In the annals of "American Idol" history, there's a long list of distinguished, and not-so-distinguished, third place finishers. And if all goes as expected tomorrow night, Syesha Mercado will find herself ending up smack dab in the middle. She's displayed stronger vocal skills than Nikki, Jasmine, and Baby V., but hasn't come close to approaching the mad talent of K. Lo, Melinda, and my precious, precious Elliott. Still, the eternally sequined Syesha's showing tonight was strong enough to prove that after all these weeks, it wasn't quite so bizarre that she was still here. Well-played Syesha. Well-played indeed.
Let's take a look at things round by round, shall we?
Round 1, Judges' Choice:
Archuleta came out swinging (or, perhaps more accurately, bashfully swiping) and delivered the best performance of the night by a mile. Lil' D's version of "And So It Goes" was achingly beautiful, and surprisingly free of the overdone runs that have hurt his performances in the past. The relief of having Evil Stage Dad off his back for a few minutes clearly showed. Dude should stay away more often. David, can you spell "e-m-a-n-c-i-p-a-t-i-o-n?"
But Elmo wasn't the only one bringing the heat early on. Syesha also came through with her strongest vocal of the evening here. Although I was apprehensive about her ability to handle an Alicia Keys song, Syesha's version of "If I Ain't Got You" was surprisingly solid and rather well done.
Speaking of apprehension, that's the exact word that came to mind (along with "shock" and "horror") when I heard that Simon was making David Cook sing "First Time Ever I Saw Your Face," aka The. Biggest. Chick. Song. Ever. I mean, how can you rock out on a song that includes the phrase "ever I saw?" But Cookie worked it, and although I wasn't loving the falsetto, the power note at the end brought it home nicely. Maybe next week, they'll make him do "Tonight, I Celebrate My Love." Hmm. Possible duet for the double Davids? Could be a tender moment…
Round 2, Contestants' Choice:
Elmo did a bad, bad thing. Because adorable, soft, fuzzy creatures should never sing anything that includes the lyrics "my boo" and "hey little mama." The sight of the little guy awkwardly making his way through "With You" was more disturbing than the sight of the gel-covered ridge that's inexplicably formed in the middle of Seacrest's head. Let's never speak of it again.
Thankfully, Syesha helped erase the memory with a charismatic take on "Fever," which, despite being a little shrieky in places, was for the most part quite good. However, I could have done without her use of the chair — props in general are hella lame. Although a snake would have been pretty cool.
Speaking of coolness, I have to give a shout out to the woman holding the "Cougars 4 Cook" sign in the audience tonight — right on, sister! Although I am far, FAR, too young to be considered a cougar, I wholeheartedly support the cause. And Cookie showed the ladies what they're fighting for with a totally rockin' performance of "Dare You To Move," pasty guns on full display. David the Elder earned a Round 2 victory on the strength of his vocals here, but he deserved it on the merits of his sleeve length alone.
Round 3, Producers' Choice:
For his final performance of the evening, Lil' D banished all those dirty, nasty words from his head, safely buttoned his baby blue shirt up to his chin, and delivered a lovely version of "Longer." Syesha followed, looking gorgeous, but sounding pitchy on "Hit Me Up." And Cookie closed the show, enjoying the benefit of rawk star lighting while overcoming a mess of an arrangement on "I Don't Wanna Miss A Thing." Despite the unpleasant cacophony of violins and guitars, David sold it well enough to take Round 3. Although I must say, after the performance, my faith in humanity and Simon Cowell was shaken when he described the sappy tune as "one of the great songs of all time." Huh? Simon, let me guess — "Do I Make You Proud" is positively Dylan-esque, yes?
Let's hope that the Davids get some better material to work with next week when the new "Idol" coronation song is revealed. Okay, that's highly unlikely. Short of that, let's at least hope that Archuleta learned his lesson tonight and isn't going to spring "Gold Digger" on us as a special finale surprise.