Ok, I've preached for a long time that as long as the two best make the finals, there's no real big scandal about who goes home in what order. But if Jason Castro doesn't say "bye bye" this week, it'll be a shonda.
The theme is the Rock 'N Roll Hall of Fame, which leaves the door wide open for anything and everything.
DAVID COOK -- So he sings "Hungry Like The Wolf" by Duran Duran? I'm fond of Duran Duran and they have some great pop songs, but the key word there is POP. Yes, Cook pulled a fast one on Lionel Richie, but in general he's plowed the emo-rock vein to good effect. He might have toughened up "Save A Prayer" or rocked out on "Last Chance On The Stairway" or...in fact, the pop tunes of Duran Duran are just not a good fit for him, especially when he doesn't change the song up or give it a make-over. You're just not gonna look cool singing "Do-do-do-do-do-do-do-do-do-do-do-do-do-do-dooooooo!" (Their breakthrough US hit was at #3 for three weeks, which isn't easy to do, actually.) In fact, Cook's performance seemed to be a rewind to his poser moments early on in the Top 12 when he seemed overly pleased with himself and generally proud as a peacock. From his taped interviews to his attitude during the critiques, Cook seemed to be playing it super cool, as if he were suddenly above it all rather than hungry like a wolf to win it all. Either he's bowed to the inevitable and realized he can't win when someone with the initials "D" and "A" is destined for victory (in which case he should relax and have fun -- no pressure, dude) -- or he's decided it's not cool to look like he cares about winning. Randy was mixed; Paula said, "Your 'Hungry Like The Wolf' has left me with a big appetite." She seemed determined to be coherent and cogent tonight, always with a lengthy comment at the ready that made sense and never rambled. Simon thought it was good enough...barely.
SYESHA MERCADO -- My friend Aaron told me in advance (I was watching the show on DVR) that Syesha was great tonight. I think what he meant to say was that she was great-looking, because she looked awesome in a slinky, sparkly gold dress and high heels, doing her best Tina Turner imitation. And it was an imitation, albeit a good, sexy one. And it's not Tuna Turner's "Proud Mary," Syesha, it's Creedence Clearwater Revival's, though Tina darn near stole it away from John Fogerty. CCR hit #2 for three weeks and Ike & Tina Turner took it to #4 two years later in 1971. By the way, if you haven't seen Tina sing this tune on the Rolling Stones documentary, Gimme Shelter, you're in for a scorching treat -- it's about the sexiest, rockingest thing you've ever seen. Syesha had fun with it, right down to the same twirl across the stage, even if she was a bit sharp on some of the "rolling"'s. But she sure learned how to shake her hips. Randy and Paula loved it while Simon was -- yet again -- harshly negative, calling it a bad shrieking version. The truth was somewhere in between, but much closer to Randy and Paula.
JASON CASTRO -- Sang Bob Marley's "I Shot The Sheriff." Jason said in the video intro that because it was rock and roll hall of fame week, there were a few songs he knew. (A few?) Marley was a natural but like Cook, Jason made a disastrously wrong pick. First, he has to compete with two legendary versions -- both the Marley original and the Eric Clapton cover that remains his only #1 hit. (It was also Marley's only tangential Top 40 hit since he only had one single -- "Roots, Rock, Reggae" -- chart at all, peaking at a measly #51. On the bright side, Marley's compilation Legend has sold 10 million copies in the US alone and is one of the best-selling greatest hits sets ever.) Besides all that history, "Sheriff" is a dangerous song and danger is not Jason Castro's middle name. "One Love," "No Woman No Cry," "Is This Love," "Buffalo Soldier," "Is This Love" -- almost any classic Bob Marley tune (even "Redemption Song") would have been a better fit for Castro. He jumped around on stage like it was a party tune, his voice was thin and lost in the mix -- it was just awful. Randy was negative, Paula couldn't find much of anything to say and Simon said it was "utterly atrocious."
DAVID ARCHULETA -- Sang "Stand By Me." Archuleta is so young that this Ben E. King song was a classic #4 hit in 1961 and then charted again 25 years later when it was featured in the Rob Reiner film Stand By Me in 1986 (still the best movie adaptation for Stephen King) and went to #9 and yet it would still be another four years before Archuleta would even be born. And yet that's still no reason for Ryan to refer to him as "Li'l Dave." It's a solid performance, though Archuleta is definitely helped when the camera comes in on a mid-shot and cuts off his diva hand movements. His breathing is less noticeable but now that Andrew Lloyd Webber has pointed it out I can't stop watching to see how many times Archuleta struggles with closing his eyes. His applause is literally ten times as loud and strong as the others. (Bizarrely, Paula applauds him specifically for listening to ALW and not closing his eyes all the time when he clearly still does it.) All three judges rave, though Ryan insists Archuleta is so tense during the critique he seems to run out of breathing (maybe that's why Archuleta seems smart by keeping his mouth shut). "Their faces scare me!" he laughs, melting the few hearts left that aren't already in a puddle at his feet.
