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'American Idol': Phantom of the Idol

Because "American Idol" hasn't yet lost enough of its 18- to 34-year-old viewers, Andrew Lloyd Webber is this week's guest judge and the Idolettes are being forced to sing his show tunes.

And yes, that means we, the viewers, must sit through two songs from "The Phantom of the Opera" and -- gak -- "Memory" from "Cats." Which reminds me how much I used to admire the distinguished gentleman who played the piano in the lounge of the lovely old Valencia hotel in La Jolla, Calif., and who when tourists would ask him to play "Memory" from "Cats" would tell them in the nicest possible way to buzz off. Good times.

Show host Ryan Seacrest tells us it will be the most daunting week ever for the Idolettes. What about the viewers, Ryan? Two "Phantom" songs, for god's sake!

And then, something strange begins to happen. Andrew Lloyd Webber turns into the Best "Idol" Guest Judge. Ever.

A "Memory" we'd like to forget: Jason Castro does his Andrew Lloyd Webber. (Frank Micelotta/FOX)

I mean, how can you resist a guy who says to the camera, "I don't think that girl had a clue what she was singing about," in a taped bit after suffering through Nanny Brooke singing "You Must Love Me" from the film adaptation of "Evita."

Syesha Mercado, who somehow keeps making it through week after week even though she's completely irrelevant, sings "One Rock & Roll Too Many" from "Starlight Express." I know, I've never heard of it either. Anyway, Lloyd Webber seems to have ginned up this hot-mama number and Syesha has a field day vamping and flirting with the band, which has been moved onto the stage to help fill its offputting cavernous-ness. Her singing is okay, but it doesn't matter, nor do the judges' comments, because she's wearing the most incredible red dress ever. Judge Simon Cowell calls it "very sexy" and "Michelle Pfeiffer lying on the piano." Which is overstating the facts but you get the drift.

"I never thought I'd see a man singing 'Memory' with dreadlocks," Lloyd Webber tells viewers.

He's referring, of course, to Jason Castro who, like Nanny Brooke, has no concept what he's singing during the taped rehearsal bit. He seems stunned when the composer explains it's a song sung "by an extremely old glamour puss" in the musical "Cats."

"I didn't know a cat was singing it," Jason says, dumbfounded. "I'm really nervous -- it's kind of a popular song," he adds. Lloyd Webber tells us he will not be surprised if Jason "ignores every single thing I told him" during rehearsal. Liking Lloyd Webber better and better.

Jason mauls "Memory" but, so far as the Mosh Pit Sorority Sisters are concerned, he transcends mere singing and they pour their little hearts into The Wave.

Randaula thinks it "musically a little bit of a train wreck." Simon, in the best crack of the night by someone other than Andrew Lloyd Webber, says Jason looks like a kid being forced by his mum and dad to sing this song at a wedding. It's especially true because Jason is dressed in one of the white suits made for the "Fantasy Island" remake NBC programming chief Ben Silverman has not yet thought of remaking, but will, in time.

Of Evita Peron in the song "You Must Love Me," Lloyd Webber patiently explains to Nanny Brooke, "She's dying and she knows it," while Nanny Brooke bites her lower lip and gives him her very best Tell Nanny Where It Hurts look.

"He looked into my eyes and like I got it!" she gushes at the camera, adding it was probably her " most powerful moment on the show" so far -- not to be confused with all the other most powerful moments on the show so far for Nanny Brooke.

After spending time with Nanny Brooke, Lloyd Webber pronounces her "a wonderful natural actress."

Speaking of Nanny Brooke and acting: Remember how dramatic it was last time she stopped a song and started over on the show? Well, she does it again. And this time her performance is flawless.

Seconds into her song, Nanny Brooke stops. The entire "Idol" audience holds its breath. She apologizes prettily and asks the "Idol" band if she can start over. They agree. She begins again. The audience continues to hold its collective breath while waiting to see if she'll remember the lyric this time. She does! Hooray for Nanny Brooke!

It's all downhill from there, unless you go in for Mary Poppins doing dying Evita while Mosh Pit Sorority Sisters give her the We Love You Nanny Brooke Wave. Sadly, the camera did not cut to Lloyd Webber in the audience so we could see how he was taking it.

"You must never start and stop," judge Paula Abdul admonishes. Has Paula finally seen through Nanny Brooke? It's like that scene in "All About Eve" when Bette Davis finally gets wise to faux-wide-eyed snake-in-the-grass Eve Harrington. And, just like in "All About Eve" the men are the last to figure her out. The men tell Nanny Brooke how brave it was for her to stop and start over. Seacrest even strokes her arm soothingly, while Nanny Brooke, insisting it's the first time anything like this has ever happened to her on the show, bites her lip to signal she's holding back tears. This is fast becoming my most favorite "Idol" episode ever.

David Archuleta picks the Lloyd Webber tune that most sounds like all the other tunes he's ever sung on "Idol," which happens to be "Think of Me" from -- gak -- "The Phantom of the Opera."

"Little David has a real musical soul to him but ... he must keep his eyes open. I can't watch someone who keeps his eyes closed all the time," Lloyd Webber scolds. We are now totally in love with him and sad that he is not one of the regular judges.

Little David's eyes are frozen open during his entire performance. We think he only blinks twice in two minutes, which is unsettling to watch. Nevertheless the judges give him his weekly dose of you-are-so-great.

Carly Smithson tries to sing some soppy girly Lloyd Webber song during the taped rehearsal bit, but the composer cuts her off and tells her to sing from "Jesus Christ Superstar" because "a girl with this on her arm" -- pointing at her tatts -- has to do "Superstar." Carly lights up and says she has just the right dress for the song. Please let it have sleeves.

It does! She is, as usual, a much better performer and singer than any of the other Idolettes, not that that's gotten her anywhere with the judges. Randaula calls her performance good, unexpected, and the minidress she's wearing "kinda fly." Simon, who really hates Carly, concedes it was one of his fave performances of the night. Carly shows off her "Simon Likes Me (This Week)" T-shirt she'd had made just in case.

And, finally, David Cook tells us he grew up doing musical theater -- and yet Lloyd Webber has to explain to him that his song of choice, "The Music of the Night" from -- gak -- "The Phantom of the Opera," is a love song. He demands that David C. sing the song to him as if he, Lloyd Webber, is a "gorgeous 17-year-old from the chorus line." David calls that a little strange.

David C. is so uncomfortable with a love song he sings it with a faux British accent, which, in turn, so confuses the Mosh Pit Sorority Sisters they completely forget to give him The Wave.

Undaunted, judge Randy Jackson declares it "molten hot." Paula gives her dreamy look and says David C. has a "beautiful instrument," which causes the Idol Decency Police, who have been napping under the table for weeks now, to snap to attention. Simon thinks David C. made the most of a song that was not right for him.

"We love you, David!" some chicks in the audience scream.

"I know, and it's a sign of your intelligence and innate good taste," he says with his eyes.

By Lisa de Moraes  |  April 23, 2008; 6:09 AM ET
Categories:  "American Idol"  
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