'American Idol' Finale: Will Crystal Bowersox's 'Up to the Mountain' be enough?
Based on the beginning of the season, we would've said Crystal. Based on the last few weeks, we would've said Lee. Based on the final performances -- it's a toss-up.
It's not a toss-up in terms of who "won" each round, as Simon likes to say some years. We think Crystal clearly won the last round, but we'd call the first round a tie and (after listening to them back on TV) we'd give the middle round to Lee. "Black Velvet" was not as good as we thought it was in person.
Here is our order from best to worst:
No. 1 Crystal, "Up to the Mountain"
Crystal on stage: We will confess to not being familiar with this song prior to Crystal's performance. But we can now say we are fans. It took all night for us to finally find the right word to describe it -- "dynamic." This showed off Crystal's big voice and yet let her do the pretty, quiet thing she also does really well. It was a beautiful showcase for her talent.
Crystal on TV: Crystal made a home-run song choice. This is a perfect single for her to release and it was easily the best performance of the night. It doesn't stretch her voice into that range that starts to sound scream-y and it lets her be soft and lilting on parts -- exactly what "Black Velvet" could have been.
No. 2 (tie) Crystal, "Me and Bobby McGee"
Crystal on stage: We don't have a lot to add to this critique that we haven't said before -- Crystal is Janis Joplin without sounding like she smokes two packs a day. We love the switches to the melody she does on the song -- they are just enough to put her stamp on it without bastardizing a classic.
Crystal on TV: This bumped her down into a tie with Lee for second because the ending, where Crystal really lets it rip, seems super-exciting in person but is actually kinda messy when you can hear the vocal clearly. It was still strong, but just not quiiiite as strong as we originally thought.
No. 2 (tie) Lee, "The Boxer"
Lee on stage: Lee seemed nervous. Incredibly nervous. That surprised us because he got to ease into the night on a song he'd already done very well on the show. This just didn't seem to have the punch that it did the first time around or even on Lee's hometown visit, which we'll chalk up to his being so tight with nerves.
Lee on TV: Watching this back bumped Lee up to a tie with Crystal for the No. 2 spot. We were so far in the back of the theater that this seemed very boring and a little tight in person. Upon playback, much more emotion came through and the vocal was stronger than we originally thought. With Lee doing better than we thought on "Boxer" and Crystal not quite doing as well as we thought on "Bobby McGee," we declare those two tied.
No. 3 Lee, "Everybody Hurts"
Lee on stage: This one disappointed us in much the same way as "Black Velvet" -- too big. It would've been great if Lee had really rocked "The Boxer," then scaled way back and been all vulnerable for "Everybody Hurts," then really let it rip on "Beautiful Day." But instead of going BIG, intimate, BIGGER, he stayed very static throughout the night -- nothing terrible, but nothing mind-blowing. We did like his growl on this song, though.
Lee on TV: We blame the arrangement. Lee is a cutie pie and if he had just sat down and had a really intimate moment on this song, instead of having bongos driving the up-tempo rhythm, this maybe could've been a good song for him. Plus, the ending was really weird. It was just very blah. That being said -- we think it was still a better vocal than "Black Velvet," which turned out to be very scream-y and off-pitch when we watched the TV broadcast.
No. 4 Lee, "Beautiful Day"
Lee on stage: Not a good pick for Lee. He put his guitar down and seemed a bit lost, plus on the really big high stuff he didn't go big enough. A week ago, Lee let it absolutely effing rip on "Simple Man" and "Hallelujah," which is what he should've done on on this one. It was his last song of the night, his last big impression. And it was just okay.
Lee on TV: This started off VERY rough. Not only were there some pitch problems, but Lee was weirdly wandering around the stage, taking what our college acting teacher liked to call "two steps to nowhere." That being said, the chorus really picked up. The big notes were great, but we wanted him to go bigger. "TOUCH me. Take me to that other place. REE-EE-EE-EEACH me." We wanted him to really blow the roof off on the second time he same that line, but he didn't go for it.
No. 5 Crystal, "Black Velvet"
Crystal on stage: This could have been an excellent choice for Crystal. Unfortunately, Crystal does not quite have the big roaring pipes that Alannah Miles did on the original. And then the arrangement, instead of letting Crystal play with the dynamics (like in the original and also like Crystal did on "Mountain"), put in even more big belting moments. It felt forced and needed to have more quiet moments, like after the bridge on "happened so soon. What could you even do?" That was loud instead of soft and didn't work -- just one of many moments that didn't work. Our reaction when this song was announced was literally an excited "Ooooh!" and we were disappointed by it.
Crystal on TV: First of all, the idea to have her descend steps in heels was terrible Crystal had bigger things to worry about than looking down to make sure she didn't fall on her face. Also, upon listening to the playback, this dropped her behind Lee for the second round of songs. She had some serious pitch problems and again, missed all the quiet moments that make the original so sultry and fabulous. We strongly feel that the judges (if they watch tonight back, which they probably won't) will re-think how highly they praised this number. We actually dropped this from 3rd to last after watching it back.
Who's going to win?
We have no idea. Honestly. Crystal has been strong since the beginning, but America has the attention span of goldfish and Lee is what was hot in the past few weeks. But then he kinda tanked on the finale and she didn't, so we really aren't sure. There are also non-singing factors, like the fact that Lee's cute and guess who votes for this show? And where did Casey James' fanbase go? Probably Lee, if we had to guess. This really could go either way but we won't cop out -- we'll say Lee wins in an upset.
Thoughts & Tidbits
- There is no live dispatch tonight because the Nokia Theater is about 10x the size of the CBS studio where the show usually is. We're lucky we could hear the Idols perform, let alone get behind-the-scenes shenanigans to report.
- Crystal's weird send-off to Simon during her final critique was probably sincere, but seemed like a shill for votes. She should've saved that for tomorrow night.
- How do you feel about the "Idol" singles being covers? We think it's a great idea because the coronation songs usually suck, but we wish Lee had picked something more obscure like Crystal did. "Beautiful Day" had its turn, got burned into all our brains by Bono and doesn't need to be revived on the radio.
Let us know what you think -- cast your votes of whether Crystal or Lee won each week and who will be the next "American Idol" in our showdown gallery.
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Photo credit: FOX