American Idol 7: Top 4 Performances, Live Thoughts
And then there were four.  Jason Castro was not expected to make it this far.  The dread-locked, laid back Texan wasn't featured once during the audition episodes (usually a bad sign) and even when he made the Top 12, I'm not sure anybody thought he'd outlast the likes of Carly Smithson and Brooke White.  Same goes for Syesha Mercado - she was "supposed" to be eliminated weeks ago.  Yet, she's steadily improved and sung well enough to forever become a part of American Idol lore.  American Idol is winding down, folks, and the favorites remain David Cook and David Archuleta.  While it was once assumed that Archuleta would win American Idol going away, Cook has been picking up momentum for weeks.  Tonight, the theme has something to do with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which should provide a broad base of available songs, and hopefully increase the quality of the performances.  Paula, get your notes ready, because here comes your American Idol top 4.

Seacrest begins the episode claiming that three of the final four have spent a week as the top vote getter.  If true, that's sort of a big deal.  I assumed Archuleta had won every week, with the exception of maybe David Cook one of the last couple weeks. 

Well, technical difficulties.  So, guess what?  I missed David Cook's first performance.  If any of you commenters could tell us what he sang and how he did that'd be great.

Computers are so friggin' stupid sometimes. 

Syesha Mercado takes the stage after the commercial.  Her first song is "Proud Mary" by Tina Turner.  Great song, and Syesha keeps picking big, iconic songs done by female living legends.  She starts maybe a little too strong - the beginning of Mary is supposed soft and subtle, but I guess she only gets 90 seconds or so.  She's definitely doing the whole Tina thing, shaking her hips, moving around on stage.  Vocally, it's a ight.  She still has a propensity to lazily sing out of tune.  I don't think the judges are going to be very kind - it paled in comparison to most covers of that song.  But, at least she looked good doing it.  Randy says she's "in the zone."  Maybe I was wrong.  Simon thought it was a bad, shrieky version of Tina Turner.  Simon is more right than wrong.

Jason Castro is starting off with a song by Bob Marley.  "I Shot the Sheriff."  It's an awkward beginning, just where he decided to begin the song.  I can't decide if I kind of like this performance or absolutely hate it.  Vocally, it might be one of Jason's better performances in a while.  The arrangement is just weird, hard to follow.  It was kind of a mess.  Randy didn't like it.  I agree - it was pretty amateurish.  Paula wasn't even crazy about it.  Simon says it was "utterly atrocious."  Jason has made it clear that he does not give a crap about the judges or their praise. 

David Archuleta is singing "Stand By Me" by Ben E. King.  Will her Archuleta-ize it, or be faithful to the original?  So, here lies the Archuleta rift.  Technically, this was a wonderful performance.  He hit every note, showed off a big voice, and sang with confidence.  However, I would argue that he destroyed a classic song.  He puts in all of these unnecessary runs - it sounds like it was done by a Christina Aguilera impersonator.  The vocal arrangement angered me.  Randy loves it, of course.   Simon thought he struggled near the end, but calls it the best performance so far.

BTW, in Jason Castro is a stoner news: when they showed video of Jason before he performed, Jason explained he would be singing Bob Marley, then said "Go figure, right?" and then giggled to himself. 

David Cook is up next singing "Baba O'Reilly" by The Who.  Well, then.  This is one of my, say, top 67 favorite songs of all-time.  It starts slow, just David and an electric organ in the background.  He's playing guitar on this one.  It builds, and when it gets big David starts yelling, showing off his voice.  The problem is, the vocals on the song are ridiculously simple - there's not much to do.  But, he did what he could with it.  It was solid.  The judges roundly applaud. 

Syesha is singing "A Change is Gonna Come" by Same Cooke.  This is a GREAT SONG.  Definite top 50 of all time.  She holds that first note obscenely long.  I don't think this song works well for a lady - the level of difficulty for men for those big notes is part of its greatness.  That being said, Syesha is singing this well, dropping some cleavage on America's faces in the process.  She absolutely nails a series of big notes at the end, without going out of tune (except for maybe a little on that last note).  Randy didn't like the arrangement.  Paula gives her a standing ovation - she loved the vocals, loved everything.  Paula is on the verge of tears.  Syesha is crying now.  Oh, god.  Simon agrees with Paula, he loved it. 

Jason is singing Bob Dylan's "Mr. Tambourine Man."  OK, this could be really good. It's just Jason and an acoustic guitar.  He forgets the lyrics on the first verse and hums along until he finds his place.  Man, why did he have to forget the words?  Because, otherwise, this isn't a bad performance.  Just a solid, folksy vocal.  But, it was bad bad bad to forget the words.  Paula finds positive things to say somehow.  Simon simply says, "Jason, I'd pack your suitcase."  Wow, brutal night for my man Castro. 

David Archuleta finishes the show with Elvis's "Love Me Tender."  I am scared.  Hey, guess what, he's singing it in a very slow ballad style.  He's singing annoying runs all over the place.  That needs to stop.  However, again, technically it is quite impressive - he even adds a nice flasetto note at the end.  Good night for Archuleta.

OK, so after lil' David's last performance, I went to my ITunes and listened to the Elvis version of "Love Me Tender" and it makes Archuleta's performance seem a lot worse.  The Elvis original is full of the soft subtlety that Archuleta is not capable of.  He spits in the face of that kind of singing.  Elvis's had no big notes, nothing resembling a run, and as a result it's a much more endearing and touching performance.  I'll discuss this more in the my performance rankings coming up later tonight.

-Oscar Dahl, BuddyTV Senior Writer
(Image Courtesy of FOX)