American Idol moved onto the big stage last night, and without the presence of Lilly Scott or Todrick Hall or Alex Lambert or Katelyn Epperly, I feared we may be worse for wear. After all, it’s safe to say that none of those four truly deserved an ouster last week (I’d have reserved that honor for Aaron Kelly, Andrew Garcia, Katie Stevens, and Paige Miles). Part of the fun of Idol, however, is its unpredictability, and so even though I’m not totally pleased with our top twelve, I’m happy to go along for the ride. The question is this: did last week’s underperformers (see parenthetical above) do enough to warrant their spot in the top dozen?
The answer is decidedly mixed. Some excelled. Others continued to falter. Making matters more difficult was that this week’s theme was the music of The Rolling Stones — a band that’s arguably known as much for swagger as it is for talent. And we all know what swagger means: personality — a vastly lacking trait in many of our Idol singers. Add that many of these songs are beloved and well-known to millions around the globe, and our finalists have quite the daunting task in front of them (viz. not BUTCHERING the HELL out of the Stones).
First up was Michael Lynche taking on “Miss You.” The big man has been more or less preordained as the man (and perhaps person) to beat this season, which may be why I was left a bit cold by this performance. Were my expectations too high? Perhaps. But ultimately, Michael delivered a rather forgettable ditty, thanks to yet another wedding-band arrangement from Rickey Minor. Inexplicably, Michael earned great marks from all the judges except Simon, who also felt this wasn’t anything special. The good news is that Big Mike can certainly sing, and his voice sounded fine. However, it just did not seem like the right song for him. I personally thought “Gimme Shelter” would have been an apt choice, but we’ll get to that tune later.
Next up was Didi Benami, who delivered a haunting and stirring rendition of “Play With Fire.” I don’t know why I like this girl so much. I wasn’t a huge fan of hers during Hollywood week, and yet I’ve been impressed with her week in and week out (even those weeks where she got totally reamed by the judges). It seems like she’s got some confidence now, and more importantly, she was emotionally connected to the song, which led to a generally captivating performance. The judges agreed, and thankfully, she earned more raves for the second week in a row. Even better: no crying!
Resurrecting his once maligned electric guitar was Casey James who rocked his way through “It’s All Over Now.” I’m a big Casey fan, and I liked this performance, but I didn’t think it was anything tremendous. Definitely very solid. Solid as a rock. That’s what this looove isssss (sorry, Ashford & Simpson moment). The thrill is still hot hot hot hot hot hot hot hot (okay, now I’m done). Anyway, ’80s R&B diversions aside, I definitely enjoyed Casey’s rockin’ moment, but I didn’t love it as much as the judges who praised him and his guitar, thus eating their words from week two of the semifinals when they told him that electric geee-tar wasn’t his thang. Nevertheless, I’m happy for him, and if all goes to plan, he should be around for a few more weeks.
Up to this point, the show had been pretty good — nothing too amazing, but nothing outright awful. Then came Lacey Brown. Oh for the love of Mom Haircuts, why is this girl still around? Admittedly, she sang well last week, but my oh my was she back to awfulness with her wretched take on “Ruby Tuesday.” Not only did she sound like a twangy wah-wah guitar, but her stage presence was all messed up. She started the song standing and walking around and then ended by taking a seat on the stairs. Since when does it make sense to take on a song’s climax by adopting a more clammed up stance? This was butchery in the first degree, with third degree butcher burns, and six degrees of butcher separation between her butchery and me vomiting. Okay, I’m not even making sense anymore, but I think you get the point.
Things didn’t get much better with Andrew Garcia, who’s been enjoying a desperate freefall for a few weeks now. At first, I think we all were rooting for him to pull out of it, but now he’s got some major Lil-Rounds-itis going on: as in, we know there’s talent there, but we’ve given up hope and just want to put him out of his misery. Anyway, Andrew sang “Gimme Shelter,” which may be my favorite Stones song, and while he didn’t Lacey Brown it (ie. destroy it in ways that had previously been unthinkable), he certainly didn’t bring anything exciting to the performance. He was also kind of off the entire time. As Kara said, “Gimme Shelter” is a song about war, and Andrew simply brought no tenacity to it. Not saying Andrew had to channel the emotion of a soldier, but he could have certainly connected with the emotional component of the song much better (this is why I thought Big MIke would have been a better match — he could have brought the verve such a tune needed). Nevertheless, Andrew continues to disappoint, and I think I’m ready for him to go.
