Was it just me or did this week’s American Idol performance nights remind viewers of a singer/songwriter night at the local coffee house? Things got off to a slow brew Tuesday night when the remaining eight girls turned in what judge Simon Cowell might label “forgettable” performances with a couple of exceptions.
During Wednesday night’s boys’ night, the guys finally turned up the burner as all but three of them opted to strum along while singing their song.
Top 8 Girls (Tuesday night)
Up first was Katie Stevens. For what could be her final performance in the competition, Katie chose Breakaway by season one Idol winner, Kelly Clarkson. With such a great song choice, it was disappointing that Katie‘s take was little more than bad karaoke, but at least she had taken the judges advice by going younger in song choice and wardrobe. Randy Jackson said the song was too big for her and commented that it “paled in comparison” to Clarkson‘s hit. Ellen DeGeneres loved that she chose a young song, but said she didn’t think she had a connection to it. Kara DioGuardi told her she still doesn’t know who she is an an artist and suggested that she needs more time to figure it out. Simonnoted that the second half of the song didn’t go as well as the first, but remarked that she had made an effort. He then noted that she “sucked the energy out of it.”
After last week’s stand-out performance, this year’s dark horse, Siobhan Magnus racked up another strong vocal with The Animal’s 1964 hit, House of the Rising Sun. It was a risky song choice, considering odds-on favorite, Crystal Bowersox had performed if a few weeks back, but Siobhan did a great job of it. Never one to mince words, Randy congratulated her for taking every risk and chance. Ellen lauded, “you are why I love music.” Kara liked Siobhan‘s acapella start to the song. Despite his recent engagement, Simon seemed his usual grumpy self by saying he was underimpressed, going so far as to say her version was “dark, plodding and boring.”
Last week, Lacey Brown failed to wow the judges, so this week was crucial. Despite a decent performance of Brandi Carlisle’s The Story, I still think it’s time for Lacey to head home. Of late, her vocal style seems way to similar to fellow contestant Lilly Scott, and if I had to choose between then, which I do, I’ll take Lilly any day. Randy, Ellen and Kara praised her performance, while Simon kept his grumble on with, “you are in danger of being forgotten.”
Another of my least favorites was next when Katelyn Epperly butchered Carol King‘s 1971 mega-hit, I Feel The Earth Move. Not even Katelyn‘s outta control curly hair nor the security of her keyboard could distract from the performance. The judges agreed with my assessment. Randy didn’t feel she connected with the song and said it was a little sleepy and boring. Ellen said, “it wasn’t enough.” Kara was worried noting that it felt like she “wasn’t competing” and commented, “I felt like you were just going through the motions.” Simon,sarcastically said, “Let me start with a positive, I like your hair.” Then he compared her performance to what happens at a restaurant on request night, saying it was like she was a waitress who got up and did the song.
After Katelyn, came Didi Benami with guitar in hand. It’s no secret that I’ve been rooting for Tennessee‘s lone Idol contender and this week provided the perfect example of why. Didi had a bit of a rough week last week, but her cover of Fleetwood Mac’s 70s hit Rhiannon could easily be a hit today. Of the coffee-house girls (Lilly, Siobhan, Crystal and Lacey), Didi is neck-and-neck with Crystal thanks to a more versatile range and a peg above her thanks to a more accessible look. Randy remarked on her improvement over last week. Ellen applauded her for recovering from last week’s harsh criticisms with a comical, “yes, indeedy Didi,” and noted that she had turned in “a lovely performance.” Kara encouraged her with, “One of my favorite moment’s of the show so far this season.” Simon agreed noting it was one of the best so far.
Paige Miles chose Smile, a song written by Charlie Chaplin, but widely known as Michael Jackson‘s personal favorite of all the songs he recorded. Jumping on the MJ bandwagon months after it has left the station didn’t work for Paige. Her somber smile-less take on the emotionally uplifting song was dismal. Randy admitted it was one of his favorite songs, but said her take on the classic was weird and flat and didn’t work at all. Kara said it was “all wrong.” Ellen said it was “sad and heavy instead of inspiring.” Simonplayed the “horrible song choice” card and called the arrangement awful.
