During the Top 24 Guys episode, sharp-eyed viewers noticed something funny going on by the side of the stage. Carly Smithson was missing from the girls' seating area, and many of the other ladies appeared unusually subdued and glassy-eyed. Midway through the night, Kristy Lee Cook vanished as well. Was the guys' singing that bad? Were we watching And Then There Were None: The Musical ? Neither. A nasty flu bug was making the rounds of the women just hours before they were scheduled to make their Semifinal debuts.
But as always, the show must go on. Continuing with the week's Sixties theme, Cook led off the Top 24 Girls show on Wednesday with Fontella Bass's Rescue Me. Her illness was evident both in her strained upper register and her often-bulging eyes, which had several forumists nervously wondering if there was more than just a virus trying to get out of her. Joanne Borgella followed by making the band's rhythm section sick: I Say A Little Prayer, which alternates between 10/4ths and 11/4ths time, is almost as difficult to play as it is to sing. Unfortunately for Borgella, most Web reviewers gave the nod to Rickey Minor & Co.; she scored just 19 for the vocals.
Quite a few bloggers wrote the previous night that if they ever heard More Today Than Yesterday on Idol again, it would be too soon. Enter Alaina Whitaker, an Oklahoma schoolgirl who could easily pass for Carrie Underwood's little sister. She too chose the Spiral Starecase number, but she outscored Chikezie by nearly 50 points with it, earning the night's first 4-star rating. Next, Amanda Overmyer, the rock-and-roll nurse (we might have to start capitalizing that last part, like Bill Nye, The Science Guy), growled the ancient blues classic Baby, Please Don't Go and bisected the Idolsphere neatly in two. Music critics and old-school rock aficianados loved it and pretty much everyone else didn't; Overmyer earned a 44 approval rating with a very high standard deviation of 25.
Amy Davis followed, at which point many male viewers immediately diverted all available resources to their eyeballs. But, the Indiana cutie did little to impress the Idolsphere's eardrums: Where The Boys Are came in at a dismal 7 and earned a less-than-coveted spot in the WNTS.com Bottom 25. Folkie Brooke White performed Happy Together, which also had been done the previous night. Final head-to-head score: Guys 1, Girls 1. White's cover earned a respectable 51 rating, but that was still four points fewer than David Cook's.
17-year-old Alexandréa Lushington's name shattered every American Idol record for syllables and unpronounceability. Her performance of Spinning Wheel wasn't a record-breaker (Bo Bice had taken the song to 5-stars in AI4), but Web reviewers liked it well enough to make it the night's second-highest-rated number, at 68. Another talented teen, Kady Malloy, drew some of the most glowing and uniformly positive reviews across the Idolsphere that we've ever read...but they were for her uncanny Britney Spears imitation. Opinions of her Groovy Kind Of Love were mixed at 3-stars.
Overmyer had announced in her intro clip she wouldn't be doing any more Janis Joplin songs, but Asia'h Eppserson picked up the slack. Her Piece Of My Heart, which was closer to Faith Hill's than Joplin's, came in at 64, the highest to date for the song (topping one C. M. Underwood by 7 points.) Continuing with the girls' nefarious plot to re-do songs by every major AI4 contestant, and blithely ignoring WhatNotToSing.com's #1 rule to never, ever, ever choose a song that had previously been an Idol showstopper, Ramiele Malubay shot for the moon with You Don't Have To Say You Love Me. Web reviewers sniffed that she was no Nadia Turner...but, holy cow, she's pretty darn close. Malubay's 83 rating was the night's highest.
Syesha Mercado, her voice fully restored on a night when other girls were losing theirs, delivered a 4-star take on Tobacco Road, outscoring AI6's Phil Stacey by 30 points. Last but not least, a wan Smithson took the stage looking like she could really use an I.V. tube in her arm, preferably the non-tattooed one. Her rendition of The Shadow Of Your Smile from 1965's The Sandpiper was serviceable but muted, and the judges and Web reviewers largely gave her a pass. All except for Dr. Simon, of course, whose bedside manner is a cross between House and the wacko dentist from Marathon Man; he criticized everything from her song choice to her mic technique.
There were no surprises on the results show: both of the 1-star contestants were eliminated. Davis was sent home to where the Hoosier boys are before the opening credits finished rolling. About half an hour later, Borgella learned that her prayer wasn't answered.
What We Thought
Neither Davis nor Borgella were given much pre-Semifinals airtime. Someday we hope that the producers will receive a much-needed transfusion of fair play and even-handedness, but until then, there will always be contestants hamstrung by Idol's less-than-level playing field. "Unknown" contestants in such a predicament have no choice but to swing for the fences on the first pitch. Building a fanbase from scratch can be done – witness Bice, Kelly Clarkson, LaToya London and Elliott Yamin, for example – but heavily-promoted semifinalists like Smithson and Overmyer have the luxury of starting safely, if they choose. That's a particularly useful leg-up to have if you're fighting the flu on Opening Night.
That said, the other 11 girls could all have been in the terminal stages of diphtheria and they'd still have fared better than Davis. Her song choice would've been abysmal bordering on suicidal in 1968, let alone 2008, and she compounded her problems by scooping virtually every other note. (We recognize that she was doing it intentionally, but many viewers at home understandably mistook her overuse of the vocal technique for an inability to hit her notes cleanly.) As for Borgella, we thought she performed "Prayer" decently, all things considered. It's an extraordinarily difficult song to sing, with a very high risk-to-reward ratio. If you have any shortcomings whatsoever as a vocalist, "Prayer" will find them, as Borgella learned the hard way.
Other random thoughts: We all enjoyed Malubay's performance a lot, though we still don't think "YDHTSYLM" was worth the enormous gamble. To us, it was impressive in the same way that watching David Blaine escape from a straightjacket in a self-imposed ice prison is impressive. As hard as we try, we cannot stop taking shots at the producers for instituting themed Semifinal episodes and giving the contestants just 50 pre-cleared songs to choose from. (Worst. Ideas. Ever.) Finally, it truly warms our hearts that we did not have to put a database hyperlink around the words "Britney Spears". No Idol thus far has sunk to performing a Spears' song in competition.