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Right. On one hand, Andrew Lloyd Webber helped to bring the world Evita, which is my all-time fifth favorite musical. On the other hand … Cats. What he does really well, he also does really grossly, and I say this to say that there is equally fertile ground for excellence and for utter travesty in this catalogue. As our season seven contestants have not always been the wisest with the song choices, be fairly warned. To top it off there’s also the looming specter of Webber himself which is ominous since, depending on the day, he can look a little Gest-ish. I think it’s going to be a bumpy night.

Oh, What a Circus! Oh, What a Show!

It’s Earth Day, and Idol just won’t stop with the giving back; the show is going to be “green powered” at the finale. I don’t know for sure what Ryan means by that, but I really, really hope it has something to do with the Incredible Hulk. (Golden Idols? HULK SMASH!) There are lots of extra strings and whatnot in the orchestra pit tonight; Ryan kids around with a conducting rod and Ricky Minor is in a suit because Broadway is serious music and tonight is serious business.

All the kids went to Vegas this week to meet with ALW on the set of the Phantom act showing there. He talks about how working with young people is the bestest and how as a composer and not a singer, he can lend the contestants advice they may not be used to hearing. He wants them all to concentrate on the words, and love the words of their songs. This may prove a problem for everyone who isn’t David Cook.

Judges. Toughest night ever in fact, everyone out of their comfort zones, boy they’re really going to have to work to survive this one, yadda yadda, the judges are worthless. Old Deuteronomy Simon says in order to avoid being pejoratively called “too Broadway” tonight, the performances have got to be memorable, yet contemporary. We don’t have time to ask him what that means in terms of performance style, but it’s all right because he probably doesn’t know.

Life is a Cabaret, Old Chum

ALW wants everything to be story-driven, so in his mentor time with Syesha, he urges her to have more fun with her fun song choice, instead of just trying to divafy it. She’s singing “One Rock & Roll Too Many;” at that news ALW says, “Interesting choice,” and Syesha says, “Yes, it is.” Mmm. Anyway. Of course we know by now that Syesha if nothing if not a huge drama queen, so she’s excited to be singing a very vamped up version of “One Rock & Roll Too Many.”

On stage, Syesha obviously thinks she is Roxie Hart -- or Susie Diamond -- atop a piano in a tight red mini, with the posing and the stylized jazz snaps in the beginning. But I can’t be too disgusted because for once she picked a peppy song to sing that’s not about breaking up happy homes. And she sings it without the crazy loud that is usually her calling card. She starts all the way off-beat, but the band swiftly covers for her as she crawls down from the piano and interacts with the musicians and the crowd. Her breath control is a little off causing some flats in the middle when the key changes, and the ending is way sharp, but overall this is a pretty good start to the evening. I think somewhere inside of me my blood cells are rebelling at my praising her, but whatever. Syesha did a good, mostly un-shrieky, un-disgusting job. Basically, all the judges think this good performance proves that she’d be super-excellent on Broadway, meaning her personality is only tolerable when you’re sitting 100 feet away from her. Anyway!

Mr. Cellophane

Now sitting with Ryan in the brand unspecific pre-performance area is Jason Castro. Ryan tries mightily, but alas, in vain to get a coherent answer out of him about his feelings on the night’s theme. Jason rambles about his nerves and makes some incomprehensible sounds. Ryan mocks him, and that’s pretty much all you can do with that. In his ALW mentoring package, Jason sheepishly confesses he’d never heard of “Memory,” and had no idea of its being sung by an old lady cat. He has indeed been blessed. ALW tries to impart some of the meaning to Jason and implores him to let himself go when singing. He closes with a little dross about Jason knowing what’s best because Jason is an individual. Or something.

Dressed in all white on the Stool of Emotional Connection, Jason does his best at making “Memory” fit his style. And he does that; this as a vocal is no worse than Jason has done all season. Fragile, tense, thin, but kind of arresting. The mosh girls all dig it, as their sea of limp arms will tell you. But because of this song and this theme expectations were set a little higher for them all tonight, and Jason doesn’t make the bar for me. I don’t think he deserves the resulting panning from the judges though. Randy says it was a vocal train wreck but he appreciated the cognitive dissonance of Jason and his locs singing an old queeny torch song. Paula calls him a special little rainbow in six different ways. Simon thought it was torturous to sit through, and thinks Jason was miserable too while singing it. Probably. Then he says don’t vote for Jason, unless you want to. Well, that’s clear then.

Could We Start Again Please

Out in the audience, Ryan continues his trend of making people look uncomfortable on camera, before throwing it to Brooke’s segment. She’s singing “You Must Love Me,” which is from the film version of Evita, and all about her having cancer instead of being able to go on and rule the world, and which is also just a beautiful song. ALW thinks Brooke doesn’t have a clue about the depth of sadness involved in that story, and the song’s melody. So he has a rap session with her about the gloomy side of life for poor Brooke who has probably only ever contemplated darkness and despair as far as Gloppy the Molasses Monster goes. But Brooke thinks she has a hold on the emotion now, and calls her time with ALW one of the most powerful moments she’s ever had on the show. He seems similarly impressed with her, and believes that if she can keep up that consciousness on stage, then it will be a very special moment indeed.

