AmIdol: Top 8

For the second straight year, in honor of “Idol Gives Back” tomorrow, this week’s theme is songs that inspire the eight remaining contestants. Per TMZ, here is what each is singing:

Syesha — “I Believe” (Fantasia)
D. Cook — “Innocent” (Our Lady Peace)
Carly — “The Show Must Go On” (Queen)
Brooke — “You’ve Got a Friend”
Jason — “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”
Michael — “Dream On” (Aerosmith)
Kristy — “Anyway” (Martina McBride)
D. Archuleta — “Angels” (Robbie Williams)

Bryan: I will predict now that Castro goes home this week, as “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” is both a cheesy song choice and one I expect him to mess up. However, that doesn’t mean Carly should be let off the hook for singing Queen, and it doesn’t take into account just how long Kristy Lee Cook has supposed to been gone. I think “Dream On” is a good song for Michael Johns, and as a fan of Our Lady Peace, I’m looking forward to David Cook.

Jon: I’m going to disagree with you on Jason Castro, primarily because his song choice reminds me of Katharine McPhee from a few years back. After nailing the same singer/songwriter vibe that Castro has down — recall her acoustic rendition of K.T. Tunstall’s “Black Horse and a Cherry Tree” — McPhee absolutely nailed “Somewhere.” So I think this could be the week that Jason’s vocal chops outshine his carefree demeanor. (That said, he was probably pissed when Idol producers wouldn’t let him sing Afroman’s “Because I Got High.”) Some other quick calls: Michael Johns will out-rock David Cook; Syesha — who made the worst song choice — will inevitably fall short of Fantasia, like she did with Whitney and then Whitney again; and for a guy plagued by song choice, David Archuleta is set to bring the house down with “Angels.” I’m ready to be inspired.

We’ll be liveblogging the action tonight below the jump.

MICHAEL JOHNS: “Dream On” (Aerosmith)

Bryan: As seen above, we both had big hopes a couple hours ago when we heard the “Dream On” song choice. It was obvious that it was a good song for his voice, but like Simon, I didn’t jump out of my seat. I think I liked it better than Randy, but I thought the falsettos at the end were pretty bad. Michael just doesn’t have a ton of range to his voice. I also thought his talking was off-putting — why do contestants feel the need to disagree with the judges because of the meaning of the song … first Carly with “Blackbird” and now Michael. Also, Michael mentioned the 20-piece orchestra, but I actually didn’t love the arrangement. Very mediocre, which is what Johns has always been for me.

Jon: To disagree with Bryan, I think the falsetto was what made this performance for me. On the high notes, Johns nailed Steven Tyler to a tee — that, of course, is exactly what Randy and Simon disliked about the performance: Johns was mimicking a great as opposed to finding his own voice. And on a semantic note, just because a song has the word “dream” in the title doesn’t mean it’s about dreams coming true. Mike kept hyping how America was the land of dreams where anything could happen, and then he sang a song that’s actually about depression and more or less giving up on life.

SYESHA MERCADO: “I Believe” by Fantasia

Bryan: Um, before she sang, did Syesha really say “She’s the only one that got me,” in regards to Ramiele? I’ve always wondered how the contestants get along, this suggests not well. Or maybe getting her involves her song choices, which are always huge voices. But hey, that seems to condemn her in some eyes — but can you deny that Syesha doesn’t have a big voice, too. She’s so much better in the powerful notes than anyone else left, but as seen in the first verse, she really struggles with the low notes. The refrain was really good I thought, but here’s the thing: consistently, she misses too many notes to be a real contender.

Jon: If Michael Johns has always been mediocre to Bryan, then Syesha’s always been mediocre to me. Even with all the makings of an extremely inspirational performance — gospel choir, beautiful melody, uplifting message — Syesha didn’t command the stage like I still believe she can. Bryan nailed it: she’s too spotty. And Amen to what Simon said — Syesha needs to pick a song by someone who doesn’t sing circles around her. In doing so, she missed a big chance tonight to turn Tuesday night into Sunday morning.

JASON CASTRO: “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” (Israel Kamakawiwo’ole)

Bryan: THAT was blazing, molten hot? Really? Now look, it was a great decision by him to do that cover, because that song is perfect for Jason Castro. But hey, can we talk about why it’s perfect for him? Answer: because it doesn’t require any vocal range to speak of. Listen to him sing the first verse again, he didn’t show any versatility. But then again, near the end he went to the high notes, and he had his best moment yet on the show. I didn’t like it like the judges did, but he will last another week, for sure.

Jon: I’m with Bryan here. The judges seem to love Jason Castro whenever he sings above a whisper, and with only a ukelele playing this week we could hear him loud and clear. And in the year of Idol instruments — Chikezie on harmonica, David Cook on vocoder, Castro on ukelele — I can’t help but feel that tonight’s rave reviews of Castro come more for originality than actual vocal ability.

KRISTY LEE COOK: “Anyway” (Martina McBride)

Bryan: I watch this show every week, but still, I see Kristy on that stage and I’m thinking: wait, she’s still here? What they said about Michael Johns sort of reminds me more of Kristy: she’s the one doing an impersonation, not Johns. I think the moment Simon told her to pick a country song was the beginning of the end for her. She just never seems comfortable to me singing country, and I can’t help but wonder if she would be better trying something poppy — after all, she was once on Britney’s short-lived record label. I’ll let Jon talk about her singing, I just needed to say that.

