The way I sum up Tuesday night's "American Idol" competition is like this: It was like a great pair of bookends - strong at the beginning and at the end of the show. But the books fell off the shelf in between.
The Final 6 contestants performed songs from Andrew Lloyd Webber (who was in the audience) - a difficult assignment because it was set to take most of them out of their comfort zone. (It was easy to tell that judge Simon Cowell has as much interest in Broadway in New York as Broadway in Sacramento.)
But, I digress. In my opinion, the show's best two performances started with Syesha Mercado (pictured) and ended with David Cook. Period. The other four were, with all due respect to Christian Siriano ("Project Runway"), a "hot mess."
Lloyd Webber met with the contestants at the Venetian hotel in Las Vegas, where he's overseeing yet another production of "Phantom of the Opera." Earlier stories making the rounds had it that the composer was wiped out after working with the Final 6, but he gave them great pointers, even urging Carly Smithson to change her song choice.
Syesha's sexy (Simon's words), fast-paced "One Rock & Roll Too Many" ("Starlight Express") was great. Judge Randy Jackson thought Syesha definitely could be "a Broadway star." For sure, she's picked up her game, gaining confidence with every week.
That's in sharp contrast to Brooke White, who was supposed to evoke utter sadness with her "You Must Love Me" (from "Evita"). I was stunned when Brooke "lost the lyric" at the beginning of the song and asked to start over.
From that point on, it was only a matter of a few bars before Brooke completely fell apart. Again, indicative of how much her confidence has failed her as the competition continues.
Perpetually sunny judge Paula Abdul actually chastised Brooke, saying you "must never start and stop. You just have to pick up the pieces."
Moving on - I loved Lloyd Webber's comment that "I never thought I'd see a man singing 'Memory' with dreadlocks." Working with Jason Castro, you could tell the composer was uncertain what he would hear Tuesday night. (Jason admitted he didn't know "Cats" actually featured "cats" on stage.) Anyway, it was just OK, really. Simon said it had to be the longest two minutes of both their lives. "It was like a young guy being forced by his mom and dad to sing that song at a wedding. It was miserable throughout. Not your style of music."
David Archuleta probably had his weakest performance of the season, singing "Think of Me" (from "Phantom of the Opera"). For "Idol" fans, remember when David had the habit of licking his lips when he sang? He broke that one, and Lloyd Webber got him to break another habit: closing his eyes during a performance.
Randy said he thought David A. (at this point in the evening) was the "boy to beat."
Not so fast, dawg!
Next to last was Carly with a very shrilly rendition of "Jesus Christ Superstar" (from the show of the same name). Yes, she still has that big voice and, yes, it held up better than some of the others, i.e., Brooke and Jason. Simon said it was one his favorite performances of the night, to which Carly grabbed a T-shirt that read: "Simon Loves Me (this week)." Cute.
The finale was David Cook singing "Music of the Night" (also from "Phantom of the Opera"). I had chills from the first couple notes. As with every song he's performed, David put his own spin on this bold choice. From Randy: "I've said it before, dude - that was an amazing vocal performance." Simon still prefers David C.'s "gritty" side, but clearly, he's pulling away from the other contestants, even from David A. - with the "Idol" finale a scant four weeks from tonight.
That brings up another important note: Today is the last day to vote in the "American Idol" songwriting contest. Don't forget, we have a local guy - Ryan Gilmoor - who definitely has a shot at winning and having his song, "In This Moment," performed by the "Idol" winner.
To hear Ryan's song, click here and go to the "Show Guide" pull-down menu. The songs aren't listed by artist, but as you go through them, the titles will pop up.
Predictiions for tonight's live results show (at 9 on Fox40): Carly, Brooke and Jason in the bottom 3 (if they even have a "three").