With only five contestants left in the competition, each of the “American Idol”contenders — Jason Castro, David Cook, Brooke White, Syesha Mercado & David Archuleta — sang two songs composed by superstar mentor Neil Diamond.
Jason took to the stage first and performed “Forever In Blue Jeans,” but rather than turn to the judges for commentary, “Idol” moved on quickly to David Cook’s performance.
David Cook sang “I’m Alive,” but it was during his rehearsal with Neil that he received his greatest compliment.
“I got goosebumps,” Neil said during the rehearsal.
Brooke White, in shiny pants and carrying a guitar, tackled “I’m A Believer,” a Neil song made famous by The Monkees, while David Archuleta tackled his classic “Sweet Caroline.”
Round one wrapped up with a performance by Syesha Mercado, who sang “Hello Again.”
Judge Randy Jackson was the first to comment on the first round.
“Round one — Jason, I thought it was just OK man… David Cook — very good, in the zone. Brooke, better than last week, still a little karaoke for me. Archuleta — the bomb. Syesha, you definitely kind of in the zone too,” he said.
Paula Abdul, however, seemed to become confused during her commentary, offering criticism of two performances of Jason Castro’s, instead of just the one that viewers had just seen on screen.
“Jason, the first song, I loved hearing your lower register, which we never really hear,” she began. “The second song, I felt like your usual charm, it was missing for me. It kind of left me a little empty and the two songs made me feel like you’re not fighting hard enough to get into the top four.”
It was likely that Paula had seen the performers rehearsals earlier in the day.
Once the other judges and Ryan Seacrest realized she was commenting on two performances, they interrupted.
“Just on the first song,” Randy and Ryan both said.
“Oh my god! I thought you sang twice,” Paula said.
“Paula, Paula, you’re seeing the future baby,” Ryan noted.
Simon quickly stepped in and took over, offering his take.
“OK, you’re all very lucky you got two songs,” he said. “Jason forgettable, David Cook just above average. Brooke a nightmare… David Archuleta – I thought it was amateurish,, and Syesha I thought it was old fashioned.”
In fact, Simon also took the opportunity to ask the contestants to step up to the “American Idol” plate.
“Guys, I’m gonna say something to you: You are top five contestants. I want to see and hear the performance of a lifetime coming up, the second time around,” he said.
Jason kicked off round two with “September Morn,” though it didn’t find favor with Simon.
“We don’t recognize you at the moment. For the last two weeks, this was not the Jason that we put into the competition,” he said. “I think you’re gonna look back tonight and go, ‘I don’t even know who this person is.’ Sorry.”
David Cook, however, received high praise for his rocky version of “All I Really Need Is You.”
“I’m a huge David Cook fan right now because again you rocked the house tonight,” Randy said.
Brooke bounded back as well, and the judges did not even comment on the fact she had some of the lyrics to “I Am I Said” written on her hand.
“Brooke, I really, really hated the first song because it was like a girl’s night out at a karaoke bar, but this … is the Brooke we like, sitting behind a piano singing a very good song,” Simon said. “It wasn’t incredible, but it was a million times better than the first song.”
David Archuleta’s rendition of “America” also found favor with Simon.
“David, that was a smart choice of song, I’ve gotta hand it to you, that was clever,” Simon smiled. “It ticked all the boxes. It was absolutely the right choice. Check, check, check.”
Syesha Mercado gave the final performance of the night, singing “Thank The Lord For The Night Time.”
Paula Abdul addressed her as Brooke, but her commentary for Syesha was full of praise.
“On your second song it shows a whole different side … that’s your performance theatrical place and then, when you’re pop singing, I think you can be a toss up between Corinne Bailey Rae and Minnie Riperton,” Paula said.
As the show closed, Simon appeared to reflect on the way the show had been run.
“By the way,” he began, “This is officially the strangest show we’ve ever done. But I like that. It’s kind of a bit chaotic tonight.”