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'American Idol's Top 5 seventh-season finalists take to the stage


By Christopher Rocchio, 04/30/2008 

American Idol's Top 5 seventh-season finalists took the stage during last night's live performance episode, with each singing two Neil Diamond songs.

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Overall it was an odd night, and that might be a bit of an understatement -- as a video package of each of the Top 5 rehearsing with Neil aired before their first performances, while the judges only offered their comments following each of the finalists' second performance of the night. 

In addition, each of the judges offered comments halfway through the broadcast -- which was apparently extremely confusing for Paula Abdul.

"This is officially the strangest show we've ever done," Simon Cowell commented at the end of the episode.

The following is Reality TV World's recap of the performance broadcast in the order which the wackiness went down.  Also included are comments from each of the three judges -- Randy Jackson, Paula and Simon -- as well as additional information about each performance.

On Wednesday night beginning at 9PM ET/PT, one finalist will be eliminated based on home viewer votes cast immediately following last night's broadcast, revealing the seventh-season's Top 4 finalists.  In addition, Neil and Natasha Bedingfield will each perform.


Jason Castro, a 20-year-old from Rockwall, TX

First Song:  "Forever in Blue Jeans"
Additional Info:  Neil described "Forever in Blue Jeans" and "September Morn" as "two completely different songs"... Jason confused his lyrics for both songs when rehearsing with Neil...  "I think Jason will be great when he gets on the stage," commented Neil.  "He'll be a little more familiar with the songs, he'll feel a little more comfortable.  I think he'll bring them both off very well."... Jason played the guitar during "Forever in Blue Jeans."

David Cook, a 25-year-old from Blue Spings, MO who currently resides in Tulsa, OK

First Song: "I'm Alive"
Additional Info:  Prior to his performance, David asked Idol host Ryan Seacrest how he prepared for the performance episode.  "For Neil Diamond, I sang with a hairbrush in-front of my mirror, and when I was a kid I used to listen to Neil Diamond because my mom would carpool and you know those station wagons where you sit in the way back and face the other cars and make faces?  I would sing Neil Diamond songs and make those faces.  Too much information."... In addition to "I'm Alive, " David also sang "All I Really Need is You" -- two choices that Neil said "most people haven't heard before" but added they were "gutsy" and "great" selections that gave him "goosebumps"... "He's got the right material, he's got the right attitude, he's got the right voice.  He'll do great.  No doubt about it."... David played the guitar during "I'm Alive."

Brooke White, a 24-year-old from Mesa, AZ who currently resides in Van Nuys, CA

First Song:  I'm a Believer"
Additional Info:  Brooke asked Neil if he was a hugger or a handshaker when they met, and he answered "both"... In addition to "I'm a Believer," Brooke played "I Am I Said"... "It's a difficult song to sing and to make genuine," said Neil about "I Am I Said."  "She was able to do it.  So I was very pleasantly surprised."

David Archuleta, a 17-year-old from Murray, UT

First Song:  "Sweet Caroline"
Additional Info:  Prior to David's performance, Ryan was standing hear a sign that read, "My Husband Has a Man-Crush on Seacrest"... In addition to "Sweet Caroline," David also performed "America".... "I'd love your advice on these songs," David asked Neil, who replied, "I'll do the best that I can."... Neil said David was a "little uncertain" on how to end "America".... "He's kind of a prodigy," said Neil about David.  "With a little guidance and a couple of suggestions -- which I hope he takes to heart -- I think he'll be great on the night of his performance."

Syesha Mercado, a 21-year-old from Sarasota, FL who currently resides in Miami, FL

First Song:  "Hello Again"
Additional Info:  In addition to "Hello Again," Syesha also performed "Thank the Lord for the Nighttime"... Neil thought Syesha did a "beautiful, beautiful job" on "Hello Again" and added she also did "very, very well" on her second song selection, which she said was "infectious".... "I think she did a wonderful job and she'll do great on the actual performance," he added.  "I was very pleased."

After the Top 5 were done performing their first songs of the night, host Ryan Seacrest brought the finalists back out on stage and gave the judges a chance to comment on the initial performances.

"This show is so tight," said Ryan.  "We ended Round 1, I want to go to Randy and get your quick opinion on Round 1.  Jackson go!"

"Round 1..." began Randy.  "Jason, I thought it was just okay.  It was better than last week, just okay.  David Cook -- very good, in the zone, very strong, doing your thing.  Brooke, better than last week.  Still a little karaoke for me.  Archuleta, the bomb.  Brilliant.  Syesha, you got me kind of in the zone too.  I thought it was strong -- very nice vocals -- it was strong.  It wasn't amazing, but it was strong."

Ryan then asked Paula for her comments, and she was immediately confused.

"Oh Gosh.  We've never had to write these things down," she began, trying to read from her notes.  "Jason, the first song I loved that you're in your lower register, which you never really hear.  The second song, I felt like your usual charm -- it was missing for me.  It kind of left me a little empty.  The two songs made me feel like you're not fighting hard enough to get into the Top 4."

"That was just on the first song though," interjected Randy, pointing out the obvious -- that each of the Top 5 had only performed once so far.

"Oh my God!  I thought you sang twice!" answered Paula, which brought a laugh from the studio audience.

"Wow," said Randy.

"Paula, you're seeing the future baby!" said Ryan.  "You're seeing the future!"

"This is hard!" she said.

"Paula," said Simon, "who was your favorite?  Paula who was your favorite?"

"You know what?  I'm looking at, it's your notes David," she replied, still a bit confusing since there's two finalists named David.  "You're fantastic."

"You're all very, very lucky you've got two songs," said Simon, much more on the ball than Paula.  "Jason, forgettable.  David Cook, just above average.  Brooke, a nightmare..."

