I feared it would be hard to keep my attention on the Idol action, what with the final six taking on the unlikely challenge of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Broadway musical bombast.
Plus, another voters' choice, only a gazillion times more important, was playing out on every other TV channel.
But the truth is, Webber's pop operatic theatrics weren't really that much "out of the comfort zone" of the contestants, Ryan's words of warning not withstanding. And by commercial break three, CNN had given the Pennsylvania primary to Hillary - keeping her Hope alive and letting me concentrate fully on the final two or three contestants, who were actually best of the night.
The real surprise was show closer David Cook, who's been passing himself off as a rock and roll growler all these weeks, much to the thrill of Paula and Simon, if not to this listener who's heard dozens if not hundreds better of that species. So last night, during his warmup bit, Cook lets on that "I grew up doing musical theater" and declares "Andrew Lloyd Webber is the dude." Then the guy absolutely nailed "Music of the Night" from "Phantom of the Opera." I mean, he killed. He didn't go flat. He didn't dry up. He made it sensual and romantic. What a shocker! Of course Simon didn't like it. He's not going to make a friggin' shilling if Cook follows this theatrical muse - though I could see ALW writing a hit musical around him. And as past years have shown, Simon is always a grumpus when a Broadway night is summoned up. That music is just too, um, grand, melodious and corny for his cynical, populist, money music sensibility
For the same reason, I think, Simon also turned (slightly) on David Archuleta, the night's second best performer, after he did a first rate job with "Think of Me," also from"Phantom." The little guy put a contemporary, soul pop spin on the number, "a little Stevie" as Randy J. pointed out. Yet he didn't destroy its' essence. Simon declared the read "pleasant" but also "forgettable for me" and "one of your weakest performances." Yeah, because it was not to his taste. I thought it one of David's best to date.
On the other hand, this listener thought the judges were a mite too effusive in praising Syesha Mercado's show opening belting of "One Rock & Roll Too Many" which comes from Sir Andrew's musical on roller skates (for real) "Starlight Express." The composer hoped she'd make it "funny" and "witty," which is doubtless how the song was sold on the stage. She settled for mildly sassy in a Vanessa Williams way - kind of a disappointment to me. However, all three judges were feeling the heat, happy to find some sex appeal in this old school music.
Worst performer of the night, hands down, was Jason Castro, who couldn't run away and hide from his vocal deficiancies on "Memories" - only the biggest showstopper from "Cats." The dreadlocked one sung it with a kittenish purr, when he could sing the notes at all. America, take this runt of the litter away, please?!?
Paula thought it a real tactical error that Brooke White stopped and then re-started "You Must Love Me" whe she blanked on the words. "You must never start and stop," chastized the hardly ever harsh Abdul. Didn't White do this once before, when she was playing at the piano? It definitely worked for her last night, adding to the drama and vulnerability of the song, which Webber added to the film version of "Evita" to give Madonna something more sympathetic, poppy and suited to her (limited) range. I used to think Brooke was really natural, organic, so un-A.I.-like. Now I'm starting to fear she's just playing the Earth Mother part. Still, she's good at it. Whatever.
Carly Smithson took on Webber (and longtime lyricist Tim Rice's) first big warhorse, the theme from the rock opera "Jesus Christ, Superstar" - and it was a perfect fit for her belting nature. Better still, she finally showed a bit of visual style, getting away from that low rent, tatoo flaunting bar wench look by slipping into something fitting the "Superstar" era - a paisley mini-dress (with cover up sleeves) and black boots. Now this was a chick I wouldn't mind taking home. And not to meet mother.