Please go away
I talked last week about why an American Idol Beatles week is such a ragingly bad idea. Whether or not you consider the Beatles catalogue sacrosanct, and I definitely don’t, the forms of singing that a show like American Idol is built to showcase make absolutely no sense matched up with songs like theirs. And when you throw in a group of session-musician hacks as sleepy as this year’s Idol backing band, you’re pretty much guaranteeing a confused pileup of inadvisable genre switchups that not even the most reverent of historical video-montages can fix. That’s what happened last week, when the contestants took on the Lennon/McCartney songbook, and it didn’t work out too well for anyone. After that mess, the Idol producers went and replicated their mistake, giving us another week of shitty Beatles tributes. This was an even worse idea. If any of the competitors had an iconic Beatles-song performance in them, they already did it. Brooke White, the show’s frighteningly blonde Starbucks-pop ingenue, had a great moment with “Let It Be” last week. This week, she was reduced to twirling her way through a painfully awkward “Here Comes the Sun.” During the judges’ borderline scathing critique, she admitted that she wanted to just do “Let It Be” again. Later in the show, Simon Cowell even tossed out the idea that maybe this second Beatles night was a bad idea. He also spent the entire show slamming contestants for picking mediocre songs. And so the best thing about last night’s show was the one thing we learned: Simon Cowell hates the Beatles.
That’s not to say there weren’t any good performances last night. Syesha Mercado, the fear of God now in her after her near-elimination last week, managed to summon some fire for her slow-jam R&B take on “Yesterday,” and the simplicity of her arrangement helped her. David Cook, for whatever reason, decided to cover the Whitesnake cover of “Daytripper” and kind of swaggered it right out. The spectacle of a Frampton-esque talkbox guitar solo on American Idol was a WTF moment of the highest order, but the real high points were his harmonies with the gospel-informed backing singers, all of whom should just go ahead and try out for the show next year. Carly Smithson did a nicely restrained version of “Blackbird,” and I realized that I like her much better when I don’t look at the screen; it’s her face I can’t stand, not her voice. (Still, the moment when she called all her fellow contestants blackbirds with broken wings, still struggling to fly in a music business that had beaten them down so many times, was pretty funny. Someone could’ve mentioned that she did the music industry way more harm than it ever did her.) For the second week in a row, though, the best performance of the night came from the totally batshit genre-morphing Chikezie, who did “I’ve Just Seen a Face.’ His sort of terrible honking harmonica solo signaled the song’s transition from respectable R&B balladry into a truly unexpected bluesy bluegrass throwdown. Kristy Lee Cook is almost certainly going home this week after cluelessly turning “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away,” a song she admitted to picking on title alone, into a hair-metal power-ballad. I liked her, but I won’t be sad to see her go; it turns out the show’s best country singer will still be in the running.
The rest of the show was, predictably, a total goddam mess. Amanda Overmyer yowled, just like always, and I’m really ready for her to go away. The judges should grant Ramiele Malubay a special dispensation to let her only sing Dusty Springfield songs, since she can’t seem to make sense of anything else. Michael Johns twisted “A Day in the Life” all out of shape. As much as I like Jason Castro, he really needs an absolutely great song to make any kind of impact. When he doesn’t have one, as with this week, he just goofily ambles his way through another pleasant-enough acoustic jam, and it’s starting to get old. And can I just call bullshit once again on anointed one David Archuleta? The only thing worse than seeing this little freak sleepwalk his way through another yawning adult-contempo ballad is seeing the judges all lose their shit for it. All will not be right with the world until he self-destructs.
On the plus side, we’re now presumably done with Beatles-themed shows. Disco week can’t come soon enough.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on March 19, 2008