To quote David Archuleta: “Oh man!”
Talk about a surprise ending. We waited nearly two hours for David Archuleta to take the American Idol stage, and just when we were expecting a moving, melodious, or at the very least, competent performance, the semi-pubescent phenom up and bombed the hell out of his The Beatles tune. First he forgot the lyrics, then he lost his confidence, then he forgot more lyrics, and then he just stopped hitting proper notes altogether. He was sharp, he was flat, and most of all, he was awful. The sadistic side of me wanted to enjoy this fall from grace, but it was so incredibly awkward that I instead simply wanted to cut to commercial halfway through the song. I actually empathized with the little guy. No, I haven’t had any nationally televised musical performances go sour, but I have endured the terrible experience of botching a movie pitch once, and nothing’s worse than that sinking feeling in your stomach when you know you’ve lost the room. It feels like the walls are closing in on you. Literally. You get hot, you hear your voice talking, and you can’t believe it’s even coming out of your mouth. Even worse, you don’t even know what IS coming out of your mouth. You want to just throw your hands up and say, “Okay, let’s just end this,” but you can’t; so you push forward and hope that somehow you can find a way out of this mortifying situation. Of course, David’s nightmare performance was viewed by thirty million people; so I guess it’s probably just a taaaad worse.

I guess in the end, the pressure of expectations got to wee David Archuleta, but rest assured that he’ll be safe. There are still plenty of starry-eyed tweeners and doting grandmothers to save him this week. I don’t know if I can say the same for poor Ramiele, or Rambutan, as I call her (I couldn’t remember her name one night; so I called her Rambutan. It just sort of stuck, and honestly, it works much better). Anyway, RAMBUTAN has a great voice, but man, was she a snoozer this week. I zoned out halfway through her performance, my mind distracted by the bizarre new set and all its multi-tiered strangeness. Seriously, I respect change, but now the stage seems just so… squat. Remember the old layout? It had a huge, towering LCD screen. Now it’s oddly short and truncated, which kind of undermines the glory of the venue. Plus, with the band hovering ominously over the performers, it all looks like some high-tech prison yard from the future with Ricky Miner keeping a watchful eye in his turret of musical surveillance. I’m sure I’ll get used to it in time, but for now, I’ll merely scratch my head.
So where was I? Oh yes. RAMBUTAN. Yeah, she was too bland, boring, and “pitchy” to survive this week. Maybe she’ll get a surge of attention from the Soy Sauce Enthusiasts of America, but her forgettable presence only spells bad news for her. Also at risk is David Hernandez who never found a melisma he didn’t like. He’s a good singer, but man, did he destroy “I Saw Her Standing There.” It wasn’t that his voice was so off (although, it was at times), but like the judges said, David just overdid the whole thing. He took the song, beat it senseless, kicked it in the ribs, slapped it a few times, strangled it ’til it turned blue, and then raped it in the bootay just for good measure. Somehow though, I think he’ll still be around.
I similarly didn’t love Kristy Lee Cook, whose country ho-down bonanza had me thinking she’d be reunited with her long lost horse right there on stage (not to mention a cow, a chicken, and possibly a pig). I give her points for originality, but then I take them away for not waxing her upper lip (sorry, we can see everything in HD). She seems like a sweet girl, and I really dug her Journey song last week, but man, every she comes on stage, I can’t help but saying, “Wait, who’s that again?”
Less generic is Syesha Mercado, who opened the show on a scarf-less, warbly note. Yes, our resident actress seemed very nervous tonight, and while normally she’s pretty good, this time around, I thought she was off-key and forgettable. What happened to her? SOMEBODY FIND HER DAMN SCARF!!! It’s too early for her to go home, but if she went, I wouldn’t be too heartbroken. There’s something annoying about Syesha that I just can’t put my finger on. It’s probably the scarf. Whatever it is, she bugs me.
Another annoying face, but one that’s considerably more talented, is David Cook, who impressed me with his “Eleanor Rigby” take. At first I rolled my eyes at his arrangement, but as Randy might say, he worked it out. I came to enjoy his Puddle-of-Mudd-ness, and while the original version of the song is still head and shoulders above David’s, he managed to churn out one of the best performances of the night. Too bad I still don’t buy him as a rocker. Unlike Daughtry or even, dare I say, Bo Bice, David Cook seems like he’s trying to be a rocker. Granted, he’s doing a very good job (take heed, Robbie Carrico), but it still feels a shade inauthentic. His hair, by the way, is in need of FEMA relief.
Michael Johns, on the other hand, feels like a through and through rocker, but whereas he’s got the whole authenticity thing down, he still has yet to “pop” in his performances. I actually liked his song this week, but it didn’t blow me away. The best rocker probably had to be Amanda Overmyer, as usual. She’s awesome every week, but I fear that one day, Middle America will pull a fast one on us and unceremoniously kick her ass to the curb. DAMN YOU, MIDDLE AMERICA!
Actually, Carly Smithson let loose her inner-rocker, hitting a grand slam with “Come Together.” I’ve always liked her, and her little potato joke tonight only warmed me to her more (mostly, of course, because I had made the same joke about ten seconds prior). I really wasn’t sure how she’d fare with her song, but she nailed it, and I was happy that Simon finally got on board with her after being harsh for the past three weeks.
And then there was Brooke White. On week one of the semi-finals, I thought she kind of sucked. On week two, I thought half her performance was good, half was blah. On week three, I thought she was legitimately good. And tonight, I thought she was great. She really connected with her song, which is something that not everyone can do (cough, Kristy Lee Cook, cough, Syesha, cough, Ramiele). Her performance was simple, but incredibly emotional. Let it be known though that I still think she’s a freak for having never seen an R-rated. I mean, it just DOESN’T MAKE SENSE.
Similarly soft and engaging was Jason Castro, who has been a favorite of mine. He was solid once again, but nothing too wonderful. I’m not going to waste time talking about him this week. Instead, I gotta hand it to my favorite singer of the night, Chikezie. The guy’s been getting better and better each week, and admittedly, I used to hate him, but he was downright awesome tonight. His arrangement was novel, his performance was off the charts, and his voice was just where it should have been. It was far and away the best of the night. Plus, his personality has grown on me considerably. I’m bummed we don’t have the sass of Danny Noriega in the competition anymore, but I’m happier that we have Chikezie. I will say, however, that Ryan a) should not have been as winded as he was after bouncing around the stage with Chikezie for ten seconds, and b) succeeded in grossing me out by brushing the sweat off Chikezie’s forehead with his bare hands. MULTIPLE TIMES! I fear we may have gotten a sneak peak into one of the venerable host’s secret fetishes.
Overall, I thought it was a very strong opening night for the Top Twelve. This cast is already significantly more talented and appealing than last year’s, and the absence of generic bores like Phil Stacey and Haley Scarnato means that maybe, just maybe, American Idol is back. What do you think?