'American Idol' Seeks a Diamond in the Rough
Jason Castro may be in trouble after failing to earn raves for his Neil Diamond covers
Jason Castro of 'American Idol'
Singer: JASON CASTRO
Song: "Forever In Blue Jeans"
My Take: If Andrew Lloyd Webber's lite opera excesses crushed Jason and Brooke White last week, this should be a much friendlier theme, since Neil Diamond has been famously and successfully covered by all manner of artists and his greatest strength isn't necessarily his vocal range. The key to Neil Diamond is selling the snot out of every earnest, irony-free word and Jason's dreamy sincerity is well-tailored for the material. The song starts off too low for him and I don't exactly know what he's singing about, but it's pleasant and friendly and as it moves higher, Jason sounds decent. He's got "September Morn" coming next, which means that Clifford the Muppet won't be singing "Shiloh," which I'd have pegged as a slam-dunk for a contestant who probably has several imaginary friends of his own. Tonight's format is wonky, as the judges will have to be taking notes before giving a cumulative evaluation after the second performance.
Singer: PRESUMPTIVE AMERICAN IDOL FINALIST DAVID COOK
Song: "I'm Alive"
My Take: Boy, I'd have bet the farm on David "The Leader" Cook rocking "Solitary Man" tonight. Like Jason, David's back on his guitar this week. And, like Jason, David's discovering that Neil Diamond's baritone isn't easily reproducible if your vocal range tends more comfortably to the higher notes. I don't instantly know what arrangement of the song this is, but I know that David really struggles with the earlier, lower parts of the track. Does this clip feel truncated to anybody? Maybe it's because David is actually handling the melody on his guitar, but it takes him a long time to approach the chorus and by the time he begins to look and sound at ease, the song is over. I guess that's the way several Diamond songs are structured.
Singer: BROOKE WHITE
Song: "I'm a Believer"
My Take: This is another Jason Castro-suited track, since I don't usually think of Brooke as being particularly playful and I do think of Jason as being ready-made for 1967's doofiest pre-fabricated boy band. Why wouldn't we have raised any of Neil's songs by an octave? That wouldn't have been so hard, would it? Because Brooke is also trapped trying to battle through a song that's just too deep for her voice. She gets Paula on her feet, but to me this performance comes across as much much more work than it should, and her smile seems forced when juxtaposed with her laboring, breathless vocals. I absolutely want to give Brooke credit for trying something different, for going rousing and campy when Neil Diamond could have provided her with plenty of wide-eyed spiritual options, but there's a reason she doesn't usually go down this path.
Singer: PRESUMPTIVE AMERICAN IDOL FINALIST DAVID ARCHULETA
Song: "Sweet Carolina"
My Take: Somebody looked at Li'l' Archie's demographics and realized that he was tracking poorly in the New England area, so they assigned him Red Sox Nation's favorite Diamond hit, "Sweet Caroline." The Idol audience is unprepared to sing along, but maybe they're confused by the arrangement. Or perhaps they're perplexed that Archuleta is singing an up-tempo song, but he's performing it with the exact same mannerisms he's brought to the message songs he's done for the past six weeks. The arm sweep, the closed eyes, the tremendous absence of tangible pleasure, it's a David Archuleta Special. The kid doesn't have a clue what he's singing about when it doesn't involve homelessness or disease and as meaningless as "Sweet Caroline" is, he makes it even more of a muddle. But he's in tune.
Singer: SYESHA MERCADO
Song: "Hello Again"
My Take: Why didn't anybody do Neil Diamond's version of Kaddish from Jazz Singer? That would have been awesome. Jason has, after all, shown eagerness to tackle languages he doesn't exactly understand. Like English. Anywho... Syesha's the night's first performer with a properly arranged song. She's got the song under control from the beginning and she handles her full 90 seconds without a low-register mumble. This has been one of the worst produced Idol episodes I can remember. The format stinks, the musical arrangements haven't been worthy of the songs and if you know Syesha beginning her song seated, you shouldn't start from a camera position behind the morons waving their arms inappropriately in the mosh pit.
POORLY PROGRAMMED JUDGE INTERLUDE:
Randy says: Jason was OK, David Cook was in the zone, Brooke was better than last week, Archuleta is da bomb and Syesha's in the zone.
Paula says: In one of the most awkward moments in recent Idol memory, Paula says she loved Jason's first song, but wasn't impressed with the second and that he didn't do enough. One problem: Jason's only performed once. Ryan looks embarrassed. Paula looks flustered.