Jon: That was a rollercoaster of a performance: it started and ended well, while in the middle — where Kristy sang in her lower register — it nearly fell apart. But with Kristy Lee courting approval from all three judges, she might just manage to avoid tomorrow night’s bottom three. That’s her goal, by the way; not to win this competition, but to get the fourth least votes out of America. And for future Idol contenders, note the surprisingly effective Martina McBride song choice: Jordin Sparks pulled the same trick last year when she sang Martina’s “Broken Wing.”

DAVID COOK: “Innocent” (Our Lady Peace)

Bryan: David’s my favorite contestant left, and I love “Innocent” and Our Lady Peace. He said he does, too, which makes me wonder why he butchered the first verse of this song so badly. He started singing about two octaves too low, and it didn’t work for me at all. David has been pretty good for about seven straight weeks, but this was his weakest performance yet for me. He’s a good rocker, and thank God he got the haircut. But hey, the guy was in the hospital a week ago, so I’ll give him a break.

Jon: I hope this performance doesn’t send Cook home, but at this point in the competition I feel like he needed a good kick to his hubris. Coming off a string of brilliant performances, he quickly became this season’s frontrunner — so much so that he adopted a clear swagger, embodied tonight when he raised a fist to the sky in the middle of a lukewarm performance. His vocals started low and pitchy, ended up high and weak, and never really reached that raspy comfort zone that we’ve come to expect from David. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but he should have sung Daughtry.

CARLY SMITHSON: “The Show Must Go On” (Queen)

Bryan: I give David Archuleta a lot of shit in this blog, but I gotta be honest: if I had to pick my least favorite American Idol contestant, it’s Carly Smithson by a mile. I don’t like her personality, I don’t like her looks (which Simon hit on last week), and half the time, I don’t like her singing. With that being said, I didn’t really hate this performance especially in the context of a bad night. It’s a dark song to be inspirational, but I think that kind of dark song works for … this … type of girl. But, dear God, why was she wearing a fucking aerobics outfit?

Jon: As we get deeper into this competition, it becomes more and more evident that Carly Smithson is more comfortable singing at saloons than on stages. For the most part, her song choices are big, clunky 80s ballads, and her vocals walk that thin line between singing and shouting. This week, she managed to pick an extremely Idol-friendly band — we’ve seen entire weeks devoted to Queen before — but still picked an embarrasingly weak song. I’m not so sure the show goes on for her come tomorrow night.

DAVID ARCHULETA: “Angels” (Robbie Williams)

Bryan: And the show, fans, producers’ favorite. He talked about “Angels” being the best song for him, but I maintain “Build Me Up” by Josh Groban would be better. My problem about Archuleta has yet to change: heck, I’ll admit he has the most controlled voice I’ve ever heard for a 17 year old, but god dammit, he bores me every week. The first verse had me sleeping, so he needed a big refrain to get me back. I wasn’t sure, but I did think his last two lines were really good … Jon, did you actually pick up a blues-y thing near the end that was decent like I did?

Jon: David Archuleta, a Star Search runner up back when he was 12, is making a great case for himself to finish second in an even bigger competition this year. To me, David’s got the telltale sign of any overworked performer: he sings runs better than he does verses. Like Bryan, I was snoozing off during the first third of “Angels,” only awoken when David had subtle pitch problems during low notes. And sure, he finished great. But pop songs aren’t twelve seconds long. (And to Bryan’s blues idea: even if the kid sang the blues like Muddy Waters, his dad would make him sing Mariah Carey until the day he died.)

BROOKE WHITE: “You’ve Got A Friend” (Carole King)

Bryan: Brooke definitely needed a big week after last week’s Bottom 3. So she went back to what’s comfortable — a song from the 1960s. But this really wasn’t good. It was a bad arrangement, because it was all low-key, all boring. So I didn’t like that. I didn’t like that Brooke almost forgot some lyrics. I didn’t like that Brooke cried for about the seven thousandth time after a performance. Besides going last, there is nothing I will remember about this performance. Now I sound like Simon.

Jon: The question this week: can Brooke’s personality override her poor song choice, cabaret arrangement and absolute karaoke vocals? “You’ve Got A Friend,” while a good song in and of itself, got morphed into background music during Brooke’s performance. And maybe this is just me, but Brooke is a beacon of awkward when she doesn’t have a piano to pluck or a guitar to strum. Tonight, her hands were noticeably still, her eyes almost refused to blink, and her entire demeanor seemed mismatched with the song. Somehow, the judges let her skate by.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Bryan: This week had an absolute ton of autonomy to it — inspirational songs is a pretty wide breadth of songs, so it should have been a great night. It really wasn’t, because I can’t think of a performance that I really liked. I guess for me David Archuleta was probably the best, but he wasn’t that good. I’m just really disappointed that no one came away huge this week. My projected bottom three: Kristy, Brooke, and Carly. Three more girls. I’ll say Kristy finally goes.

Jon: I agree with Bryan: our night of inspiration ended up depressing me. Our best performer, David Cook, gave the weakest song of the night. The traditional favorite, David Archuleta, gave the best — despite a performance that was only half-good. But my bottom three, like Bryan’s, is all female: Syesha, Kristy and Carly. I think that Kristy gets saved yet another week and that Syesha goes home. But I wouldn’t count out Carly.

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