Tonight's top nine American Idol
episode was season 7's first mentor night, excitingly featuring larger-than-life legend Dolly Parton. Forget about Kellie Pickler...when it comes to busty blonde country queens, there ain't no one
that can touch Dolly. I mean, the woman has her own theme park
. A theme park! Think there'll ever be a Kelliewood? Probably not...
So after a completely lame April Fools joke by Ryan Seacrest that no one believed for a second (there was such a lack of post-punchline laughter in the theater, I swear I could hear crickets chirping), it was time for Dolly to show the top nine finalists how it's done. And this woman's no fool. The contestants had a lot to learn from Ms. Parton. Welcome to Dollywood, dawg!
Up first was Brooke White, doing what is probably my personal favorite Dolly ditty, "Jolene." But as much as I usually love Brooke--even when the judges don't
, like when she warbled her unfairly maligned "Here Comes The Sun"--I so
did not like Brooke's version of this particular song. "Jolene" is a really passionate ballad, filled with the palpable desperation of a woman about to lose her man to a more beautiful, more desirable woman. But Brooke sang it with NO sense of urgency or fear whatsoever--as if she's never had to worry about having her boyfriend poached because, let's face it, she's quite beautiful and desirable herself. If you've ever heard the White Stripes' angsty version of "Jolene," that's a rendition positively bristling with nervous, clingy energy. Brooke was just breezing through, like a just-woke-from-napping Jason Castro, and I was frankly disappointed. I know
Brooke is capable of more than that!
Rocker David Cook--who's made a name for himself "borrowing" arrangements from Whitesnake, Chris Cornell, Incubus, et al--made a point of saying that his arrangement of Dolly's bluegrass tune "Little Sparrow" was his own. And I have to say, maybe he ought to have paid homage to the White Stripes' arrangement of "Jolene" instead, because I wasn't really feeling David's "Little Sparrow" interpretation. Sorry to namecheck Jason Castro again, but David's performance tonight was a little hippie-busker-ish, like Jason can sometimes be. It wasn't a bad
performance (I don't think the dude's even capable of a truly bad performance), but it was hardly David The C's best. Also, I wasn't digging his new, less rockin' haircut. I think it had a sort of Samson-ish effect on him. He lost his locks and lost his edge. But hey, even though Simon didn't like it when Carly Smithson sang about a blackbird a couple weeks ago, he didn't mind David singing about a sparrow tonight...so I guess that's
a good sign, right?
Man, after two underwhelming performances by two of my favorite Idol finalists, I really started to wish Danny Noriega was still around. Just imagine how fierce his rendition of "9 To 5" would have been! Sigh...
Ramiele Malubay, Danny's BFF, was next. And it seemed she'd found a kindred spirit in Dolly, a fellow pint-size powerhouse. Like Dolly, Ramiele is a tiny little thing with a big ole voice. But unlike
Dolly, who radiates star power the minute her chest enters the room (Dolly's chest enters before the rest of her does, see), Ramiele hasn't really sparkled yet. Until tonight! I really thought she got her groove back during her sassy performance of "Do I Ever Cross Your Mind?"--Dolly truly brought something out of Ramiele tonight. I just wish
she could have brought Ramiele out of those damn high-waisted pants she keeps insisting on wearing. Dolly's worn some crazy getups in her day, but even Dolly knows better than to outfit herself in waistlines that practically come up to her chin! Who the heck is dressing Ramiele in these funky clothes?
Speaking of which, "funky-looking" Jason Castro (those are Dolly's
words, not mine) was next, with "Travelin' Through." And it should have been called "Coastin' Through." Now, regular readers of this blog know
I love me some Jason Castro, but I really think he's downward-spiraled since his starmaking "Hallelujah" performance a few weeks ago. Since then, he's done nothing that I could imagine making iTunes' top 10 chart again. "Travelin' Through" was another nice, cutesy, good-vibey performance, but it was nothing special. I sincerely hope Jason steps it up SOON--he was in the bottom three for the first time last week, so this is no
time for him to coast by with samey, strummy performances like this.
