The boys readjusted the scales Tuesday in the final gender-based elimination round, making viewers reconsider the talents of David Cook and Jason Castro for the better and Michael Johns and David Archuletta for the worse.
The theme was ’80s night and the question posed to contestants was name your most embarrassing moment – and little did Danny Noriega realize he would have a new answer for that query after he finished performing a dreadful, campy rendition of “Tainted Love.” He finished that atrocity and should have immediately started campaigning harder than Hillary to secure the votes of flamboyant hand signalers who speak in text messaging abbreviations and just adore purple streaks in the hair. That seems to be his target audience. Or maybe it’s people with a permanent look of disdain etched n their faces, or people whose strongest personal attribute is the shininess of their hair. Truly one of the most obnoxious contestants this show has ever booked, and he is revealing himself to be an unwatchable non-talent.
On the positive side, Cook retreated to the irrelevant side of 80s pop-R&B, took a Pete Wentz approach (musical, not just the hair) to Lionel Richie’s “Hello” and not only impressed the judges but crafted an original version of a song that would seem to have no relevance in his emo-loving world. Definitely, his strongest – and most convincing – vocal performance in the contest.
Castro was an even more pleasant surprise, dipping into the Leonard Cohen songbook for “Hallelujah,” an obscurity from 1984 that Jeff Buckley turned into an hymn for the disenfranchised a decade later. It took chutzpah to do a number like that: a) it’s a remarkably difficult song to sing, requiring vocal control, range and a spot-on alignment with the acoustic guitar accompaniment; b) it’s sloooowww and nothing irks the judges more than a dirge; and c) considering the lack of knowledge about the bona fide hits of Heart, Connie Francis and the Spiral Staircase, he had to figure this might be the first time Randy, Paula and Simon are hearing this tune with a cult following. Perhaps the biggest surprise was that Jackson and Cowell were not only familiar with “Hallelujah’s” providence, they’re big fans.
On the negative side, the so-far flawless David Archuleta hit some off-key notes and sang with little confidence Tuesday. His song selection of Phil Collins’ “Another Day in Paradise” revealed an absence of taste and knowledge; he brought no character to the tune.
Faring worse was Aussie Michael Johns, who Randy Jackson imagines has been singing the greatest hits of INXS while holding a hairbrush and looking into the mirror since he was 6 or 7. But he was not singing an INXS song, he was singing a Simple Minds song. A Scottish band, not an Australian one. Doesn’t matter, though – his perf here would have seen him tossed before Mig on “Rock Star.” “Don’t You Forget About Me” earned praise from Jackson and Abdul; Cowell had the smarter take: Johns is immensely talented but has yet to connect with the right song.
David Hernandez, the stripper from AZ, turned in a confident performance and his suddenly exposed (ha ha) past should not block him from entry into the top 12. Chikezie sounded good enough on “She Fills Me Up,” but he’s a bit thorny and may not be generating many votes for his onscreen personality.
But if America gets it right, Luke Menard will be joining Noriega on the bus out of Hollywood Thursday night. Who in their right mind sings “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” unless they are playing a prank on someone or reminding them of how awful their musical taste used to be? It’s simple: George Michael music, A-OK; Wham, never! Luke, do you see anyone clamoring for Andrew Ridgeley records? Should your “most embarrassing” story concerned the collection of oversized white “Choose Life” T-shirts in the back of your closet?
Maybe Mr. Ridgeley is at home right now, wondering how to get Luke’s phone number so they could reunite as Wham of the 21st Century. Brian Dunkelman could be their emcee. State fairs and amusement parks – here they come.