A non-remonstrative Simon Cowell had a simple explanation as to why Michael Johns got the boot last week from “American Idol” – and it appears conspiracy theorists get it but the contestants do not.
“You cannot deliver an uninspired performance at the top of the show,” Cowell said in an interview that mostly concerned the chart success of Leona Lewis. “And you can’t be up there imitating another singer.”
As our conversation turned toward song selection, I noted that Aerosmith’s “Dream On” did not fit the definition of inspirational, just because the word “dream” is in the title.
“I couldn’t agree with you more,” Cowell chimed in.
With the one judge on the line who keeps the proceedings close to level, it was hardly surprising that Cowell, who considers talents shows in the U.S. and U.K. “the luck of the draw,” would be willing to pinpoint a collective flaw in the season 7 cast.
“Personality,” he said, a little more than an hour before Tuesday night’s all-Mariah Carey show. “They are giving very safe answers to questions, making safe song selections. We are not getting a sense of who they are. We have to try to pull it out of them more.”
That seemed like a marching order to me going in to Tuesday’s show – let’s play “Where in the World is an ‘American Idol’s’ Personality?”
It’s a little disturbing to think the most prominent personality in Creed’s old neighborhood, where David Cook has taken up residence. He treated “Always Be My Baby” – a great pop song – as pliable, which all strong interpreters need to do. His rock power ballad version worked on multiple levels yet the problem is the novelty factor: In the moment, it sounds great, but there has to be more variety down the road.
The one thing he did do, though, was assert himself as a thinking rock musician, aware of hit record styles beyond the “AI”/Mariah/Whitney/Nashville universe. It worked for Daughtry, but not so much for Taylor Hicks or Bo Bice.
Cowell was dead on in the personality assessment. Brooke White passed off a marginal demo-tape version of “Hero” as “unplugged” and once again tussled with the judges; Kristy Lee Cook mangled “Forever,” the most Phil Spector-ish tune in Mariah canon, but Cook did not play it that way; and David Archuleta did his usual “very, very good” (per Simon), making a risk but not a statement by tackling the Whitney-Mariah duet “When You Believe.”
Carly Smithson covered her arm art but millions of young children probably had nightmares after cameras lingered on her illustrated man of a husband. Covering a cover is always a mistake: the “AI” singers wind up doing hybrid versions and the judges are left wondering what the singer was thinking. If she had sung Harry Nilsson’s or Badfinger’s version of “Without You” as recorded back 30-odd years ago, she would have been banking on the judges’ potential knowledge of the tune’s slow build. It’s Mariah week, however, and that means belt it big. As we saw recently on White’s “You’ve Got a Friend,” she landed in the middle and displayed no conviction.
Syesha was smart in picking “Vanishing,” a gospel-infused tune from 1990 debut that the judges did not know. I say a good performance of a reasonably well constructed song, regardless of its hit status, can help a performer slide through in the middle of the pack. Simon believes she made a mistake by picking an obscurity, hinting it will lead to the bottom three. Tonight we’ll see who’s right; this should be the last we’ll see of Miss Cook.