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Top 3 Night: Idols Go Big Or Go Home

Lyndsey Parker
Reality Rocks

Hello, and welcome to the most anti-climactic top-three week in American Idol's seven-season history. I say that because, let's face it, Syesha Mercado probably has less chance of making it to next week's finale than previous third-placers like Jasmine Trias and Nikki McKibbin.

Sure, Sy is talented--much more so than Jasmine or Nikki--but this season has been steadily marching towards an inevitable David-vs.-David showdown ever since former frontrunners like Michael Johns and Carly Smithson got out of the Davids' way. If Syesha manages to triumph over either Cook or Archuleta this week, it'll be such a massive upset it'll make Chris Daughtry's elimination seem less shocking than the night that Colton Berry and Garrett Haley went home.

Speaking of going home, tonight was the "hometown" epsiode, during which the final three were supposed to receive heroes' welcomes in their respective hometowns. But this season's homecomings were surprisingly un-homey. I mean, where were the tickertape parades, the keys to the city, the high school pep squads, the proudly sobbing moms, the cardboard-and-glitterglue signs? Sheesh, even Katharine McPhee got a warmer welcome from her jaded L.A. peers when she returned "home" to Sherman Oaks in season 5.

Anyway, tonight the three finalists all got to sing three songs: one chosen by the judges, one they chose themselves, and one chosen by AmIdol producers. So first squeaky-clean Archie headed home to squeaky-clean Salt Lake City, where the mayor informed him he would be singing Billy Joel's "And So It Goes," a personal pick by Paula Abdul. Apparently Paula didn't remember when that song led to the downfall of another Mormon Idol, Carmen Rasmussen, back in season 2. (Carmen was in the bottom two the week she struggled through this Billy ballad, and she went home the following week.) Well, David sang it better than Carmen did--although I do recall Carmen kept her eyes open throughout her performance, unlike Archie, who squints so much when he sings that he almost looks like a prepubescent Andrea Bocelli.

I'm sorry, but when it comes to David Archuleta, I Just. Don't. Get. It. He's simply notmy cup of Celestial Seasonings. Me and (apparently) most of the rest of America will just have to agree to disagree on this matter. It's too late to turn me into an Archuleta supporter at this point.

Syesha was next, cruising in a limo through her hometown of Tampa, Florida, where she received a Mission: Impossible-style text from Randy Jackson instructing her to cover Alicia Keys' "If I Ain't Got You" tonight. That's a tough song to tackle, but she seemed inexplicably delighted with this choice, and Randy claimed to have faith in Sy. Either that, or he wanted to ensure her elimination by giving her a REAL mission impossible, a song she'd be likely to screw up. Well, she didn't screw it up, but she didn't exactly rock it, either. She sang it well enough, give or take a few sharp notes, and she looked fabulous while singing it in the type of floor-length, jewel-encrusted gown that Jennifer Hudson should have worn to the Oscars (instead of that bizarre Martian bolero jacket thingy)...but Sy's rendition still had an old-fashioned, beauty-pageanty vibe to it, as have many of her past performances. I simply was not wowed. Neither were the judges.

David Cook appeared third, and he was informed on morning television that Idol's meanest judge, Simon Cowell, had meanly selected the decidedly non-rockin' Roberta Flack ballad "First Time Ever I Saw Your Face" for the show's resident rocker. Ouch. David might've been able to rock out on Lionel Richie's "Hello" and Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean," but this tune was going be a REAL challenge. I suppose that was Simon's whole point, but I was nervous for Cook. David looked pretty nervous himself, sweating next to Ryan Seacrest onstage as he prepared for his do-or-die, make-or-break performance. Well, it, not good. Not horrific (that would be the adjective I'd use to describe Archuleta's second song--more on that white-hot mess later), but it was obvious Cook was really straining. His usually gruff, resonant voice was suddenly thin and unsure, and he'd lost a whole lot of his guitar-pick-flicking swagger.

Damn that Simon! What was he trying to do here? Does he WANT Syesha in the finale or something? Come on, now. Nobody wants that. Nobody except Syesha and her immediate family, that is. So why was Simon trying to throw Cook off his game like that?

Oh, perhaps we'll never know what goes on underneath that flat-top of Simon's. But anyway, David The C's disappointing performance was quickly forgotten when the other David returned to sing his personal song choice, Chris Brown's "With You." Now, Archie probably thought this was a good choice for his little girly fans, the tweens who'd inevitably swoon as their imagined loverboy waded knee-deep through this R&B mushfest. But man, Archie made a major mistake here. Talk about look up "swagger" in your Funk & Wagnall's and you'll see the entry, "see Brown, Chris." But Archie has about as much swagger as a chihuahua. Or, to more specifically quote Simon, a "chihuahua trying to be tiger." Archuleta was so out of his depth here, the poor boy needed a scuba mask. He was just so embarrassingly Wonderbread-white that he came off more like Casper The Ghost when he sang that line about his "boo."

Boo, indeed. Boo!!!

Next was Syesha, who in what seemed like an act of last-dash desperation chose the forcedly, formulaically cabaret song "Fever." She did her darnedest to sex up this already sexy song, flashing her oiled-up legs and wriggling on a Flashdance-style chair throughout her performance, but it still came across as dinner-theater schlock. And it seemed a little more like "Katharine McPheever" than "Fever" to me. Or remember Haley Scarnato doing "Tell Him" in her short-shorts, trying to distract/attract the audience with her Grable-esque gams? Well, it was sort of like that, too. The whole "I've got nothing else keeping me in this competition so I guess I'll just look as smokin' hot as possible and hope all the Maxim readers out there vote for me" tactic. This annoyed me. Well, that and all the sharp notes Syesha hit. Youch.

David Cook's personal choice was Switchfoot's "Dare You To Move," and he was back in his comfort zone. A little too much in his comfort zone, if you ask me. He was good, but it was hardly a defining moment for him. It won't be the performance everyone will be gabbing about around the watercooler tomorrow morning. Maybe he ought to have flashed his legs, actually. I certainly wouldn't have minded seeing a little Cook skin. But I digress.

For the final round, the contestants sang songs selected by the show's producers. David Archuleta went back to his comfort zone (treacly schmaltz-pop) for Dan Fogelberg's "Longer" (he was so comfortable, in fact, that he sat in a chair for the entire performance); Syesha attempted, for the most part unsuccessfully, to get funky on the Happy Feet reggae-pop number "Hit Me Up"; and David Cook employed an entire orchestra for the Diane Warren-penned Aerosmith power ballad "I Don't Wanna Miss A Thing" (which is NOT one of the best songs ever written, despite what Simon says).

All three final performances were, well, kind of underwhelming.

Wow, what a ho-hum leadup to what is supposed to be TV's most exciting night, next week's big blowout finale at the Nokia Theater. Tonight was pretty status quo stuff: no shakeups, no thrills, no chills. So Syesha will go home tomorrow, as expected, and the countdown to David-vs.-David will officially begin.

Tune in tomorrow to see if I'm right. Oh, but who I am I kidding here? You know I'm right...

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