TV Recap

'American Idol': Cash in, Carey

Mariah Carey turned ''American Idol'' into a release party for her new CD, and most performers did her songbook proud

David Cook, Jason Castro, ... | AMERICAN IDOL Jason Castro, David Cook
AMERICAN IDOL Jason Castro, David Cook

''Idol'' recap: Mariah Carey night!

Pop quiz! In addition to the obvious fact that they've all been booted from American Idol's season 7 finals, what else do David Hernandez, Amanda Overmyer, Chikezie, Ramiele Malubay, and Michael Johns have in common?

Well, aside from their alleged enthusiasm for Ford vehicles, Coca Cola, and iTunes, none of them played instruments during any of their live performances this season. (Yes, yes, I know that's not 100 percent technically correct...but I refuse to acknowledge Chikezie's pitiful maiden attempt at harmonica during ''I've Just Seen a Face.'')

What I'm really getting at here is that when it comes to the latest incarnation of Idol, ''artists'' are in and ''vocalists'' are out. And that's bad news for Syesha Mercado, Carly Smithson, and Kristy Lee Cook — unless, that is, these ladies have been concealing respective skills on the harp, violin, and drums for the past nine weeks.

Of course, there's not a snowball's chance Syesha or Carly could win this thing, not even if one of 'em turned herself into a complete one-woman orchestra. And never was that more clear than during last night's foray into the Mariah Carey songbook.

There was Carly, giving an achingly good performance of the colossal ''Without You,'' and Syesha, nailing her crafty choice of the obscure ''Vanishing,'' and yet the judges could barely muster up the energy to shrug their shoulders. A half hour later, though, I could kinda, sorta, almost understand why.

Indeed, as David Cook and Jason Castro closed the show with ''Always Be My Baby'' and ''I Don't Wanna Cry,'' respectively, they brought to the Idol stage something even more thrilling than the ability to nail a glory note with passion and power; they took a pair of well-known pop melodies, reinvented them in wild, winning fashion, and made me feel like I was hearing 'em for the very first time.

But let me back up for a second here. Before I begin dissecting this week's performances, I'd like all of us firmly entrenched, highly opinionated, ready-to-tussle Idol-istas to join hands and give thanks. I mean, think about it: At this point in season 6, Sanjaya Malakar was coughing up an excruciating rendition of Bonnie Raitt's ''Something to Talk About'' as his final Idol salvo. By comparison, last night's top seven all performed decently enough to send their fan bases scrambling into speed-dial mode, which should make the final vote count tighter than Mariah's black, scoop-neck top.

That said, my money is on either Kristy Lee Cook or Brooke White to go the way of the Glitter soundtrack on Wednesday night's results show.

Which isn't to say that Kristy Lee didn't give a valiant effort, or that I haven't grown to admire her fighting spirit and savvy song-choice strategy over the past several weeks. After all, a lot of Idol watchers, myself included, mercilessly piled on Idol's resident country crooner back when she struggled, splay-legged and pop-eyed, during ''Rescue Me,'' or went right over the guard rail on a speeding ''Eight Days a Week.'' Yet the Energizer Cowgirl has never quit, and it must've been sweet vindication hearing Mariah herself exclaim that she liked Kristy Lee's twangy rehearsal take on ''Forever'' better than her own original. Still, while Kristy Lee soared on the big notes, her saddle slipped a little when she went for the lower register on the verses, and her awkward, robot-Evita hand gestures distracted from the emotional connection she worked so hard to achieve.

NEXT PAGE: Carly's strategic blunders?

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