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Idol: Age Ain’t Nothin’ But A Number

Lyndsey Parker
Reality Rocks

Well, tonight's show succeeded in making the Idol audience's older demographic feel positively Methuselah-ish, as the contestants sang songs from the years of their respective births--songs that more seasoned viewers probably vividly remember making out to in high school. Or their children making out to in high school. Eek! But hey, a good song is timeless, and a good singer is a good singer at any age (I personally have always been annoyed by the under-29 age limit on American Idol, for instance). So tonight's theme was a great playing-field-leveler if ever there was one.

So it seems 1987 was a very good year for Idol-birthin', since tonight's first three finalists all were born then. And hey, you know what else 1987 was a good year for? Songs. Yes, a lot of GREAT songs came out in 1987. But you wouldn't know it, from some of the song choices on Idol tonight. 

Please note that 1987 was the year of Guns N' Roses' "Sweet Child O' Mine," U2's "With Or Without You," Depeche Mode's "Strangelove," INXS's "Never Tear Us Apart," Terence Trent D'Arby's "Wishing Well," the Cure's "Just Like Heaven," George Michael's "Father Figure"...really, the list goes on and on. And on. But instead, the contestants opted for songs by people like...Sting. Sting???

But I'll to get the Sting stuff soon. First tonight was Ramiele Malubay. It's hard to believe that she was born in '87; this itsy-bitsy thing looks more like she was born in '97. Anyway, Ramiele unwisely chose to take on Heart's "Alone," a song that Carly Smithson memorably belted out during Hollywood Week. (Oh, and don't you just LOVE how Randy Jackson pretended to forget who'd sang it before? Just like, er, he forgot how Carly used to be on his old record label, MCA? Dawg, stick to producing, quit with the bad acting already.)

But I digress.

So Ramiele obviously doesn't read this blog, because I've repeatedly advised contestants NOT to sing Heart songs. They're tough. I've also warned the Idols not to wear high-waisted pants, and the high-waisted shorts Ramiele wore tonight took this please-make-it-stop fashion trend to a new extreme. Someone please fire Idol's stylist, pronto! Oh, but back to Ramiele's song choice: The fact is, Ann Wilson of Heart has about 120 extra pounds of lung power on her, compared to the Polly Pocket-sized Ramiele. Even Carly's got the necessary extra meat on her to sing "Alone" (Carly's thin, don't get me wrong, but she is not petite). What I'm trying to say, somewhat awkwardly, is this song was simply too big for such a little girl. Maybe the tightly cinched waistband of those armpit-high shorts cut off the poor girl's air flow. Whatever the reason, to quote Ramiele herself, her "voice went bye-bye."

Next was birthday boy Jason Castro, acting so laid-back that I almost wondered if he'd been, um, "celebrating" his birthday earlier backstage, if you catch my drift. Cough, cough. His dudely mellowness has often had me suspiciously searching for flecks of bloodshot redness in his famous blue peepers, but tonight, particularly during his post-performance interview with Ryan, he practically seemed ready to nod off. And you know what? I was ready to nod off during his performance.

WHY a Sting song? Of all the 1987 songs to choose from? I mean, just look at the illustrious list from my third paragraph above! Anyway, tonight there was too much of a granola-munching, Birkenstock-wearing, not-bathing, subway-busking vibe to Jason's "Fragile," and I didn't dig it. I wish he'd whipped out the electronic toy guitar they showed him playing in his old childhood home-movie footage, or better yet, his brother's keytar. That would've spiced it up a bit, for sure.

Another '87 baby, Syesha Mercado, was up next with the soul ballad "If I Were Your Woman." She sounded strong, but I do think the judges laid their praise on way too thick, especially Randy Jackson. For a minute I thought he was critiquing Carly, the way he was raving. Calm down, Randy! She wasn't that hot.

Finally the show started to travel back in time with Chikezie, who was born way back in 1985. Now, I didn't even recognize the song he did, "If Only For One Night" by Brenda Russell. What the heck? There's no doubt that Chikezie can sing, and sure, he sang the Brenda song well. But when Chikezie does the typical R&B ballad thing, he gets too Ch-Cheezie for me.

All he had to do tonight was put on a red pimp suit and he would've regressed all the way back to week one, when he almost got eliminated. Based on his lackluster showing tonight, I really think he ought to stick to gospel-country material--for that is when he truly shines. The music biz is full of cookie-cutter soul crooners, but if Chikezie goes country, he'll really be unique. In the words of Randy, bring back the "vibey" Chikezie!

Next Idol journeyed all the way back to 1983, the Year Of The Brooke. Oh, poor Brooke White. She seemed nervous from the getgo tonight--I think last week's "Here Comes The Sun" misstep shook her confidence a bit--and she even messed up her song in the beginning! Oh no! But you know, if David Archuleta can be forgiven for mangling a Beatles song, Brooke should be allowed to muck up the Police.

Anyway, Brooke sang a mostly piano-only "Every Breath You Take" tonight, and though I just criticized Jason for singing Sting, everyone knows that the Police were waaaay cooler than Sting (the fanfare surrounding the Police's recent reunion is proof of that), so I was at peace with Brooke's song choice. Other than the mistake at the beginning, I thought she did pretty well. So I hope Brooke doesn't go home after tonight's little error. I'll be watching you, Brooke, if you make it through...

