American Idol Top 10: Preview

I love Lennon and McCartney just as much as the next guy, but two weeks of amateurish Beatles tunes on American Idol was the definition of overkill. So for this week, the producers over at FOX have managed to come up with Idol‘s most creative musical theme yet: songs from your birth year.

For some, this is an advantage. Syesha Mercado, for example, happens to be born the same year that Whitney Houston released her massively success Whitney album — meaning that Syesha has her pick of pop songs perfect for her vocal range. But for others, like 29 year-old Michael Johns, song selection might get sticky. (Johns has 1978, when disco was ending, hair metal was just starting and a little band named Journey — hasn’t Paula worked with them?…or maybe Randy? — was smack dab in the middle of a career that wouldn’t be validated until Laguna Beach, Family Guy and the Chicago White Sox played the hell out of “Don’t Stop Believin'” almost 30 years later.)

So to prepare for Tuesday night’s Idol, I’ve made some choices as to which songs our 10 remaining contestants might choose. After the jump, check out the songs I want to hear, the songs I’d absolutely advise against, and the songs we’ll probably hear tomorrow night.

UPDATE: Below are the song choices for tonight. Somehow no one picked Journey, but I still got a few right. As for the others…I think the contestants got it wrong. Especially you, Kristy Lee.

Michael Johns: “We Are the Champions,” Queen (1978)
David Cook: “Billie Jean,” Michael Jackson (1983)
Carly Smithson: “Total Eclipse of the Heart,” Bonnie Tyler (1983)
Brooke White: “Every Breath You Take,” The Police (1983)
Kristy Lee Cook: “God Bless the USA,” Lee Greenwood (1984)
Chikezie: “If Only For One Night,” Luther Vandross (1985)
Jason Castro: “Fragile,” Sting (1987)
Ramiele Malubay: “Alone,” Heart (1987)
Syesha Mercado: “If I Were Your Woman,” Stephanie Mills (1987)
David Archuleta: “You’re the Voice,” David Foster & Jeff Pescetto (1990)

Michael Johns (1978)
As mentioned previously, Journey put out Infinity in ’78, which includes the hits “Wheel in the Sky” and “Anytime.” The safe choice for Johns is to pick either of them, thereby winning the approval of Randy “I Worked With Them” Jackson. But ’78 also gave us a couple of rockers more suited for Johns’ voice — namely “Dust in the Wind” (Kansas) and “We Will Rock You/We Are The Champions” (Queen). In light of the Hollywood round, when Johns sang the hell out of “Bohemian Rhapsody,” I’d expect him to pick the Queen classic and actually perform it well enough to survive another week. And as for what he shouldn’t do? Disco. The Bee Gees put out most of the singles from Saturday Night Fever in 1978, all of them rich in melody but none of them remotely sensical for Johns.

David Cook (1982)
Cook actually has access to “Don’t Stop Believin’,” which might just prove too tempting in the face of many better songs from 1982. Considering the style of song he’s likely to choose, Cook has arguably the best birth year of any of the Top Ten: ’82 boasts hits like “Eye of the Tiger” (Survivor); “Centerfold” (J. Geils Band); “I Love Rock & Roll” (Joan Jett); and either “Jack and Diane” or “Hurts So Good” (John Mellencamp). But I’m going out on a limb and calling “Rock This Town” by the Stray Cats, if only because Simon seemed bored of the whole “big rock ballad” thing last week — and I think Cook takes Simon’s words to heart more than we think he does. And whatever you do, David, do not sing a rock remix of “Tainted Love.” That’d be shitting on the memory of Danny Noriega.

Carly Smithson (1983)
For a few reasons, Carly is an absolute idiot if she doesn’t sing “Come on Eileen” — the lone hit from Dexy’s Midnight Runners. First, Carly’s Irish roots align almost perfectly with the song’s celtic kick; second, it would actually allow her to show off most (if not all) of her impressive range. So I want to hear “Eileen” and I expect it as well. She should shy away from a routine, boring ballad — Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart” comes to mind — as well as anything by Michael Jackson (“Billie Jean” and “Beat It” are both eligible).

Brooke White (1983)
Too bad Brooke already sang “Love is a Battlefield” — it just so happens the Pat Benatar classic comes from 1983. Otherwise, 1983 is pretty devoid of those singer/singwriter, piano ‘n guitar love songs that fit Brooke so well; she’s definitely making one of the harder choices for tomorrow night. I’d expect her to go with something purely for its melody, maybe “Every Breath You Take” (The Police) or the aforementioned “Total Eclipse of the Heart.” If she makes a mistake, she’ll pick one of ’83’s more upbeat jams — “She Works Hard for the Money” (Donna Summer) or “Sweet Dreams” (Eurythmics) — just because it comes from a female vocalist. Let’s hope for Sting.

