— Jason Castro has spent the past three months perfecting his image as the slacker dude with the guitar who doesn’t try very hard but sneaks by on his natural gifts and personality. Every week, the judges have gotten more and more annoyed at his style, but it doesn’t seem to faze him.
The audience has passed Castro along from week to week at the expense of more talented performers, allowing him to drift into the final four. Now, he’s at a point where he’s the least adept singer and performer remaining. Combine that with an “Idol” staff that seems determined to create a pop star without allowing them to sing any songs that are actually played on Top 40 radio stations and disasters happen.
The show deserved what it got — the worst pair of performances, at this stage of the competition, in the show’s seven-year history.
‘I’d pack your suitcase’
Castro had one of those nights where nothing went right. He had to once again sing challenging and less familiar songs, since this week’s theme centered on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Though more relevant to the radio than Neil Diamond and Andrew Lloyd Webber, the theme still required everyone to perform songs found on classic rock or oldies stations rather than pop radio.
News reports indicate that “Idol” is losing its younger viewers. Perhaps that’s because the contestants are forced to sing songs that are more suited to their parents’ tastes instead.
Castro tried to make the best of things by making the obvious connection to “I Shot the Sheriff.” “It’s a song by Bob Marley — go figure,” said the dreadlocked guitar player, figuring that he might as well play the stoner image to the hilt. But his vocals were bad enough that even that spiritual kinship couldn’t save him.
“Jason, stand back,” Simon Cowell warned, and then lit into him. “That was utterly atrocious. Sorry. That is a song you do not touch; the arrangement was atrocious ... this was like a first-round audition massacre. I don’t know what you’re thinking.”
“I was thinking Bob Marley! Yeah!” Castro said.
“The only similarity was the hair. That was it,” Simon said.
That meant he needed a great performance on Bob Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man.” Instead, it was worse.
The arrangement was rushed, as though the band was eager for the whole thing to be over with. Castro then topped off the night by blanking on the lyrics. The best that can be said about it is that the song eventually ended, and he managed to make it off the stage without falling down.
“Jason’s not in the zone tonight. I don’t know what’s going on,” Randy Jackson said.
“I’d pack your suitcase,” Simon added.
Castro’s only hope of staying in the competition is that the viewers can’t actively vote against someone. But unless he gets sympathy votes, he should make Simon look prophetic when the results show airs.
Not a great night
Though Castro was the worst singer of the night, the other contestants didn’t have an easy time of things either.
Apart from Castro, the guy who had the second-worst performance of the night was whoever was in charge of the show’s audio. Particularly early in the evening, it sounded like the band’s microphones were on mute while the singer’s and the audience’s were hyper-sensitive, which made things sound even more karaoke-like than usual.
That was unfortunate for David Cook, who opened the show, since Duran Duran’s “Hungry like the Wolf” doesn’t lend itself to an acoustic performance. Fortunately, his second song was much better.
He chose “Baba O’Riley,” a Who song that hadn’t ever been performed on the show, and he performed it in a nice, understated way that built toward a strong finish. More to the point, it involved the band as little as possible.
“I just want more. I want more,” Paula Abdul said after that. “I want more. I want more Dave Cook.” His strong finish means she will probably get her wish.
Syesha Mercado also had an up-and-down week, and for most of her time onstage it looked like she’d have been better off switching the order of her songs. She began with Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Proud Mary,” and if the vocals were a too little wedding-singer for prime time, the performance as a whole was good enough to impress most, including Randy.
“What a difference a couple of weeks make. Syesha is in the zone,” the judge said. “You have pretty good timing, because you’re showing the heat late in the season, when you need it.”
However, Randy did not like her second vocal, on “A Change is Gonna Come” by Sam Cooke. But Paula gave her a standing ovation, and the combination of criticism and praise left her sobbing by the time it was Simon’s turn to speak. Had he ripped on her, she might have collapsed from the tears, but instead he agreed with Paula and chided Randy for making her cry.
“Randy, thanks for the buzz kill,” Ryan Seacrest added helpfully.
Crushing the competition
Under the circumstances, it seemed almost unfair that David Archuleta got to follow Castro. He did well with the arrangements on both Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me” and Elvis Presley’s “Love Me Tender,” and the judges were effusive with their praise. His two best performances in weeks sounded especially incredible, given that they followed two of the worst ever in Castro’s efforts.
“The truth is that you could have whistled that song and it would have sounded better than the last song (Castro’s ‘I Shot the Sheriff’). You were very well-placed,” Simon pointed out. After his second song, Simon finished the night off by telling Archuleta, “You didn’t beat the competition tonight — you crushed the competition.”
This is a week where sometimes wacky things happen. Two seasons ago, Chris Daughtry went out at this stage, with LaToya London and Tamyra Gray prominent victims in earlier seasons. But Castro did his best to be bad enough not to let that happen again.