I always look forward to the moment in the American Idol season where the contestants start singing two songs per night. Not only does it make the whole show move a lot faster, but it also demonstrates what the contestants can do under more pressure and given the chance to really show off different sides of their singing styles.
That said, Neil Diamond night was a mess — not the least because of Paula, who amazingly criticized Jason Castro for a song before he'd performed it. I'm sure she had notes from the dress rehearsal and whatnot, but still, it was the first time I think I've ever seen Seacrest rattled (his panicked look offstage was telling). Also, going through the first half of the show without judges' comments was an interesting choice, but it actually made the flow of the show feel even more rushed than it needed to be — and none of the contestants really got a meaningful critique on both songs.
Overall, I thought the night was just OK — no real standouts from the contestants at the top of the pecking order, no real challenges from those at the bottom. What did you think? Don't forget to tell me which singer you think is headed home, and to hear my take on their songs, just read more.
Jason Castro — I actually liked Castro's take on "Forever in Blue Jeans." The tempo, the range, and the style of the song were all perfectly suited to him, and he seemed to be at ease performing it. Maybe too much ease, as he didn't really do anything interesting to the song, but it wasn't a disaster. His take on the ballad "September Morn," on the other hand, was a wreck; his voice couldn't handle the verse, and from the look on his face at the end, he knew he'd botched it. He didn't seem that bothered, though, and that's something that's bugged me about Castro for a while now: Does he even want to try? The judges were all unimpressed, with Paula making sense for a moment and telling Jason she doesn't see him fighting.
David Cook — On first listen, I thought David's take on "I'm Alive" was disappointing and "All I Really Need is You" was a showstopper, but actually, after hearing those 30-second song clips at the end of the show, I'm tempted to reverse my opinion. "I'm Alive" sounded about a half-step too low for his voice, but it had good energy. "All I Really Need is You" was one of those power ballads meant to show off his tender side, but I actually found myself annoyed at how he needed to bring a rocker growl into every single note. The final verdict, though, is the same: On balance, he was the best of the night. The judges mostly preferred his second song to the first, and Paula said she felt like she was looking at the winner already — because, as we know, she can see the future.
Brooke White — Show of hands for how many people thought it was a given that Brooke would pick "I'm a Believer"? I certainly did. And on that one, she showed off the same weakness as she had on "Here Comes the Sun": Uptempo stuff isn't her comfort zone, and even this relatively simple song was a stretch for her voice — Simon even called it a nightmare. "I Am, I Said" was a thousand times better; she fits best at the piano, her voice was clearer and more secure, and she managed to make even a horribly cheesy song sound earnest. The judges' comments were along those lines: First song awful and weird, second song a reminder of why Brooke has gotten this far.
David Archuleta — OK, new beef with this kid. Every song he sings sounds exactly the same. Doesn't matter if it's "Sweet Caroline" or the Beatles or Stevie Wonder; it sounds identical to every other midtempo, adult-contemporary song in the book. I would have loved to hear him have some fun with "Sweet Caroline" rather than bust up the arrangement into something I'd hear in an elevator, and "America" was — to steal a Simon term — theme park-y. Simon even called him amateurish at one point, but in the end, the judges said he was in the zone, and Simon praised his clever song choice (as you must if the song mentions America).
Syesha Mercado — Syesha won me over a little last week with her Broadway-esque performances, and I think she must have realized that was the way to go, because we got more sing-acting from her last night. "Hello Again" sounded nice and pleasant, but it was old-fashioned and a little too hotel-bar for my tastes. "Thank the Lord for the Night Time" was better, possibly because Syesha's obviously fake stage personality makes more sense when she's throwing herself into an uptempo song. I don't think she'll win Idol, but she could have a great Broadway career. Oh, and I want her dress. Randy said Syesha is finally coming into her own, and Simon said she could be in trouble, which I think was a gift to her because it will get her fans to call.
Bottom two: It should be Brooke and Jason. Syesha could end up there, too, but again, I think Simon saying she's in danger should actually help.
Going home: Jason
Photos courtesy of Fox