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The good news about this semi-final night is that with nine songs to be performed, there should be little time for Paula’s nonsensical prattling, Randy’s urban dictionary lessons, and Simon & Ryan’s flirty banter. The bad news is that there’s nine songs to be performed, with the best being just mediocre. Last season, the top three at least had the excuse that they were mediocre the entire season. So what’s up with our semi-finalist underachievers tonight?

I throw a songbook in the air, what page it lands on, I do not care

It’s the most aimless and non-thematic of theme weeks - judges’/producers’/contestants’ choice week. And here I thought every week was producers’ choice. A fans’ choice would be nice and a very small reward for the gazillion phone calls and text messages that this show receives each season, FOX. Just thought I’d throw that out there. Nothing wrong with a little “giving back” to the fans.

Judges’ choices are up first, and David Archuleta gets the bad news from the mayor of his Utah hometown that 1.) Paula chose his song; and 2.) It’s a Billy Joel song. Yes, when I think of our teen dream David A., I immediately think, “Hey! Wouldn’t David be simply perfect covering material by a prolific storyteller who’s old enough to be his grandfather? Because David A. could totally relate to an artist whose early career was spent playing New York nightclubs in the late ‘60’s. Their stories are so similar, I can really hear Archie connecting with Joel’s lyrics.” Paula, though, thought the song would showcase David’s vocals. If you didn’t buy Archie singing “Love Me Tender”, you’re not going to like “And So It Goes” either. It’s not the worst thing ever – he sings the first verse a cappella and it doesn’t sound terrible or anything, but his “Stand By Me” last week was far better than this. Randy would have liked him to play the piano, but otherwise thinks it’s dope, in the zone, etc. Throw in some yo-yo-yo’s and a sideways peace sign for the standard Randy Jackson Seal of Approval. Speaking of seals, Paula naturally lauds her own choice and thinks it’s all just bee-yoo-tee-ful. Simon seems disinterested and shrugs that it was good but predictable. By “predictable”, he could mean David or Paula, but I’m guessing he means both.

Syesha Mercado is in a limo enroute to somewhere in her hometown of Tampa when she gets a text from Randy, who has chosen Alicia Keys’ “If I Ain’t Got You”. Randy thought Syesha would like Alicia. To which I say – who doesn’t like Alicia? What he probably meant was that Syesha would like to be Alicia, but she’s not even close. The vocally-restrained parts of the song are okay, but Syesha doesn’t seem to really connect with the song and seems more interested in parading around the stage in her very sparkly gold gown and beaming at the cameras. Randy of course thinks it was amazing, and Paula mumbles something about it being hard to measure up to Alicia Keys but says it with such a huge smile the audience takes it as a compliment and cheers lustily. Simon, who could obviously care less, isn’t crazy about the song choice but thinks Syesha did well and looks gorgeous. Now I’m convinced he’s not even listening to anyone tonight – Simon never compliments a contestant’s appearance. Maybe he needs a nap and a vacation. I know I could use one of each myself – this season is starting to feel awfully long.

Looking exceedingly uncomfortable, David Cook is forced to pretend that he got an unexpected text message from Simon Cowell during an interview on Kansas City’s evening news. It says, “U r doing Roberta Flack. Hahahaha! L8R, Simon.” With thinly veiled annoyance, David announces that Simon wants him to sing “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face”. Well, I wasn’t sure before, but now I’m positive – the judges just threw darts at pages they ripped out of the “approved” song list while blindfolded. Because it’s just not possible that they gave these choices any coherent thought whatsoever. Simon says – with a straight face – that he wanted David to do something “different”. Why does that sound so much like my mom when she used to say, “Because I said so”? David C., thus given a batch of lemons, makes some lemonade liberally sprinkled with love potion, as the girls in the audience swoon and fantasize that he’s singing to them. David’s mom is in attendance and stands while smiling beatifically throughout the entire performance. All of this silliness aside, David has done a fine job of updating the arrangement and shows off some of the vocal chops that he usually trades for a rawker-type growl. Randy thinks David can sing anything, but wishes Simon would have picked something less predictable. Don’t you mean something less, um, stupid? Paula simpers that it’s her second-favorite version of the song, while Simon rouses himself enough to tell everyone what a great job he did picking the song, and declares the winners of Round One as “Cook and Cowell”.

