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Monthly archives: March 2008


"Idol" Tuesday: In the Year You Were Born, Music Died!
2008-03-26 15:10
by Mark T.R. Donohue

The producers of "American Idol" are bad scientists. They have sabotaged whatever momentum this season might have built at every turn by changing too many variables all at once. In an attempt to not repeat the very dull midsection of Season 6 where a bunch of singers with so-so voices kept turning in fair performances while the frontrunners treaded water, a campaign to get more vocal talent and less "personality" into the Top 12 succeeded admirably. Everyone in the field can at least carry a tune a little (maybe not Michael Johns) and with the exception of Ramiele everyone's been pretty good at least once. Whatever you might think about the runaway popularity of David Archuleta, he's a huge upgrade in skill level from last season's comparable moppet and as such a logical choice for the producers' clear favorite to win the competition. But I wish David would stop picking wishy-washy "message" songs week after week, and he's not the only "Idol" hopeful with repertoire issues. Selecting against people with clear musical identities like last season's Blake Lewis and this season's Hollywood round casualty Josiah Leming has led to a field of lackadaisical performers who are trying to repeat past outings that earned praise instead of taking risks and showing invention and self-definition. Jason Castro and Brooke White are losing their charm. Both tried last week to move on stage without an instrument and came to regret it; White was back behind her piano and Castro again sitting and strumming guitar this week. The arbitrary and tone-deaf choices of theme that the producers have imposed have exacerbated this weakness of the cast and the result is "Idol" less fun than it could be -- and a winner, likely either Archuleta or fairly-good "rocking" contender David Cook, less probable to overturn recent trends in "Idol" winners' record sales figures.

Ramiele Malubay Ramiele seems increasingly like a throwback, a time glitch transported from an earlier season of the show, and I'm not the first person to say so. She tries to assert authority on well-traveled material by oversinging with fury, but the show has seen better singers and Malubay's tendency to zero in on traditional female power vocal showcases that have been aired on "Idol" many times over by earlier contestants contributes to the overall feeling of weariness each one of her vocals brings at this point. Tuesday's "Hearts Alone" could well have been the breaking point, since the formidable Malubay finally a melody she couldn't subdue. She sounded dreadfully scream-y and out of tune for great long slabs of it and misinterpreted earlier pleas by the judges to show more personality by oversinging even further than usual. Apparently Ramiele was feeling quite ill at the time of the show, which doesn't excuse her song choice or her performance but might win her enough of a sympathy vote to incubate her one week further. I wish she'd go; unlike, say, Chikezie or Carly Smithson, I don't think she's capable of doing anything at all interesting or surprising if she continues to sing on. 6

Jason Castro I don't know what the point of the producers' utterly arbitrary "song from the year of your birth" theme was, but it did remind me that Michael Johns is a little older than me. Jason Castro certainly could have done better than Sting's hammy "Fragile," but he sort of needed a performance to remind of us of his strengths and it was something he could play guitar on and sing with at least a little conviction. A bigger risk like the one David Cook took might have been called for, but such a move doesn't fit in at all with we've come to learn about the psychology of Jason Castro. He just doesn't seem like much of a go-getter. As such he should avoid the more specific sort of protest song he did this time around. I will say that he's improving when it comes to appearing expressive on camera while playing guitar and singing, something that may make up for his inability to rock a stage without an instrument. I think it's funny that the judges, particularly Simon, still focus in on his performance of "Hallelujah" because while affecting, it was a melody that nearly broke him at several points. It might well be that Castro is subliminally more charming when he's singing slightly too much song for his voice, he should adjust his strategy accordingly. Assuming he has one, which is something you have to begin to question. 7

Syesha Mercado Syesha is doing more and more each week to prove her inclusion in the top 12 was no mistake, and she built on a very solid "Yesterday" from last week with a very big take on "If I Were Your Woman." Impressively, she took on a real diva vocal but she didn't sing the song in anyone's style beside her own. Unlike Ramiele or (increasingly) Carly Syesha sounds like her own vocalist. Like a lot of her Season 7 brethren Mercado could use a little more coaching with her movement on stage. Her limited cycle of hand motions throughout this number was a little silly. Her body language tried to force over the message that her vocal style was doing a lot more elegant of a job communicating by itself. I do not think that Syesha has peaked yet by any means and she may be growing into a solid alternative to the Davids assuming she can keep it coming. 9

Chikezie Chikezie knew enough to know that trying a bluegrass feel for the third week in a row would be suicide, but given the theme he was in a difficult position as to where else to go. He went conservative, picking a soul ballad that he did sing rather better than any of his similar-sounding entrances during the semifinals. I am amazed by the amount of expressiveness that has opened up in Chikezie's voice just since the move to the bigger stage -- that is to say, the last three shows. He was forgettable and sometimes even painfully out-of-touch during the semis -- remember his mustard suit? Now I don't want to see him go, even though he's slipped back two weeks in a row following his brilliant "She's a Woman" gambit. I hope it's too premature for Chikezie's delivery of a fine vocal on an unexciting song to endanger him, but at this stage of the game no one is truly safe. 8

Brooke White Every time White starts off a song with just piano and brings the band in to join her, the judges say they like the first half better. I am not so sure that they are leading her down the garden path. White's piano playing, like Jason Castro's guitar playing (but unlike Cook's electric guitar) is more a confidence mechanism than a musical contribution. White started off shaky on the piano with her interpretation of "Every Breath You Take" (Why all the Sting and Police songs? Is anyone ever going to tell me, some 20 years on, what's so freaking great about Sting and the Police?) and I could almost see part of the tension leave her body when the band came in and the sound guys were able to mix her keyboard's volume down to almost an inaudible level. I don't know if America needs to see Brooke White losing her place in the middle of a song next week and having no place to turn. She might collapse into a puddle of rainbows and pretty flowers, like the creation of the Powerpuff Girls in reverse. That said -- there was a weird psychosexual appeal to the solo part of White's song but when the band came in it started to sound distinctly as if she was singing along with the background vocals rather than fronting them. I suspect that most people liked this more than I did and White will be OK for another few shows. 6

Michael Johns I thought at first that only an Australian could possibly sing a medley of "We Will Rock You" and "We Are the Champions" and put absolutely no ironic spin on it whatsoever, but that was before Kristy Lee's reality-reordering "God Bless the U.S.A." The best thing about Johns' choice of song was that the two anthems require almost no real singing, just shouting, and Johns is a far better shouter than he is a singer. I don't think just picking a song that people love to shout along to makes him a sudden possibility to win it all as the judges announced but I will give Johns some credit for taking matters into his own hands and earning another week in the mix rather than just sitting around and waiting to get sent home. There was a certain amount of camp factor to Johns' outing -- I think it was the vest, in addition obviously to the fact that he was doing Queen songs -- that we haven't really seen from Michael before. I rather prefer campy Johns to the more familiar dull, flat Johns. 8