Carly Smithson performed the Dolly classic "Here You Come Again" next, and at first I thought, "Oh boy, here she comes again: boring blowhard Carly." But you know what? Carly killed it. I much
prefer Carly in understated mode like this, or a la "Blackbird," when she holds back a bit and doesn't show off--instead of half-screaming every other note and steamrollering through the song like she's going for the gold medal in the 2008 Vocal Gymnastic Olympics. Dolly said Carly had the kind of voice this song was written for, which is hardly
faint praise. I even agree with Paula Abdul that Carly looked great. Of course, Simon didn't like Carly's outfit, but I think he ought to direct his fashion critiques toward the waistband-challenged Ramiele instead.
David Archuleta was next, and like most of America, Dolly fell in love with the lip-licking boy wonder. His rendition of "Smoky Mountain Memories" had her so teary-eyed, she almost lost one of her false eyelashes. My
eyes stayed dry, however. I'm sorry, dear readers (and Dolly), I know y'all love this kid and I mean no disrespect, but I just. don't. get. it
. Lil' Archie does nothing
for me. Dolly and I will just have to agree to disagree.
Kristy Lee Cook followed, and since she's the only country singer on the show, this should have been her night to shine. She should
have been totally in her element. However, to quote Simon Cowell, she was just "pleasant but forgettable." The song she chose, "Coat Of Many Colors," didn't showcase the (to quote Paula Abdul) "many colors" of her voice. It was certainly better than some of her past performances (I still wake up with panic-stricken night sweats from bad dreams about "Eight Days A Week"), and her dress of many colors looked great on her (Ramiele ought to borrow her stylist). But considering how well Kristy did with the Bible Belt-pleasing "God Bless The USA" last week, she would have been wise to sing the Jesus-namechecking tune Archuleta crooned tonight, instead of "Coat." I don't know if this performance will be enough to keep her out of the bottom three for two weeks in a row.
Syesha Mercado then sang "I Will Always Love You," a song made so famous by Whitney Houston that it's possible some viewers didn't even know Dolly wrote it. It was a good choice for Sy, since obviously the song translates well to R&B...but unfortunately she did the more low-key Dolly original, and people will inevitably compare it to Whitney's diva version. And we all know when Idol
contestants are compared to Whitney Houston, it's usually a bad thing. But Sy nailed the big money-shot note at the end, and overall she delivered a strong performance right up there with her other great moment from this season, "Yesterday." Apparently Syesha is at her best when she's sitting down. She might want to consider staying off her feet for the remainder of the season.
Last but DEFINITELY not least was this season's other resident rocker, Michael Johns. It was cute to see what a true-blue Dolly fan he is (trivia alert: Dolly Parton was his first concert
), and how giddy he became in her platinum-haired presence. Who knew that any
woman had the power to disarm this ladykilling hunk? Michael decided to sing the gospel-tinged "It's All Wrong, But It's All Right," and there was NOTHING wrong about it. Everything about it was right. I'm predicting now that this will be the Idol
song to crack the iTunes top 10 this week. After weeks of slumming it, Michael finally gave what was far and away his most stellar showing since his Hollywood Week performance of "Bohemian Rhapsody," and he did the Aussie Posse proud. Smoky voice, smokin' delivery--he finally
seemed like a rock star again. Dolly loved it, and even expressed an interest in writing songs for Michael. Well, if this
is what he can do with Dolly's music, then I too hope these two collaborate again someday. Soon!
So now, 'tis prediction time. I suspect that Jason and Kristy will return to the bottom three this week, joined for the first time by the previously untouchable Brooke. But ultimately I believe Brooke and Jason will be safe, and that Kristy will finally get the boot, ironically in a week specifically centered on her specialty genre.
Tune in tomorrow to see if I'm right!
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