TV Recap

''American Idol'': Sixes and Sevens

After a surprisingly strong showing by the semifinal eight guys, we can only pick one who clearly doesn't deserve a spot in the final half dozen

HAIL, YES! David Cook (left) and Jason Castro transformed ''Hello'' and ''Hallelujah''
HAIL, YES! David Cook (left) and Jason Castro transformed ''Hello'' and ''Hallelujah''

''American Idol'' recap: The guys' best night yet

When you're wrong, you're wrong. And wow, did I ever prove that point when, back on Feb. 20, I got all huffy and argued that only three or four of American Idol's male semifinalists deserved a spot in the season 7 finals. And to put an exclamation point on my error, I argued that ''Rocker'' Robbie Carrico was among the worthy contenders!

Now, here we are two weeks later — and less than 48 hours from the announcement of this year's top 12 — and seven of the eight men left in the competition have made at least a somewhat compelling case that no, their journeys should not end with a torrent of tears from Ramiele Malubay and a dream-crushing insult from Simon come Thursday evening.

That's how the game is played, though, and if a single painful elimination is the price we have to pay for an unexpectedly high number of above-average male vocalists, then so be it. Look at the bright side: At least one exit-show performance this week won't have you frantically trying to locate the fast-forward button on your DVR.

So who should be resting easy this week, and who's at risk? I'd bet every cent in my bank account on the safety of three contestants in particular, and since I can't bear to lead off (again!) writing about a certain contestant who's been sucking the buzz out of the room as he makes his inevitable march toward a confetti-and-glitter-strewn Kodak Theatre, let's start by heaping the praise on his polar opposite in the competition.

Okay, you're right, that description actually fits Amanda Overmyer.

But you've got to admit, Jason Castro also resides on the opposite end of the musical spectrum from the Snuggle bear, and tonight, his rendition of ''Hallelujah'' was one of those transcendent Idol performances that we'll still be discussing come season 9 or 10. To be completely fair, the dreadlocked dude's vocals weren't without a couple of glitches — did you catch that goofy hint of a smile as he botched the closing note? — but what made his performance great wasn't just the ''phrasing'' (as Paula claimed) but the way Jason made every single word of Leonard Cohen's lyric mean something. I could almost imagine the music supervisors from Ugly Betty and Grey's Anatomy getting into a bidding war to snag Jason's ''Hallelujah'' for their next end-of-episode montage. It was that good. And the guy's amusingly bewildered interview persona is a sweet oasis in a desert of exceedingly lame clip packages.

But Jason won't be the only guitar-playing contestant advancing to the finals this week, thanks to a thrillingly inventive cover of Lionel Richie's ''Hello'' by my new favorite emo band, David Cook and His Awful Hair. I won't lie, I shuddered involuntarily when Ryan first announced that Rocker David was tackling a ballad that invariably gives me flashbacks to that video where the blind woman sculpts a bust of Lionel's head. But all that '80s awfulness/awesomeness disappeared with Rocker David's first guitar chord, and while I'm not convinced he's the second coming of Daughtry, I'll say this much: I bet if Nigel Lythgoe saddled Rocker David with a stinker like ''This Is My Now'' or ''Do I Make You Proud,'' he'd find a way to make it not awful.

As for the third Thursday-night shoo-in — tween audience members please get ready to let out an inhuman squeal — put your hands together for ''Little'' David Archuleta! What's that? You weren't feeling quite as rapturous over the kid's ''Another Day in Paradise'' as you were about last week's ''Imagine''? Well, that may have a little to do with the fact that while Phil Collins' chart-topping ballad does indeed ''bring attention to the people of the world who have nothing'' (as Little David noted), it's also a dreary gob of muck. And although Little David's vocal wasn't quite as strong this time either — was anyone else distracted by the way the kid kept licking his lips every 15 seconds or so? — the piano playing was a nice touch, and as Paula sagely noted (in a night otherwise marked by her utter incoherence), it's good to see he's not a hologram. You'll have to forgive me, but I also agreed with Randy: The kid gives off the vibe that you're not watching a televised talent competition but rather are one of the lucky folks who got through to Ticketmaster and snagged a seat at his sold-out concert.

So if we assume I'm right about Jason, Rocker, and Little David, that leaves five additional men competing for just three spots in the finals. And while I'd put him in my personal bottom three tonight, rest assured that the scads of screen time and loving camera angles that come from being a producer favorite mean Michael Johns will be sailing through to next week's mixed-gender performance. Unless they were reading off Nigel Lythgoe's cue cards, I'm not entirely sure why Randy and Paula appeared to be so excited about Michael's take on ''Don't You (Forget About Me),'' but the Aussie dude sounded to me like he was suffering from nasal congestion, and once again, he failed to really do anything other than offer a straightforward karaoke rendition of a classic. (Side note: Did Randy seem to think the Breakfast Club soundtrack staple was sung by INXS?)

NEXT: The stripper crisis

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