Carly Smithson "Total Eclipse of the Heart" was a super strange choice for Carly -- it kind of symbolized what I have been saying about her all season. There are a bunch of things that just don't match up for Carly. I wonder if that's why her earlier forays in the record business never came to much even though she's obviously got talent to spare. She looks tough but she sang the tune the way a Celine would, absolutely flogging the glory note at the end of it in the most gratuitous way we've seen any "Idol" female do all season. The tune was flecked with more pitch mistakes than Carly usually delivers. Her dress looked all right, but I can't help but notice that every week she stands in one place and bounces up and down like she's trying to wear a groove in the floor. I bet she lives this time but she's not looking like a winner to me at all. 7

David Archuleta David is so predictable at this point that I can tune him out after ten or fifteen seconds of any performance and be assured of not missing anything important. His voice is back and fully confident again after some mishaps during the Beatles shows but he simply can't stay away from treacly dreck like his random pick of some song called "You're the Voice" about, I dunno, dolphin-safe tuna or something like that. Archuleta's sincerity is... sincere and everything, but he only has one mode and he automatically gravitates to any song that sounds a little bit about helping people and petting fuzzy kitties, he's bound to be awful at least a couple of times before the final. I hope so anyway. 8

Kristy Lee Cook You can almost imagine Kristy going down the list of songs written her birth year presented her by the "Idol" secret behind-the-scenes brain trust, seeing "God Bless the U.S.A.," and thinking, "Bingo!" I don't really want to write much about this because the memory now is so unpleasant in my mind. At the very least neither the judges nor Ryan Seacrest attempted to engage Cook in talking about the motivation behind her song choice, which could have been beauty pageant-level unintentionally hilarious. As a vocal, Cook didn't do a very good job selling herself as a country voice, which is supposed to be her niche. Clearly she picked more of a country song than "Eight Days a Week" but I still don't buy her wearing a cowboy hat on an album cover. Man... the whole resuscitation of that jingoistic crappy song and the over-the-top way the "Idol" show packaged it... it made me a little sick. It's the show at its absolute worst. Kristy Lee is going to have to be better than she's ever been before next week to win this back from me. 5

David Cook Cook's power-ballad take on "Billie Jean" was far less revolutionary than the judges' effusive praise made it seem to be, but that's the precise consequence of the dire populist side of "Idol" demonstrated by Kristy Lee -- something even a little out of the ordinary plays like a live grenade. That's why the "Idol" handlers were careful not to play too much on the fact that Cook's reimagining was more of a straight cover of Chris Cornell's version of the song. That said, I am willing to grade David on a bit of a curve because he had to have known the vast majority of the "Idol" audience would have no idea what he was doing. It didn't work quite as well as his big rock "Eleanor Rigby" bridge, which I genuinely liked, but to be fair Cook was doing something slightly different than his established style and he's actively trying to be fresh every week, which sets him apart in this cast. In terms of the Cornell arrangement's difficulty level he might have overreached a little -- he sounded rhythmically wack fitting in the lyrics over a structure that had some instruments playing in three while others played in four. Sometimes he sounded rushed and too slow and the same time. But his style is coming in sharper every week and he continues to be one of the better guys with pitch in the cast. As is the norm with David, the whole thing worked just a little tiny bit better than the sum of its parts would have suggested. I guess that's the whole argument behind his status as a possible big winner. 7

Picks: It's gotta be Ramiele Malubay. She's bored everybody in the audience at least once by now, right? 10-sided die likes Chikezie, also a strong possibility.

"Idol" Recap: Beatles Twice Is Not So Nice
2008-03-19 13:12
by Mark T.R. Donohue

The first week on the big stage, the first time "American Idol" ever had the rights to the Lennon/McCartney songbook, went just great. It was one of the most buzzworthy "Idol" nights in recent memory, filled with terrific performances. I even had some of my friends who are dead set against "Idol" and all it stands for watching clips like Chikezie's "She's a Woman" and Brooke White's "Let It Be" on YouTube and agreeing that I'm not a total moron for watching "Idol" every week, although I might still be for enjoying it so much.

Then the producers had to go and sabotage a good thing they had going by calling for a second Beatles theme night, only a week after the first. What could they possibly have been expecting? The temptation for those who had good receptions for their first-week Beatles tunes to repeat themselves was great -- Chikezie lost a ton of his luster by going back to the bluegrass-fusion well for a lame "I've Just Seen a Face," and Jason Castro's "Michelle" overtaxed the goodwill his last few charming-but-imperfect outings earned. White looked and sounded cloying on "Here Comes the Sun" (the only George Harrison tune "expanding" the theme to Beatles as opposed to Lennon-McCartney added) and Amanda Overmyer continued with her master plan to make every song she sings sound like "Another Piece of My Heart" while grinding "Back in the U.S.S.R." into dust. David Cook and Carly Smithson weren't bad but they had nothing new to offer. As for the group that was lousy in the first week, Kristy Lee Cook and Syesha Mercado won partial redemption, as did David Archuleta -- but one has to ask, especially given how boring the whole evening was as a whole, why did they get second chances? Is this whole thing being set up just to make sure Archuleta wins? Hasn't the fact that Jordin Sparks' recording career was over before it ever even began impressed anybody in the "Idol" braintrust?

