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American Idol Fodder

American Idol: Welcome to Dollywood

darchuleta-dolly.jpgTonight's episode of "American Idol" was like a battle between good and evil. On one side we have the contestants, the audience and this week's guest mentor Dolly Parton. On the other side is cranky British judge Simon Cowell. For every great interpretation of a Dolly classic by a contestant, there was a snarky retort from Mr. Cowell. For every positive word Ms. Parton passed along, Simon had just as many unkind words ready to unveil. It didn't matter that Brooke sang an awesome cover of "Jolene," because Simon was just waiting to diss the band. And as good as Carly belted out "Here You Come Again," all Cowell said was how much he hated her clothes. Even Ryan Seacrest noted the judge's extra-cranky demeanor tonight. Maybe Simon was meaner because his Coca-Cola cup was empty. Or maybe he's just as annoyed with those arm-waving fans near the stage as I am. But despite Simon's determination to find a dark cloud in every silver lining tonight, several of the contestants did very well.

First up was Brooke White with her cover of "Jolene." With an extremely cool backup band, consisting of a guitarist, violinist and a guy playing a washboard, Brooke delivered a great rendition. You can tell she's quite at home sitting on a stool and playing her guitar. This week she hit all her notes and actually connected with the song, despite Simon saying her performance lacked emotion. And now that Chikezie is gone, she's now become this season's sole happy contestant, complete with polite compliments to the judges and a giant grin. After her streak of fun, folksy performances I'm predicting she'll be in the Top 4.

The increasingly popular David Cook sang next. Interestingly, Ryan Seacrest asked him where he gets all those great alternative arrangements for his songs. The reason this is interesting, in case you haven't heard, is that a Seattle rock group called Doxology issued a press release last week blasting Cook for not crediting their version of "Eleanor Rigby." (Cook sang the song on March 11.) So when David answered Ryan's question, he credited Doxology for their cover that he used, as well as Whitesnake for their cover of "Daytripper" and Chris Cornell for his cover of "Billie Jean." Hopefully all is now right in David Cook's world. And his performance sure had to put his mind at ease as well. He sang Dolly's "Little Sparrow," but created the arrangement himself this time. For once, he actually showed his whole range, including some surprising falsetto notes, which will probably silence some of those people who say he's not original. Overall, the judges loved him, though Simon told him it wasn't as good as last week. Oh Simon, ya big bummer, what are we going to do with you?

Then it was time for a short karaoke interlude as fans were allowed to take the stage and try their hand at singing. Oh wait, that's not a fan, that's Ramiele Malubay! I'm sorry, I got all confused. When she started bouncing around attempting to sing "Do I Ever Cross Your Mind," I just assumed it was Open Mic Night at "American Idol." But seriously, what happened to her giant voice that was so good in Hollywood Week. For weeks she's done nothing but sing exact copies of each song she chooses, injecting nothing new or interesting into the rendition. And when she starts missing notes, especially those lower ones, she doesn't sound too good. Randy gave her a 6 and a ½ out of 10, but here's how I'd rate her: 5 for the singing, 2 for originality and -50 for acting like she's four years old all the time. I would say she's going home this week, but considering she's never even been in the Bottom Three, I'm guessing she has quite the fan base out there.

Up next was everyone's favorite slacker, Jason Castro. I have to say, I was not excited to see him step on stage. I've been increasingly bored with this guy for at least a month, especially since I wasn't sure he even wanted to be there. But I'm guessing someone must have sit him down last week and explained to him that, yes he is in a singing competition and yes he does have to actually try to win, because he actually appeared interested in his own performance tonight. After his descent last week into the Bottom Three, I'm wondering if this renewed interest in his own self-preservation will help him earn more votes.

Carly Smithson took the stage next to sing "Here You Come Again." Someone must have sat her down as well, because she seemed to correct all the problems that were bringing her down. She looked like she was enjoying herself, she got rid of that crazed look in her eyes and she finally smiled at the camera! Thank goodness! And there's no doubt the girl is a professional after hearing her sing that awesome last note. It's too bad that Simon seems to have some chip on his shoulder about her. Each week he finds something negative to say about her and I'm starting to think he doesn't want her to win. This week he told her it was "good, not great" and that she should rethink her wardrobe choices. If America decides not to listen to him, I'm betting Smithson is good enough to make it to the Top 4.

Singing sixth was David Archuleta, who performed "Smoky Mountain Memories." His voice was great and he completely nailed that last note. He's like Clay Aiken Version 2.0 with the way he can sing any ballad they throw at him. Judging by the screams from his fans (some call themselves "Arch Angels," but I still like "Archulunatics"), he'll be receiving plenty of votes. And just in case you're still in doubt about David, even Dolly Parton said this guy has a great singing career ahead of him.

