The Eighties might be termed The Decade That American Idol Forgot. As the table below shows, there've been comparatively few AI performances from the days of Springsteen, Madonna, way before Nirvana: only 164 in all, of which 130 were Whitney Houston covers. Just joking. Maybe.
More ominous perhaps is this little statistic: coming into the season, Eighties' songs had the lowest average approval rating of any decade, a dreary 46.1. That even trails the music of the 2000s, which Idol contestants are famous for butchering with regularity. For the eight remaining Men Of AI7, a spot in the Final 12 and a track on the annual commemorative CD ("Collect 'Em All, Kids!"™) would depend on how well they could navigate this tricky terrain. Viewers nationwide sat down at their TVs apprehensively, but comforted by one small fact: no matter what Wednesday's Top 16 Girls episode might bring, their ears would be safe for at least this night from hearing any more Whitney covers. Maybe.
|1950s & before||79||55.7|
Luke Menard was first, and his bouncy, full-falsetto rendition of Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go was not a hit with the judges. Simon told Menard sourly that he couldn't possibly win the competition, wouldn't advance to the Final 12, shouldn't still be here at all, and that his invitation to Hollywood had been retroactively rescinded. We kid. The Idolsphere wasn't joking though: Menard's 14 approval rating was the lowest of the Semifinals among the Guys.
Next, Ryan announced that David Archuleta had asked if he could have a glass of water and go to the bathroom before his performance, thus duplicating the bedtime stalling ritual of every 6-year-old on earth. Archuleta began Another Day In Paradise at the piano (a landmark for Idol), but he stood up after the first verse. Some Web reviewers agreed with Simon that, while good, it came off "a bit gloomy", and many others wrote that they were distracted by Archuleta's frequent licking of his lips. Evidently he wasn't kidding about needing that glass of water, and so perhaps we should all be grateful that the cameras only filmed him from the waist up. But in the end, his always-strong vocals carried him to his third straight rating of 4-stars or better.
Never a dull moment when Danny Noriega is around...well, Superstar notwithstanding. The irrepressible teen strutted and preened through the ultimate 80s one-hit wonder song, Soft Cell's Tainted Love, using an arrangement that one blogger wrote was reminiscent of the Pussycat Dolls' version (if one would ever reminisce about them.) Randy and Paula more or less enjoyed it but Simon called it "horrible" and "useless", receiving a quite literal brush-off and a dismissive "What-EV-ah!" from his young charge. As always, talking back to Simon came at a price – "Tainted Love" wound up with only a 30 rating, the second-lowest of the night.
It was a rough week for David Hernandez, whose previous vocation as an, um, "adult entertainment professional" had recently became a matter of public record. Ignoring the predictable Idolsphere calls to sing "Centerfold", he went with the Meat Loaf / Celine Dion aria It's All Coming Back To Me Now. Reviewers found it somewhat of an ill fit for his voice, but he battled the difficult vocals to a respectable 59. Michael Johns then displayed a Herculean degree of self-restraint by not slapping Randy silly when the allegedly expert rock judge attributed Don't You (Forget About Me) to InXS instead of Simple Minds. Johns's performance earned a 62 from the Idolsphere, but with a bit of an air of disappointment around it. Many reviewers felt it was a song with which he could have delivered a real showstopper.
After that, Jason Castro left his own guitar backstage for the first time and sang...hmm? You want to read more about Cook's performance? What else would you like us to say? He turned a famously drippy Lionel Richie song into a brooding, alt-rock power ballad, and somehow he made it work. The audience went nuts, the judges loved it, and the Idolsphere, after flirting with a 90, awarded Cook an 88 rating – the second-highest of the season thus far, and earning him a spot in the WhatNotToSing.com Top 40. Just another day at the Idol office. Now, where were we?
Oh yeah, Castro. Leonard Cohen's erotic spirtual, Hallelujah, is one of the most-covered, most-revered songs of the Eighties. Many viewers didn't recognize it at first, because Castro began with one of the lesser-known later verses (Wikipedia reports there are 15 in all). His voice cracked jarringly on the very last note, but no matter – the rest of the vocally expressive performance was received so well that Castro still enjoyed an approval rating of 84, marking the first pair of back-to-back 5-star performances of the young season.
Could Chikezie make it three in a row, a feat that has been accomplished only once in Idol history? Surely the improving R&B crooner would have a chance as long as he didn't (*snicker*) choose a Whitney Houston song or anyth– ... uh, that piano intro. That can't be...oh, yes it is. All The (Wo)man I Need, though in the Luther Vandross arrangement. Asked afterwards by Simon whose song he covered, Chikezie impressively rattled off a long list of artists and years. (When he's voted off the show, he can come work for us.) But when his train got to "Houston", that was all the acerbic judge had to hear to dismiss the performance. Chikezie broke new ground on Idol by becoming the first contestant with a Y chromosome to sing a Whitney song in competition. But pioneers often have it rough: the Idolsphere saddled him with a middling 46 rating.
Despite Menard's stumble, the Guys shattered the record for the highest-rated Semifinal show ever, 56.3. Six of the eight contestants reached at least 3-stars, and the two who fell short paid the price. Menard and, in a mild surprise, Noriega were sent home by the voters on the results show. The Final 6 Guys of Season Seven would be David Archuleta, Jason Castro, Chikezie, David Cook, David Hernandez, and Michael Johns.
We'll agree with the Idolsphere on the best two performances of the night, though if you left it up to us, we'd probably swap their ratings. If Blake Lewis's You Give Love A Bad Name only scored 85 (because of the sizable minority of negative opinions), then we don't think "Hello", as good as it was, deserves to rate higher. Meanwhile, Castro made a beautiful presentation of a beautiful song; even with the badly squeaked note, we'd have seriously considered it for a 90.
There was a bit of action on some blogs the next day regarding "Hello", because Incubus performs the song in a similar style. Shades of another LiveGate controversy? No, most folks decided that while Cook might have gotten the idea from Incubus, his arrangement was suitably different. We concur, though we do wish those three alleged music experts at the judges' table would do their homework and mention stuff like this. They drop more balls than a Pee-Wee Football team.
Other random thoughts: Had Noriega, whose song choice was brilliant, just sung the basic Soft Cell arrangement of "Tainted Love" and left out all the affected phrasing and ultra-hip breathiness he needlessly added, we believe he would have cruised into the Final 12. He might have made it still, had he not sassed Simon. Calculating Hernandez's approval rating tonight was a challenge; we adjusted for the mild backlash against him as best we could. We liked Chikezie's vocals quite a bit and feel that his 46 rating is rather harsh. No doubt it's a reflection of how many reviewers are sick to death of hearing Whitney Houston covers on Idol, by either sex.
Finally, and at the risk of having our music critics' credentials permanently rescinded, the entire WNTS.com review staff thought Menard's performance was OK. In fact, we debated during the subsequent commercial break whether it would reach 3-stars (40). "Go-Go" is an unapologetically cheesy song, so judging it requires a certain suspension of gravitas, and it appears that very few members of the Idolsphere were willing to grant him that. As it turns out, we joined Menard's wife, his mother, and four other people nationwide who found the performance passable, bringing the grand total to nine. What's that? His mom thought it was corny, too? OK, eight. What-EV-ah!