Amanda Overmyer Overmyer impressed me a few times in the semifinals with her raw power and distinctly non-mainstream "Idol" vocal style, but the Beatle two-fer exposed her like no one else in the field. Amanda can do one thing and one thing only. She had to speed up "You Can't Do That" to get it into her comfort zone and likewise she delivered "Back in the U.S.S.R." utterly free of any subtext. She picked the song based on its sound, not its message, and the result was an unpleasant miscalculation. I suppose it could have been worse... she could have worn a little furry hat and waved a hammer-and-sickle flag around on the "Idol" stage. Only that would have been hilarious and better than what she did do, which was to further reveal herself as the least musical performer remaining alive while continuing to display questionable taste in fashion and hair. The fact that her "U.S.S.R." while poor-chosen was one of the less boring outings of the evening will likely sustain her for another week, but her days must be numbered. She can't keep finding songs week after week that allow her to do her one trick. She'll go down soon and she'll go down hard. 7

Kristy Lee Cook Poor Cook could be excused for being completely befuddled at this point as to what exactly it is that the judges want from her; they told her to go country, she did, and then they excoriated her for it. After further re-viewings I don't think that Kristy's "Eight Days a Week" from last Tuesday was all that bad. Had the arrangement been slowed down just a tad and the effort to impose line-dancing rhythms kept a little bit less club-to-the-head obvious, it might have even worked. For Beatle Week 2 Kristy Lee moved "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away" into a bit of a generic elevator-music space but at the very least she simply sang the song as opposed to trying to impose her will on it. That's about the most you can ask of Cook, whose musical knowledge is pretty shallow and whose self-awareness is very near nil. She didn't even hint at touching on the song's rich subtext but at the same time she didn't butcher a fairly indelible melody any either. She also looked pretty hot, which can't hurt. I don't think she really deserves to have gotten as far as she has... but at the same time, she doesn't really deserve to get sent home this week, either. She showed progress while a lot of others haven't. 7

David Archuleta Archuleta's hype machine is so superpowerful that the only thing he needed to do to "win" the week was not forget any lyrics, which he managed. "The Long and Winding Road" is one of the blandest, cheesiest Beatles songs in existence -- in other words, right up David's alley -- and he gave another wholesome, earnest, technically proficient performance that was so dull it made me itch. I officially dislike David so much now that even when he's good he ends up annoying me. He is going to the final two no matter what I or anybody else says. That's obnoxious, and the judges aren't helping matters any by drooling over his every move. It would make for better TV if they consciously tried to undermine his confidence, because it would be hilarious and entertaining if each week from here on out featured David screwing up like he did "We Can Work It Out" and then continuing to be a top vote-getter to everyone's mounting frustration. Instead the bar has been set so low for Little David that all he has to do is put his pants facing the right way and the producers will bear him on soft pillows all the way to the Season 8 crown. No one will buy his record! Do you hear me? No one will buy his record! (By the way: Blake Lewis's Audio Day Dream is tremendously listenable, if the lyrics are a bit trite. It's the best non-Clarkson post-"Idol" record I've yet heard, and Lewis had way more to do with writing it than Clarkson did any of her hits. That performance Lewis did on an elimination show a few weeks back was sadly of the worst song on the record, which his label in its infinite wisdom has chosen as the next single.) 8

Michael Johns Johns has been hanging around for what seems like a month now based on the fact that he's better looking than most and not as blatantly awful as many. He tempted fate with a rushed, messy attempt to cut "A Day in the Life" down to less than two minutes, which was so disruptive to the song that even the changes that Johns didn't flub sounded wrong. He made some revisons to the order of the lyrics, too, which was foolish given how well most know the song, and there was one high note that completely cracked on Michael. I don't think that the bell will toll for him yet -- he's the best-looking guy left in the field by a rather wide margin -- but very soon the stockpile of more obvious candidates for elimination is going to be gone and there's no way Michael outlasts David Cook, Jason Castro, and the invincible David Archuleta. 6

Brooke White White looked desperately uncomfortable and a little ridiculous in a flouncy yellow dress for "Here Comes the Sun," one of those classic too-obvious "Idol" tripwires. White showed a real musical and personal connection to "Let It Be" last week and this was by contrast so bubblegum that she herself seemed embarrassed. White has either sat or played an instrument for her most of her performances thus far and she looked ill-prepared to stand at the mic undefended; her sad and out-of-time little hip shakes told the whole story. I'm always drawn to support the causes of singers who don't fit the classic "Idol" champion profile but it's going to be increasingly hard to construct an argument for White as the big winner. Her musicality isn't in question but her stage presence is, particularly when a contestant with a similar vibe -- Jason Castro -- has managed to transmit the same air of authenticity while adapting to the performance aspects of Idolhood with greater aplomb. Also, White may be religiously prohibited from making greater use of her largely-dormant sex appeal. For now, her watery eyes and sniffles should win enough sympathy to move her on for another week. 7

David Cook Cook's "Daytripper" was a good example of why the Beatles double-dip was a terrible decision -- it would have been pretty cool, except Cook did more or less the same thing with "Eleanor Rigby" last week. He did throw a vocoder in, which is never bad -- vocoders are always awesome. And the rocked-up arrangement sounded pretty good... if pretty similar to what Cook did to "Rigby." As opposed to that song, "Daytripper" doesn't really boast a melody that particularly challenges a singer. Cook is becoming a favorite and he knows it, but he has to be careful about getting into a rut and peaking too early. His commercial context is obvious, but you can blow your whole "Idol" run if you run out of surprises. (Unless of course you're David Archuleta, whose extreme predictability seems to be his principal selling point.) Another very good vocal for Cook, it's worth mentioning -- it's hard to believe at one point I considered him one of the weakest pure singers in the whole final 24. 8

Carly Smithson Another solid vocal from the most professional singer among the women's field, but putting "Blackbird" into a diva-esque arrangement showed questionable taste. As the judges might say, I have little doubt in Smithson's abilities as a singer, but I still struggle to see what she might be like as an artist. She has a disconnect between her tattooed looks and her middle-of-the-road tastes in arrangements and song choices. She looks confident with the singing parts on stage but confused as to what to do with that confidence -- her moves are odd and tentative and when she tries to put her own stamp on a song, as she did by stripping out the acoustic guitar and going with more of a string-laden "Blackbird," she doesn't do enough to define herself. She ought to have been able to really light that song on fire with her skills but it just sort of laid there, even when she was doing her best to show the full capabilities of her vocals. Her dress was terribly unflattering, too. I think she's the best female singer left but I highly doubt that she will be the last woman to get sent home. 8

Jason Castro Unlike David Archuleta, I'm glad Jason has enough of a fanbase in reserve that he can probably withstand a few bad evenings. Every time he puts his guitar down he's taking a risk, although the goofy, young-seeming Jason of this week was definitely a new side of the guy. Not the best side. He looked and sounded amateurish singing "Michelle," although I did appreciate his efforts to pronounce the French bits correctly rather than just muddling through phonetically as McCartney did back in the day. He looked to be wearing a too-tight golf shirt and I felt a little uncomfortable watching him grin and blush his way through what was clearly a clumsy song choice. I still can't believe the dreadlocked Castro had two shots to pick a peacenik late-60's John Lennon song and went with creamy early McCartney tunes twice in a row. [It has since been correctly pointed out to me by an astute commenter that "If I Fell" is indeed early Lennon. Nice catch.] Interesting "Idol" technical note -- you could hear Jason breathing very loudly on his microphone several times during his song. You know why that is? Because for soft-voiced guys like Jason, the "Idol" sound guys jack the level up very high so that the singers won't be drowned out by the muscular backing band. You could almost hear Brooke White's pulse during her stripped-down "Love Is a Battlefield" a few weeks back. 7

