Start spreading the news: Frank Sinatra night on American Idol sort of sucked. It’s not Frank Sinatra’s fault. And it’s not guest mentor/composer Harry Connick Jr.’s fault. Really, it’s the producers’ fault. I know people love their standards, and I know they love their Sinatra (my mom excluded), but on a show that’s about finding a current, radio-friendly music star, this seemed like a step in the wrong direction. Some might argue that a night of old fashioned crooning is actually the sort of high-level challenge that the contestants should face this late in the season, and some might also reference that Tony Bennett week from a few seasons back where all the singers did magnificently; however, I’m not buying it. This was a poor choice, and it makes me wonder if the producers have any interest in reaching a young demographic anymore.
Another poor choice by the producers: selecting this crop of contestants. Yeah, I know the responsibility falls squarely on the judges for the top 24, but consider this: first, the producers weed out choices before sending them through to the judges during the first round of auditions. Second, let’s not act as if Ken Warwick & Co. don’t have ANY say in the top 24 selections whatsoever. The point is, this cast has totally failed to capture America’s imagination, and the decline in ratings proves it. A reality show lives and dies by the casting, and this bunch overall lacks impressive talent, charisma, or both. Now, at this point of the game, all the singers left have good voices, and many of them have talent too (Crystal Bowersox, for starters). The charisma factor, however, is still missing. This was evident on Rolling Stones night, Elvis night, and now with Sinatra. There’s just a general lack of swagger with this bunch. Sure, there’s preening (Big Mike) and feistiness (Crystal) and sex appeal (Casey), but no swagger. As a result, Sinatra night was something of a bore, saved only by occasional funny outbursts from Harry Connick, Jr.. Let’s just put this bad boy to sleep and move on to next season.Kicking off the show was this season’s most dynamic, captivating, and cocksure contestant of all. Clearly I am speaking of Aaron Kelly, who once again looked like he wanted to apologize after every note. Usually, after this many weeks in the spotlight, the singers gain at least a smidgen of confidence. Not this kid. He takes the stage like he’s about to recite poetry to a high school auditorium full of jocks. It doesn’t help that his voice is often warbly too. It’s certainly not the worst we’ve heard, and he does have moments of quality vocals, but again, his lack of confidence is totally distracting. Singing “Fly Me To The Moon,” Aaron looked like he wanted to fly himself to a corner and cry. His movements continued to be robotic as always, and it seems like his only signature gesture is when he slowly raises his right hand higher and higher and higher, often pausing it at different elevations for dramatic effect. It’s like watching a malfunctioning crane.
Amazingly though, the judges gave Aaron mostly positive reviews. Randy and Ellen liked him quite a bit; although, Kara and Simon were a bit more critical. Thankfully, they busted him for not having more charisma, but at the same time, they patted him on the back for being likable. The same friendliness was not afforded to Casey James, who looked tanned and ready to seduce the ladies when he walked on stage to sing “Blue Skies.” I actually thought he was great, and I was pretty much shocked when the judges across the board panned him. Even Harry Connick Jr. didn’t like it. Was I on crazy juice? I guess maybe I was. But maybe not. When Randy stated that it was Casey’s worst performance, people actually laughed before booing, perhaps thinking this was a joke. I know I kind of thought it was. Even worse, the judges then railed Casey for being too stiff. I agree that he could have been more dynamic, but why is it that the judges almost always say this of Casey and yet never complain about Aaron, who frequently looks like a herky-jerky computer generated character?
Faring better was Crystal Bowersox, who sang a lovely but forgettable version of “Summer Wind.” She sounded great as always, but this wasn’t the sort of blow-you-away performance that will have us chattering for days. In fact, Simon busted Crystal for it, saying it’s now been two weeks in a row where she’s taken low-key songs and delivered generally solid but unmemorable performances. Crystal snapped back with some business about how not every song has to be over the top — and she’s right, but if it’s going to be a small song, it has to be intensely personal (at least on American Idol). Hopefully America will push Crystal along to next week because, let’s face it, if she’s eliminated, we’ll have nothing to watch for.
I certainly wouldn’t tune in for Big Mike, who of course wore a fedora and who of course puckered his lips whenever he was seen in said fedora. He also engaged in his time-honored trademark move: the ostentatious handshake-half-hug, replete with dramatic wind up, bitten bottom lip, and overly intense chest-on-chest action. Histrionics be damned, Mike did a perfectly fine job with “The Way You Look Tonight,” but I must admit that halfway through, I did saunter into the kitchen to grab an ice cream sandwich. I still heard him singing, but I missed watching about half the performance (the paper wrapping proved to be rather difficult to tear off, thus taking more time than expected). Nevertheless, I can report that while Mike’s performance was good, my ice cream was probably better. Despite that, the judges still heaped praise onto Mike, but I think that’s only because everyone else had been fairly subpar (according to them) already, thus making Mike seem amazing. He really wasn’t though.
No one was amazing last night, but if we had to pick the best of the lot, I’d go with Lee Dewyze, who gave us a rousing and engaging rendition of “That’s Life.” A grand slam? No. It wasn’t even a home run. But it was a solid triple, and on a night of balks and singles, that constituted a win. Okay, I’ll stop the metaphor. Point is that Lee was very good, and it’s not often that I think he’s very good. The judges agreed, praising him up and down, and with Kara going so far as to say that Lee could win this whole thing. I guess he could, but again, he’s so forgettable. I guess they all are, sort of. We’ll see how things shake out tonight.
Who did you think was the best? Who was the worst? Who’s going home? Who should go home?