DAVID COOK -- Sang The Who's "Baba O'Riley" (aka "Teenage Wasteland"), a rock radio staple from 1971. He really needed to raise his game after the first forgettable performance and he does. Cook starts off nice and slow, which pays off so well I almost wish he'd stayed in that vein Instead, and with predictably crowd-pleasing results, he starts to rock out and satisfyingly so. Still, it's a very long, meandering song and hard to truncate -- he fakes it well, though ending with the words "Teenage waste--" probably wasn't intentional. Still, much much better. Randy is positive, Paula says, "I'm really humbled to sit here and watch your soul," while Simon smiles at her babbling in a friendly indulging manner and then says simply, "Welcome back, David Cook."
SYESHA MERCADO -- Sang Sam Cooke's "A Change Is Gonna Come." It's easy to make fun of Idol contestant's sometime lack of knowledge, but hey, they have a lot more rock n roll history to absorb than old fogeys like me who only had the Sixties and Fifties to catch up on. So it's fine that Syesha didn't know Cooke's greatest triumph was written in the heat of the Civil Rights era (and as an inspired creative response to Bob Dylan's "Blowin' In The Wind"). But I couldn't help laughing when she linked the Civil Rights era to her appearance on Idol -- that was a pivotal moment in history and this is a pivotal moment in her personal life. OK, I get it. But still. Anyway, it's a bit of a shock to realize the tune -- released after Cooke died all too soon -- only hit #31 in 1965. Syesha comes out in a prom dress (with some nice cleavage that offsets the dowdy look nicely) and gives the tune her all. It's more stately than soulful thanks to a stolid arrangement but she does well and is given a loving closeup during the big Idol style finale that compensates for a slight wavering on that final note. In all, a big night for her. Randy, however, disses her (have all three judges ever praised her at the same time?), while Paula gives her a standing ovation and talks about how Syesha has become a star and links the song to Syesha's personal growth and soon Syesha is melting down in tears. Simon does one of his patented dramatic pauses before revealing he agrees with Paula one hundred percent and teasingly chides Randy, "You made her cry!"
JASON CASTRO -- Sang Bob Dylan's "Mr. Tambourine Man." Castro showed great taste this week, hitting Marley and Dylan at once. "Mr Tambourine Man" was the last semi-bitter time Dylan would see another artist, in this case the Byrds, as the latest of a string of acts who seemed to have smash hit after hit with his tunes while he couldn't make a dent in the Top 10. That would end two months later in July of '65 when Dylan finally had his own smash hit with the #2 classic "Like A Rolling Stone." Unlike "Sheriff," this tune fits Castro like a glove, especially with him sitting on a stool and strumming away on his guitar. Perfect. Then he forgets the chorus and miserably hums along instead of singing, "Hey Mr. Tambourine Man, play a song for me/In the jingle jangle morning, I'll come following you." Who could forget "jingle jangle morning," one of the iconic rock phrases of all time? See, pot use really can cause memory lapses. Ironically, the far more difficult verses aren't a problem for Castro who remembers the chorus the second time around and then ends very awkwardly with a quick halt in the rhythm and an ill-placed gentle coda. The performance wasn't revelatory but this was far, far better than his first one. But of course forgetting the words at this stage is an unforgivable sin. None of the judges can find anything nice to say and Simon typically doesn't try. "I'd pack your suitcase," he says.
DAVID ARCHULETA -- Sang Elvis Presley's "Love Me Tender." It is indeed refreshing to see him stay away from soaring inspirational ballads and Archuleta just sits on a stool, stares lovingly and sincerely into the camera and has his way with the tune. Hilariously, he only gets four words into the song before involuntarily closing his eyes ("Love me tender, Love --" and boom, they shut.) After a while he is looking below the camera (presumably into the mosh pit) instead of into it and then his voice breaks slightly at the finale but he uses it like the uncanny little pro he is and ends nicely. I listen to it again without watching the picture, thus avoiding his puppy dog eyes, and it's better than I thought at first, despite the constant runs and inability to just sing a melody for more than a phrase or two. Randy raves, Paula says "I felt your heart" and Simon says "You didn't just beat the competition. You crushed them." Indeed.
BOTTOM TWO -- Well, I would assume the bottom two would be Syesha and Jason but given Cook's relatively weak showing, Syesha's strength and her tears, maybe it'll be Cook and Castro. Nonetheless, anyone other than Castro going home will be an honest to goodness shocker.