Kristy Lee Cook (1984)
Yikes. In another sure-to-be-awful week for Kristy Lee, 1984 doesn’t give her anything that would sound even remotely good if countrified. Instead, she gets songs like Prince’s “When Doves Cry” and Lionel Richie’s “Hello” — the first one too good to touch and the second one immortalized by David Cook before we even made it to the big stage. Instead of something upbeat, Kristy should pick a timeless melody that she’ll get points for if she sings correctly — which we learned is never a guarantee from her performance of “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away.” I’d expect either “Time After Time” (Cyndi Lauper) or “Sister Christian” (Night Ranger) based on melody alone, but I fear that Kristy will sing something stupid like “Footloose” (Kenny Loggins) or “Islands in the Stream” (Dolly Parton) just because she thinks they’re “country” songs.

Chikezie (1985)
Chikezie was born in 1985, that oft-forgotten year when last names were frowned upon. If he’s smart, he’ll dig deep into the vault and pick the David Bowie/Mick Jagger version of “Dancing in the Street” — a song almost tailor-made for Chikezie, despite no harmonica solo. But I fear that he’ll go down the ballad path, and there were plenty of cheesy ones in 1985: “Broken Wings” (Mr. Mister); “Smooth Operator” (Sade); “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” (Tears for Fears); even “I Want to Know What Love Is” (Foreigner). And then there’s the definition of cheesy ballads: “We Are the World.” Singing that would be the kiss of death.

Jason Castro (1987)
Depending on the rules, Jason should try to see whether he can sing “Stand by Me” — the early sixties Ben. E King classic that recharted in 1987 when the movie of the same name was released. Otherwise, I’d expect him to pick one of two U2 hits, either “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” or “With or Without You.” If he gets ballsy, he might try Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer,” but I’d advise against it. Frankly, I don’t think Jason has the vocal chops to pull it off. (To be fair, few do.) And if the kid’s brilliant, he’ll pick the Grateful Dead’s “Touch of Grey,” playing his guitar the whole way through.

Syesha Mercado (1987)
Whitney, Whitney, Whitney. Syesha will go with either “I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me)” or “Didn’t We Almost Have It All,” both chart-toppers from 1987. If she’s smart, she’ll pick Heart’s “Alone” — mostly because no one would expect Syesha to sing a rock ballad from a year that saw four #1s from Whitney Houston. And as much as I’d like to see her romp through Prince’s “U Got the Look,” she’d be an idiot to do so.

Ramiele Malubay (1987)
Ramiele is by far the hardest to call. The last two weeks, she’s been ripped for singing both a ballad and an uptempo song, so she’s more or less without guidance when it comes to song choice. And 1987 ain’t a great year for music — add that to the fact that two other performers are singing ’87 songs, which makes it necessary for Ramiele to “differentiate” herself via her own song choice. So literally anything from 1987 is open. Maybe she’ll do “(I Just) Died in Your Arms” (Cutting Crew). Or maybe she’ll get Heart’s “Alone” when Syesha passes on it in lieu of a Whitney song. But whatever she does, “I Think We’re Alone Now” (Tiffany) would be a giant misstep. I fear that might be her choice.

David Archuleta (1990)
Lastly, the competition’s resident six-year-old David Archuleta gets to pick from 1990, a year that saw seepy ballads like “Nothing Compares 2 U” (Sinead O’Connor), “How Am I Supposed to Live Without You” (Michael Bolton) and “Hold On” (Wilson Phillips). All three will be tempting for young Archuleta, who proved his own musical incompetence when he chose a Beatles song because he liked the Stevie Wonder version (“We Can Work It Out”). I’d like to see him do Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin’,” if only because it’s the sole non-ballad from 1990 that doesn’t have a Eurotrash bass line or feature Mark Wahlberg on the verses (“Groove is in the Heart”).

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One Response to American Idol Top 10: Preview

  1. Bryan says:

    You absolutely nailed a few of these. I mean, really, how perfect is “Dancing in the Street” for Chikezie?! I would also love Brooke doing “Every Breath You Take”, but again, she already did the sitting on the stage thing. I bet Cook does Eye of the Tiger.

    And for David Archuleta, you have to ask yourself: what song can David use to build sympathy as he praises the message?

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