Kristy Lee Cook was the next contestant of the night, performing "Coat of Many Colors." Everyone has been saying just wait until country week and Kristy will blow us away. So tell me why Kristy still looked sooooooo uncomfortable on stage tonight. She had all the right ingredients: a good tone to her voice, a perfect final note, interesting arrangement. But her big problem is her complete lack of stage presence. It's like watching a department store mannequin walk back and forth across the stage. Until she flashes the audience a smile or, you know, stops doing her best Vulcan impression, she has no chance of winning this competition.

Paula called the next singer one of the Dark Horses of this season, and it fits seeing as how Syesha Mercado has been building momentum for the last few weeks. She's finally entered her comfort zone and started using that big voice of hers. Unfortunately, I'd call her performance a mixed bag tonight. I wouldn't say her winning streak has ended, but her rendition of "I Will Always Love You" was a little off. Sitting on a grand piano, Syesha sang her own take of the song, using bits from Dolly and Whitney Houston, while trying to also make it her own. I can see where she tried to reign in some of the big notes, attempting to mimic Whitney as little as possible. And even though her last few notes were pretty cool, sadly the whole song didn't come together. I agree with Simon that it kind of paled in comparison to Ms. Houston's version. In a way she set herself up for this because no one can compare to Whitney's take on the song. It just goes to prove my point that "Idol" singers should never again cover a Whitney Houston song. My guess, Syesha will once again be in the Bottom Three tomorrow.

The last singer of the night was Michael Johns. I watched him expecting more of the usual; shouting with some good notes sprinkled in every once in awhile. Wasn't I surprised then to hear Johns sing a blues-infused version of "It's All Wrong, But It's All Right." It was the first time in a long time I didn't hear him shout. Plus, he showed off his range. This guy's actually good! If he doesn't win "Idol," I'm pretty sure he'll have a regular gig at the House of Blues. As Randy said, it was "blazin!" This ought to earn him enough votes for another week on the "Idol" stage.

How did the Top 9 do tonight? Was Dolly Parton a good mentor for the contestants? Did you like hearing Dolly's songs? And do you think Simon was being even meaner than usual? Post your comments below and make sure you watch tomorrow's results show! –Chris Sardelli

Posted by Chris on April 2, 2008 2:07 AM
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I agree with all your comments really. I'd just add a few thoughts.

Randy seemed just as grouchy as Simon to me. It seems to me he is purposefully trying to be harder on people the last few weeks for some reason.

I thought Brooke's version of Jolene was incredible. I was shocked when Randy & Simon weren't nuts for it. I thought the arrangement was great and the upbeat change she made made it original.

My biggest surprise was Johns. I like the guy, but I've been pretty hard on him the last month or so. He's been doing songs that I didn't think he should have touched. But his blues performance last night was Awesome. I was really stunned at how good it sounded. The arrangement, the guitar, and his singing were incredible.

I say Sayesha or Ramiele are going home. At least I hope its one of them. The others are head and shoulders above them.

-- 1. Posted by: Andy at April 2, 2008 9:33 AM

For a Dolly Week on American Idol, I was surprised that many did so well. After watching the videos again on the ones that I thought did the best, where Michael Johns and Carly Smithson.

Even KLC who should have done well on a country theme night performed pretty good.

Ramiele and Syesha were the worst this week IMO.

-- 2. Posted by: Idol Fan at April 2, 2008 9:46 AM

I agree Ramiele and Syesha were the worst this week

Carly did Clay Aiken's cover of "Here you come again" So I wasn't quite as impressed (and noone mentioned it..after David Cook fessing up to using others versions)

David Cook still impresses me

David A still does not.

Simon is a tool and Paula is baked. how does this woman function?

-- 3. Posted by: milles at April 2, 2008 10:53 AM

Other than the fact that I would rather hear nails on a chalkboard than Dolly Parton's voice, I was compelled to watch Idol last night to see how everyone fared.

Michael Johns was surprisingly good.

I actually enjoyed Jason's performance. After all, how much can he possibly do with a Dolly Parton song? Dreds and Dolly - what an odd mix!

Kristy Lee Cook was just fair, as were Ramiele and Syesha. I think they'll make up the bottom 3.

Brooke was pitchy on Jolene. I don't think she'll be in the bottom three, though.

-- 4. Posted by: Peanut Butter at April 2, 2008 11:08 AM

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