Unfortunately. There may have been too much gloom in ALW’s pep talk, because spotlighted on the emoting stool, in a white dress full of butterflies, Brooke looks as if she’s off to the executioner’s. She begins to sing, but blanks on the words after the opening lyric. She asks the orchestra to begin again from the top, and begins again less solidly than before. She doesn’t sing badly, though, although her tone drifts into whispers a little too much, her voice is much stronger than it has been in the past. The mosh girls stand up and sway along because they have no idea what music is and what it’s for, and they will be the death of me yet. When it’s over, Brooke looks as if she is ready to crawl into a hole. Everyone else is kind of stunned by the whole thing, and it’s a few seconds before even Paula can muster up something to say. I don’t think we even need to go into detail with the judges’ comments, because when Paula has to take a moment to collect her thoughts? It’s just over. Dude, you’re done. Brooke pouts and is sad. Ryan must know what happened with the do-over, and Brooke confesses that she “lost the lyric.” Simon says there’s nothing better that Brooke could’ve done at that point. Brooke smiles like a brave little soldier and tries to keep it together as they re-critique her, but her lip keeps trembling, and there’s also the briefest flash of pissed-off-ness on display as the judges go on and on. Well, my stars. She’s a darling! She’s a demon! She’s a lamb. But don’t sleep on the demon part.

The Cool, Clear Eyes of a Seeker of Wisdom and Truth

Up now is Archuleta. In one of the biggest displays of creepy discomfort this show has ever seen (which is saying a lot if you remember “Crocodile Rock”), Ryan brings up a gaggle of little girls to give David awkward hugs. I trust we are now to believe that he is a fan favorite and a ladies’ man, but the girls are all like eight years old, and so now all I believe is that he has no control over what happens to him, ever. Anyway, he meets ALW, who is shocked that a little boy wants to sing “Think of Me.” I’ve never been able to stomach Phantom of the Opera, so whatever on that, but ALW is surprised at David’s tweaking of the song’s melody. David’s version is actually kind of CCM, with the plucky acoustic chords carrying the tune. His voice is well in its safety zone, and his face is as earnest as ever, even though he fudges his way through the lyrics near the end. There’s no slam-bang tang reminiscent of gin and vermouth, but he’s almost a real boy tonight, in his hip bomber jacket singing about love instead of flying around saving the day, so that’s a start.

Randy gushes a bunch of stuff that just doesn’t apply. Paula congratulates him for turning such a dramatic, theatrical song into a pop ballad, but Simon sneers that this was one of David’s weakest outings yet. He doesn’t hesitate to say though, that he thinks weak for David is still strong enough to cure poverty and cancer six times over, and so he will still win.

Defying Gravity

Sometimes, Carly. Sometimes you make no sense. She goes in front of ALW and sings “All I Ask of You,” because of course she would pick that load for herself. But luckily for her ALW shows yet more wisdom and almost commands her to sing “Superstar,” which is 1) a much more awesome song in general, 2) much more suited to Carly’s voice, and 3) FUN. Carly nails it during mentor time, and ALW says no girl dressed as she is (in all black and mud-stomper boots) should be going the wimpy route. She agrees and concedes that “Superstar” does seem made for her this week.

On stage the bands shows out; the horns play her in and everybody proceeds to get down. Carly finally rocks it up-tempo and proves that she has a personality in there among the potato peelings and desperation. And she is a revelation out there in her glitzy purple merchant in the temple of Jerusalem mini-dress and boots. She sounds great, with all the energy that this song needs, and even gets carried away enough in the fun of it all to overshoot a couple of the big notes. That brought it home for me. She gets a standing ovation. Randy says “Check it!” and that does nothing to change my resolution of ignoring him. Paula calls the performance unexpected; she thought the key was a bit high but loved the chorus. Simon calls Carly out on some of the shoutier notes, but whatever because that is the nature of the song. He also says that this was best of the night, which causes Carly to get a little loserish and pull out a t-shirt that says “Simon Loves Me (this week).” Look for it on e-bay next week.

Do You Think You’re Who They Say You Are?

David Cook. He interviews that he grew up doing musical theater and so has a proper amount of doofy esteem for ALW. He has chosen to sing “Music of the Night,” which ALW doesn’t hesitate to inform us is his most “sexy” song ever. Thanks for that, Andrew. He exhorts David to sing to him as if he is the most beautiful woman ever, and David capitulates, thus giving us tonight’s Awkward Beyond Belief Moment Number Two. Lovely way to close the evening.

So David’s singing now, dressed in black because he is cool and mysterious, working a traditional arrangement without the rockin’ guitars, so we can hear his pure voice for once. This is his best vocal performance to date, but in the stripped down arrangement his voice is pleasant but not resonant enough for me. He does sing well, and with just enough sensual emoting into the camera and ducking of the head after the big notes to take me out of the moment he was trying to create. I’m still not getting it. That’s probably why Randy does; he raves about David singing anything, and says David is a molten hot lava ball tonight! When will he stop with the stupid, y’all? When? Paula gushes similarly and says David has a beautiful instrument. Simon prefers Rockin’ David but says he has definitely made the most of what he had to work with. David bows abashedly, like someone’s throwing roses at his feet. Gah. Ryan tries to sing about how to vote for David, and I am embarrassed for them all.

So Long, Farewell

Auf wiedersehen, adieu. Our performance recap plays, reminding me that Syesha sang and I lived to tell about it. Also, there was Jason being himself, Brooke staring down the green mile, Little David saving your soul, Carly straight-up rocking, and David Cook being mystifyingly smug but self-effacing at the same time. Or maybe being smug by being self-effacing. Whatever. I don’t know. I’m sure I’ll have another week to put my finger on it though, because no way is he going home. Who will be the unlucky soul reduced to the fate of a show tune sing-out? I don’t know (*cough* Syesha! *cough*), but our own newly blue iguanachocolate will be here with her own brand of musical genius to tell you all about it.

And now, to properly bid Broadway goodbye, a dance solo: Jazz hands, snap! Jazz hands, snap! Leap, and pose! Double pirouette, chasse, turn, and biiiiig finish! *bow* Encore performances available here.