The most obvious song choice of the night came with Crystal Bowersox‘s pleasant, yet predictable interpretation of Tracy Chapman’s 1996 Give Me One Reason. Accompanying herself on electric guitar, she kept firm grip of the #1 girls’ spot. Perhaps because of her experience as a street corner performer, Crystal seems more at ease on stage than any of her competition. Randy gave Crystal three reasons to stay, with “love that, love you, love the song.” Not surprisingly, Ellen embraced the Lilith Fair vibe and called it “amazing, the best performance of the night.” Kara said she exemplified the much-made point of knowing who you are as an artist. Simon sealed her fate with, “You are 1 billion-million percent going to be in the Top 12.” He topped it off with, “It’s yours to lose, you are the one everyone has to beat.”
Who’d have thought that Lilly Scott, with her decidedly Debbie Harry hair and peculiar vocals would take on one of Nashville‘s legendary female singers? Accompanying herself on mandolin, Lilly turned in a quirky, yet surprisingly cool performance of Patsy Cline’s I Fall to Pieces. Early on, I took to comparing Lilly to a Tracy Ullman character, now I’m convinced she is who she is and what’s more, I like her. The judges agreed with me for the most part. Randy like the inclusion of the mandolin and gave her a simply stated, “well done.” Ellen‘s praises were equally simple, but encouraging as she admitted, “love your voice, love your originality.” Kara may have over-stated it a bit with, “You made Patsy Cline feel current.” Simon said it was “cute, quirky, but didn’t have the wow factor.”
Top 8 Girls Rankings:
Bottom 4: Katelyn, Katie, Lacey, Paige
End of the Road: Katelyn and Lacey
Top 8 Boys (Wednesday night)
Despite all the judges constantly berating the boys, saying this season belong to the girls, Wednesday night’s performances proved otherwise. Music City was also represented when two of the final 8 boys performed hits by country music’s favorite Aussie, Keith Urban and Nashville-based two-time Academy of Country Music award-winners Lonestar.
Lee Dewyze, who looked like a guitar-playing lumberjack, got the night off to a great start with his rocker version of Owl City’s Fireflies. Lee‘s confident demeanor and cool vocals improved the song from it’s original version. Randy said he made it his own. Ellen liked that he made it “a little rock.” Kara said there was “a star bubbling up there” and acknowledged that he “made it a better song.” Simon, who had applauded at the end of the performance noted that he didn’t “have a moment”, but also said he felt Lee was “better than what he just did.”
Mullet boy, Alex Lambert followed with a stiff and disjointed cover of Ray LaMontagne’s Trouble. He’s cute, he’s likable, but he’s just not got star quality, not yet anyway. The judges were much too kind. Randy said it was a “good song choice.” Ellen loves his “innocence” and that he’s “sweet and vulnerable and honest.” Kara was honest, yet constructive with, “you are the only thing standing in the way of you winning.” Simon, not doubt seeing dollar signs in the young marketable performer encouraged him to “relax and have a good time.”
According to Idol host Ryan Seacrest, Tim Urban chose the Jeff Buckley version of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah. If you ask me, it was chosen more because, as I’ve noted each time it has been performed in the show, it was a massive hit for Alexandra Burke, the 2008 winner of Cowell‘s Brit reality singing show, X Factor. Given that bit of history, this could have turned out horribly wrong for Urban. Nonetheless, Urban, accompanied himself on guitar and turned in one of the stand-out performances of the night. The judges loved it. Randy noted that he “had some pretty big shoes” to fill with that performance and he “did a pretty good job.” Ellen deemed it “fantastic” and with that, she jumped to her feet and onto the stage to hug him and make amends for being so tough on his up to this point in the competition. Kara recalled thinking he was going home a few weeks ago, adding, “now I think you’re kinda in it.” Simon, who chided Urban a few weeks back saying the initial decision to pass on his was the right one, of course, laid all claim to his breakthrough performance and approved his “smart song choice.”
