It was Neil Diamond night on "Idol," and no, my wish for this week's show did not come true. The contestants did not enter the rehearsal space to find Will Ferrell in a black wig and unbuttoned shirt, spewing venom and talking about killing drifters. Instead, they got the real Neil Diamond — sweet, supportive, and decidedly non-crazy.
Although the impressively wrinkle-free Diamond offered them kind words of encouragement, the top five, for the most part, let the D-man down. You know it's an off night on "Idol" when… I can't believe I'm about to say this… okay, deep breath… Syesha Mercado gives the best performances of the show.
Yes, I have to admit that, much to my chagrin, I really did enjoy Syesha the most tonight. Her "Hello Again" got a little shouty in places — she still needs to work on her subtlety — but overall, her voice sounded lovely. And "Thank the Lord for the Nighttime" was the most upbeat and engaging number of the evening. Of course, my appreciation for both performances was diminished by the fact that for the second week in a row, Syesha showed up without shoes. My better half summed up the situation in one word: "Inappropriate." I'm really surprised the judges haven't commented on this bizarre little trend of hers. I'm even more surprised that Simon hasn't taken it as an opportunity to make a joke about Ryan stealing them for himself.
But it was clearly a night of surprises. The rushed pace of the show forced a restructuring of the usual sing, then face-the-judges formula, throwing everyone's timing off, most notably Paula's. Ah, poor Paula. What could the producers have possibly been thinking? Requiring Paula to offer her opinion on five performances at once was a disaster-in-the-making — even on a good night, the woman can barely manage a coherent critique of a single contestant. Was everyone just so distracted by the presence of Kendra and Bridget from "The Girls Next Door" that the show totally went to hell? And when did Rita Wilson take Holly's place? Did anyone get Hef's approval on that? I think he's only into blondes these days.
Okay, back to business — the business of Jason Castro, whose stock I'm selling after tonight. Sure, Jason's vocals on "Forever in Blue Jeans" and "September Morn" were pleasant enough, but just… zzz. Total snoozer. He himself seemed half asleep and completely disengaged during both songs. And that's coming from someone who openly admits to loving his much-maligned take on "Memory" last week.
Both performances though, shined in comparison to Brooke White's spiritless version of "I'm a Believer." Brookie was clearly just going through the motions here — and the fake, manic smiling she exhibited throughout the song was totally disturbing. Second time out though — much, much better. Brooke was back at the piano, where she clearly belongs, with an excellent performance of "I Am… I Said." Although I do think the utterly distracting fabulousness of her hair probably played a factor in my high score here. Seriously, that is some amazing hair. Respect.
Someone who I certainly have no shortage of respect for (both for his talent and his general hotness) is David Cook. However, I had a hard time keeping a straight face watching him tonight, because that bit from "The Soup" kept popping into my head. If you didn't see it last week, all you need to know is that it involved Joel McHale, as Andrew Lloyd Webber, commanding David: "Now… ravish me with your voice!" Maybe, just maybe, if I'm good, Ryan will utter those words to him at the finale.
I guess it could have been the giggles, or it could have been the disappointing limpness of his hair, but the patented David Cook mojo just wasn't that strong for me tonight. Now, his vocals on both "I'm Alive" and "All I Really Need is You" were technically excellent. So I can't explain why both performances were just a'ight for me. Maybe it was the disappointing song choice. Earlier in the day, a fangirly friend and I had been all atwitter at the prospect of a Cookie-crooned "Girl, You'll Be a Woman, Soon." (Yes, we're both twelve.) Who knows what happened. I blame Syesha.
A boy who is never to blame for anything, because he is a sweet, little, fluffy bunny, is David Archuletta. Tonight, although I was happy to see David depart from his usual dreary ballads and do an upbeat song, "Sweet Caroline" was a little rough, especially with all the weird runs. "America" was much better — his voice was clear and beautiful throughout — but I felt that this week, more than any other, David really showed his age. He came off like the freakishly talented soloist at a high school choir concert. Maybe it's because I had to sing "America" in chorus at every level of my schooling — and that's no fun when you're an alto and are stuck singing "TO-DAAAY…. TO-DAAAY" while the stupid sopranos get to sing the cool parts — but little David just seemed, I don't know, extra little tonight. Of course, he's still gonna make it to the finale. The imminent Elmo/Cookie showdown will not be denied.
Predictions: I think, despite her, gulp, excellent showing tonight, Syesha's time is up. Hopefully she won't be upset enough to break out the baby cry.