I was really surprised when Dolly Parton was announced as the guest mentor tonight. Dolly is making a comeback this year, but the buzz for her new album hasn’t reached the level of, let’s say, the record Loretta Lynn made with Jack White a few years ago. And when she announced that she was canceling her tour because all those years of carrying her breasts around had finally taken its toll on her back, I thought at least it would be weeks before Ms. Dollywood would be on the show, if at all. But I guess the window to promote “Backwoods Barbie” is closing fast, so she’ll just have to suffer though the pain, and I’m not talking about having to coach Kristy Lee Cooke. So here’s how things went down tonight:

Brooke White- It seems Brooke is trying to score points with Dolly by wearing a Daisy Duke-like checkered shirt when they meet. Brooke sings “Jolene” and it looks like she is being backed by a jug-band on someone’s front porch. She hits some bad notes in the beginning, and it doesn’t sound like her heart is really in this one. She’s trying to look very earnest by playing along with the mini-hoedown they’ve staged for her, but she doesn’t seem all that comfortable. Randy doesn’t think it was stellar, but could see a country album in Brooke’s future, Paula calls Brooke consistent, and Simon didn’t see any emotion in the performance. Trying to shoehorn Brooke into a country band was a bad idea, but there is no way she can be the worst of the night, so she should be fine.

David Cook- David looks like he slept through rehearsal and missed make-up. He says he’s going to arrange “Little Sparrow” himself, which is a response to most on-line critics saying he’s stealing ideas from other artists. Dolly shows her approval of David and his arrangement, but he hits a weird high note for her that made me wince. He replicates the note when we go live, but he calms down and goes into his usual alt-rocker voice. Seriously, every arrangement he does now sounds the same. Randy says it’s another great performance, Paula loves his stuff, and Simon is impressed but doesn’t think it was as good as last week. David is going to do well, but eventually he might run into a theme where he won’t be able to put on his “Creed Outtake” voice, and that’s where it will end for him.

Ramiele Malubay- Last week I got it wrong about Hula Girl, so will this week be an improvement? Dolly calls Ramiele precious and cute, and mentions how tiny she is about 10 times. Ramiele sings “Do I Ever Cross Your Mind,” and she’s giving the song a little sass, which goes with what Dolly said about her before. This is such an improvement over last week. She’s not hitting every note, but at least she doesn’t look freaked out. Her stage command is helping her get through the song. The end is a little shaky, but she wasn’t as scared as her intro video made her out to be. Randy gives her 6½, Paula likes her connection with the audience, and Simon compares it to a cruise ship performance, and calls it forgettable. I didn’t think it was that bad, and since this doesn’t compare to some of her other bad performances, she’s stick around, even though another trip to the “Stools Of The Bottom 3” seems to be in her future.

Jason Castro- Jason looks less stoned in his intro than usual. Dolly calls him funky and likes the “locks.” He sings “Travelin’ Thru,” which was Dolly’s “Brokeback Mountain” song. This is such a peppy, upbeat song that fits his mellow demeanor. I also bought into Jason playing along with the band, and I could see him doing this song as a single. He actually made the song not sound as honky-tonk country, which would have made him sound just silly. Randy thinks it started rough, but he worked it out, Paula calls it was his strongest performance, and Simon didn’t like it at all. Simon says this music doesn’t suit him, which is just stupid. Making it sound like a modern folk song is just the kind of stuff Jason would do. I thought it sounded like a song that was written for Jason, and he should coast into the next round.

Carly Smithson- Dolly likes that Carly picked “Here You Come Again.” In all honesty, I hate this song. It reminds me of all the easy-listening radio station commercials from when I was a kid. The song made Carly seem like she’s 20 years older than she is. Carly is supposed to be the one with attitude, and this made her seem corny. Randy thinks it could be one of the best of the night, Paula gushes over Carly’s voice and makes Randy defend the negative comments about her he said last week, and Simon is not just critical of her singing, but goes after Carly’s wardrobe too – saying that it lacked star quality! Ryan then verbally smack Simon for being harsh tonight, and insults his wardrobe. Simon is right (except for the clothes thing, which was unnecessary), most of the performances have been pretty lackluster. Carly his some great notes, but it’s such a corny song that I thought it hurt Carly’s image in my eyes, but she should be fine.

David Archuleta- Dolly literally melts when David starts to sing, and admits she almost wants to cry. He sings “Smoky Mountain Memories.” David does the smart thing by taking the all the country out of the song and turns into a big ballad. While his performance looks like he’s back to being on Star Search, all of his notes are spot on. He recovers nicely from doing that horrible obscure song choice last week. Randy calls it the best of the night, Paula says he’s glorious, and Simon thinks he was on the money with the song choice. This was by far the best performance of the night, without question.

Kristy Lee Cooke- Dolly thinks her mama will be proud of KLC, who is more worried about impressing Dolly than mom. She sings “Coat Of Many Colors,” in a real country style. She puts on a little of southern drawl on the song to make it more authentic, but to me comes off a little forced. She’s sing in a pretty much effortlessly, actually a little too effortlessly. It was like KLC and her dress blended into the lights and she was invisible. Randy says this week was her wheelhouse, Paula thinks it’s her best performance, and Simon thinks it’s pleasant and forgettable. It was totally musical wallpaper, and she will only hang around because no one will have a strong reaction to her either way, and she’ll squeak in for another week.

Syesha Mercado- To the surprise of no one, she does “I Will Always Love You.” Dolly might be coaching her, but you won’t hear any Dollywood in this version; this one is all Whitney, all the time. Syesha sounds like she’s racing against time, and not keeping up with the piano player. This arrangement is making her hit notes all over the place, and most of them are wrong. It sounds like she just learned the song 5 minutes before the show. But she hits the big-Whit note, which is supposed to show how impressive she is. I hate when people do this song, because it becomes more about stamina than skill. Randy gives it just an “All right,” Paula says he loved it, Simon says picking this song may not have been the best move. The problem I have is since she held a note for one whole minute, people will vote for her. I think she deserves to go home this week, mostly because she tried to fool people into thinking she’s Whitney, and she didn’t pull it off.

Michael Johns- Michael says Dolly was the first concert he ever saw in 1986, which makes me wonder how many records Dolly sells in Australia. Dolly says she would like to write songs for him. Michael loses style points with trying to wear an ascot instead of a tie. He sings “It’s All Wrong, But it’s All Right.” He puts a blues/R&B twist on this one. White it’s not taking too much to skill to sing this song, he shows amazing restraint by not screaming every word, which would be easy to do. Michael does his best performance in weeks; this is the kind of song that weeks ago made me think he could be a real challenger to David Archuleta. Randy thinks it’s blazing, and due to the show running insanely over, my DVR cut off what Simon was going to say, but I’m guessing he liked it.

Last week, Syesha ended up in the bottom three, and this week, she didn’t do anything that would change that opinion. But one thing did come out clear this week: There really might not be any way to stop David Archuleta, since David Cook (who is becoming a trendy Final Four-like underdog to root for) didn’t really impress all that much. But I still say look out for Michael Johns to possibly turn this show into Outback Idol if he can keep slamming it like he did tonight.

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