A review of last night's "American Idol" performances coming up just as soon as my gimmick is a carpet...
At one point, this was supposed to be Teen Idol Night, and for whatever reason - maybe because mentor Miley Cyrus objected to the idea? - it changed to Billboard #1 Hits Night, which is one of those amorphous "choose your own theme" nights that lets each contestant stay in his or her comfort zone. And that in turn makes for a much less interesting show than ones with more specific themes; even if the theme has no application to pop music and doesn't fit most of the contestants, it can be entertaining to see how they each try to make it work. This, on the other hand, was dullsville - as Simon said, bluntly, "Tonight, for me, was not a good night overall." - where even the one truly strong performance (Crystal) was exactly what you might have expected that singer to do.
Lee Dewyze, "The Letter": This song would have technically qualified for a Teen Idol Night, as Alex Chilton was only 16 when The Box Tops recorded this one. I don't know if DeWyze knew about Chilton, and I'm sure Simon neither knows nor cares (Big Star is the kind of cult favorite he has no use for), but the song has had an "Idol" presence since at least season four, and this was an odd arrangement of it. I never would have pegged Lee as a guy to go all lounge act, but it was, between the suit, the horns and his stage presence sans guitar. Not that interesting, save for a couple of big notes in the middle, and he lost the thread near the end.
Paige Miles, "Against All Odds": Speaking of songs with an "Idol" history, this one has been repeatedly butchered (here's Corey Clark killing it in season two), and Paige once again inflicted maximum damage upon the works of Phil Collins. Strained, warbly, and lifeless all at the same time. Even grading on a curve for her cold (which actually kind of worked for her last week), that was awful.
Tim Urban, "Crazy Little Thing Called Love": A few years ago, when somebody (Taylor Hicks?) sang this, I noted that the degree of difficulty is so low that it's the song I would pick if I somehow wound up on that stage (and I can't sing at all). Lots of big stage moves to play to the auditorium, but he was barely even singing for most of it. The reggae "Under My Thumb" was horribly ill-conceived, but at least he was trying something there. This was just lazy.
Aaron Kelly, "Don't Want to Miss a Thing": I haven't been a fan of Aaron, and I cringe every year when this song (my least favorite Aerosmith hit) makes its annual "Idol" appearance, but this was surprisingly decent - particularly if you grade Aaron on a curve for his double case of -itis. He strained in spots, but not as much as he so often does in the weeks when he's been healthier. And he's a damn site better than Tim.
Crystal Bowersox, "Me and Bobby McGee": Of course Crystal would sing Janis if given the chance. Of course she would. But unlike some previous Joplin wannabes on "Idol," Crystal has the voice and musicianship and stagecraft to pull it off. She's just operating at a much higher level than anyone else so far this year (even Siobhan) that it almost doesn't seem fair to give her such a fat pitch down the center of the plate like this. Just a pleasure to watch and to listen to, and she finally started showing some personality in her interaction with the judges afterwards. At this point, my only fears are that she's not current enough to win, and that the judges will start getting bored with her and playing the "you're our resident professional" card around Top 6 or 5.
Michael Lynche, "When a Man Loves a Woman": Kind of the quintessential Michael Lynche performance: solid, entertaining, likable, competent, but not that spectacular. (And I'm surprised he didn't use his falsetto more, as it's probably the one part of his range that sounds like more than just really good karaoke.)
Andrew Garcia, "I Heard It Through the Grapevine": When Miley told Andrew to ditch his guitar, I thought, "Well, if he goes home tomorrow, it's her fault." But I doubt the guitar would have improved things. Sure, his stage moves are mostly clumsy - save for the moonwalk we failed to see because bumbling "Idol" director Bruce Gowers once again cut away from the one interesting thing to look at on stage - but even with the guitar as security blanket, this was still a lifeless arrangement, and one that challenged Andrew vocally only slightly more than Tim. At a certain point, we've got to let "Straight Up" go and just accept that this isn't a particularly good venue for the guy.
Katie Stevens, "Big Girls Don't Cry": God, I hate this song (Fergie's a pox on modern music). Katie was okay, though she started out too low and there were the usual pitch issues. But overall, another really bland performance on a bland night.
Casey James, "The Power of Love": This seems like kind of the quintessential Casey song, in that Huey Lewis and the News were essentially a kick-ass bar band that improbably hit it big for a while(*). Casey doesn't nearly have Huey's range, though (even if he'd had 30 more seconds to play with, I bet he would have skipped the "they say that all in love is fair" bridge to avoid the key change). Like so much on the night, Casey hit the marks and not much more.
(*) When the News were huge, Bobcat Goldthwait had this great bit in his act about how, if you saw Huey walking down the street, "You wouldn't go, 'Hey, isn't that America's #1 rock star?' You'd go, 'Isn't that a friend of my dad?'"
Didi Benami, "You're No Good": Last week, Didi managed to sell the emotions of her song without coming across like an actress. This week, she pushed it too far; it was like a slinkier version of those artificial pageant-y performances that Diana DeGarmo used to give every week. And the song wasn't a good match for her voice.
Siobhan Magnus, "Superstition": The faux-hawk and the outfit made for probably her best look to date, but this was paint-by-numbers Siobhan: start out low (a bit too low this time), move around, then scream. The build up to the scream didn't feel as natural as it did last week, and this time it actually sounded like shrieking, where in some previous performances it just sounded like she had a really powerful upper register.
Best of the night: Crystal. Nobody else close.
In danger: Paige will be in the bottom three again, but under my "it's better to be awful than mediocre" theory of "Idol" eliminations, I wouldn't be surprised to see somebody like Andrew, Tim or even Lee (who was unmemorable and had to go first in a very long show) go home ahead of her.
What did everybody else think?