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American Idol: The Top 4 Perform

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Before tonight's episode, I predicted that Syesha and Jason would be the next Idol contestants to go, in that order. However, tonight we saw the final four perform, ostensibly the time when the singers pull out all the stops and do their proverbial thing. Each had a chance to prove that he or she deserved to be in the top three or not (although as Ryan Seacrest pointed out, Chris Daughtry got eliminated at this point, so "deserve" does not really play into it.)

The only requirement tonight was that each song had to be from the list of the top 500 greatest rock songs as decreed by the the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (rock n' roll, incidentally, was invented by Ike Turner. Did you know that? I didn't.) Each contestant had the opportunity to come out better, worse or the same (which is perhaps the equivalent to worse at this level) as before. So how did each of them do?

David Cook: David's first choice was "Hungry Like the Wolf," which he pledged to change up in various ways. I was not looking forward to this, because I love me some Duran Duran. Fortunately, I guess, he didn't really change the song at all, except using his emo-rock whiny inflection from time to time. David has a pretty strong voice but Duran Duran songs aren't really written to show off vocal skills. Randy deemed it "just OK for you" which was pretty spot-on. Paula said that it left her "with a big appetite," which I know she meant as a compliment but since I'm a jerk I'll point out that technically that meant he left her wanting more.

Then David sang the Who's "Baba O'Reilly." I really wish that on primary night he had gone with "Won't Get Fooled Again": Idol could stand a Daltry-esque scream. Personally, David doesn't move me—I feel like as opposed to being a real rocker, he's like the winner of the color wars at rock n' roll fantasy camp—but I can't deny it when he does a good job and he came back strong with his second performance.

How did he come out?: I think fairly even. Had he picked a better song for his first performance, Cook would have established himself better but it wasn't his most commanding night.

Syesha: I feel like tonight, Syesha would have won America's Next Top Model. She performed well, she looked AMAZING (from what I could tell—I had to watch tonight's episode with, get this, an antenna), and most importantly, she brought lots of personality! The kind that Tyra Banks would approve of! The kind that's really real and visible! The kind that prevents you from getting kicked off because you faded into the background.

First, Syesha gave us a rendition of "Proud Mary." There was some singing involved but there was mostly a lot of hotness. She didn't really sing a whole ton in this rendition, which was probably a good move—the backup singers were clearly more proficient at this song than she was, but at least she didn't try to overreach. While Simon thought she was "shrieking" I think she underplayed it and let her dance moves do the talking. This is not, of course, a dance show, but I thought it was a clever move on her part.

Syesha's second performance was of Sam Cook's "A Change is Gonna Come." Singing-wise, I think it's the best she's ever done on the show—I don't know what Randy was talking about when he said he didn't like it as much as "Proud Mary" but both Simon and Paula loved it. However, it seems like Brooke passed some horrible torch to Syesha. Syesha explained to us all the importance of the song, and vaguely compared the pivotal moments of the civil rights movement to the pivotal moment of being in the top four of American Idol. OK, fine, whatever, I was ready to let that slide. But then came the waterworks after the song. The song has a totally different meaning to her now, she's changed so much, there's such an important message to the song. "Shut up," I wrote in my notes, as she made no attempt to keep her shit together. It just felt fake and desperate, and I was irritated that she trotted that out after such a strong performance.

How does she stand now? I think Syesha did very well for herself for Idol tonight—definitely her strongest night yet. Do I personally think she's a very memorable singer, or even the next Idol? No, but I can see her having a great career on Broadway.

Jason: If it weren't for Mr. Castro, the evening would have been pretty boring.

First, Jason sang "I Shot the Sheriff" and came out looking like he was dressed like Bob Marley for Halloween, from the arrangement of his dreads to his clothes to his guitar. Something must be wrong with me because I actually didn't think he sucked too badly—I thought he wasn't trying too hard to sound like Marley. I didn't think it was a really amazing performance but he sounded into it. I thought it was OK for Jason. Simon and Randy however strongly, strongly disagreed with me, to the point where Ryan pointed out that they both seemed personally offended by the performance, which was amusing.

Then, Jason gave us "Mr. Tambourine Man". I was praying that we'd hear the Byrds' rendition of this song, along with some nice finger-picking, but no, we got the Bob Dylan version. This time, I totally thought we were getting a bad impression. Oh, and he dropped about two bars of lyrics, which I loved because only with Mr. Zimmerman do people tell you "don't listen to his crappy singing—listen to the words, man." The judges were not amused, to the point where Simon's first compliment to David Archuleta was actually another slam on Jason.

How did he come out? Not very well at all. Simon told him to pack his bags. But you know what, I have a sneaking suspicion that his fans will call in tonight to save him, and he just might still make it to the top three.

David Archuleta: David sang "Stand By Me," which was a good choice for him: it's a simple, repetitive, soft song with a "nice message" that allowed him to noodle around and show off his vocals. It was like most of his performances: very, very good and nice and well-done.

If, however, "Stand By Me" is a little too 'rock and roll' for you, then maybe you would have liked Archuleta's rendition of "Love Me Tender." I thought this was a really cool choice of song for him until I realized that the song is completely boring without Elvis' sexy, mournful deep tone. It was long and drawn out and had I not been paying attention I probably wouldn't have recognized the song at all. However, once again, David did technically well, and I'm sure he didn't lose any brownie points with the girls as the camera closed in on his soft, clean, sweet face and he sang in his soft, clean, sweet voice.

How did he come out? While I'm not rushing to download his songs, David did quite well for himself tonight. He'll make it to the next round, don't worry.

All signs would point to Jason Castro being booted tomorrow night, but I don't know for certain: Syesha's sudden desperation seems to indicate that she knows her time is short, and it's not too late for an upset. I wish I were rooting more for someone or other this season, but with Brooke gone, I just don't know how to feel anymore. About anything.

Grade: A-

Stray observations

—Many, many thanks to Noel for covering for me while I was gone. I'm sorry that he had to learn the hard way that watching Idol without the option of fast-forwarding is quite the endeavor.

—Speaking of which, I never get sick of that Meatloaf AT&T; ad.

—It was nice of Ryan to pointedly remind Paula how the judges were supposed to perform their job.

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