Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Idol's Top 7: Long Live the Divas!

I went into Mariah week fearing for the three remaining men in the Idol race. Mariah Carey is pretty much the epitome of the power-voiced pop diva. Her vocal range stretches eight octaves, and her astonishing ability to hit power notes and pull off ridiculous runs is second-to-none. Moreover, she infuses that strange and wonderful power into almost every single one of her songs. Restraint is not in the Carey repertoire (that is not a dig, I grew up on Mariah and I have mad respect for her as a vocalist).

Seriously, though: why is everyone leaning?

In a season where no one has really stood out as a diva-in-training (though Syesha has struggled valiantly to wedge herself into that category), it seemed a bit ill-fitting to have Mariah Carey mentor the Idols in general, male or female. At the beginning of the show, Simon pointed out that the women might actually be in for a tougher time because they would have to endure the direct comparison to the woman herself (and, this was unspoken, but it was there: “from what I’ve seen of the remaining women, no one will come close to living up to the Mariah standard”).

As usual, Simon turned out to be right (you smug bastard). While this was a good week overall for the finalists – indeed, for the first time I can remember, no one was downright bad – the men shone.

Raise your hand if you are surprised that, out of every single song in Mariah’s songbook, David Archuleta picked a message song with the Bible in it. Anyone? No? Didn’t think so. Here’s the thing: painful falsetto aside, he sang it very well. I was able to discern that much despite being incredibly distracted by the fact that he (or Papa Archuleta, who knows at this point) decided to don leather pants. If there’s one thing we know Archie can do, it’s runs. Of all three guys left, he was the most well-equipped out of the gate to tackle Mariah, and he delivered. Still, I continue to be under whelmed and slightly bored.

Just because I couldn't find a picture of the leather pants.

I got incredibly worried after I read the TMZ leak that reported David Cook would be singing “Always Be My Baby.” It is the epitome of the syrupy sweet pop song and the idea of Rocker Boy singing it made about as much sense as a hooker at the opera (sorry, Julia Roberts). But, once again, he showed just how good he is at choosing songs and arranging them (or finding existing arrangements) to suit his own personal style. His version was a slowed-down, slightly emo take that exploded at the end with his trademark power rock and roll howl. Other than one or two minor note problems, he was absolutely fantastic. The performance of the night, made extra touching by the fact that he was brought to tears singing for his cancer-stricken brother, who was in the audience.

The power note face: now familiar to millions.

Jason Castro came in a very close second with his bongo-backed, coffeehouse take on “I Don’t Wanna Cry.” He managed to actually hit his falsetto notes while completely reinventing the song. I almost don’t even know what to say about it, except that after he finished all I said was “YES.” Yes, Jason Castro, I am back on your bandwagon. Yes, I still think you have a bit of a problem connecting to what you’re singing, but you’re so adorably goofy and your voice is so easy to listen to that I forgive you. Bravo.

Even though the women sang well, I’m betting on an all-female bottom three yet again…and I shocked myself when I realized that Kristy Lee Cook probably wouldn’t be one of them.

I actually really liked Kristy Lee’s version of “Forever.” It wasn’t particularly groundbreaking in any way (apart from the minor country twang she infused through it) but her voice was surprisingly strong and tuneful and those power notes were winners. She was good, plain and simple, and her performance earns her the right to stick around another week…and this time not just because of her crafty song choice.

Given her attempts in recent weeks to prove how much of a diva she was by tackling the Whitey/Mariah/Celine oeuvre, this week appeared to be tailor-made for Syesha Mercado. Surprisingly, she chose a lesser-known Mariah song, “Vanishing,” and she sang it well. As Simon said, technically she was very, very good: on pitch, strong, clear, gorgeous. I think what has thus far stopped Syesha from breaking out completely (because I think she and Archie have the best, purest voices left in the competition) is Syesha herself. There’s still something just…off-putting and strange about her that prevents me from connecting to her as a listener. It’s what will ultimately prevent her from winning as well.

I say "WIN" for Syesha.

Carly Smithson, what is your deal? Actually, I honestly don’t care anymore. I love your voice and you were one of my favorites at the beginning of the competition. But after a series of uncomfortable, slightly angry and tense performances…I just don’t know what to do with you. If you don’t look like you’re having fun, no one else will be either. Your “Without You” was good, though you wavered a bit on a few of the longer notes you were holding. But you’ve devolved into kind of a hot mess and it’s so disappointing, because you’re so much better than that. If you survive the week, you’ll be lucky.

Brooke White looked like she was performing on the train tracks, watching a giant locomotive race closer and closer and desperately trying to figure out how to finish “Hero” before she died. Seriously, re-watching her performance you can see (and hear) her get more and more panicked as the song went on. I’m not sure what the cause of her troubles were, exactly, but she fumbled on piano, which made her sing faster and throw her off beat with the music, which made her play faster, which started this vicious circle of badness that just kept getting funnier (if we’re being totally honest). The whole thing was pretty much a mess, and if I were her I’d be worried tonight.

Mariah herself was a decent mentor, if a bit self-indulgent. I appreciate that she actually offered suggestions instead of just lavishing praise…and she did seem genuinely intrigued/flattered by the different perspectives the Idols brought to her songs. Overall, Mariah Week was a success across the board…and I don’t think anyone is more surprised about that than I am.

1 comment:

danielletbd said...

I am.

I am much more surprised than you.

Seriously, I had a whole bag of snarky comments to make, and I left most of them on the cutting room floor. I was surprised by how competent and decent as a group they were.