Neil Diamond May Destroy ‘American Idol’ Tonight

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Remember the part in Raiders of the Lost Ark where they put the Staff of Ra into the floor of the map room, and the sunlight comes through, and it creates one intense beam that illuminates the Ark of the Covenant? Then you know how inserting Neil Diamond into American Idol could concentrate the show’s dated, corny sensibility into one intense beam that could show us the way to the end of television.

How will the Idol hopefuls cope with yet another old-timey theme night? The easiest prediction is that David Cook will sing “Red Red Wine.” Maybe you forgot, or never knew, that “Red Red Wine” is a Neil Diamond tune, and you only know the UB40 cover. Many Idol fans won’t know either, so when everybody else is singing “I Am … I Said” and other iconic seventies corn, a “Red Red Wine” opportunist can seem to be singing iconic eighties corn. That’s an entire decade of advantage! Cook might go with “Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon,” too, but he generally prefers to turn songs creepy rather than starting with creepy material.

Some opportunities are probably off the table: “Sweet Caroline,” with its hypnotic “BAH-BAH-BAAAAAH!” chorus, has been murdered by stadium sing-alongs, “Rock and Roll (Part Two)” style. The only Idol contestant who could possibly have pulled off “America” is the departed Kristy Lee Cook, probably wearing an American-flag prom dress and holding a sparkler in each hand. David Archuleta probably won’t sing “Heartlight,” which is positively tragic, and “Two-Bit Manchild” is a little on-the-nose. But fear not, little David: Neil Diamond released the first version of “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother,” and that would surely fit into your plan to hug all the world with sweet music.

In the end, there are enough good choices for everyone: Syesha Mercado belting “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers” would take her right back to her overwrought sweet spot, while moony Jason Castro is a perfect fit for “Song Sung Blue,” with its soothingly obvious rhymes like “knows one” and “grows one.” None of that tricky stuff where “ma belle” turns out to be French or “Memory” turns out to have been sung by a cat. As for the eternal sunshine of Brooke White, she’s about due for a nervous breakdown, which we predict will come exactly fifteen seconds into her performance of “I’m a Believer.” —Linda Holmes

Neil Diamond May Destroy ‘American Idol’ Tonight