“The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber”
Top 6 – April 22nd, 2008
So Cultural Learnings has been Idol-free for pretty much the entirety of this season, which isn’t to say I haven’t been watching – I’ve just been, admittedly, distracted by real life commitments and kinda bored with the contestants. However, two things aligned this week: the arrival of a lot of free time and the potential tranwreck that is American Idol going Broadway.
I will admit to being a fan of the broadway bombast, even its overly sappy ballads – so to see these Idols destroy or finally embrace their inner broadway star is a fantastic idea…for the viewer. For the Idols, it’s a huge gamble, but for us it’s an endless source of entertainment.
And wow, did they deliver on that promise…maybe not in the ways they wanted.
Syesha Mercado – “One Rock ‘n’ Roll Too Many”
It’s unfortunate that we are starting with what is ultimately perhaps the evening’s most explosive performance, a sudden burst of personality from Syesha Mercado. This relatively obscure song from 1984’s Starlight Express was an ideal choice for Syesha as it allowed her to show her sassy and seductive side. That sex appeal is the best we’ve seen from her, and it felt like Kelly Clarkson’s breakout Big Band performance in the first season.
I don’t know if Syesha can take this momentum any further as Clarkson did, as I don’t think her pop star chops are up to her Broadway antics, but she was definitely up to the challenge of this difficult task. She came out with a punchy number that was engaging for the audience, that really seemed to click with everyone, and Ricky Minor dancing was worth the price of admission. A lot of Idols have had great careers heading to broadway, as they are a better draw than a non-name actor or actress, and based on this Syesha (Who can’t win the competition outright) might have won that particular side competition.
Jason Castro – “Memory”
All aloneee in the mooooonlighttt. See, I know those two lines of this song from the longest running show of all time, Cats, better than a majority of the real classics of musical history, which should tell you two things: the song has been overplayed, and that a majestic female-sang ballad is not an easy sell when you’re Jason Castro. With Jason we had our first trainwreck of the evening, a false attempt at melody that was awful in all of the sections where it couldn’t be.
Jason’s innocence and hesitation that makes him so engaging on some songs was, here, only valuable in parts – these are not songs designed to be stripped down, so the melody has to carry a lot of the interest in these ballads. While the two lines everyone knows sounded fine in this format, the rest of the song is even less memorable when only a handful of notes are on key.
My favourite moments, no question, was when Jason admitted that he had no idea a Cat sang this song (Ummm, Jason? It’s called…nevermind) and then Andrew Lloyd Webber saying flat out that he shouldn’t be singing the song. Way to hit it on the nost, ALW.
Brooke White – “You Must Love Me”
The best lesson of the frakkin’ series so far for Brooke White, outside of that when you’re two lines into a song starting over is a bit ridiculous (She’s done this too many times), was when Lloyd Webber leaned on a piano and taught her to actual pay attention to what a song is about. She’s been victim of this unfortunate affliction for a while, and now finally a song about a person dying doesn’t feature smiling or grins.
Of course, it’s also a ballad (Written specifically for the film version of Evita starring Madonna)that doesn’t quite fit into Brooke’s wheelhouse as well as it could. I think that there are just a few too many power notes that, if she was smart, she could have toned down for the sake of not demonstrating the relative weakness of her voice in those moments. I think that I agree with Simon that it felt strained, and unfortunately her voice just let her down. Ignoring for a moment the drama over her decision to stop and start, she also talked back less to the judges, so she was at least less annoying even if her performance did nothing to live up to her earlier triumphs.
David Archuleta – “Think of Me”
Admittedly, this song (The central character-proving ballad from The Phantom of the Opera) is often stuck in my head, so I can’t blame little David for getting lost in this song in this way. ALW is adamant that he keeps his eyes open, and that is one thing he is able to do in this Boy Band version of this song. As usual, “Little David” is certainly in good company vocally, and it’s clear that this performance will help cement his frontrunner status.
I also think it’s the best he’s been in a long while – his arrangement of the song was quite accomplished considering that the song in itself is very showy, and while it is definitely a little too much on the pop side for my tastes (I wouldn’t call it a risk, really). I would tend to agree with Simon if not for the fact that Little David has largely been floundering in recent weeks without any sort of memorable hook, and here he at least seemed the consummate and trained professional.
Carly Smithson – “Jesus Christ Superstar”
Andrew Lloyd Webber cuts off “All I Ask of You” after a single verse and, since apparently he had them give him two choices, he forces her to throw the title theme to Jesus Christ Superstar to the wind. And, definitely, this is the better choice: it is a fabulous choice for an artist who likes to belt it out, and who is capable of singing the big notes and keeping up with the aggressive backing vocals on the song.
I don’t think it was a really broadway performance, as she certainly was just doing her normal rock singer vibe on a song that finally fit into her wheelhouse and let her have some fun. I will agree with Paula that I like that she did a harmony during the chorus as opposed to trying to hit the high notes. It made for a performance that was showy without being shrill, and the hope is that in a week that favours her voice she might be able to get the votes to keep going (While someone like Brooke doesn’t have the same luxury).
David Cook – “The Music of the Night”
This is such a fantastic lyric, and it requires a lot of lower register work which is certainly not David’s forte. There’s no room for his usual arrangements in this love ballad from The Phantom of the Opera, but as Cook says he certainly has a musical theatre background. You can hear him straining to hit the notes in the way he wants to, and while he hits the biggest note of them all it all feels a little bit under the weather.
He hit enough notes to make it a serviceable low rent performance of The Phantom of the Opera, but it certainly wasn’t the breakthrough that we saw from Carly or Syesha. I think that Randy certainly overestimated its quality, and it really didn’t prove anything. He is a capable, but not more than adequate, broadway performer based on this performance. I don’t think he made the most of the song, per se, but at
Best of the Night?
I’m going to go with Syesha and Carly, who seemed to have the most fun with it by (SMARTLY) picking up tempo songs.
Worst of the Night?
Brooke and Jason have the unfortunate task of being very tepid singers who don’t have the power to pull off the songs they selected, and neither of them picked songs that could
the same time he certainly managed to play it safe without challenging too much.
Who’s In Trouble?
Brooke and Syesha are due for a return to the Bottom Three, despite being on two very different quality levels tonight – Syesha went first and had the most obscure Broadway hit to work with, and Brooke just bottomed out.