Syesha Mercado Syesha was forgettable doing "Got to Get You into My Life" the first time around, and she was the one contestant to benefit most from the second chance -- she picked "Yesterday," an all-or-nothing choice if there ever was one, and she pulled it off. Again, the good outing kind of loses its luster due to the double-dip (why didn't she do "Yesterday" first?) but Syesha sounded lovely and looked gorgeous with straightened hair. When in doubt of a theme it's best to let the band stick to something resembling the original, familiar arrrangement and try and put the personal touch in one's vocal. That's what Syesha failed to do last time and succeeded in doing this time out. There was the simple acoustic guitar backing, and there was Syesha elbowing Carly and Ramiele out of the way and announcing herself as one of the biggest voices still campaigning for "Idol" glory. Very nice... but again, why didn't she just do this the first time? Stupid repeat theme. 9

Chikezie A lot, if not all of the momentum Chikezie seized last time around with his bold, giddy "She's a Woman" was lost by trying to pull the exact same surprise off a week later. Rather than starting bluegrass and going into rock-soul Chikezie tried to do it the other way round with his "I've Just Seen a Face" but it didn't work for a number of reasons. His inept harmonica playing was clueless to the degree of arrogance. The forced way he ramrodded the tune back into bluegrass territory reeked of desperation. He also didn't sing the song nearly as well as he did "She's a Woman," with his random bursts of falsetto and runs coming from a far less logical place this time out. Although the kind of scrubbed-soul arrangement in which the tune began wasn't entirely successful, Chikezie would have been better off sticking to it than trying to change horses in midstream for the second week in a row. What's more, the rhythmically spare "She's a Woman" lent itself to the bluegrass feel while "I've Just Seen a Face" is more of a folk-rock tune; it was clunky and clueless trying to get lightning to strike the same exact way twice in a week. But the very fact that Chikezie tried to do it twice is evidence of just how brilliant a move his initial Beatles-week feint was; even with the misstep last night it ought to carry him through this time. 7

Ramiele Malubay What happened? Ramiele has such a great voice, better than anyone else on the show this year. She's a genuine anonymous American kid and not someone like Carly Smithson or Robbie Carrico who's already had a failed record deal in their past. She and not the witless David Archuleta ought to be the favorite in the clubhouse of this year's "Idol" cast. But Malubay just has no common sense whatsoever. Everything about her "I Should Have Known Better" screamed catastrophe -- a bouncy, elementary melody for the one real Whitney/Celine-type in the whole field, a hideous outfit with an atrocious-looking hat thrown on top for bad measure, old-fashioned lyrics sung with no nuance or personal connection. The whole thing didn't work at all, and I think given that Malubay has never picked a song that really showed the full bloom of her vocal power, this could be curtains for her right here. It's hard to work up any sympathy for her given that she's had a ton of chances. It's possible to win "Idol" without knowing a lot about music, but it's probably impossible to win with no knowledge, and clearly that is the hurdle Malubay has to clear. Says here she's made it as far as her raw talent will carry her. Having not learned a single thing during the entire process, she totally deserves to get the boot. Remember, this is a slightly more important cut than usual, because the last 10 contestants get to go on the big contrived package tour this summer. Would anyone who's been watching the show up to this point bemoan the loss of an opportunity to see Ramiele at the expense of somebody like Amanda or Kristy Lee or Michael Johns? I highly doubt it, and that's why I think she's deader than disco. 6

As I just told you, I like Ramiele Malubay to go home tonight. The 12-sided die likes Syesha Mercado. Could happen, she was in the bottom three last time... although I think both Mercado and Kristy Lee Cook have earned a longer look with their performances this week.

Belated "Idol" from Tuesday: Lo, Give Them Good Songs and Good Performances Will Follow
2008-03-12 18:36
by Mark T.R. Donohue

I realize that by the time this post is finished the results from the Wednesday night "American Idol" elimination show will be out already in the eastern states. Well, it couldn't be helped; my rock and roll act had a gig last night up in the mountains and what with work and every other thing I couldn't get around to viewing my DVR's recording of the latest "Idol" until five this afternoon. But maybe you'll read this before checking out the results, or maybe it'll be illuminating anyway. I often read the "Idol" wrap-ups days after the fact and they're still entertaining.

Kicking off affairs on the redesigned "Idol" big stage with an evening of Lennon/McCartney songs was a real treat. A few of the contenders gave their best performances ever and a lot of the late risers in the semis continued to impress -- David Cook and Carly Smithson looked particularly comfortable with the bigger crowd and flashier lights. For whatever reason the night mixed very early Beatles tunes with very late-period ones... not a lot of material from their 1965-1968 records (you know, the ones that laid the foundation for the entire history of rock since) except for Cook's ingratiating "Eleanor Rigby" and Syesha Mercado's somewhat unfortunate "Got to Get You into My Life." A few contestants rather foolishly messed with songs that were written expressly to show off the Beatles' incredible natural skill for three-part harmony (Ramiele's "In My Life," Jason's "If I Fell") while Preordained Big Winner/Cutie Pie David Archuleta bungled "We Can Work It Out" so badly that the backlash could sink him... but not this week. (I hope. Writing this now that I know the results are already out there somewhere makes me feel like the stakes are higher for some reason. Weird.)

