Tonight’s ‘American Idol‘ focused on songs from the movies, or at least songs from movies’ officially licensed tie-in soundtracks. Leading their charge this evening was the night’s mentor Jamie Foxx, who presented each contestant with a dilemma involving T-shirts, artistry, and their desire to break through and put their actual mark on the competition.
It was basically a gimmick where Foxx proffered two shirts, one that said “contestant” and one that was emblazoned with the word “artist.” And he would tease the contestants over whether or not they had “earned” their shirts based on their performance during the one-on-one training session; while this somehow seemed to be a pretty good motivating technique for the remaining four singers, all of whom definitely wanted the “artist” tees, I’m not sure if we really needed to watch that bit of the process up close.
Tonight also had a second wrinkle; the contestants split off into pairs, with Crystal Bowersox and Lee DeWyze teaming up and Casey James matching pipes with Michael Lynche. Results were mixed; Lee had his night saved with his Crystal-assisted performance of the Oscar-winning “Falling Slowly,” although the decision to blow out the delicate track and turn it into a Big Rock Song seemed a little cheesy — and the spinny camera work during that particular performance was dizziness-inducing, too. Meanwhile, as far as Casey and Michael’s duet on the treacly Bryan Adams track “Have You Ever Really Loved A Woman?” the real star was not either man’s voice (especially on that super-awkward high harmony at the end, yipes), but Casey’s fleet-fingered guitar playing. (‘Top Scallop’ strikes again!)
Tonight’s ranking, based for the most part on the solo performances:
1. Crystal Bowersox. She’s just operating in another league than the other singers, although more and more I’m convinced that her cool-headed professionalism and undeniable pipes won’t really matter when it’s time to decide a winner. Her take on Kenny Loggins’ “I’m Alright” charged right through the AOR standard, and she once again made a case for herself heading directly from the ‘Idol’ stage to the traveling lineup for the lady-centric package tour Lilith Fair.
2. Casey James. Is it weird that I enjoyed his slight version of Simon & Garfunkel’s “Mrs. Robinson”? Yes, it was a surprisingly blatant come-on to all his, ahem, female fans of a certain age, and his voice wobbled a bit here and there. But it felt like something I might hear on the radio now, which is even more of a rarity during this ‘Idol’ season than ones previous.
3. Michael Lynche. ‘Idol”s Big Mike took on the pop world’s Big Mike — Michael Jackson, of course — ably, although his aimed-to-the-rafters version of the ‘Free Willy’ track “Will You Be There” was a bit manic and cheesy at points. When the gospel singers backing him up started descending the stairs, it was almost enough to make me miss Lee’s bagpipe player.
4. Lee DeWyze. Lee opened the show with a sanded-down version of Seal’s “Kiss From A Rose” that sounded like a guy taking his turn at a bar’s microphone on Dollar Draft Night. His evening was somewhat redeemed by his turn on “Falling Slowly,” but it was hard to not think that whatever contestant was paired with Crystal would have been aided greatly by her presence. (Sorry, but she’s just on another level than anyone who’s left, and has been since the Top 24 portion of the competition started.)
WHO I VOTED FOR: Crystal and Casey.
WHO SHOULD GO HOME: Lee was the worst of the night as far as solo performances, but given his Teflon nature and the strength of his duet, I’d say Michael is the one to go.
WHO VERY WELL MIGHT GO HOME: But Casey could head out too, especially if people remember that one high note that he didn’t quite hit at the end more than they remember his sweet Simon & Garfunkel cover.
JUDGING THE JUDGES: Tonight’s big saw for the judges was song choice, and it made me kind of want to scream, because even though there were serious problems with most of the picks this evening, the contestants seemed to be pretty constrained by the producers’ willingness to license certain tracks. Last week after the theme was announced I checked out the list of songs available to the contestants that was posted on iTunes, and the one thing that stuck out about every track was that they were old; not just old-fashioned, but older than most of the hopefuls, in many cases. The “song choice” complaints are always the most annoying to me on the part of the judges because they seem to completely ignore an important role that the producers (and perhaps musical director Rickey Minor) have in the whole ‘Idol’ process — namely, putting together the list that the contestants can then choose from. It’s not like the contestants are being told, “OK, pick any song from a movie ever! Go!” when these theme weeks are announced. I wish they were! It would sure make things more interesting, at the very least because we’d see fewer rehashed songs from former seasons than we have up to this point.
And please, don’t even get me started on the attempts to bring up the whole “Kara Hearts Casey” trope for the umpteenth time, which were somehow rendered even more ridiculous by the super-serious business suit that the songwriter decided to wear tonight. (What, was she delayed while on the way back from a job interview? Not that I could blame her for wanting to flee the ‘Idol’ ship after this season, but…)
NEXT UP: Foxx, Fantasia, and Bon Jovi perform, and the Top Three for this season gets set in stone.