"No!" Brooke responded from the stage as the audience booed.  "No, no, no, no, no!"

"Let me finish," continued Cowell.  "David Archuleta, I thought it was amateurish.  Syesha, I thought it was old-fashioned.  So guys, I'm going to say something to you.  You are the Top 5 contestants, I want to see and hear the performance of a lifetime coming up the second time around."

With that, each of the Top 5 performed for the second time of the night, with the judges dispensing their comments in traditional Idol fashion following each of the finalists' performances.

Jason Castro

Second Song: "September Morn"
Randy said:  "Dude, check it out man, so I don't know what's really happening tonight for you.  But it was just okay.  I keep thinking this is a singing competition where we try to find the best vocalist we can find.  That was just another okay, whatever performance for  me. (boos)  Definitely not the best."
Paula said: "I felt like you took the same liberties on both songs.  I feel like it's safe, and you need to get out of your comfort zone.  Come on.  Fight!"
Simon said:  "We don't recognize you at the moment.  For the last two weeks, this is not the Jason we put into the competition. There was no attempt to make the arrangement your own, you struggled through both songs, they were both  -- in my opinion -- forgettable.  I think you're going to look back tonight and go, 'I don't know who this person is.'"
Additional Info:  A sign in the audience read, "Dreadlocked on Jason"... Following Randy's comments, Jason said, "I know," apparently aware it wasn't the best... After Paula's comments, Jason said he "kind of started choking" right before the performance.  "It threw me off.  I had a little something in my throat.  It threw me off."

David Cook

Second Song: "All I Really Need Is You"
Randy said:  "I'm a huge David Cook fan right now because you rocked the house again tonight.  That was blazing!  Blazing!" (cheers)
Paula said: "David I'm so proud of you.  You not only picked two songs that are so less familiar than Neil Diamond's hits.  You are the only one that was able to pull that off.  I feel like I'm already looking at the American Idol." (cheers)
Simon said:  "David, I'm going to be honest with you.  I thought the first song was okay.  I thought the second song was brilliant. (cheers) You actually made that feel like that song was written this year.  That was the point I was trying to make to Jason.  You changed the arrangement, you made it work for you, that was smart.  Well done."
Additional Info:  David also played the guitar during his second performance... One sign in the audience read, "UCLA Loves David Cook," while another read, "David's Cookin Tonight."

Brooke White

Second Song: "I Am I Said"
Randy said:  "Brooke behind the piano, very vulnerable -- showing all the flaws, everything.  I'll tell you what, that Neil Diamond song is one of the tough ones to sing tonight with all the octaves in the vocal -- I mean it moves around a lot, the melody -- but nice job."
Paula said:  "Brooke I think that what you just did as opposed to the first song, I think you did have fun but it was right after American Idol Gives Back and there was that whole video with 'I'm a Believer.'  But coming back here with this song, it does show your vulnerability.  It is how you connect to the audience.  Everyone loves who you are, and that just works."
Simon said:  "Brooke, I really, really hated the first song.  It was sort of like a girls night out at the karaoke bar, wasn't it?  But this -- as the guys just said -- this is the Brooke we like.  Sitting behind the piano, singing a very good song.  It wasn't incredible, but it was a million times better than the first song.  Well done."
Additional Info:  Prior to her performance, Ryan asked Brooke about Simon's comment that her rendition of "I'm a Believer" was a "nightmare."  "I said, 'No it wasn't!'" said Brooke, reiterating her previous comments.  "I don't know.  Maybe it wasn't like his drink.  I'm sure it wasn't a nightmare. I had a great time.".... Brooke added she struggled with some of the lyrics in "I Am I Said" after flubbing lines at the beginning of "You Must Love Me" last week.  "After last week, it's kind of scary," she said... Brooke played the piano during "I Am I Said"... A sign in the audience read, "Simon for Governor of Cowell-fornia."

David Archuleta

Second Song:  "America"
Randy said:  "All I can say for you man is you are definitely in the zone right now.  Another good performance baby."
Paula said: "This was the absolute perfect song for you to sing.  David, your voice is just so on point.  I just want to see that joy and that spirit and the prodigy and the little savant that I used to see.  I love you, you're brilliant, have fun."
Simon said:  "Well David, that was a smart choice of song.  I've got to hand it to you.  That was clever.  It ticked all the boxes -- it means it was absolutely the right choice.  Check, check, check."
Additional Info:  A sign in the audience read, "We're Coming to American Idol."

Syesha Mercado

Second Song: "Thank the Lord for the Nighttime"
Randy said:  "You know what I love about you in this moment is I think that you're finally realizing who you are.  We've been saying it all along.  That is also in the zone.  I mean that could have been in some play.  It could have been on Broadway.  I like you in this.  This is where I like you."
Paula said: "I didn't get to say anything on the first song you sang, so I'm going to say it quickly.  First song, I thought that vulnerable side -- that texture to your voice -- is absolutely beautiful.  That's your magic.  Having said that, on your second song, it shows a whole different side.  That's your performance, theatrical place.  Then when you're pop singing, I think you can be a toss-up between Corinne Bailey Rae and Minnie Riperton.  You've got that softness in your voice."
Simon said:  "This is officially the strangest show we've ever done.  But I like that.  It's kind of a bit chaotic tonight.  I think what you demonstrated their again Syesha is that you are a very good actress/singer.  I think however you may be in trouble tonight." (boos)
Additional Info:  After Simon's comments, Syesha asked why he thought she'd be in trouble.  "There's only five of you left, so it was a calculated guess."  Paula replied that Syesha is a "brilliant vocalist."  That didn't seem to matter to Simon.  "I don't think you had a really memorable second song like some of the others tonight."

(Photo credit Frank Micelotta/FOX)


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