Once again, there were three easily distinguishable tiers amongst the ““American Idol” contestants and within each tier, the contestants are pretty much interchangeable.
We tried a new thing this week — since we saw the performances live, when we watched them back we closed our eyes (no peeking). It’s remarkable what you hear when you’re not distracted by the show.
Tier 1: Michael Lynche, Lee Dewyze, Crystal Bowersox
No. 1 Michael Lynche, “Ready for Love,” India Irie
Michael live: This was beautiful, haunting and intimate in
person. Michael went in and out of his falsetto effortlessly and it
really felt like we were the person in the back of the room that Usher
told Big Mike to send his emotions to. His best so far.
Michael on TV: Hearing this on TV, with the sound levels
balanced, actually vaulted Mike to the No. 1 spot. It was just an
excellent vocal — the tone was gorgeous, the runs weren’t overdone and the emotional connection was right there. It’s only fitting Mike should “win” R&B week.
Overall: Randy thought it wasn’t exciting and Simon thought it was gloomy. Some songs aren’t always happy-clappy-fun-time, guys. Still, we’re fearful of the week where Mike just cannot find a way to put an
R&B spin on a song. Not saying it’ll happen, but it might. R&B
is his sword and he wields it with aplomb but can he always? Well done for Mike this week, though.
No. 2 Lee Dewyze, “Treat Her Like a Lady,” The Cornelius Brothers
Lee live: On the notepad that we take to the performances (because no electronics are allowed), there’s not a single note. That’s how good it was. We forgot to write anything. From the first note he sang, it was completely enthralling.
Lee on TV: Lee has the most contemporary voice of the bunch. His sound is so current right now. Kara was spot-on when she said this could be on his album. If Lee wants to treat us like a lady … let’s just say that would, in fact, make us be good to him.
Overall: Simon is right — this is the night Lee might look back on as the night his entire life changed. His confidence still needs work but you can see that growing each week.
No. 3 Crystal Bowersox, “Midnight Train to Georgia,” Gladys Knight
Crystal live: When she started out slow at the piano, it was heart-breakingly good. When she stood, it lost something. The reason this is third is because A) Simon was right that she didn’t need the backup singers down there like a lounge act, B) we wanted to see her stay at the piano and keep with the intimate vibe and C) there were some higher notes that got completely drowned out during the live performance, so we don’t know if they were on or not.
Crystal on TV: Okay, the higher notes were messy. That was the only flaw. Her head voice isn’t as strong as her chest voice. Other than that, the vocal was good but we still maintain she should’ve ditched the backups, stayed at the piano and really wowed us.
Overall: Crystal just had her “She’s All That” moment. We took off her dorky metaphorical glasses, slapped a dress and heels on her and everybody suddenly realized she’s a fox. It was also great to see her do something different. That being said, we wanted her to go whole hog and stay low key at the piano. We didn’t need her to stand up, staggering around like a newly-born foal and turning the ending of the song into a Gladys copy. What she originally had going was awesome and it’s disappointing she moved away from it.
Tier 2: Casey James, Siobhan Magnus, Andrew Garcia, Katie Stevens
No. 4 Casey James, “Hold On, I’m Comin’,” Sam and Dave
Casey live: Randy summed it up nicely with “HOT.” This was very entertaining live, with a nice growly vocal and rockin’ guitar. The only problem is that it’s hard to tell if the lights and sound and guitar and audience going bonkers was covering for a mediocre vocal.
Casey on TV: This was a solid performance but again, the vocal is about three notes wide. Ellen is correct in that it was generic and safe. Nothing was bad, but nothing blew us away except the guitar. As Randy said before, Casey is probably the most talented guitarist the show has ever seen.
Overall: Kara’s assessment that this song didn’t show off his range was right on. The song is very repetitive and has about four notes altogether. We’ve seen Casey rock out now for a couple weeks, it’s time for him to remind us why he’s in a vocal competition.
No. 5 Andrew Garcia, “Forever,” Chris Brown
Andrew live: We actually liked this better than the original. It
really worked as an acoustic jam. There were a few dropped low notes, but overall it was a huge improvement. We still don’t think Andrew has played himself
out of the “Straight Up” hole, but he’s working on it. Oh, and we also wrote, “Why is Andrew dressed like PeeWee Herman or someone who wants to sell me a purse out of the trunk of his car?”
Andrew on TV: This was actually better on TV because you could hear the strings. The violins really added a nice touch. Andrew was still strong but he certainly hasn’t vaulted into the top tier by any means.
Overall: We’re half-mad Andrew didn’t stink because we had all these
good jokes ready to go. “We’d rather get punched in the face than listen
to that again.” “That song was a beat down.” “That song was so bad it
makes us wanna skip the Grammys.” Bah. Perfectly good jokes ruined. But
good job, Andrew.
No. 6 Katie Stevens, “Chain of Fools,” Aretha Franklin
Katie live: We are so off-the-charts sick of the judges with Katie.
