It's finally the finals of this season of American Idol, and boy, are they hyped about the new set and lights. Ooh. Ahh. Can we get to the singing?
Speaking of which, tonight's theme is the Lennon-McCartney songbook. In case we don't know who they are, host Ryan Seacrest gives us a history lesson. Then the judges talk a little about the songs, including such insights as Randy Jackson saying, "Those boys put it down."
Syesha Mercado is the first finalist of the evening. She is going to sing "Got to Get You Into My Life." She and the band give it a little jazzy twist with lots of horns, and she seems comfortable on the NEW! BIGGER! STAGE! Randy says it was a nice arrangement, "kind of the Earth, Wind and Fire version?" She agrees. He says it was rough at first and then improved. Paula Abdul agrees that it started off pitch, but midway through, she sounded "great." Simon Cowell says, "I thought it was better than all right, Randy. I thought it was a great choice of song. I just think you looked really, really nervous. [OK, then.]" Syesha tells Ryan that she likes this stage because you can feed off of everyone's energy.
Chikezie talks to Ryan about moving from working security at LAX to being on this show. He adds that he was totally sure he was going home last week because "Danny's such a lovable guy." His song choice for the evening is "She's a Woman," but, "I'm putting my own funk on it." He starts sitting on the edge of the stage with some of the band, doing a hoe-down version of the song (fiddle included), but then he gets up, and it turns into a rock song. That was unexpected, and it kind of worked better than I would have thought. Randy: "I was thoroughly entertained! ... Chikezie smashed it!" Paula says he took a risk, and "the reward paid off." Simon: "I'm really surprised that I actually agree with these two. What I loved about it, other than the fact that you looked like you were completely drunk halfway through the performance, was that, unlike the first singer, you've actually changed in a week. ... I thought you were terrific." Chikezie is so excited that he runs around in circles, and Ryan goes a little crazy with him.
Ramiele Malubay has chosen "In My Life," and says this song is for "my close friends who have left the show already." I hope she doesn't cry. She sounds pretty good, but the arm-waving from the audience right by the stage doesn't de-cheese-ify it at all. Randy says it was pretty, but also boring. "It just kind of laid there for me," he says. Paula says she looks lovely tonight, so you know criticism is coming. "It was pretty safe," she says. "... You could have gone in a lot of directions." Simon: "I was bored to tears throughout the entire song. ... It was forgettable, boring, and I expect a lot better from you because you're better than that."
Jason Castro sings "If I Fell" on this themed evening. It starts out just him and the acoustic guitar, but the band comes in with strings and drums a little while in. It's a simple take on the song, but it works with his voice. Randy: "I liked it, but I didn't love it. ... The switches in the melody kind of threw me a little." Paula says she disagrees because "what is so special and unique is that I feel your heart. ... You don't do all the riffs and the runs, and you don't have to." Simon says, "It was all a little student in a bedroom at midnight. ... Is he going to make the same impact as last week? No. ... Good enough to stay another week? Definitely, but not as good as last week."
Carly Smithson sings "Come Together," which she says she sings every week at the Irish restaurant where she works. She says she's going to change it up a little, but it doesn't feel like that much of a new take to me. Good voice, though, and the crowd goes bananas. Randy says, "That felt amazing, didn't it? ... Stellar performance." Paula says it was like "already watching a star." Simon: "Week after week, so far, I think you have chosen the wrong song. Until now. ... This reminds me, six years ago, exactly the same week, Kelly Clarkson."
David Cook is going to sing "Eleanor Rigby," and he's going to skip the guitar because he thinks it would be too much. The arrangement is very rock-n-roll, but I don't think it does a ton for him. I seem to be the only one who thinks so. Randy says this proves you can rock on Idol. Paula says this proves there is more than one horse in this race. Simon: "David, I thought it was brilliant. For two weeks now, ... if this show remains a talent competition rather than a popularity competition, you actually could win this entire show."
