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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

American Idol: "The Top 7 Perform"

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Illustration for article titled American Idol: "The Top 7 Perform"

The last time I filled in for Claire, I made some bold predictions about who would be going out when, and guess what? Five out of my predicted final five are still in play. I'd be tooting my own horn more, but frankly, the rest of my predictions weren't so perfect. I had Kristy Lee getting booted first, but because You Just Don't Mess With American Pride, she tenaciously hangs on. I also predicted that Syesha would be out by now, though by my timetable, she should've gone out last week, and Michael would've left this week.

The problem with making these predictions after only a few performances is that it's hard to know after a week or two whether any given Idol contestant's "original" approach will maintain its freshness as the competition wears on. Some of the people I was impressed with early on have been doing pretty much the same thing week after week, and their lack of range has proved exhausting.

And speaking of exhausting, here's Mariah Carey, this week's mentor. Carey didn't deliver much, to be honest–not in her music, which the contestants distilled to a string of dreary ballads, and not in her advice, which as near as I could see was nonexistent. So forget about Carey. Let's move on to the performances, which (to me) were fine, if lacking in much in the way of "wow."

David Archuleta, "When You Believe" Though he seemed like a prohibitive favorite out of the box, David A. has proven surprisingly shaky on stage, and he hasn't done himself any favors by picking drippy inspirational songs week after week. But this week he pulled it together. The vulnerability, the unnaturally rangy voice, the "you can do it" song-choice…it all worked. As with most Idol performances, it's not something I'd necessarily scramble to watch or listen to again, it was fun to watch him work his way through such a difficult song, and land it.

Carly Smithson, "Without You" I was wondering what this decidedly un-Mariah like singer would choose this week, and in a way she ducked the assignment by picking a cover song. My wife thought it was a big nothing–and Simon agreed with her–but I thought it was a solid performance of an over-familiar tune. I agree that she could've done better, but in a way I think there was no way she was going to make much of a big pop ballad with no rock edge.

Syesha Mercado, "Vanishing" Syesha is a classic middle-of-the-pack Idol performer, lacking a distinctive enough voice or personality to win the whole competition, but not bad enough to get an early boot. Frankly, I've never liked her that much, because there's too much of the "actress" in everything she does. She performs the same runs and the same big notes week after week, and does the same "tortured face," which she follows up with a megawatt smile to remind us she's just performing. Tonight's performance was, as Simon so often says, "forgettable."

Brooke White, "Hero" I liked Brooke back in the semifinal round, and I still think she's one of the most genuine and distinctive performers of this season, with the kind of natural voice that can go pitchy and get out of tune without messing up the song too much. I thought she was as good tonight as she's been in weeks, applying her Cary Simon earthiness to what's ordinarily overproduced treacle. (My wife, again, disagreed.) I gotta say, though…I've had it with Brooke's behavior in the post-mortems. I don't like her pained expressions and constant chatter of agreement and/or disagreement. I think I might enjoy a Brooke White album; but I wouldn't want to sit down and chat with her.

Kristy Lee Cook, "Forever" There's always been something very high-school pageant about KLC, and this week her limited range and juvenile stage presence were exposed in a major way. She sounded sharp through the whole song. Surely this week she's back on the trouble list again, yes?

David Cook, "Always Be My Baby" Was David doing his tribute to the departed Michael Johns this week? Rather than doing his typical gritty rock version of pop pap, he settled into a fairly conventional arrangement. The judges liked it (and my wife did too), but I just didn't think he sung it well. He sounded flat to me. He was clearly feeling it though, which goes a long way.

Jason Castro, "I Don't Wanna Cry" Even after bringing the arrangement down to his usual whispery level, his vocals still kind of stayed at a low mumble until the second half of the song, when he got to stretch some. I actually liked where he ended up–and again, he was clearly connecting to the material. Castro hasn't shown a whole lot of facets so far, though, and though he mixed it up some tonight, I don't know if he's going to be able to make a strong drive to the finish.

Best of the night: Personally, I liked Brooke and Jason the best, but I think I'm in the minority there. According to the judges and my wife, the two Davids ruled.

Bottom three: I think Carly lands there for sure with a fairly flat performance, and Syesha too for nothing special. But will it be Brooke or Kristy Lee joining them? I'd choose Kristy Lee, but I'm betting Brooke shows up in the bottom three, then gets sent right back to the couch. And even though I had Carly in the final five–finishing in fourth, in fact–I now think that she checked out of this competition when Michael left, if not sooner. So I bid her farewell, and look forward to hearing what kind of album someone with such a big pop voice and such a gritty rock sensibility will make.

Claire will be back tomorrow night to check my answers.

Grade: B

Stray observations:

-I know this isn't an original thought, but I've had it with the judges. Absolutely had it. As well-paid as they are, and as hard it is to keep ratings up in this day and age, I don't think it's too much to ask that they have some sense of what's going on around them. Paula should be able to finish a sentence without stopping and re-starting a half-dozen times, and Simon should be familiar with the songs the contestants are singing. Wasn't Simon some kind of music executive once? Didn't he make hit records? Lately, his ignorance of modern music (and old music too) has started to seem kind of pathetic.

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