For weeks, Andrew Garcia has tried to live up to his initial audition during which he turned the bubble-gum pop Paula Abdul hit Straight Up, straight up on it’s ear. In theory, a similar acoustic take ofChristina Aguilera’s Genie in a Bottle seemed like a shoe-in. While it was a decent performance, it seemed to fall a bit short. Randy point out that it was “pitchy” and “didn’t show his range.” Ellen like the end notes, but commented that the genie came out of the bottle a bit too late. Kara said his vocals were fighting with the rhythm of the guitar. Simon went so far as to label it desperate.
Midway through the boys’ night, it was time for to pay homage to Nashville with the next two performances. Seated, playing guitar and wearing a 7 Diamonds shirt , Casey James looked the part of a modern-day country crooner as he tackled Keith Urban’s You’ll Think of Me. Side Note: How do I know it was a 7 Diamonds shirt? It’s the same shirt I wore to Manuel‘s annual birthday bash last year. Casey turned in a nice, safe performance and the judges seemed to agree. Randy said it was safe, but encouraged him to not pull away from his vocals. Ellen simply thought it was great. Kara, still downplaying her crush admitted, “I’m kinda back on the Casey train.” She then said she was “missing that spark, but it’s a move in the right direction. Simon applauded him for sounding sincere and deemed it his “second best performance in the competition.”
For the night’s second Nashville hit, Aaron Kelly took on Lonestar‘s 2001 heavy-hitter, I’m Already There without the security blanket of a guitar. Like Alex, Aaron is just too young and too uncomfortable onstage at this point in the game. Three of the judges seem more willing to give him another shot and groom his potential. Randy said he has the makings of a great singer, congratulating him on a job well done, but warned he “still has some work to do. Ellen said he seems older than his 16 years, but cautioned, “I didn’t think it was teriffic.” Kara, proving once again why she’s my least favorite judge, seemed to be reaching for something negative to say when she told him the song was not relevant to his life. Oh, please, she liked the heavy-laiden Trouble by unassuming Alex, but not this? Simon backed me up when he called Kara‘s comments, “rubbish.”
Broadway dancing queen Todrick Hall chose Queen’s 1976 hit Somebody to Love. I was surprised the judges let him off as easily as they did when this song seemed to be lifted directly from the UK Queen-inspired jukebox musical, We Will Rock You. I can’t help it, he’s been my least favorite for weeks. Good thing I’m not on the judges panel, as they all sang his praises. Randy announced, “Todrick is back.” Ellen noted the “gospel vibe” and would have liked more of it. Kara came closest to my assessment with “it was a bit Godspell–esque at times.” Simon also noted the theatrical aspect of the performance, and basically dissed the guitar-pull we’d been witness to by saying, “with so many people sitting on stools, playing guitar, at lest you made an attempt to perform.”
Then there was Big Mike. With stage presence and moves to rival R. Kelly, Mike Lynche‘s version of Maxwell’s This Woman’s Work seemed to wow the judges. I guess I’m still ticked that the producers didn’t kick him to the curb after his father broke the confidentiality clause, because I thought it was a bit over done. Randy let loose with patented, albeit less-frequently used Dog, Yo and Dope in his praises of the performance. Ellen said he was the one to beat with and OMG accompanied by “The show just began. Kara turned on the fake water works, rambling something about being moved to tears despite not being a mom herself. If this were a soap opera, I’d be willing to put money on an upcoming announcement that Kara is pregnant, but it’s not, it’s a reality singing competition. If Kara gave the night’s most unbelievable performance, I mean judges’ reaction, Simon gave the most expected, saying, “this was so needed.”
Top 8 Boys Rankings:
2. Big Mike
Bottom 4: Andrew, Alex, Aaron, Todrick
End of the Road: Todrick, Aaron
Tune in tonight to see which two girls and two boys are sent home as American Idol finally joins the two groups together to reveal the Top 12. In between Thursday’s results, two of last season’s finalist, Scott MacIntyre and Matt Giraud will take to the stage to perform a dueling piano version of Billy Joel‘s hit, Tell Her About It. The song was originally set to be part of last year’s finale, but was cut at the last minute. Of course Idol fans who attended last year’s nation-wide Idol Tour have already seen the performance, as it was a highlight of the tour.