interpretation of a Thurston Howell III wardrobe, but he lacked command and vocal prowess through at least half of the tune. Three thumbs up on a night that had Randy using his “check it out” line for five of his assessments may be a significant seal of approval. (Maybe he had his fingers crossed that someone would sing Dolly’s tune “Randy,” peering into the judge’s eyes as she – or he- sang about about feeling like they were in heaven when they were in his arms).
Cowell was correct in docking Brooke White’s “Jolene” for lacking emotion (I’d call it boring), pegging Ramiele’s “Do I Ever Cross Your Mind” as a cruise ship performance and essentially telling Jason Castro that his reading of “Travelin’ Thru” did nothing to reveal that he can be a special performer.
Most crucial, though, was the slap on the wrist he gave Syesha Mercado for doing “I Will Always Love You” and letting it drift into Whitney Houston territory. It’s a consistent “Idol” trip-up and Mercado may well find herself in the bottom two for a) not thinking beyond the obvious and b) too many Dolly-istas will be calling in for the singers who played it closer to the Parton vest. (Insert joke here. Sorry).
Carly Smithson lovingly executed a ballad version of “Here I Come Again,” but it felt so very obvious. She may someday actually thank Cowell for pointing out that she does not dress like a star; the woman needs to wear something with sleeves. Guess what, Carly: As the number of contestants dwindles, the inked and the Irish votes won’t be enough to get you into the finals and there will be a few singers with considerable mainstream appeal.
Mainstream today means David Archuleta and David Cook, both of whom delivered the evening’s smartest performances. They will be on the couch looking over at Ramiele, Syesha and White as the one who should really be listing farm animals on Craigs List for a plane ticket home is Kristy Lee Cook.