How did the “American Idol” Top 11 fare with Miley Cyrus and Billboard No. 1 hits? Not so good.
This week your intrepid recapper attended the live taping, so I can compare the live performances and the TV versions. In some cases, the two versions were quite different.
If you’re interested in what goes on behind the “Idol” curtain, check out our Dispatches from Inside the “Idol” Dome post for some details.
Let’s get right to the Top 11, from best to worst:
Tonight there were three distinct tiers of singers. Within each tier, the singers could really be ranked in about any order, depending on what one personally enjoys in an artist.
Tier 1: Lee Dewyze, Crystal Bowersox, Siobhan Magnus, Casey James
No. 1 Lee Dewyze, “The Letter,” The Box Tops
Lee live: His performance was incredibly exciting live. The horns were phenomenal, the vocal sounded fantastic. The judges nailed it, minus what Simon said about Lee needing a moment and calling it “corny.” The song didn’t need a moment because often times those “moments” mask an otherwise mediocre performance. A performance that is strong throughout doesn’t need a moment.
Lee on TV: It certainly wasn’t as exciting on DVR playback as it was live, but it still was a great way to kick off the show and it was still a very strong vocal.
Overall: The reason Lee gets the No. 1 spot over Crystal and Siobhan is because this year the judges are beating the contestants up about “being original and current and making songs your own.” I’m disappointed none of them pointed out what a great example Lee was of what they’ve been looking for this year. His version was nothing like the original song by the Box Tops. It was fresh, funky and absolutely something Lee could release and have a Top 40 hit with, so he gets top spot this week.
No. 2 Crystal Bowersox, “Me and Bobby McGee,” Janis Joplin
Crystal live: Who hasn’t been waiting for her to bust out this song? Crystal IS Janis Joplin but with better tone and less whiskey. Crystal seemed to loosen up and came out of her shell a bit. It was a really great live performance.
Crystal on TV: Even better on TV and it’s because it got so loud in the theater at the end of the song where Crystal really let it rip that I couldn’t actually hear what she was doing. But hearing the whole song improved my already-positive opinion of the performance. Really good.
Overall: The only reason Crystal isn’t the top this week is because (like Kara pointed out and I asked Crystal at the Top 12 party), it’s time for Crystal to do something different. Also, she didn’t change it up that much from the original, nor was it current. It was pretty much what Janis Joplin did 40 years ago except with better vocal tone. Lee Dewyze actually did much more in making the song his own than Crystal did, so Crystal gets bumped.
No. 3 Siobhan Magnus, “Superstition,” Stevie Wonder
Siobhan live: First off, love her Season 4 Nadia Turner-esque look. In person, the verses of this song were actually a little disappointing because she got drowned out by the horns, but the ending really brought it home.
Siobhan on TV: Even better on TV because the band wasn’t so loud. She had some small runs, riffs and low notes that got lost in person but were really spectacular on playback. I disagree with Simon’s assessment that the ending wasn’t as good as she thinks it was. It was actually really fun and pitch-perfect while still being all rocker girl.
Overall: She is nipping on Crystal’s heels for the top spot overall and may have passed her because Siobhan is 100% more interesting week in and week out than Crystal. Crystal’s been pretty predictable week to week, whereas Siobhan has surprised the audience. Siobhan may like her big screamy notes, but at least she changes up her vibe and song choice.
No. 4 Casey James, “Power of Love,” Huey Lewis
Casey live: I finally get what
Kara other women see in Casey as a sex symbol. I really hadn’t seen it until he tapped into my deep-seated love of Marty McFly. In person, this was a rocking performance with a nice growly vocal. Casey actually needed more guitar, which is weird coming from me since I accused him of using the guitar to mask his lack of singing ability. But since he’s proven he can play without losing his voice, I wanted more of the rockin’ guitar.
Casey on TV: A lot of the rock and roll got lost on TV. It seems like the sound mixer played up the vocal and played down the accompaniment. I understand that it’s a singing competition, but it really took away from what was fun about the performance.
Overall: Some might find this cheesy on TV, but live it was really good and really enjoyable, so he stays in the top tier.
Tier 2: Michael Lynche, Aaron Kelly, Katie Stevens, Didi Benami
No. 5 Michael Lynche, “When a Man Loves a Woman,”
Michael live: In person, I wasn’t as impressed with this. Not sure why, maybe the vocal got lost in the Crystal shuffle? Either way, Big Mike got bumped higher in tier 2 after listening to the playback on TV.
Michael on TV: After seeing the TV performance, I’m in total agreement with the judges. If Michael had stripped this down and taken out the crazy riffs and runs, he could have been one of the best of the night. Big Mike has such a beautiful tone to his voice and was still one of the better ones.
Overall: Mike’s going to be immensely safe for a long time based on his big velvet teddy bear vibe. He’s like a more personable Ruben Studdard. However, while it’s great that Mike knows his R&B wheelhouse, sometimes he needs to just sing and stop trying to be all crazy. We know he can do it, so he doesn’t have to prove it every time.
No. 6 Aaron Kelly, “Don’t Wanna Miss a Thing,” Aerosmith
Aaron live: When I heard he was doing Aerosmith, I just knew it
would be this schmaltz-fest but I still was hoping it would be something
dirty like “Rag Doll” or “Love in an Elevator.” Anyway, Aaron sounded
good live, particularly when he got to the bridge of the song. This
performance actually stirred something in my cold, black heart and that
is saying something, considering I hate this song.
