Notes after the jump ...
Dolly Parton night. She looks terrible, but that's nothing new.
Brooke White. "Jolene." She's on guitar, backing includes fiddle. She seems to be rushing the song. I wonder if the hour length tonight has put more pressure on the singers to move it along. OK. Not great. No iTunes. C. Randy doesn't know if it was stellar but it was all right. Paula calls her consistent and puts her heart and soul into her songs, and she's "excellent and wonderful." Brooke compliments Paula's hair, then Simon's and Randy's. Simon thinks the song was lacking emotion and didn't like the way the band looked onstage. Paula argues. Talking over each other ensues.
David Cook. Ryan kisses up to him and asks how he chooses arrangements; he says online. Will do his own arrangement tonight of "Little Sparrow." Dolly says it's one of her favorites. She is tres complimentary to DC. (She said earlier she couldn't have been an "Idol" judge because she couldn't criticize people.) His version of "Little Sparrow" sounds at first like "Broken Wing." Gost a little churchy thing in it, too. It's OK but I'm still not in an iTunes mood. C plus. Randy says DC is a rocker who has been showing he has an unbelievable range. Paula praises his haircut -- now out of his eyes. Calls his performance fantastic. Simon says it wasn't as good as last week, but if he can make a song about sparrows good, "then congratulations."
Ramiele Malubay. "Finally someone my size!" says Dolly. RM says she was starstruck. 'Do I Ever Cross Your Mind?" RM's getting a lot of backing-vocal help. Very peppy, when this is a song that can have a solid brooding side. (Check out Joan Osborne's version.) But RM's not one for introspection. C. Randy wasn't jumping up and down but it was "kind of all right. ... 6 1/2 out of 10." Paula thinks she had "a great minute and 30 seconds" and connected with the audience. Simon says we're not going to remember this in 10 years; it was cute but very cruise-ship.
Jason Castro with Ryan. NO, NO, DON'T ASK HIM TO SPEAK IN COMPLETE SENTENCES!! Ryan shows him a set of postcards all from the same girl. Jason is not, in fact, asked to speak. Then we do see him on tape. He's doing "Travelin' Thru." Not a heavy-lifting song, but from a pretty good movie ("Transamerica"). He's pleasant but no more. but it's not the most demanding song either. Another freakin' C. Randy thought it started rough but that it became pretty good. Paula thought it was one of his strongest performances. (Well, he did seem to be awake at least.) Simon didn't like it, didn't think it was sung particularly well, didn't like the song either.
Carly Smithson. "Here You Come Again." Not written by Dolly, Miss Parton notes, but one of her better-known recordings. DP thinks CS kills. She's bringing it down to thoughtful acoustic -- what Ramiele could have done with her song, if RM were capable. But after the nice acoustic opening, it goes big pop, but too adult contemporary, and the big note doesn't fit with the rest. C, C, C.
Let me pause here to say that I like a lot of Parton songs. I also like the Parton covers on "Just Because I'm a Woman." But I'm not sold on this stuff tonight.
Getting back to CS, Randy and Paula loved her; Simon thought it was good but not great and thought she wasn't dressing enough like a star. Ryan beats on Simon about not liking country music. Strange at this point, since CS didn't do it country. Simon says he wants great performances. Paula says how wonderful and evolving CS is.
David Archuleta. "Smoky Mountain Memories." Dolly is pleased. DA says it reminds him of his home. DP thinks he could be "a great, great singer." DA basically turns it into an Eagles song. Little too slowed down but the guy can sing and he embraces the tune. B. Randy says DA is back and that was the best performance of the night. Paula thinks he has a beautiful aura. Simon says DA's song choice was absolutely on the money.
Kristy Lee Cook. "Coat of Many Colors." DP thinks her mama's gonna be so proud -- but KLC says she would rather impress DP. Another arrangement that sounds rushed. And this is a story song, so the abbreviated version kills the story. Decent voice, though. C plus. Randy says country is in her wheelhouse. Paula says she looks stunning and gave a beautiful performance. Simon thought last week was her best performance and this was forgettable.
Syesha Mercado. "I Will Always Love You." Dolly likes her way of combining Dolly's version with Whitney's. Syesha sitting on a piano to sing. Does keep it simple to the chorus. Maybe too understated. Then begins to bring it near but not in Whitney territory. And then hits a full Whitney, with a long held note leading into the close. Nice. B minus/C plus. Randy thought she took on the biggest tiger of the night and did pretty good. Paula likes her velvety tone and thinks she is "growing and growing and growing." Simon calls it one of the best pop songs ever but he almost wished she hadn't gotten it; liked the first part but thought she didn't match up with Whitney.
Michael Johns to close. He says Dolly was his first concert in 1986. I have to think that, overall, this year's contestants paid attention to all the mentor-dissing last year and decided against it. "It's All Wrong But It's All Right." He's trying to take it to church but it feels redundant without much variety, and it doesn't build to anything. The falsetto's just not a big payoff. C. Randy calls it blazing hot and a nice job. Paula talks fast but then slows down, but likes him. Simon also impressed.
Recap. Now I know who Castro reminded me of: Steve Forbert. DC sounds better in the recap. (Yes, yes, yes, they're from dress rehearsals.) KLC seems weaker, Syesha better, MJ better in the small dose than in the full performance. And I am out.