Syesha Mercado I feel bad for Syesha having to go first, as her forgettable performance of "Got to Get You into My Life" might have played a little better later in the evening after bold remakes by Chizekie and David Cook got everyone into the spirit of reinterpretation. Syesha overdid it trying to emphasize the soul aspects of the tune -- she could have sung it in her own voice over a more faithful arrangement and I think it would have surprised some people. As it was she messed around too much with the chorus and ended up doing her big finish on a totally unfamiliar melody, which was strange to say the least. I did like some of the adjustments she made. The delayed last words at the end of some of the lines in the verses she sang were cool and sassy. I wonder if Syesha isn't one of those contestants who sees "Idol" more as a stepping stone to fame as a TV personality versus an authentic recording artist. She hasn't improved much as she's gotten deeper into the competition and she still seems stiff on stage while singing, while perfectly at home in her interview segments. Like Michael Johns, if she put a little more effort and heart into the singing, she could go places, because she does have a good voice at times. 6

Chikezie Chikezie barely dodged elimination last week and the close call seems to have made a new man out of him. Chikezie's "She's a Woman" showed an entirely new side of the guy, comfortably linking an acoustic, banjo-led "Hee Haw"-esque intro into a bombastic, hard rock final two-thirds. And what a vocal by the former airport security worker, who threw in several nice falsetto breaks in addition to some powerful roaring unlike anything he'd done up to this point. There were some pitch issues but you have to give Chikezie all the credit in the world for seizing the moment -- he went from one of the most anonymous guys in the Top 12 to unforgettable in one performance. Who knew he had such a range in music tastes, and the audaciousness to go with such a crazy conceit? You go, Chikezie. The confidence boost that this single outing (and effusive praise from the judges) will give him could redefine the whole contest for this man. 8

Ramiele Malubay Malubay's obvious vocal gifts kept her from ever needing to break a sweat during the semis, now she's exposed and could be singing for her life as soon as next week. Malubay's "In My Life" seemed to me like the exact reason Sony/CBS waited such a long time to grant the "American Idol" producers the rights to the Lennon/McCartney catalog. It was chintzy, overarranged, and sluggish, and the melody (simply constructed, again, to allow Paul, George, and John to sing it so beautifully as a trio) did Ramiele no favors whatsoever. She had to really strain to find places to show off her power while singing the song and as soon as she left the main melody the weaknesses of the slowed-down, syrupy arrangement became all too apparent. Ramiele still hasn't picked a single song that shows her in her best light and after this week's tepid showing I'd have to think that she needs to shape up right quickly or she'll be shipping out any minute now, huge pipes notwitstanding. 7

Jason Castro The sweet, Paul McCartney-penned "If I Fell" was a funny choice for the openly Lennonesque Castro, but it challenged his voice in a good way. Unlike last week's "Hallelujah," this time Castro really held it together on the high notes -- though his voice cracked a few times, it was deliberate and in pitch. I held my breath a few times thinking he was going to completely wipe out on one of those tough notes, but he absolutely held it together. Castro isn't a belter but if he can keep doing such honest, heartfelt jobs with difficult melodies he'll deserve to go as far as his undeniable guileless charm will take him. There are a surprising number of gracious, humble personalities in the Top 12 this year... it makes for kind of a pleasant change. Although you have to wonder how sincere it is for all of them, even Castro, who couldn't have become that good of a performer without some kind of sense of how he presents himself to people. 7

Carly Smithson Carly says she has been singing "Come Together" in a bar every week for two years, and the complete mastery of the tune she displayed was exactly what she needed to deliver on all of the hype the judges and producers showered upon her in the earlier shows. This was her best vocal by a wide margin. Carly, like Chikezie, showed far more power than we'd ever seen her display before, and she also had a wit and confidence that was previously absent, probably a result of her level of comfort with the song. She came off the melody just enough to make it her own without diverging too far and annoying all the Beatle purists out there. (Ahem.) I didn't think her dress was very flattering, but other than that this was a winning performance. Best of the evening, if not as pyrotechnic as Chikezie's "She's a Woman" double-bluff. Did Simon Cowell wink at Smithson during the judging? If so, that's really creepy. 9

David Cook I wanted to dislike Cook's rather blasphemous, sort of Staind-like nu-rock deconstruction of "Eleanor Rigby," but his vocal was really quite fabulous. When he hit the "all the lonely people" section, I was pumping my fist right along with him despite myself. His vocals, not that stellar in the early going, have become a consistent treat week in and week out. He is not to be taken lightly in this field, particularly after David Archuleta's off night. If he had been really brave, he would have delivered a similar power-rock vocal -- to a simple string quartet accompaniment like the original's (actually a double quartet on the record). I think that would have been kind of awesome and I encourage some mash-up artist on the Internet to make that happen for me. 8

Brooke White At first I thought White's sweaty, steamy appearance on my hi-def monitor was the result of a fog machine being placed too near her and her piano, but in fact she was crying quite openly for the whole of "Let It Be." Deep strategy, Brooke! Given that she was sobbing the whole time she did an amazing job holding it together vocally. She didn't really do herself any favors by playing the piano -- once at the very head of the piece she screwed up with her playing and it gave her vocal a little hitch, just as happened to her during the Hollywood auditions, and she screwed up several more times during the course of the song. I didn't notice any more really obvious instances of the piano playing affecting her singing, but I can't help but think she could have done a more expressive, on-pitch vocal if she hadn't been banging away at the piano. There was a point just towards the end of the song where she really seemed to light up, realizing the enormity of the moment, and it almost made you forget about the imperfections before. It was nice to see Brooke's dreams coming true on live TV -- that's the whole selling point of "American Idol" -- but she needs to be more than happy to be there, starting now. 7

David Hernandez One of these things is not like the others! David probably sealed his fate with a lame, oversung karaoke mutilation of "I Saw Her Standing There." Given recently leaked reports of his past as a male stripper, his "I'm gonna work the stage" pre-song comment was absolutely hilarious. I thought on a technical basis his vocal was very good, and his numerous big runs all hit their marks. The trouble was that his look and his song choice were all wrong. There are tons of Beatles songs with difficult, muscular melodies that take talented singers with lots of range to handle. "I Saw Her Standing There" isn't one of them, and Hernandez looked like he was going to burst a blood vessel trying to make it into one. He wasn't the worst of the evening but he's certainly the most likely to be going home, given that the extent of his appeal to this point is kind of a mystery. He is one of the better vocal talents in the male field, for what it's worth, but that really doesn't count for anything at this point. David's continuously unmusical song choices mean he's losing traction fast, and at this point I don't think it would be such an injustice if the far less talented Michael Johns outlasted him. Remember, numerical scores are on the basis of the song's technical merits alone. 8

Amanda Overmyer Overmyer lost a lot of respect in my book when she admitted that she had never heard "You Can't Do That" before this week... but, then again, she deserves a lot of credit for finding on short notice a Beatles song that while not an obvious choice really did suit her vocal style. The instant I heard which song Amanda would be doing I could imagine in my head what it would sound like. And it sounded good, except for a couple of swallowed words and a few pitch things here and there. She sped the song up a little bit too much, and I'm starting to wonder if she's ever going to display even the tiniest hint of stylistic range. I think that if she had kept the song at the original tempo and sung it in her own voice it could have been a classic "Idol" moment. As it was it was still quite good. As we saw two weeks ago, she is more susceptible than anyone else remaining in the field to a sudden collapse given one poor song choice or one bad theme week. She needs a few more total smash-hit performances to buffer her against that happening and this one while okay wasn't at that level. 8