Why singing careers need to be “handled”

Next is contestants’ choice, so our final three must have picked perfect songs for themselves, right? Yeah, you’d think so. David Archuleta has chosen something called “With You” by Chris Brown, which was actually written and recorded in this century. Wee Archie is trying to connect with his hip young audience, a nice gesture that fails miserably. David looks terribly uncomfortable singing the outrageously silly lyrics (“I need you, boo/I gotta see you, boo”) and awkwardly bobs up and down to the beat. I’m embarrassed for the poor kid, to the extent that it’s impossible to critique his vocal performance. If Archuleta Sr. was behind this song choice, he needs to be permanently banned from having anything whatsoever to do with his son’s career. Randy says he applauds David for trying something new, but sniggers that he can’t quite believe David singing about “my boo”. Paula, who can’t have been listening nor watching, calls it perfect. Although Simon likes that it wasn’t a treacly ballad, he likens David to “a chihuahua trying to be a tiger”. Though to be honest, most of the chihuahuas I’ve known would eat David A. for breakfast.

Syesha is no Roxie Hart, but nobody told her that before she decided to do a burlesque version of “Fever”, complete with a chair and silver mini-dress. I lost interest in her vamping about 20 seconds into the song, but I think I’m pretty safe in saying it’s basically the exact same performance she gave during Andrew Lloyd Webber week. It’s very “interesting”, says Randy and Paula. Simon finally shows some signs of life and sneers that it was a “lame cabaret performance” that Syesha would regret tomorrow. I’d agree but I don’t want to jinx tomorrow’s results.

It’s back to obscure “alternative” rock material for David Cook, who opts to cover Switchfoot’s “Dare You To Move”. If David hasn’t played this song a time or twenty with his bar band, I’ll eat my keyboard. Yes, he’s doing what he does best, I suppose, but it is after all the semi-finals and it’s not a great time to just dial in a performance. Randy thinks it’s a great song choice, does some name dropping, then complains it was a bit pitchy. Paula thinks it felt “disjointed”, and if anyone should know what that feels like, it’s Paula. Simon says it’s what he would have expected. Is anyone else wondering why they bothered showing up tonight?

The best thing about the last three songs? It’s the LAST three songs.

If the judges’ and contestants’ picks all sucked, there’s no hope for the producers’ picks. Thanks for not disappointing my already-low expectations, Lythgoe and Co. David Archuleta, who has already endured considerable embarrassment this evening, has been saddled with wedding-song staple “Longer”, by Dan Fogelberg. It’s yet another ridiculously inappropriate song for David, but Randy gives a big fakey-fake smile and calls it “a hot one” but says the song choice itself is again, uh, “interesting”. Paula deems it “lovely” but Simon bashes the song as “horrible and gooey”, though David sang it well. It’s enough to get into the finals, says Simon – like it hasn’t been obvious since March that David has had a final two spot sewed up.

Note to Syesha’s stylists: if the performer is doing a song about penguins, do not dress her in black and white. OK, so “Hit Me Up” isn’t exactly about penguins (Simon’s insistence to the contrary notwithstanding). Syesha could have used some dancing penguins, though, to distract us from the fact that she doesn’t seem to know quite what to do with the song or how to sing it, and so reverts to her patented Screamesha caterwaul. Randy calls it “Rhianna-esque” but thinks it was just OK. Paula does Syesha no favors by reminding everyone that it’s the song from the Happy Feet soundtrack, while Simon damns her with faint praise with his comment that it was better than the second song but not as good as last week’s Sam Cooke number.

It’s another swoon-fest for David C., who’s been given Aerosmith’s “I Don’t Wanna Miss A Thing”. It could be I’m just impossible to please tonight, but although I like David Cook, I haven’t fallen under his spell and get no pleasure out of his crooning this overplayed pop-metal ballad. The arrangement of the song is messy and ill-thought out, starting with an overwhelmingly loud string section, then Rickey Minor amuses himself with some self-indulgent guitar work towards the end. It’s just okay and very predictable for Randy, which I consider a kind assessment. Paula and Simon, though, are wildly excited, claiming David is the winner of the night, with Simon going as far to say that it’s one of the great songs of all time. Um, what? Obviously I’m watching a different show. Maybe my timer has already flipped over to Hell’s Kitchen and I just didn’t notice.

Yes, that’s exactly what happened. Remember, everyone, to set those TIVOs two minutes past the hour next time. Wednesday’s show will reveal the final two, and for those of you who think a David vs. David finale is a sure thing – well, I bet you thought Syesha wouldn’t make it past the top 10 either. One sure thing you can count on is a brilliantly funny results recap courtesy of the lovely iguanachocolate. See ya next week for the finals and the coronation the next Idol – I’m thinking it might be someone named David.

It’s not really a song about penguins, is it? PM me.