If you want to separate the vocally muscular from the weak of throat, force them to sing Mariah Carey songs. The woman has an unbelievable range and is famous for flaunting it to wretched excess - though she's toned down considerably on her new album just out this Tuesday (what a coincidence!)
Too bad for most of them, the Idol gang all went with older M.C. material on this mentor/tribute night, from back in the days when the super woman always lept tall sonic buildings with a single bound. Is it any wonder that mere mortals Kristy Lee Cook and Brooke White looked scared as s*** - with tears in their eyes and a visible tremor on the lips in Brooke's case? Yeah, they tried to tame the beasts, to turn those histrionic Mariahthons into pedal steeled Nashville and organic, acoustic piano singer-songwriter fare, respectively. Still, there were notes buried in those tunes that the girls couldn't twist their pipes around, that only dogs can really appreciate. And for this dawg, it was painful to behold.
Not that the guys were all that, either, notwithstanding Simon's prediction and then (at show's end) ringing endorsement of it being "their night." Jason Castro's treatment of "I Want to Cry," very Jack Johnson-y and true to this "A.I. Year of the Acoustic," made for a nice closer. But did he make you as "proud" as he did Paula? Nah, me neither.
I agree that David Cook's slow and bellowing, string endowed pop treament of "Always Be My Baby" was probably the most successfully updated production of the night. So how much of the credit should go to him or to "Ricky Minor and the boys"? And how come none of the judges noted that this Cook was repeatedly serving up flat, burned, pancake-dry notes?
David Archuleta, to me, was again the strongest singer of the night, crooning "When You Believe." I worry, though, that his syrapy sincerity is getting to be too pat and a bit of a drag. How do we get this guy to lighten up, quick? Still, how smart (or politically savvy) was he to pick a song that Simon (as a producer, not the performer) put at the top of the British pop chart at Christmas time. That's a really big competitive deal in the UK, as the film "Love, Actually" revealed. Actually.
While somewhat strident, Carly Smithson pulled off the best female performance of the hour - and she did it, actually, by singing a song that wasn't originally written by or for Mariah Carey. "Without You" comes from the pen of the Badfinger guys Ham and Evans and was a hit first for (Harry) Nilsson. The guy had a voice with one-tenth the range of the Diva but still could Carey, er, carry the tune. So all Carly had to do for this one was put her lips together and blow.
Syesha Mercado was second best female belter, with an M.C. song I've never heard before and never care to hear again. For that reason, I think she might be vulnerable for elimination, if the voting audience couldn't connect either.
Still I think it's Kristy Lee's time to go. And has been for, oh, five or six weeks.