Michael Johns With each passing week, Johns seems more out of place... he's a photogenic guy with an average voice, and most of the talent around him really is far better than recent "Idol" casts as the producers have been promoting so loudly all season. Johns really isn't a good enough singer to hang with this cast, and as far as innovation and musical identity go, he's getting creamed by Castro, Cook, and even Chikezie. Johns seemed quite committed to the song in his reading of "Across the Universe" but it was a jumbled vocal with pitch and timing issues. Johns has stage presence but it's really on more of a semifinalist level. His voice wasn't big enough to meet the force of the full band at the tune's peak, and his one big go-to move (hang head parallel to microphone and look vulnerable for moment, raise head and continue song valiantly) is lame. Now that we're familiar with the other guys, I don't think Johns' good looks are the asset they once were. 6

Kristy Lee Cook Wow, how horrible was that? Cook forced the "Idol" band into a clunky, forced country boogie abomination of an "Eight Days a Week," and the band, which almost never sounds unprofessional, sounded just hideous. Cook gave what was for her kind of a good vocal, with a lot of game yee-haws and a hysterical torn-jeans cowgirl look, but it was just too much for one of the Beatles' most indelible melodies to take. More than anything, Cook was just trying way... too.. hard... after the judges prompted her repeatedly in earlier shows to "go country." If she had any self-awareness at all, she would have picked one of the many Beatles songs with a country feel already in place -- "Two of Us" or "Rocky Raccoon" or "What Goes On" (maybe she's saving that one for the "Idol" week dedicated to the songs of Ringo Starr). I think David Hernandez is more likely to go home this week than Kristy, but many more weeks like this and America will just have to rise up and vote her off in self-defense. 7

David Archuleta David's youth is finally beginning to come around on him -- he admitted in his pregame interview to having no familiarity with the Beatles and other old-timey music like that. That's simply unacceptable, David. Even if that was the case you never should have admitted it on national TV. Of course, had David not told us right out that he didn't know anything about the Beatles (he's in a pop singing competition and he doesn't know anything about the Beatles?) his bungled take on Stevie Wonder's cover of "We Can Work It Out" would have revealed it -- he forgot about half the lyrics, and he tried to sing the one he could remember in so many different styles that nobody came out of it looking good, not David, not Stevie, not Lennon/McCartney, and not the judges, who were way too easy on Little David. It was awful -- a mess -- and if there were any justice in the world he would be sent packing stat. It will never happen, though. His cult is simply too huge at this point, and it's the "Idol" producers' fault. Could David be this disastrous again in another week, the hype machine having carried the unprepared 17-year-old to too high of a level? I hope so. I'm sick of his generic smile and his weekly choices of blandly positive "message" songs. 5

Picks, for what it's worth: I like David Hernandez to head back to Glendale, Arizona (although probably not back to the gentleman's club) and the 12-sided die says it's curtains for Brooke White.

"Idol" Wednesday: Please, Please, Please No More Whitney
2008-03-05 23:14
by Mark T.R. Donohue

I suppose I should have seen this coming after two guys chose to do diva songs on Tuesday, but 80's night for the ladies of "American Idol" Season 7 was wall-to-wall sappy ballads. And Journey. I sort of feel sorry for young people today because there aren't a whole lot of options in modern music that are both widely popular and any good artistically, but each contestant by now has had three chances to pick a song that wasn't completely awful and 30 years' worth of music from which to select. There will be no more blaming of the producers for imposing arbitrary themes earlier on in the season than is the norm. It's Kady Malloy's own fault that she managed to hang around on the show for an entire month without ever doing anything interesting. Asia'h Epperson and Syesha Mercado both deserve to be sent home for dragging out the beaten corpse of Whitney Houston's career for two further ritual "Idol" floggings. Man, I wish they could all go home, and also Kristy Lee Cook for somehow overlooking one of the four or five basic precepts of 80's rock: Journey sucks.

Asia'h Epperson Asia'h's "I Want to Dance with Somebody" was a step up from her glass-shattering sustained bum note last week, but I am done giving her the benefit of the doubt -- she thinks she's something else, and she's at best slightly above-average. Why does she keep picking huge songs? The best-case scenario, which is what we saw last night, is that she does a capable job and doesn't cause anyone to hurl their notebooks at the TV. Asia'h doesn't have the raw pipes to be singing these sorts of songs. She lacks that extra gear that great singers can go to to make the audience shiver in delight. "Pleasantly diverting" is Epperson's ceiling, and in addition to the boneheaded song choice she saddled herself with a squelchy, over-synthesized arrangement that didn't ever sound completely in sync with the singer. She's good enough for the Top 12 but no better. 7

Kady Malloy It's hard to believe that Kady is still around. Well, that can be corrected easily enough. Malloy is the last singer alive this year who seems absolutely terrified to be on the "Idol" stage -- she's stiff at the microphone and in high-def you can see the thousand-yard stare in her eyes. It's one thing to be completely out to lunch for the first studio show, but I find it very difficult to work up very much sympathy for Malloy three weeks in. The judges have all but laid it out for her in terms of what they like about her style, and she picks a tepid ballad and sings it utterly without shading or emotional involvement. When it wasn't boring, it was ugly, as Malloy also delivered the most mistake-ridden vocal on the evening. I'm shocked that given the 80's theme she couldn't have picked something light and bouncy that would have let her display her sense of humor a bit. Jordin Sparks' chief weapon a year ago was her cheerful suggestibility... when the judges told her to go young she wore pigtails and bounced around like she was playing hopscotch. When given the chance to sing anything she wanted in the finale, Sparks simply picked her song from the season that had gotten the best response and sang it again. And she won the whole thing. There's a lesson in that. If Malloy hasn't gotten the hint by now, she's clearly never going to. I don't think that we need to worry about it, because it would be a major shock if she survives to hit the big stage next week. 5

Amanda Overmyer The most schizophrenic contestant in the field, Overmyer's voice can be like a gun without a safety sometimes, as last week's tragic "Carry On Wayward Son" illustrated. Then sometimes she nails it. I didn't think "Hate Myself for Loving You" was the best 80's rocker Overmyer could have selected but she did a beautiful job with the vocal and what's more, for one note, at least, she was electrifying. Maybe you remember the one I mean -- about halfway through, with a lot of grit in it. There hasn't been a single performance thus far this season that really made this critic sit up and say, "Wow, that was the whole reason for this show," but Overmyer got there for that one brief moment. Maybe if she had selected better material she could have sustained that level of awe for the whole two minutes. Her hair, downright frightening early on, is beginning to approach respectability, although she's still not going to win many fans on the basis of her looks. The best of the night, but I still worry for Amanda. One more unfortunate song choice could scuttle her whole run, because she's not musically savvy enough to find a way to compromise on a tune that doesn't suit her pomo Janis vibe. 9

