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'American Idol': Best 12 Ever

We're down to the top 12, folks, on The Very Best "American Idol" Ever.

For the occasion, they've built a spectacular "Star Trek"-cum-Vegas set. The audience gives the set a standing ovation. Yes, they really do.

Syesha Mercado (Ray Mickshaw - Fox)

The new set includes, host Ryan Seacrest says excitedly, the very first "American Idol" Mosh Pit. It's filled entirely with young chicks.

In honor of this very special occasion, the producers have declared this John Lennon-Paul McCartney week, having finally cleared Beatles songs for this TV season's round of "Idol" after years of trying.

And, each Idolette is supposed to give viewers a mini-autobiography.

Syesha Mercado, student and "actress," gets the short straw and goes first. Her "Got to Get You Into My Life" is bland, but they've clearly stepped up the wardrobe budget going into the final 12.

Judge Randaula thinks she started pitchy and then got a'ight. Judge Simon Cowell thinks it was better than a'ight, but Syesha looked very nervous.

Chikezie Eze, former airport security guy at LAX, says he thought he was a goner last week when it got down to him and Danny Noriega because, he says, Danny was such a lovable guy. He's clearly unaware of Danny's Santa issues.

Chikezie is the night's revelation, getting raves from Paula for his whole "Oh Brother Where Art Thou?" version of "She's a Woman." Randy calls it "dope" -- says Chikezie "smashed it." Simon thinks he was "terrific," particularly the part where he looked completely drunk. Even Seacrest raves: "That's what it's about, man!"

Ramiele Malubay gives the most boring autobiography in the history of "American Idol." How boring? I-pour-soy-sauce-into-little-plastic-cups-and-then-put-the-tops-on-the-cups-for-a-living boring. She sings "In My Life" as a ballad to the recently booted Danny Noriega, with whom she shares a hairstyle. The Mosh Pit Girls are doing the Wave. We resist the urge to club them with a bat. If you close your eyes, Ramiele sounds just like Michael Jackson singing that ballad to the rat. Randy calls it "kind of pretty but kind of boring." Paula calls it "safe." Simon was bored to tears.

Jason Castro has taken to wearing a flower in his hair during photo shoots. He sings "If I Fell." The Mosh Pit Girls are squealing. He has very blue eyes and very long lashes, and he plays the guitar, which makes him virtually irresistible to girls. He's guaranteed a spot in the top six.

Randy calls it one of his favorite songs, though he can't recall having ever recorded it with Mariah. Paula says she feels Jason's heart. The American Idol Decency Police send up a flare. Simon calls it all too "student in a bedroom at midnight." Seacrest advises Simon that when the sun goes down he should leave that student's room, once again demonstrating why Seacrest will walk away with that very first Primetime Emmy Award for Best Performance by a Reality Series Host when it's handed out this fall.

Seacrest discusses with Carly Smithson the Shiny Tractor Seats of Finalist-dom they have brought over from the old set, and on which they are sitting, uncomfortably. Carly says she must have celery and orange juice. She works seven days a week, including Saturday night, when she sings at the Irish bar where she bartends, and every Saturday she sings the Beatles tune "Come Together." Having rehearsed it for years, she wisely chooses to sing it tonight, though this version is a sort of death match with the "American Idol" backup singers. Carly wins, but barely. Randaula loves it, while Simon is reminded of Kelly Clarkson the very same week in the first season of the show.

David Cook is a "drink slinger" in Tulsa. We see him smashing a guitar for a photographer, which is code for "serious rocker." In addition to upping the wardrobe budget, they've upgraded the hairstylist, who has done wonders with Cook's demi-combover. His new hair and the black leather jacket with the collar up make him look rather Eddie Izzard pre-"The Riches." He attempts to turn "Eleanor Rigby" into a hard rock tune but is happily drowned out by the band. Randaula likes it; Simon declares it "brilliant."

Brooke White (Ray Mickshaw - Fox)

Brooke White, Virgin Nanny, moved to Los Angeles to work in her music and wound up as a nanny. She chooses to sing "Let It Be" because, she says, she "really connected with the story . . . the whole idea that in the end you've got to let it be." This week she's playing the piano. She remembers how to play it through the whole song, unlike her unfortunate run-in with a guitar an earlier week, but she seems to have to concentrate really hard. It's a contemplative song, which is the producers' cue to dim the lights, which, in turn, is the Mosh Pit Girls' cue to begin doing the Wave. Virgin Nanny gets up from the piano; she's moved to tears by her own performance.

Randy says he can imagine her at home practicing the piano. Paula feels her heart. The American Idol Decency Police look at one another, confused. Simon, who has been irresistibly attracted to Brooke's no drinkin', no cussin, no swearin' thing from the day he met her, continues to be besotted with her Virgin Nanniness, calling her performance "brilliant" and "one of the night's best." Seacrest notes she's not wearing her shoes -- her actual shoes. Which brings us to this season's traditional American Idol Homophobic Exchange: Seacrest bends down to pick up Virgin Nanny's shoes. Randy and Simon taunt him: "I know you like them!" says Simon. "They're hers!" adds Randy.

This segues nicely to David Hernandez, whose been much in the news lately for his previous work as a stripper at a club with a "mostly male" clientele, according to last week's scoop by the Associated Press's Prude Bureau. Sadly, Hernandez chooses instead to focus on how he got fired from Pizza Bistro, triggering an Internet frenzy of pepperoni jokes. He says he took a class in Beatles in college, but he flunks his performance of "I Saw Her Standing There," according to Randaulamon.

Amanda Overmyer, now in candy-stripe pants though still wearing her brown hair over her blond hair, says everyone in her family rides a Harley. She sings "You Can't Do That," which Randaula likes as does Simon except he only understood a third of the lyrics. We like her a lot this week, too, until she does her tongue-homage to Gene Simmons.

Michael Johns has worked as a day laborer and a tennis coach. He sings "Across the Universe" because the song helped him through a "family experience." The Mosh Pit Girls love him but Randy calls it "sleepy." Paula says it takes "inner strength and quiet confidence" not to make a hash of the song. Simon says Michael should have done what "what's the Irish girl's name?" did with her song.

Kristy Lee Cook takes Simon's earlier advice to go "country" a little too seriously, turning "Eight Days a Week" into a "Hee Haw" number. Randy half likes it. Paula does not. Simon says she sounded like Dolly Parton on helium.

And, finally, David Archuleta, who was gonna win this thing, flubs the lyrics to "We Can Work It Out" more than once, and gets scolded by the judges. Randaula does it nicely. Simon calls it "a mess." David says he "gave it my best . . . and I had fun" but he's not fooling anyone.

By Lisa de Moraes  |  March 12, 2008; 7:12 AM ET
Categories:  "American Idol"  
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