Full disclosure: At this point, I'm feeling such a diconnect with the audience and the judges that I go back and rewatch Carly and David's performances. I don't quibble with their voices at all; they sounded good. But I didn't feel the brilliance the judges are preaching. Maybe it's that these songs are so well-known? And while I really liked David's voice on the song, the whole thing just felt like a generic rock-band performance of this iconic song (Nickelback does "Eleanor Rigby"?), and it was strange to me. Shrug. Just my take.
Brooke White says her first Beatles album was Sgt. Pepper. Her song choice for the evening is "Let It Be." She opts to also play piano for her performance, which increases the difficulty level quite a bit. She seems pretty nervous but lets it go a little when the band comes in behind her. She looks like she's going to cry when she's done. Randy says this was like a "dream-come-true" moment for her and that he could imagine her learning it as a kid and thinking that one day she would sing this if she made it big. He adds that it was really heartfelt. Paula says her emotional connection "makes people fall in love with you." Simon: "I thought it was, again, one of the best performances of the night." By now, she is crying. He adds that it was believable. Talking to Ryan, she is still totally overwhelmed by the whole experience, and it's very sweet.
David Hernandez talks about his work and his school, but not the job that's been in the news. His song for the evening is "I Saw Her Standing There." His voice, as usual, sounds nice, but he doesn't really do anything new, so it feels kind of karaoke. It's tough not to with these songs, though, since they are so well known. Randy says, "For me, it was a little too overdone, so I was a little lost from the jump." Paula: "I feel like you kind of overdid it." Gosh, where have we heard that before? Simon: "I thought it was corny verging on desperate."
Amanda Overmyer is going to sing "You Can't Do That." She intends to speed it up and rock it out. And she does. Randy: "That is the true mark of great songs." He says she took a Beatles song to a Southern club and that it was a great. Paula is inspired to say that this is the best season of talent and that she is blown away. Simon: "I didn't think it was as good as last week, and I understood about 30 percent of what you said." He and Paula get into it about respect. Finally, he adds that she is a breath of fresh air in the competition.
Michael Johns says the song "Across the Universe" helped him through a hard time in his past and that is his choice for the evening. He does a nice job with it, but I don't really have anything more to say about it. Randy says he was waiting for something big to happen. "It was OK for me; a little sleepy." Paula disagrees, saying that it takes inner strength and confidence to just stand there and "sing brilliantly." Simon agrees with Randy, saying, "What's the Irish girl's name? Carly? Carly did something brilliant with the song, and that's what you should have done. It was a little monotonous. ... I'm still a big, big fan of yours," and he's frustrated that Michael hasn't had his big moment.
Kristy Lee Cook is going to sing "Eight Days a Week," but as a country song. But it's a country song on speed or something -- the arrangement is going so fast that I find it literally disorienting. Randy says he liked parts and liked the idea of the song, but that he feels like she was trying to force it. Paula: "Kristy, I didn't like it, and I'll tell you why. ... I didn't get it." Simon: "I thought it was horrendous. You sounded like Dolly Parton on helium. ... That song just doesn't work in that style." I think I am going to be haunted by the sounds of those manic strings.
David Archuleta says he wasn't that familiar with the songs of Lennon-McCartney (except, of course, for "Imagine," which he sang just a couple of weeks ago). He sings "We Can Work It Out." Well, the people who were questioning whether he was human know he is now since he totally forgets the lyrics twice. Oh, that was hard to watch. Randy: "This week, it was not on point. This is not your vibe. It felt really forced." Paula says this wasn't his best week, and that forgetting the lyrics was a problem, but they still love him. (Cue audience screams.) Simon: "That was a mess. You stumbled over the lyrics in the beginning. ... You shouldn't have done the Stevie version. ... It was your weakest performance so far."
It was an interesting night overall, but I think a lot of people are in danger: Kristy, Syesha, Ramiele, David Hernandez. I actually think David Archuleta's mistake is going to help him since people are going to be worried about him.
What's your take on the Lennon-McCartney evening?
(Photo of the Top 12 at the "Horton Hears a Who" premiere by Stephen Shugerman / Getty Images)