To say that David Archuleta arrived at the Idol Thunderdome last night carrying with him the judges' raised expectations is akin to saying the Magi had high hopes for that Nazareth kid over at the Ye Bethlehem Inn. He was, as Simon Cowell pronounced in the second week of competition, "the one to beat"—as good a coronation of Saviordom as any. His myth quickly grew: Animated woodland critters would suddenly appear every time he opened his mouth to sing...His voice could heal the lame, bringing to his feet scores of girls afflicted with a rare condition that rendered them incapable of lowering their arms...His farts smelled like freshly baked chocolate chip cookies. But anyone watching could immediately tell that something was not right:
For starters, the bashful, 17-year-old demi-Honduran seemed more nervous than usual in his introductory video package—not the energized nerves of a confident performer that might lead him to erupt into spontaneous choruses of "Flashdance... What a Feeling," but rather the white-knuckle distress of someone walking into a final matriculation unprepared. His admission that he is almost completely illiterate to the Lennon/McCartney songbook did not reassure us, either, particularly from a performer whose angelic interpretation of "Imagine" was what was credited with securing his coveted spot on the Big Stage in the first place.
And there he stood—a tiny, twittering uvula hanging at the back of a giant, flashing orifice. Put aside for a moment the fact that the song he chose, "We Can Work It Out," was in every way beyond his technical means. Ignore too the disconcerting lip-moistening between every verse, and the auto-show-model arm gestures. The Chosen One had committed the cardinal Idol no-no, failing to heed the one admonishment drilled into our heads repeatedly by Idol's Wayne Brady-hosted, ghetto follow-up: He forgot the lyrics, and in doing so, went in the span of one verse from Messiah to Sanjaya.