Ah, yes, it's going to be another hip, cutting-edge and totally current episode of American Idol -- the night's mentor is Broadway icon Andrew Lloyd Webber, and the top six will be taking on his compositions.
Judge Randy Jackson says this is probably going to be the toughest night of the season because the songs are not easy. Ryan asks Simon Cowell how the contestants can overcome a criticism he's thrown at them before -- well, not this group -- that of sounding "too Broadway" if Broadway is actually the theme. Simon says they've got to sound "memorable but also contemporary."
Syesha Mercado sings "One Rock and Roll Too Many" from Starlight Express for Webber, and she's excited to show off some personality. Let's not forget, this girl has an acting background, and tonight, it shows. She has personality and sells the story of the song. Not sure whether she pulled off the "contemporary" vibe that Simon requested, but that seems like a tall order for everyone. Randy says this is her element and her "best performance to date right there." Paula Abdul says "this is a big part of your love." Simon says it was "very sexy. ... I think this was one of your strongest performances so far. You showed masses of personality we haven't seen before."
Jason Castro sings "Memory" for Webber and surprises him because he says he never expected to hear the song sung by a guy with dreadlocks. (I'm surprised because I would have put money on Archuleta or Brooke White singing this one.) Webber explains that the song is sung by an ancient cat, but he's not sure that Jason quite understood. He tells Jason that he has to let himself go more than he ever has in any song. He is really nervous, and the low parts are pretty rough. He just seems very closed off from the audience instead of connecting with them. Randy says vocally it was a little bit of a trainwreck. Paula says she thinks most people are used to hearing this by a female balladeer, but it was still a wise choice for him. What? Simon says it felt to him -- and probably to Jason -- like the longest two minutes of his life. He says Jason seemed miserable throughout and, "it was a struggle."
Brooke White's choice is "You Must Love Me" from the Evita movie. Webber: "I don't think that girl had a clue what that song was about." So he explains the meaning of all of it to her, and she sings it again for him, and he declares it "terrific." She starts her performance and she stops -- STOPS -- and makes the band start over, too. Wow, no, that is not OK. Is it me, or is she getting more and more nervous as the season goes on? Randy says for him this was not great, but he did like that she listened to Andrew Lloyd Webber. Paula pauses and takes a long time to finally tell her: "You must never start and stop." But she does like that Brooke didn't overact the performance. Simon says this is why he loves live TV -- "I mean, it was so dramatic." But he says she became so tense trying to remember the song that it became quite uncomfortable. Pressed by Ryan, Simon does say that he would have done the same thing in her shoes.
David Archuleta takes on "Think of Me," which Webber says is a song "written for a diva, written for a girl" and that he couldn't imagine how it would sound. Webber tells him to open his eyes when he's singing to keep the connection with the audience. Well, who would have thought that little Archuleta would be the one to put a modern twist on one of these songs? But somehow, it does sound like a pop song. Huh. Randy says it was the bomb and, "This boy's the one to beat." Paula calls it absolutely perfect. Simon says he thought it was "pleasant and one of his weakest live-show performances," calling it forgettable. Oh, please. I haven't been his No. 1 fan or anything, but so far, I think David Archuleta is the first person to do exactly what Simon said at the beginning and make his song sound at least somewhat "contemporary."
Carly Smithson starts out singing "All I Ask of You" from Phantom, and Webber stops her and says she should go with her other choice, "Superstar." And yeah, dude knows what he's talking about because Carly rocks it out and shows off her big voice and even shows some personality. Plus, she seems to have lost some of that uptight vibe she's had for some previous performances. Randy says he doesn't know whether this was her best performance, but, "It was definitely good." Paula says she loved it and thought it was unexpected. Simon says, "Other than the fact that it got a little bit shouty in the middle, it was one of my favorite performances of the night."
David Cook is taking on "Music of the Night," which Webber says is one of the most sensual songs he's ever written, and that if David really gets into, "maybe he'll pull it off." He performs, and I really don't think his voice has enough depth for this song. Maybe I've heard the soundtrack too many times, but he's a little too quiet with it except for one big note in the middle, and the rock-ballad note he pulled at the end was just kind of annoying after such a traditional take on the rest of the song. Randy says it was an amazing vocal and calls it "another molten hot bomb." Paula says it proves he's well-rounded as an artist, and she thought it was fantastic. Simon says he made the most of it, but it wasn't his style. Still, "you were good," he closes.
So, what think you? I think Brooke and Jason are in some dire trouble after that. But please, next week can these kids sing something current? Is that really too much to ask?
(Photo of final six with Andrew Lloyd Webber by Michael Becker / Fox)