Examine the label of any over-the-counter cold medication and you'll find the following helpful consumer advisory:
"Warning: Do not drive a motor vehicle, operate heavy machinery, or choose your song for a nationally-televised singing competition while taking this product."
Regrettably, it appears the ten flu-stricken advancers from the Top 24 Girls episode didn't read the fine print. One week later, all of America suffered.
Carly Smithson kicked off the Seventies-themed show by performing what she described as her favorite song ever: Heart's Crazy On You. Quite a few Web critiques began with the same five words: "I still hate her, but...." In the end, the Irish lass's vocals impressed the judges and won over a few of her skeptics, falling one point short of a fifth star. Next, Syesha Mercado put a gender-bending twist on the soul standard Me And Mrs. Jones. Judges and viewers noticed a few minor pitch problems in the complex melody, holding her rating to a still-respectable 43.
If Brooke White hadn't chosen a song by either Carly Simon or Carole King, many bloggers vowed to have her committed to a mental institution. She kept the men in the white suits at bay with You're So Vain, accompanying herself on guitar and, for some unexplained reason, glancing pointedly at the right end of the judges' table every time she reached the chorus. Both the singing and the comedy went over well with the Idolsphere: White's 82 rating was the night's highest. Ramiele Malubay followed with Don't Leave Me This Way, earning her a B+ for the vocals and a D- for choosing a song that most people use at a wedding reception as an excuse to visit the restroom. It all averaged out to a 53. So far, though, the ladies were cruising along with an average rating of well over 60....
...At which point, the roof fell in.
Kristy Lee Cook chose a Linda Rondstadt song, which was exactly what many of the Idolsphere's doctors ordered. Unfortunately, the medical staff had hoped for a country-pop tune like "Poor Poor Pitiful Me", not the harder-edged You're No Good. The sometimes-strained vocals didn't quite get Cook out of 2-stars. That was still miles better than poor Amanda Overmyer fared. Dressed and made up as though she was going to sing "The Time Warp" from Rocky Horror, the rocker nurse instead tried to squeeze the six-minute Kansas opus Carry On Wayward Son into a two-minute Idol performance slot. To envision how well this worked out, try stuffing a strawberry shortcake into a coffee cup. Overmyer's 6 rating bumped Amy Davis from the season's lowest rung and earned her a less-than-coveted spot in the WhatNotToSing.com Bottom 10.
Alaina Whitaker, who was born in the '90s, chose a '70s song from a musical about the '50s. Maintaining the relentless mathematical progression, her approval rating was in the 30s - a disappointing 38 for a decently-sung but forgettable Hopelessly Devoted To You. Next, Alexandréa Lushington, who'd done well with a Blood Sweat And Tears song a week earlier, tried her hand with their Seventies horn-rock counterparts, Chicago. Alas, most reviewers felt that the drippy If You Leave Me Now had way too little brass for the sassy teen; she too earned 2-stars.
Another Heart fan, Kady Malloy, took the stage next. While the young Texan has an impressive repertoire of female singers she can impersonate, Ann Wilson turned out to be not among them. Her wobbly cover of Magic Man earned a muggle's rating of 14. That ran the girls' streak to five consecutive performances of 2-stars or fewer, tying one of the more dubious records in the WNTS.com database.
Sherman, set the Wayback Machine to February 24, 2004. Almost four years to the day earlier, hitherto-unknown LaToya London had dropped America's jaws with a spectacular, Semifinal show-closing rendition of All By Myself. Here in 2008, 19-year-old Asia'h Epperson tried to duplicate London's famous feat. And, in a way, she did drop jaws: one Web reviewer claimed she'd fallen asleep long before Epperson reached the chorus. Virtually everyone found the second half of her performance to be far superior to the first, but the numerous lower-register clunkers held her rating to a 26...just 68 points short of London's.
Thus, an episode that had started out so promisingly ended with an average rating of 40.5, the fourth-lowest in our database to date. On the results show, much of the Idolsphere expected Overmyer to be sent back to Kansas, in a manner of speaking. But she survived another week thanks to her uniqueness – Whitaker and Lushington were dismissed by the voters.
This may come as a surprise given what our website is all about, but we think the judges overuse the criticism "That was a bad song choice." Too often they mistake poor singing or (especially) poor presentation of a song for a poor selection – Jason Yeager's Long Train Runnin' the previous night being a case in point.
Tonight, however, we were dawgs with Randy, misty-eyed with Paula, and as impatient and ill-tempered as Simon. In no fewer than six of the final seven performances did the words "bad song choice" pass at least one of our team members' lips within the first 10 seconds. (Cook, if you're wondering, was the sole exception. Unlike the judges and much of the Idolsphere, we thought the choice was OK; she just didn't sing it all that great.)
Whitaker and Lushington, for example, chose what are termed "easy listening" songs in the radio business. Translation: "Listeners, go right ahead with what you were doing; this won't distract you one bit." Not a recommended road to travel in a singing contest where you're trying to make an impression. Mercado suffered a bit by being stuck between Smithson and White – had she gone ninth or tenth, we expect she'd have scored about 50. But, delivering "Mrs. Jones" properly means convincing the audience that you're an unrepentant adulteress, and that proved too much of a stretch. Malloy overstepped herself, and if you happen to know what was going through Epperson's head when she chose "All By Myself", please don't tell us. We honestly don't want to know.
Overmyer, who we still think is a promising blues singer, simply lost her mind. "Carry On Wayward Son" is a classic because of the outstanding guitar work and the catchy three-part harmonies, neither of which can be duplicated effectively on the Idol stage. Lyrically and melodically, there's nothing special about it, and Overmyer's attempts to impart a blues spin were doomed from the start. (Compare this to Chris Daughtry's 5-star take on Renegade two seasons earlier: he chose an arena-rock song by a similar artist, but his was one in which the vocals were the main ingredient.)
Again, however, in the contestants' defense, we must point out: AI producers, themed Semifinals, list of 50 songs to choose from, etc., etc. Still their Worst. Idea. Ever.
It's widely understood that a contestant with little pre-Semifinals airtime enters the main competition with no margin for error. Many American Idol analysts have written that your first performance in such cases is a make-or-break one. We say that advice is accurate, but woefully insufficient. In fact, a look through our database shows that it's actually your first two performances that are critical. Get through both strongly and you'll have built a fanbase; fall short on either and you're unlikely to get a third opportunity to sing. Lushington, Whitaker, and Robbie Carrico are Exhibits A through C. All turned in 4-star performances in the Top 24. All slumped to 2-stars this week (collectively, they fell over 100 ratings points.) All watched the Top 16 episodes from the comfort of their living rooms.