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- Posted on Apr 7th 2010 1:00AM by Joshua Ostroff
But as last night's Lennon/McCartney-themed 'American Idol' proved, picking from pop music's greatest songs isn't necessarily the best choice, either.
The Beatles catalog was untouchable in the early years of 'American Idol' -- no surprise, since Fox's singing franchise was initially considered anathema to the songwriter aesthetic espoused by the Fab Four.
But times change. As Auto-Tune took over pop, 'Idol' advocacy of virtuosic vocals proved an important cultural counterbalance. In 2008, contestants were even allowed to play their own instruments and this was coincidentally (or not) the season Sony's music publishing arm first handed Simon Cowell and Co. the keys to the John Lennon and Paul McCartney songbook.
The songs sparked a few memorable performances from the Season Seven crew, including Brooke White's piano-based 'Let It Be,' Chikezie Eze's surprising bluegrass take on 'She's a Woman' and eventual winner David Cook's goth-rocked 'Eleanor Rigby.'
But the rest were either forgettable or awful, most notoriously then-frontrunner David Archuleta (appearing on Wednesday's results show), who got the pimp slot but lost his footing with an embarrassingly unfunky 'We Can Work It Out.' (Archie had earlier ascended to that lead position with his second-week performance of Lennon's solo classic 'Imagine,' a song he reprised to diminished impact in the season finale).
Then the producers inexplicably brought the Beatles back the week after -- and nearly every singer (aside from Cook with 'Day Tripper') faltered on his or her follow-up. Too much of a good thing was apparently just that.
Beatles Night was abandoned the following year, but the Lennon/McCartney canon (George Harrison's songs not included) returned this week only to be largely a letdown -- though it did allow Ellen DeGeneres to quip, 'They did write 'Party in the USA,' right?"
Hippie front runner Crystal Bowersox killed it once again with a rousing, bluesy take on 'Come Together' that transcended the goofy addition of a didgeridoo by getting into a deep groove and riding it to the rafters, though long-haired good ol' boy Casey James came up hot on Mama 'Sox's Birkenstock-covered heels with a soulful, stripped-down 'Jealous Guy.'
But the rest were either unnecessarily weird (Lee Dewyze's bagpipe addition to 'Hey Jude,' "Big Mike" Lynche's overly dramatic 'Eleanor Rigby') or excruciatingly average (Katie Stevens' pageant-ready 'Let It Be,' Aaron Kelley's dull performance of what DeGeneres dubbed "the 'Long and Winding' song").
Judge Kara DioGuardi summed up much of the night when critiquing Andrew Garcia's so-so acoustic cover of 'Can't Buy Me Love,' saying she felt people were "digging it because they love the song."
That's the downfall of Beatles night: There are so many personal emotions and memories wrapped up in each and every one of Lennon and McCartney's originals, that it's near impossible for the contestants to claim them as their own. They make a bigger impression when sung as one-offs, like Katelyn Epperly's standout 'Oh! Darling' from earlier this season or Kris Allen's 'Come Together' turn in last year's Top Four, which used the season's sole Beatles song to pave his path to victory, or his return visit this season performing 'Let It Be.'
It's cool that 'American Idol' wants to pay tribute to the Liverpudlian legends -- though they could consider forcing the contestants to dig deeper into the catalog -- but it's become increasingly clear that Beatles songs sound much better when they don't come together all on the same night.