Not only were the eight remaining ladies of AI7 competing against one another for six available spots in the Final 12, many of them decided to fight Lady Luck as well. At least five of the eight took on a significant American Idol historical trend of one form or another. Fittingly singing the music of the ever-so-trendy 1980s, would the Girls keep those hitting streaks alive? Batter up!
One Idol streak will surely never be broken: when Eighties music is made available, at least one female contestant will sing a Whitney Houston song. They just can't help themselves. In our leadoff hitter's case, sweet Asia'h Epperson went a step further by choosing the infamous American Idol Cursed Song Of Hot Flaming Death, also known as I Wanna Dance With Somebody. Three previous contestants had sung it, and all three were summarily sent home the next night by the voters. (AI3's Elizabeth LeTendre received a wild card callback before being sent home for good.) Tonight, most Web reviewers judged Epperson's performance to be decent enough, though some found the buzzards circling above her head to be a distraction.
Kady Malloy was next, taking her cuts at Who Wants To Live Forever. As we noted in the Top 20 Guys episode summary, no contestant had ever been eliminated when singing a Queen song, save of course for AI5's Queen Night. Malloy's performance drew lukewarm reviews from the judges, with Simon finding Malloy to be "forgettable." At 27, hers was the night's lowest-rated performance.
As many bloggers and forumists predicted, embattled Amanda Overmyer went with a Joan Jett song, I Hate Myself For Loving You. (The WNTS.com staff was hoping for "Love Is All Around".) Overmyer was bucking a particularly rough trend: Only two contestants had ever followed up a single-digit rated performance with one above 50: Josh Gracin and John Stevens, and in fact the're the only two to rate above average with any of their subsequent performances. Once you abandon the tens digit, America generally has no further use for you. The biker nurse slammed out the song appropriately and drew rave reviews from the judges, with Simon calling it, "fantastic...you absolutely nailed that song." Idolsphere opinions were, to put it mildly, sharply divided: about 35% of reviewers graded it as one of the two best performances of the night, while nearly 30% had it as one of the two worst. It all averaged out to a 58 rating and an astronomical standard deviation of 28, just one point short of the all time record set by another notable love-her-or-hate-her contestant.
The cleanup hitter was Carly Smithson, who we realize has probably never picked up a baseball bat in her life, but we're staying on-theme nonetheless. The Irish "semi-pro" made an unusual choice, the challenging Cyndi Lauper / Roy Orbison rocker I Drove All Night, belting out one impressive sustained note after another (although with one obvious double-clutch.) Randy and Paula enjoyed it, the latter calling Smithson a "dependable dog", which we presume is considered complimentary on Paula's home planet. Web reviewers, while continuing to beg Smithson to don a long-sleeved shirt, were generally positive as well, grading the performance at 73.
Up next was Oregon's Kristy Lee Cook, who was still looking for her first home run, or at least a 3-star approval rating. She went with a country-flavored arrangement of Faithfully, perhaps oblivious to the fact that all three previous Idols who'd sung a Journey song had been voted off. (To date, only Open Arms had been done; however, one guy from Season 2 received a wild card callback and did pretty well from that point on.) The judges reviews were positive – in Paula's case, "positivity" – although Simon nailed her with the "forgettable" label as well. It was a close play at the plate, but Cook earned her first 3-star rating: a 40 on the nose.
Batting sixth and playing, ahem, shortstop was Ramiele Malubay, who became the first contestant in American Idol history to sing Phil Collins's Against All Odds. Or not. In fact, "Odds" joined I Have Nothing as Idol's most-covered song with its sixth performance. None of the previous five contestants (all finalists) went home on it, but none reached 4-stars. Malubay didn't either; she recieved a 42 from the Idolsphere. Many reviewers made it abundantly clear that they were sick to death of "Odds", and one irritated forumist proposed an interesting rule change: if you are ever out-sung on a song by Scott Savol, you are automatically disqualified from the competition.
Brooke White's song choice came from way out in left field: Love Is A Battlefield, done acoustically. Pat Benatar Unplugged? It worked, according to most reviewers. White sat at the edge of the stage, her legs crossed, and delivered the song in a Jewel-like folk style, but still remaining faithful to the original melody. The judges were most impressed, even if Paula astoundingly suggested that White should have made more use of the band. (If she were a crew member aboard the Titanic, she'd have suggested opening the hull doors to let more water in.) White fell just short of her second-straight 5-star rating, but her 79 was tops on the night.
Eighth and last was Syesha Mercado, who thoughtfully filled the void of having no Whitney Houston songs on American Idol for nearly 45 minutes. Her pitch control on Saving All My Love For You was right down the middle, but some critics pointed out that the delivery was a note-for-note, phrase-for-phrase karaoke of Houston. Mercado too was battling the Fates: both contestants who'd sung this song previously had been voted off the next night. Speaking of right down the middle, the performance graded out to exactly 50.
Who batted ninth? The viewers, of course. After the votes were tallied, the Queen and Journey streaks were snapped, and Mercado broke up the no-hitter of "Saving All My Love For You". But, "Against All Odds" ran its survival streak to six, and "I Wanna Dance With Somebody" claimed another putout. That's the play-by-play, anyway; our color analyst sums it up by saying that Epperson and Malloy were sent home. Of the 60,000 or so young women who tried out, the Final 6 of Season Seven would be: Kristy Lee Cook, Ramiele Malubay, Syesha Mercado, Amanda Overmyer, Carly Smithson, and Brooke White.
Mercifully for both the ladies and we viewers at home, the Girls' song choices were a substantial improvement over the abject horror of the previous week. Perhaps they only rose from "rancid" to merely "poor", but it's a start. The average approval rating was a very respectable 51.6. Still, opinions were sharply divided across the Idolsphere, with some reviewers calling it a fantastic night and others terming it a disaster.
Poor song choice habits by Epperson and Malloy finally caught up to them. Mercado and Malubay haven't been any better, but so far they've been able to sing their way out of the holes they've dug for themselves. Now that the Guys and Girls will be competing directly, this margin for error is about to disappear.
Cook was pretty much forced into a country pigeonhole by the judges this week. We hope she told them off backstage for compromising her integrity as an artist, provided her tirade started with "Thank" and ended with "You Very Much!" She lacks the vocal chops to do R&B and hard rock at a star level, but country seems to be her niche. Unfortunately, having wasted her opportunity to build a fanbase in those all-important first two weeks, it's likely too little, too late for Oregon's prettiest kickboxer.
Lastly, criticizing the judges to excess is not what WNTS.com is all about. To use the hip cliché, those three are what they are. However, it completely escapes us what a barely-coherent Paula added to the proceedings tonight, beyond carbon dioxide. Also, could someone kindly explain to us how these three recording industry professionals, hired presumably for their pop music expertise, could discuss "I Drove All Night" and mention Celine Dion several times but never utter the words "Orbison" or "Lauper"? Ah well, perhaps those artists are just too obscure for them.