It's Official: American Idol Is Now an Endurance Test -- For the Singers AND the Viewers
But you only had to look at the worn faces of Jason Castro and David Cook to see the toll life at the center of American Idol's white-hot pop culture flame has taken on contestants this year.
And just like classic disaster movies always showed heroes rising to deal with danger (or not), the unique pressure cooker inside the Idol showbiz juggernaut has brought surprising reactions from all involved. In the final weeks, Syesha Mercado has emerged as the Hillary Clinton of the bunch -- refusing to take the long walk despite landing in the bottom three more than any contestant left and taking a load of crap from Randy Jackson and Simon Cowell no contestant with her voice should endure.
Indeed, it doesn't matter how many unfair criticisms Jackson and Cowell lob her way -- bravo to Syesha for breaking into tears just after Jackson's inexplicably harsh assessment of her second song, literally forcing Cowell to paste on a smile and compliment her (the Bratty Brit seems very wary of kicking contestants when they are already down). Syesha has found her groove and seems to be loving her success, like a condemned man who keeps snagging last-minute stays of execution.
David Archuleta, who still looks like he might hyperventilate himself into a coma after every performance, clocked the best vocals of the night, managing to wrap his white-boy soul around two of the most-covered tunes in rock music -- Stand By Me and Love Me Tender -- in a way that surely had Simon Cowell scurrying offstage to check on the rights for the youngster's post-Idol debut album.
David Cook seemed to sleepwalk through his songs, Hungry Like the Wolf and Teenage Wasteland, too drained to even bother ripping off new arrangements from iTunes. As Cowell noted and he seemed to realize, he did well enough to get past this week -- so why bust a gut actually, you know, performing?
And there's Jason. Castro seemed to be begging the audience to send him home, lurching through a wedding band version of I Shot the Sheriff and committing a cardinal Idol sin during Mr. Tambourine Man: forgetting his words. If Entertainment Weekly's piece last week on the show is to be believed, Castro has one foot out the door, already.
I'm begging America to help him the rest of the way. He wants it. Really.
EXTRA NOTE: A buddy who does PR for Luna Guitars, a Tampa company which makes guitars designed by a local artist who switched from work in stained glass, says the company provided all the Idols with custom-made guitars for tonight's show. Yes, that cool-looking guitar Jason used to scratch out his awful version of the Bob Marley classic was made by a company based right here in the Tampa Bay area.
I hear they're whipping up a left-handed one for rocker boy David Cook as you read this. Check out a recent feature on Luna Guitars in the Times here, and keep your eye out for Cook's model next week.