Michael Johns--who, as this season's only child of the '70s, is downright "ancient"--was next.

Apparently he doesn't read this blog either, since along with my embargo on Heart and grandma pants, I have frequently declared (insert Joan Crawford voice here): NO MORE FREDDIE MERCURY! EVER! This is not because I don't love Freddie or Queen. Just the opposite. It is because no one can do Freddie the way Freddie did Freddie. No one should even try. Yes, Michael did well with "Bohemian Rhapsody" during Hollywood Week, but he was pressing his luck by tackling Queen again, this time with 1978's "We Will Rock You/We Are The Champions." Is he the champion, my friends? I'm not so sure. He had good rock 'n' roll stage presence and micstand-brandishing technique, he hit most of the notes, blah blah blah. But I still found it, well, blah! I can't believe I'm saying this, but my crush on this Aussie is beginning to sink down under. The judges liked it, though. Go figure.

Next Carly Smithson, another '83 baby, attempted to redeem herself after landing in the bottom three last week. Although I personally found last week's "Blackbird" to be one of her better showings, despite what voters thought, Carly wasn't going to take any chances by doing another low-key, understated performance. So she went for the gusto tonight with a big-guns, showoffy power ballad, Bonnie Tyler's "Total Eclipse Of The Heart." Um, more like "Total Eclipse Of The Personality"! OK, yes, Carly can sing. We already knew that. But so can pretty much everyone on the show at this point. So what? I just don't see the "X factor" here. I never did, and I possibly never will. Even Carly's biggest advocate, Randy, didn't dig her performance tonight. (Though it didn't make sense that he "didn't like her whole rock thing," since he dug her when she rocked out on "Come Together" during the first Beatles Week. Man, that Randy is one complicated, contradictory man.) Anyway, the one moment when Carly showed any personality at all tonight was when she confessed that she'd rushed to the stage from the bathroom, although that may have been a little TMI. (And she never did answer Randy's all-important question: "Did you flush?") We'll have to wait and see if Carly gets flushed down the Idol drain after this.

Little David Archuleta--the baby of the bunch, having been born in (egad) 1990--was next, shamelessly shilling for a prom date while the tween girlies in the live studio audience swooned and screamed and programmed his voting number into their Sidekicks. Archie sang John Farnham's "You're The Voice" (which, according to Wikipedia, actually came out in 1986), an Olympic anthem so maudlin and hokey I would've taken him more seriously if he'd sung "Sending Our Love Down The Well" from The Simpsons instead. I'm sorry, but tonight he was not the voice. Simon's suggestion, that animatronic theme-park puppets join him onstage, would have made his performance far more entertaining. Either that or Jason Castro's brother's keytar. Anything can be improved with a little keytar!

Kristy Lee Cook followed, singing  "God Bless The USA" in a bid for red-state votes so transparent, so desperate, I'm surprised she didn't hit the stage in a USO uniform, waving a stars 'n' stripes flag and eating a slice of homebaked apple pie. Sure, she's proud to be an American, but I'm not proud to have her be an American Idol. She's just dull! She and the horse she rode in on have got to go. But she was no dummy with that song choice--Simon praised it (praise that elicited a Kristy shriek shrill enough to spook a horse), and he was right when he said it probably saved her for another week. Darn it!

Last but CERTAINLY not least was David Cook, who has officially become my favorite Idol on the show, for those keeping track at home. He performed Michael Jackson's 1982 hit "Billie Jean"; however, he did the rock version that appeared on Soundgarden/Audioslave singer Chris Cornell's 2007 solo album. Oh, and he gave credit to Cornell, too--not like when Chris Daughtry did the Live version of "Walk The Line" or Blake Lewis did the 311 version of the Cure's "Love Song" but failed to mention their sources. Anyway, as with David The C's radical reworking of Lionel Richie's "Hello," he worked his rock 'n' roll black magic on "Billie Jean." See, whenever I listen to the Jacko original, I think, "Michael, you don't really need to try so hard to convince me that you didn't father Billie Jean's bastard baby. It's all right--I believe you when you say you didn't sleep with her!" But when the testosterone-soaked David intoned the same words of parental protest, all dark and evil, he turned the tune into a murder ballad, an ode to a sinister stalker, and in this context it wasn't too hard to suspect him of some sexy wrongdoing. It just totally changed the vibe of the song--and it worked. The only thing that would've made it better would be if the stage floor tiles had lit up underneath David's feet. But maybe he's saving the moonwalking for finale night...

So now, 'tis prediction time. I do think Kristy will be in the bottom three, like she always is (they might as well permanently set aside one of those three stools for her, and put her name across the back like they do on novelty director's chairs). But I don't think she will get cut, because there are still a lot of patriotic people out there who will vote for this America's sweetheart. As for the other two on the chopping block this week, I predict it'll sadly be Ramiele and Chikezie, with Ramiele getting the final ax. Carly might be in trouble too, but I don't think we'll be saying bye-bye to that blackbird just yet.

Tune in tomorrow and see if I'm right...and in the meantime, enjoy this video of Chris Cornell's David Cook-inspiring rock remake of "Billie Jean":


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