Carly Smithson There's still something that strikes me as just a little off about Smithson -- maybe it's the way her arm tattoo stops suddenly at her elbow. Maybe it's that she's positioned herself as the slicker, more professional alternative to Overmyer even though she doesn't rock much if at all. Last year Smithson would have been out of her league, but it's a weaker female field this season and the judges seem to have a huge soft spot for her. Like all of her outings since she got over the illness that plagued her early on, Carly's "Drove All Night" was solid but not very surprising. I think she overdid it a little with all the high notes, as Smithson is more distinctive and charismatic in her lower register. That's the thing -- she has the look and the setlist of a rocker but the instincts of a diva. Maybe that's a winning formula, and maybe that's why the judges like her so much, but to me she comes across as insincere in much the same way that the ousted Robbie Carrico did to so many voters. 8

Kristy Lee Cook Dude, Journey? Really? Why? That was even weirder than David Hernandez doing Celine, although to be fair, Cook turned in a "Forever Yours" that wasn't awful. Simply slapping a steel guitar on top of a power ballad doesn't make a song country, but Cook did find the twang in her voice in response to recurring suggestions from Simon Cowell that she cowboy it up. I don't have a heck of a lot else to say about Kristy this week, other than that she's as safe as houses and that's not such a travesty. It's odd that she's going into the Top 12 as The Country Singer despite having not sung a single country tune to this point. At least she knows what country is supposed to sound like, unlike the departed Amy Davis. And, wow, she is like two feet taller than Ryan Seacrest. 7

Ramiele Malubay Same old story for Malubay, who will move safely on but is rapidly losing traction. Ramiele should be supremely confident, because she's obviously got the best voice among all of the girls this year. But she seems to be shrinking into herself, delivering okay technical performances that utterly lack the drama her instrument is manifestly capable of generating. "Against All Odds" (two Phil Collins songs in two nights? super weird) was a good choice for Malubay's style but she made some pitch mistakes -- from her we shouldn't expect any -- and even her big notes were blandly predictable. She's blown her chance to enter the next round as the prohibitive favorite among the girls, despite missteps from nearly everyone else. 9

Brooke White I don't know if I thought that White's stripped-down interpretation of "Love Is a Battlefield" was as ambitious as some -- in a rare moment of clarity, Paula Abdul suggested that White might have brought the band in midway through after starting with just an acoustic guitar accompanist. That would have been cool to see, because I am starting to suspect that White has more power in reserve than her early "Idol" screen time suggested. In White's favor, the Pat Benatar song was an imaginative and ballsy choice, and she sang it pretty well. One thing you can say about White that I don't think to be true about any of the other ladies -- I have absolutely no idea where she goes from here. I thought she was a sleeper from the beginning, but now I think so for completely different reasons. She's easily the most musical female in the field, the Benatar pick shows that her musical taste isn't quite as narrow as we were led to believe, and besides Malubay (who has her own problems) who in the field is obviously that much more powerful of a singer? 8

Syesha Mercado "Saving All My Love for You." Enough said. Syesha and Asia'h should both be summarily dismissed for being idiotic enough to drag out the dead Whitney horse, but I'm willing to settle for one of the two. It will probably be Syesha, because Asia'h is a marginally better singer and has the dead dad backstory working for her. Seriously, what can the "Idol" producers do to save these kids from themselves? I may have suggested it before but I think that maybe for the whole first few weeks of the show, during the cutdowns from 24 to 12, the producers and the judges should just pick songs for the singers, something that doesn't happen now until way later in the competition. If they're going to insist on stocking the casts every year with completely oblivious 18- and 19-year-olds for the sake of everyone watching they should at least enact an ironclad "No Whitney, No Celine" rule. 7

Does anybody have any idea what was going on with the judges last night? It honestly seemed like they all dropped ecstasy right before going on camera. Paula was sitting in Simon's lap for most of the show, and for the last several contestants, instead of taking turns giving criticism, everyone babbled incoherently at once, and mostly not about the singing they were ostensibly analyzing. It's kind of funny that the highest-rated show in American television often displays some of the very worst examples of broadcasting going over the air. I guess I would get bored too saying the same things, in the same order, two or three times a week every season for seven seasons.

Picks: I say Luke Menard and Chikezie for the guys and Syesha Mercado and Kady Malloy for the girls. Eight-sided die has David Cook, David Hernandez, Asia'h Epperson, and Kady Malloy.

"Idol" Men's Round of Eight: Justice Will Be Served
2008-03-05 01:07
by Mark T.R. Donohue

The first few weeks of "American Idol" studio shows were lumpier and more awkward than they needed to be, thanks in large part to a witless decision to start out with a 60's theme and then proceed into the 70's and 80's. That meant that a good chunk of the semifinalists never got a fair shake at delivering an identity-defining performance. But, looking up at the likely six male contestants who will make the coed final 12, you have to reconsider the producers' decision. We might actually be getting the six best singers of the initial twelve, and hasn't that been the Season Seven mission statement all along?

OK, let's be realistic. The five best singers and Michael Johns. But that's still pretty good, and Johns is hardly going to be able to ride his looks and his accent very much further if the talent around him continues to bring it. Tuesday night was unquestionably the most entertaining episode of "Idol" since the Elevator of Death/firing line show, with the bulk of the males picking quirky songs and going in surprising directions with them. It's hard to pick the best moment -- Danny Noriega doing way more with "Tainted Love" than you thought the song really had to offer, Jason Castro managing to not get totally eaten alive by "Hallelujah," and David Cook's no-way-dude arena rock version of Lionel Richie's "Hello" are all strong candidates. Of course, those are just nominees for the best singing moment. The single best thing about the broadcast was Simon Cowell's awe-inspiringly random anecdote about buying carrots at Whole Foods.