They can’t even compliment her without backhanding it. She doesn’t have
a young pop-princess voice! Stop trying to stick her in that box just
because she’s 17! She has a throaty alto voice. Is it any coincidence her
two best songs have been “At Last” and “Chain of Fools”? No. This was a
strong performance, just let it be strong. Randy was the only one who did. Also, we loved what she added on the chorus. After going up on the first “Chain, chain chain,” she came down on “chain, chain, chain” and added a beautiful little run.
Katie on TV: Randy’s comparison to Christina is not completely ridiculous. And guess what? Xtina’s worst stuff was her bubble gum, trying-to-compete-with-Britney-Genie-in-a-Bottle crap. When she finally realized that she can sing rings around Brit-Brit and stopped doing younger nonsense, she really flourished. Same applies to Katie.
Overall: Again, Katie can worry about being current and younger
when she’s trying to be an artist. She turned in a good performance
tonight and the judges still just kept trying to shoe-horn into the
Disney box. We don’t even agree with Simon’s “robotic” comment — this
was the loosest we’ve seen her! Katie has come a long way on her journey
to become a real boy. She was much more “Small Wonder” five weeks ago.
No. 7 Siobhan Magnus, “Through the Fire,” Chaka Khan
Siobhan live: We’re with Ellen: this song should have been awesome for Siobhan. We’re not as down on it as the judges were, though. It was still good, just not amazing. Her signature screams were actually much more musical and in tune with the song than they have been before.
Siobhan on TV: Both the singing and the outfit were worse on TV. Interestingly, the scream-y parts were still alright. We stand by the assessment that they were better than past screams. It was the higher stuff that wasn’t a scream that went off-the-rails. Also, that outfit? Reminds me of something worn to a college “anything but clothes party,” made of a sheet and a hair clip to hold it together. Yikes, Siobhan. There’s quirky and then there’s lunatic homeless.
Overall: Not her best outing, but as one of the judges said, everybody can have an off night. She should still be safe because she’s a popular contestant and there were some much worse performances.
Tier 3: Aaron Kelly, Tim Urban, Didi Benami
No. 8 Aaron Kelly, “Ain’t No Sunshine,” Bill Withers
Aaron live: As soon as they announced Aaron was doing Bill Withers, we started whispering, “Not ‘Ain’t No Sunshine,’ not ‘Ain’t No Sunshine.'” Not only is this song too soulful for little Aaron, but his pitch was all over the map. It’s unbelievable the judges gave him such nice comments. If Tim Urban had done this performance, they would’ve roasted him over a spit.
Aaron on TV: Hearing this on TV actually dropped Aaron from the middle tier to the bottom. This was sharp almost the entire way through. We’ve come around on Aaron, but nobody can think this was a solid night for him. The judges were just being nice (see the “Extra Thought” below for why).
Overall: Simon’s right — he’s 100% safe. But this week was not good. Aaron’s doe-eyed-moppet-ness combined with his adding runs and changing up of the melody took away the rawness of the song. Not the right choice for him at all.
No. 9 (tie) Tim Urban, “Sweet Love,” Anita Baker
Tim live: In an outstanding piece of serendipity, our written notes make a perfect Haiku for Tim:
Bottom end weak, frog
Voice not smooth enough for song
Pitch bad, swoopy, lounge
Tim on TV: This is like every bad ballad from all three junior high talent shows we participated in. It’s just so earnest and completely loses Anita Baker’s sexiness. Yikes. Hearing this on TV moved Tim into a tie for worst. Didi was down there by herself, but that was incorrect.
Overall: Clearly everyone knows that Tim is surviving because he flashes that 1000 watt smile and bats those baby blues at the tweens of America and they can’t dial fast enough (once they put out their panties that have just burst into flames). We like Simon’s who-gives-a-crap attitude. Moving on.
No. 9 (tie) Didi Benami, “What Becomes of the Broken Hearted,” Jimmy Ruffin
Didi live: I have one word written down: “milquetoast.” This was incredibly flat, boring and — at times — pitchy.
Didi on TV: This was an even bigger mess on TV. She couldn’t hit the funny little minor keys that are randomly in the melody and her unique vocal tone is very haphazard on such a rushed song. And the ending … ooof. It got so lounge act and strained. Yikes.
Overall: This song, while great, is in that weird purgatory between fast and slow. What Didi needed to do was slow it way down, bust out her guitar and have a Brooke-White-“Love-is-a-Battlefield” moment. Remember when Brooke did that? It took a rockin’ 80s tune and made it completely heartbreaking and poignant. Didi could’ve had that with this, but she whiffed. The only thing that might keep her are sympathy votes because she cried or votes because she’s pretty.
Who’s going home?
Didi should probably be packing. Tim Urban and Aaron Kelly have that cute-boy-vote thing sewn up and unless something crazy happens (like Siobhan’s off night getting her an early boot), Didi is most likely gone.
Aaron Kelly should absolutely not have closed the show. Some of the judges’ niceness towards him might have been so that we didn’t all leave the two hours feeling bad that we bagged on a 10-year-old. You can’t always give that pimp spot to Siobhan or Crystal, but after last week (and knowing what was coming this week, somebody had to know) Lee Dewyze should’ve closed the show. Even Usher seemed sincerely impressed with Lee.
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