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American Idol- Top 5- No Good, No Good, No Good

OK, kids, confession time: I can’t stand Neil Diamond. Maybe it’s because “Sweet Caroline” has creeped its way into major sporting events (the fans sing it at every New York Jets game I’ve been too, as if watching the team wasn’t torture enough). Or maybe it’s because Neil has been adopted semi-ironically by white frat boys all across this great land. Personally, the only good thing that comes to mind when I hear the name “Neil Diamond,” is the great GAP commercial Will Ferrell did a few years ago. So you can imagine how excited I was to hear that tonight is the first night of the season where the contestants are performing two songs from the “mentor” artist on American Idol tonight. As annoyed as I was to see Carly Smithson go home last week, I think she should be thankful that she doesn’t have to pick one of Neil’s drone-fests. So we go, and try to remember what I had to go through tonight for you people:

Jason Castro- Jason gets so nervous around ND that he starts seeing the wrong words when he practices for the first time. His first song is “Forever In Blue Jeans,” and to use one of Simon’s old phrases, it is “as dull as dishwater.” The band’s generic, bland background doesn’t help him at all either. Sure, his goofy smile might win him some votes, but only if the audience at home didn’t fall asleep during his performance. The judges are going to say anything until after the contestants’ second song, which will help Jason, because maybe Randy, Paula and Simon will forget he even did a first song. His second song is “September Morning,” and he’s got a bit of a smirk on his face, like he can’t believe he has to sing this crap. I think it was a mistake for him to sing two songs that are in the same style. He looks totally bored, like the two minutes of this song is an eternity. Randy says both songs were just OK, Paula thinks both songs sounded safe, and Simon can’t believe this is the same Jason who made it past Hollywood week. Maybe he’s dipping a little more into the weed because the pressure is starting to get to him, because he’s little more “Whatever, man” than usual this week.

David Cook- Ryan admits before David’s songs that he likes to sing ND’s song with a hairbrush in the mirror…OK then. David’s puts his gruff alt-rock voice to good use during his first song, “I’m Alive.” By playing guitar along with his performance, he turns what could have been a sappy, semi-inspirational ballad into a more modern rocker, which has always been David’s specialty. Look for this one to rock the ITunes chart this week, because not only is it good, it will fool younger viewers into thinking it’s one of those David Cook songs that got pulled off Amazon last week. So far, David looks pretty safe, and he hasn’t even done a second song yet. When we get to David’s second song, “All I Really Need Is You,” the rocker has gone acoustic on us. He’s all dramatic and breathy, and still manages to sound rough without doing a ND impression. He’s turned this song into a Journey/Foreigner power ballad. At least he’s showing some emotion instead of sleepwalking through it like Jason. While his first song was better, he did a good job this week. Randy admits how big a fan he is of David, Paula is proud that he didn’t do any of ND’s overplayed hits, and Simon prefers the second song to the first because he made it modern. Paula says she thinks he’s the American Idol – but is he good enough to beat the other David? Only time can tell…

Brooke White- ND lets Brooke change the words to “I Am I Said,” which is nice of him. Too bad he couldn’t talk her into singing a less crappy song. Brooke’s first song is “I’m A Believer.” Now, I know what most of you are thinking: “Isn’t this The Monkees and not Neil Diamond.” Well, when Neil was a songwriter and not a performer, he wrote this song for the TV band. Unfortunately for Brooke, it was also sung better when it was performed on TV forty years or so ago. Brooke is doing this song like she’s a children’s performer at a street fair, which would explain why Paula is dancing around so much during it. She’s putting so much emphasis on being bouncy and cheery that she doesn’t even notice that she’s missing a whole bunch of notes. If Brooke thought having a lack of confidence was a problem a few weeks go, this time it could be her over confidence that does her in. If you’re going to do a song this simple, you better kick its butt, and tonight, she didn’t come close. She’s going to have to be at her Tori Amos-best the second song if she’s going to have a chance. So does Brooke improve on her first performance which Simon called “a nightmare.” Maybe it’s because she’s more comfortable at the piano, because her “I Am I Said,” is really good. Every time she sits at the piano, her performance goes up a notch. This was a pretty ballad, and even an improvement on the original. Randy likes when she’s behind the piano, Paula enjoys when Brooke shows her vulnerability, and Simon says it’s a million times better than the first one. She just saved her Idol chances with that one.

David Archuleta- David is singing “Sweet Caroline” AND “America” tonight, and goodness, Velveeta doesn’t make sandwiches this cheesy. I’m sure David’s crazy stage-dad told him to avoid making his performance sound like every version you’ve heard in a bar at 1AM. Unfortunately, David’s version doesn’t sound like any version of this song ever, or at least any good one. The arrangement is beyond bad, and David is not hitting notes on a consistent basis. But is there really any point in criticizing David. We all know he’ll be fine, no matter what meat grinder he puts songs through. His second song, “America,” is actually worse than his first one, mostly because of the cornball factor. The background singers are terrible, and there is nothing about this I like. Randy says he was in the zone, Paula confesses her love for David, and Simon gives him credit for the song choice. When it comes to “America,” I compare every cover version of the song to the kid I saw sing it at a morning assembly when I was seventh grade at St. Ephram’s in Brooklyn. I forget that kid’s name, but I wish he was on American Idol right now.

Syesha Mercado- She’s singing “Hello Again” and “Thank The Lord For The Nighttime,” and ND approves of the arrangement she comes up with. When she does “Hello Again,” she turns it into a Whitney-like ballad which makes her sound about 10 years younger than she is. Last week, she was unfairly in the bottom two, and this week, she’s doing the second best job this round. Like David Cooke, she does a rendition that sounds nothing like ND. She sounds really beautiful and should be strong enough to get her through this week. I guess almost being eliminated so many times has really inspired her, because she making the stage her own on the second song. While it’s not as good as the first one song-wise, it was much more fun to watch. Randy says he likes her when she’s in her element, Paula thinks the two songs showed the best sides of her personality. Simon thinks she might be in trouble because she didn’t have a memorable second song.

I really feel bad for Syesha, because Simon made a point to tell her that she might get voted off only because someone has to. Simon basically was hinting to her that everyone on the show has a huge fan base but her, and that’s just tough luck. If there is any justice on this show, Jason will get voted off, only because this is the first week he looked like he would rather be somewhere else than the Idol stage. But as we learned last week, when Randy admitted last week’s vote was “a popularity contest,” the judges’ have almost given up on picking a winner based on actual talent. But if Jason does stick around, he won’t be around for long, so he can get back to those plants in his closet and the crates of Pop-Tarts in his kitchen.