Luke Menard Menard's decent voice and decent looks got him farther than I thought he would, but this has to be the end of the line. There's a clear divide between Menard and everyone else left alive. "Wake Me Up Before You Go" was a poor choice for a guy who needed a showstopper; Menard has no profile whatsoever and despite some rather nice falsetto notes a wishy-washy George Michael impression is hardly going to win him one at this point. Menard's pitch and timing issues, and the fact that a couple of times he appeared to sing "wake me up before you goo goo," are hardly worth harping upon because on the whole it was a night more of entertaining star turns than really good technical vocals. What is important is that Cowell has Menard utterly pegged -- he's not Final 12 material and his Tuesday song choice and performance seal it. 7

David Archuleta I am still behind the curve when it comes to the runaway popularity of Archuleta, who to my ears is not much more than a middle-of-the-pack "Idol" finalist in talent level. It was cool to see him play the piano a bit to introduce Phil Collins' "Another Day in Paradise" then stand up and grab the mic as the band came in. That was a slick bit of stagecraft and Archuleta's assuredness on camera is definitely one of his strong suits. But I feel like he's getting graded on a huge curve because of his youth, and that's not how "Idol" is supposed to work. Not to mention there are some in the field about the same age as Archuleta who aren't getting the same benefit of the doubt. Who chooses a Phil Collins song and puts it into an even less edgy arrangement? Who sings a song about homeless people while making smoldering come-hither-and-hold-my-hand looks to the audience at home? Archuleta delivered a very glitchy vocal (although his piano playing was quite nice), and the increasing incongruity between his toothy grins and downer song selections is getting harder and harder to overlook. Based on his body of work, I don't think it's unfair that he's a lock to move on. But I am still waiting to see even a hint of the star power that many claim has already made Archuleta a lock to win the whole thing. He's kind of dumb, but very sincere, which I suppose is something folks respond to. 6

Danny Noriega Man, I loved Danny's "Tainted Love," even if there were some bumpy bits at the very outset. The Soft Cell classic isn't really a singer's song but Danny approached it with eye-opening bombast, moving between sweet lines and others that utilized a unsuspected husk and power in his voice. He isn't as good a singer as David Archuleta but I respond to him much more; I was jazzed he was doing "Tainted Love" and I was really pleasantly surprised where he went with it. Unfortunately Noriega's skill set -- fair voice, good music knowledge, tons of style -- would really have put him in more comfortably with the Season 6 male cast. I think he can last a while and I hope he does but I haven't seen anything from Danny thus far that gives me any notion that he has a prayer of winning. 8

David Hernandez Hot rumor is Hernandez was a male stripper in another life. If it's true I don't see it having the same positive notoriety effect as Antonella's topless pics. (By the way, if Kristy Lee Cook has any vengeful ex-boyfriends out there... now's the time, guys!) Hernandez chose to do "It's All Coming Back to Me Now," which is one of those hoary "Idol" standards that multiple female contestants dash their hopes against every year. What a bad decision -- almost all-time "Idol" Hall of Fame bad. Even had Hernandez nailed every note the song simply wasn't going to sound right to most people, who unfortunately have the Celine Dion version embedded in their brains. David didn't nail it, though, he was blasty and displaced. He's a good singer and deserves a few more chances to nail down a style. I'm pretty sure he'll get at least one... pretty sure. 7

Michael Johns Johns chose "Don't You Forget About Me," which was originally performed by the Simple Minds, not INXS as Randy Jackson seemed to think. Any excuse to compare Michael Johns to Michael Hutchence, right? It would be more annoying still if Johns didn't actually sound a hell of a lot like Hutchence in the few places in his number where he was on top of things. When the song first kicked in and I absorbed what the arrangement was going to allow Johns to do I thought there was a potential breakout happening. But the vocal was very troublesome and Johns didn't ignite the crowd -- Danny Noriega rocked harder, for pete's sake. I think Johns is going to get carried through to the next round on the basis of his sex appeal and his huge amount of camera time earlier on, and I am of two minds about this. On one hand, he sure hasn't earned it with his three studio songs to this point. On the other... it's not completely beyond the realm of possibility that he could knock one out of the park one of these weeks. His voice isn't bad, he's just kind of lazy and not a hard worker. If he ever got a fire lit under him he could win it all, because he's got the rest of the package worked out already. 6

David Cook Cook shouldn't have pressed his luck by bringing out his guitar for the second week in a row, particularly considering his leaden strumming didn't add anything in the least to his rather engaging rock remake of "Hello." What purpose did the guitar serve? Last week doing a rocker he looked and sounded cool but this week he would have been better off not taking away any attention from his vocal, which was the night's best in show -- not something I ever anticipated happening after the first men's night. He put a nice rock edge on the melody but he didn't lose pitch too much. He started the competition awful slow but now he's coming on very strong, and the judges more than made up for his tactical mistake with the guitar by explaining in no uncertain terms to the audience just how good the performance was. It's a sign of how much better this group of males is that I think Cook blows away everyone in the field from last year and yet he's only my third favorite of the remaining contenders. 8

Jason Castro On a technical basis Castro's attempt to scale Leonard Cohen's very difficult "Hallelujah" wasn't one of the highlights of the evening. But, man, it was fantastic that he even tried it, and since "Hallelujah" is one of the most beautiful songs anyone has ever written, even hearing it sung only fairly well is a treat. Man, Castro is exactly what "Idol" needs -- he's totally his own guy, he loves and respects music, and you can see his confidence in himself growing every time out. The way it looks right now he and Archuleta should be the last two guys standing, which would be fascinating because it's hard to imagine any possible overlap in the makeup of the fanbases for the two gentlemen. Go, Jason, go, beat that squeaky-clean little urchin into pixie dust. 7

Chikezie Why bother? I feel for Chikezie because like Alexandréa the 60's-70's-80's themes to kick things off really sabotaged him but I think we've seen enough evidence by this point that he has no business sticking around any longer. He did "All the Woman I Need," which... well, let's back up a second. Every year, a bunch of Whitney Houston and Celine Dion covers are butchered by overmatched female "Idol" singers. Every year. You'd think some of the contestants, who all claim to watch the show religiously, would have picked up on this and decided to stay clear of the dynamic diva duo. You'd definitely think that male contestants at least would have the common sense to know that "Idol" viewers have heard all of these songs before and have a certain idea of how they're supposed to go. But both Chikezie and David Hernandez went ahead and picked diva tunes. I wish they could both go home, but Luke Menard's eminent unsuitability should sustain Hernandez, who did a better job with his dreadful song choice, for one more go-round. As for Chikezie, well, he had his moments every time out (if his feud with Simon during the first studio week counts as a moment) but he never put it all together. His "Woman" was just like his last two performances, with a few isolated bits of surprising range and expression but just way too much inconsistent stabbing in the dark at the pitch. 7

Picks this time out seem like a no-brainer. Luke Menard and Chikezie. Anybody disagree?