The “American Idol” contenders produced some of their most emotional performances to date in the run up to the Nokia Theatre season finale, as they tackled the Mariah Carey songbook on Tuesday night.
Mariah was the singing superstar mentor this week and she imparted on the finalists the knowledge of a true powerhouse performer, helping the hopefuls step up their game.
David Archuleta, one of the competition’s front-runners, tackled “When You Believe.” The track was a tough choice having originally gained fame when Mariah dueted with Whitney Houston for the “Prince of Egypt” soundtrack, a cut which eventually won the songwriter an Academy Award.
And though no awards were being given out on Tuesday’s show, the teenager’s version netted some major points from judge Randy Jackson.
“I was a little worried about tonight, boys singing girls songs, and you probably picked one of the toughest ‘cause that was a great duet with Mariah and Whitney,” Randy said. “But dude, I gotta tell you something, I say it every time — if you can sing, you can sing anything. You can sing. That was the bomb.”
One of last week’s bottom three, raven-haired Irish singer Carly Smithson, performed “I Can’t Live,” and despite the high hopes of judge Simon Cowell, her performance let him down.
“I really wanted to hear you sing this song, even before Mariah week,” Simon began. “[The question was,] could you pull it off on the night and I don’t think you did … I think you’re capable of it. I think you’re over-thinking everything.”
A lesser-known Mariah song, “Vanishing,” was Syesha Mercado’s choice, but her performance wasn’t as well received as she had hoped.
“For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been saying you always pick the toughest song, that’s probably the toughest song tonight vocally as well,” Randy said. “I was really afraid when I heard you were gonna sing that song, but you did a good job all things considered. I gotta give it to you ‘cause it is really hard to sing.”
Brooke White was the night’s fourth performer, unveiling a new interpretation of Mariah’s classic “Hero.”
While Randy enjoyed her singer/songwriter rendition, it was a little too meat-free for Simon.
“It was a bit like ordering the hamburger and only getting the bun … in other words, the vital ingredient, the bit in the middle was missing,” Simon said.
Kristy Lee Cook received an average critique from Randy for her version of “Forever,” but she floored Paula Abdul.
“Kristy Lee Cook! I’m like, ‘Oh my god!’ I’m blown away,” Paula enthused.
The best performance of the night, according to the judges at least, was David Cook, who took on “Always Be My Baby.”
“I think more than anyone on this show right now, you’re ready to make an album, you’re a hot recording artist and … I’ve never stood up this season,” Randy said as he rose to give David his first standing ovation, “that was the most brilliant performance yet.”
And it wasn’t just Randy who was moved. The exceptional comments brought Cook, whose older brother was reportedly in the audience cheering him on, to tears.
Dreadlocked Jason Castro gave the final performance of the night, smiling as he sang, “I Don’t Want To Cry,” a version which split the panel.
“I felt like I was at a weird beach luau and somebody was playing music in the distance,” Randy said.
“Jason, I’d love to be at that luau, listening all night long,” Paula jumped in. “You’re getting so confident and in that zone.”
“I’m going to have to agree with Paula,” Simon chimed in. “I thought that wasn’t the best vocal of the night, having said that, it was identified with you, it was a cool version.