Elsewhere in Blandsville, we’ve got Katie Stevens, who also has plenty of potential, but her voice and (lack of) charisma does nothing for me. She pulled out an okay but forgettable version of “Wild Horses” that the judges enjoyed for some reason or another. I didn’t get it. I think I actually dozed off in the middle of it (I had been drinking wine). This was a mild improvement over Katie’s awful “Breakaway” last week, but nothing to write home about (even if home is in charming Middlebury, CT).
Just when I thought this run of underwhelming performances couldn’t get any worse, along came Tim Urban, who’d been improving so nicely week after week. Well, this time around, he gave us a dreary, lame, and seemingly never-ending reggae-tinged version of “Under My Thumb.” I don’t love the original song, and giving it a lazy island feel only made it worse. There was no emotion, no fun, and nothing exciting about this number. Tim sounded fine, but my goodness, I could not wait for it to end. Certainly one of the worst arrangements in the group. Tim may very well wind up going home (unless the tween girls take a liking to his goofy smile).
Thankfully things picked up in a major way with Siobhan Magnus, who continues to provide a necessary dramatic spark to the proceedings. Singing “Paint It Black,” Siobhan was all big hair and angry scowls, and for the most part she sounded pretty good. I did think she was a tad too nasally, but dammit if she didn’t go screaming at the end of the song once again. And dammit if I didn’t love it all over. It irked me when Adam Lambert would pull such stunts, but it works for Siobhan. Or at least, maybe after hearing the likes of Tim Urban and Lacey Brown, I’m just happy to get a jolt of energy, even if it does sound a touch shrill. Either way, Siobhan has certainly made a name for herself as the most exciting singer of the season, and once again I’m looking forward to hearing what she’ll pull out of her hat next week. She also has funky glasses.
Following Siobhan was Lee Dewyze, who has been okay thus far but always seems to suffer from pitch problems. Well, for the first time ever, I actually thought he sounded very good with his jammy take on “Beast of Burden.” Of course, as an admitted Dave Matthews superfan, I may be biased towards any arrangement that sounds like, well, Dave Matthews (as was the case with Lee’s rendition), but putting predispositions aside for a moment, I really did think he sounded good. The only detriment was that it wasn’t a particularly resonating performance. It sounded great and all, but it was a tad “small,” as they say. The judges dinged Lee on this point, saying that he didn’t seem to really go out and embrace the literally and emotional stage, but he certainly did enough to warrant another week on the show. I’m just happy that he finally got his voice in check.
Also getting her voice back in check was Paige Miles, who for all intents and purposes should have been sent packing after last week’s abominable take on “Smile.” She avoided elimination though, and I’m glad she did because I thought she sounded great on “Honkey Tonk Woman.” She certainly has the biggest voice of the women, and hearing it on display had me feeling like we could be getting some good stuff from her later on (never mind that she was apparently suffering from laryngitis). Simon continued to fault Paige for not connecting as an artist with a song yet, and I can sort of see his point. Right now, it’s a bit hard to imagine what sort of song Paige would put out on the radio, but unlike perhaps Andrew Garcia, I think in time she can find her niche.
Next up was Aaron Kelly, the awkward teen who has yet to impress me any shape, matter, or form. His performance last week nearly drove me to destroy my speakers, and when I saw that he had beaten out the likes of Todrick and Alex, I was more than miffed. However, however — I have to give the kid props. His performance of “Angie” was very good. For the first time ever, his voice sounded confident, not to mention IN TUNE, and everything pretty much worked. As Simon said, it was the perfect song choice. I can’t begrudge him that. Also, he gets bonus points for having a cute mom. Still, I won’t be surprised though if Aaron’s back to wobbly unevenness next week.
Last but certainly not least was Crystal Bowersox, who gave us a fun, soulful version of “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.” I’ve loved this girl all season, and that was before I saw the video package of her dad getting choked up over the song “Daddy.” Was it me or did Ryan look a bit misty-eyed after that? And would it be too embarrassing if I admitted that I got a little misty myself? And furthermore, who else wants to hear “Daddy?” I mean, SHE TOOK THE TIME TO SAY “DADDY, I LOVE YOU.” ARE YOUR HEARTS MADE OF STONE???
Nevertheless, Crystal closed out the show is rousing fashion with what I thought was a great take on “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.” I totally loved it, and I was a tad surprised when the judges only gave her warm reviews. Sure, they were fans, but they all said it wasn’t one of her best efforts. What the? I thought it was! Simon suggested she’d become complacent knowing she was the one to beat, causing Crystal to ultimately respond that she never thought she was the one to beat, but “thank you for saying that.” It was kind of a perfect remark that wasn’t fresh or cocky but totally sent a sly message to America (ie. “Yeah, bitches, I AM the one to beat, and SIMON said so!”).
Overall, it was an up and down night. What did you think? Who was the best? Who was the worst? Who’s going home? And who should go home?