Aaron on TV: Not as good on TV. There were a few pitch problems
that we missed in the theater, but it was still a decent vocal and the changes he
made to the melody on the first verse definitely worked.
Overall: The song was a safe and boring choice. I’m on board with
Aaron finally turning in good performances but now I want him to
surprise us. Ellen’s assessment that Aaron is usually pitch-perfect is
not actually correct. Aaron has some serious pitch problems sometimes.
No. 7 Katie Stevens, “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” Fergie
Katie live: Solid vocal and really fun vibe, it’s like Katie finally got on the right track. She was younger and finally seemed to be enjoying herself. The chorus where she could really let it rip on the higher stuff was particularly fun.
Katie on TV: Not as good on TV. Every little imperfection was more pronounced, I think because on TV they can balance the vocal with the band and the audience noise. There were some definite bum notes that we didn’t hear live.
Overall: However, this was Katie’s best performance since her “At Last” audition and she certainly wasn’t anywhere near the worst of the night. If she can fix the pitch problems, she’ll be in good shape.
No. 8 Didi Benami, “You’re No Good,” Linda Ronstandt
Didi live: This is a hard one because there are two aspects — Didi, Mistress of the Dark and Didi’s actual vocal. In person, the vampy-stripper thing was great and I think that’s because without the camera cutting away, we got vampy Didi, the kool-kat bassist, the lights and the whole vibe. The vocal was just alright. Not bad, but nothing special.
Didi on TV: Total opposite on TV. The vampy-stripper thing didn’t work on TV, it seemed put-upon and half-assed. If Didi was going for a sultry vibe, she should’ve gone farther with it. Kara’s characterization that Didi was playing a part was spot-on. Meanwhile, if you closed your eyes and listened to the vocal without being distracted by the schtick, it was a good vocal.
Overall: This weird dichotomy of Didi’s vamp versus vocal means she was kind of a hot mess. She’s still a good singer and could easily bounce back, plus there were far bigger trainwrecks in the Top 11. But it was a weird week for her.
Tier 3: Tim Urban, Andrew Garcia, Paige Miles
No. 10 Tim Urban, “Crazy Little Thing Called Love,” Queen
Tim live: This was laughably amateurish. The vocal wasn’t bad
because he hit the notes, but it was so boring. As for the dancing, well
… if he was going to go David Cassidy-Elvis-Efron-teen-heartthrob on us, he
needed to go whole hog. Instead, he just kind of awkwardly bopped
around like he was at his first boy-girl party.
Tim on TV: Hooo boy, the dancing was even worse in hi-def. Tim
just has no idea who he is or what he wants to be as an artist. On the
bright(?) side, he’s super cute and unoffensive in the way that a puppy
or Wonder Bread is unoffensive, so he’ll be just fine.
Overall: Really, what else is there to say about Tim Urban? He’s
not going anywhere, probably not for a long time. Bagging on him makes
me feel like I’m beating a kitten to death with a shovel. Sigh.
No. 10 Andrew Garcia, “I Heard it Through the Grapevine,” Marvin Gaye
Andrew live: Awkward. Weird, awkward dance moves. Tim and Andrew could use a dance coach just so they don’t look so geeky on stage. Vocally, nothing special. The range didn’t move much and his nasality was really showing through on the word “vine.” VIIIIIIIINE. Ick.
Andrew on TV: The awkward moves didn’t come across as much on TV as they did live, which means the boring vocal stuck out even more. Did you catch the cut to Miley looking bored as hell? Yeah. At least she wasn’t texting, I guess.
Overall: Perhaps the judges overrated Andrew based on “Straight Up,” which wasn’t even THAT good, folks. Simon hit it on the head. It was an acoustic, cute version of a pop song. People do these types of covers all the time. As a matter of fact, I guarantee there’s one playing now at the Times Square train station in NY. Andrew is overrated and it’s time for him to go. But luckily for him, Paige was worse.
No. 11 Paige Miles, “Against All Odds,” Phil Collins
Paige live: This was ROUGH. Really not good. It makes you wonder if she is 100% healthy yet because the entire thing was painful. Bum notes left and right. It pains me to say that she made Scott “Round Mound of Sound” Savol’s version from Season 4 look like a masterclass.
Paige on TV: I didn’t think it was possible, but it was worse on TV. Breathy, unsupported and really pitchy. I’ve heard better performances in junior high talent shows. Ellen not being able to critique Paige says a lot. She just felt so bad for Paige and couldn’t pile on. But Paige did look spectacular, so there’s that?
Overall: With Tim Urban and Andrew Garcia having such (inexplicably) strong fan bases, Paige should be packing her bags tonight.
Thoughts & Tidbits
- How do you think Miley did as a mentor? I actually think it could’ve been worse. She had good critiques for some of the Idols.
- Do you think Crystal was forced to get Miley’s autograph on her guitar or did she really want it?
- It’s really remarkable to compare the performances live versus on TV. The fact that the sound mixer can balance the vocalist, the band and the audience gives a whole different feel to some performances.
Want to dish on the “American Idol” Top 11 elimination? Will it in fact be Paige Miles after that ghastly performance? Join Zap2it’s weekly Elimination Hangover chat on Thursday, March 25 at noon PT.
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