We’re only one week from this season’s “American Idol” finale. Crazy, right? You thought we’d be done two or three weeks ago, right? Me, too.
Tuesday’s (May 18) “Idol” episode finds each singer performing twice, once on a song of their choosing and once on a song chosen for them by one of the judges. Once upon a time, this night also included a song chosen by the producers or by Clive Davis, but the days of fitting nine performances into a single “Idol” hour are long gone.
Full recap of Tuesday’s performances after the break…
Singer: Casey James
Song: “OK, It’s Alright With Me”
My Take: Look, y’all wanted to Casey to prove that he could sing and the boy gave it a shot. It just wasn’t necessarily his thang, dawg. So he’s made a rather perfect song choice for himself. It’s a very vocally limited song that lets him just stay on melody and steer things with a little guitar playing and little charm. Is this an “I want to win ‘American Idol'” performance? No. But maybe we should just accept what Casey is and realize that he isn’t the sort of intense, musically dextrous performer who will ever deliver A Moment (as Simon likes to put it), but that audiences have embraced more than a few guitar-strumming men who coast on laconic likability. This was almost a quintessential Casey performance and I can see why he chose a song with so few highs and lows and so much middle. That’s who and what Casey is. Unfortunately, at his very best, Casey can’t be anything more than a second rate, longer-haired version of Kris Allen, who aimed for the exactly same middle ground, but did it much better.
Ellen, Randy, Kara and Simon Say: Randy thought it was too safe and too easy, but he clearly doesn’t get Casey James. Ellen babbles. But then she says that Casey needed to bring it and that was only alright. Kara says that Casey’s mistake was in choosing a song that people don’t know. Simon tells Casey that he’s lucky he has two song choices tonight, comparing it to the salad that comes before dinner.
Singer: Crystal Bowersox
Song: “Come To My Window”
My Take: “Idol” was never going to give Crystal a Melissa Etheridge/Bonnie Raitt night, so she might as well make one for herself. Crystal starts on the harmonica and transitions into what is a fairly strict constructionist melodic version of the song, marred by a strange arrangement in the background. I’m a bit reserved about Crystal’s interpretation until she gets to the very end and until I hear how much passion she delivers, compared to how little Casey provided. That is, again, the difference between them as artists, but I don’t think anyone would argue with the contention that Crystal does more here. Still, I feel a little bit like Crystal is laying up here, when finding something on the level of “People Get Ready” would have been shooting for the green. But this is who Crystal is.
Ellen, Randy, Kara and Simon Say: Randy didn’t love the arrangement, but he loved her vocal. Ellen liked the song choice and thinks that Melissa would be proud. Kara wished Crystal would have done it acoustically, but liked the vocal. Simon appreciates that Crystal hasn’t compromised herself as an artist and that she delivered an honest performance.
Singer: Lee Dewyze
Song: “Simple Man”
My Take: All three singers actually did a fine job of picking songs that articulate plainly who they are, which is perhaps why none of them chose songs that challenged them particularly. Lee Dewyze *is* a simple kinda man, which why people like him. So every word he sings here is believable and heartfelt. There are some places where he’s sharp and can’t seem to get his pitch exactly right, but they’re brief and they pass. And if we want Casey to be blandly charming and we want Crystal to be raw and passionate, we want Lee to be humble, honest and real. And he delivers. I’d add that, of the three perfectly tailored openers, Lee’s was my favorite, easily.
Ellen, Randy, Kara and Simon Say: You know what Randy loves? He thinks Lee is feeling like he can win this. Ellen’s proud of Lee, who thinks Lee has grown from a lamb into a gazelle. We’ll explain basic zoology to Ellen later. Kara thinks Round One goes to Lee. Simon says that Lee’s song choice was “absolutely on the money.” He thinks Lee crushed the other two in Round One.
Singer: Casey James
My Take: Randy and Kara selected the John Mayer joint so that Casey can show his vulnerable side to his audience of women and girls. It’s not a bad choice. It’s the same low-wattage piece Casey picked for himself, but it’s a tiny bit more vocally dynamic than “OK, It’s Alright With Me.” He handles the raspy kinda-big notes OK and gets to do a little guitar noodling as well. It’s another “Just Fine” effort from Casey. I’m guessing both of his performances tonight pandered directly to his core and won him no new fans, but at this stage in the game, that’s all you’re supposed to do.
Ellen, Randy, Kara and Simon Say: Randy loved his song choice. Ellen thought it was beautiful. Kara’s pleased Casey showed his sensitive and vulnerable side and that she made a good song choice. Simon is amused by the whole thing. Simon thought it was better, but that the arrangement was lazy. Kara stands up for her choice and Randy jumps in as well. Simon wanted more “Wow,” but Kara explains that the song is *supposed* to be flat and one-dimensional.
Singer: Crystal Bowersox
Song: “Maybe I’m Amazed”
My Take: I’m not sure I quite get the meaning or the strategy behind Ellen’s choice for Crystal. Kara and Randy gave Casey a totally predictable song that was made for him, Ellen just gave Crystal a great song. I’m fine with that approach as well, the “This doesn’t have subtext, I just want to hear you sing a song I like” approach. Crystal does it without a guitar or a piano. She just sings. And sings well. It’s not quite a Melissa/Bonnie-styled interpretation. It’s just well sung and passionate.
Ellen, Randy, Kara and Simon Say: Randy thinks that Crystal is now in it to win it. Ellen couldn’t have asked for more. Kara said that although she didn’t change it up, she showed parts of her voice that she hadn’t shown before. Simon also didn’t get the song choice either, but Simon thinks Crystal proved that she has soul.
Singer: Lee Dewyze
My Take: Simon owns this song. I think that’s why we’re getting it tonight. He wants to give Lee the chance for A Moment. Any chance we can avoid second rate or third rate Jeff Buckley? Thankfully, Lee knows that he doesn’t have a Jeff Buckley voice and he doesn’t try to do that version. It’s not ethereal. Lee is too horse and shout-y for it to truly soar. It’s also too shout-y and strained to really move me. But as ever with Lee, I believe that he believes what he’s singing. So there are gonna be goofy people who trying saying that Jason Castro was better (and true lunatics, perhaps, who prefer Tim Urban, I suppose). And there are going to be truly rational people who prefer Buckley or the Leonard Cohen original (or any of a dozen variably viable professional alternatives). It’s a game of How Do Ya Like Your “Hallelujah”? It was neither my preferred version nor, in my mind, a disgrace. For Lee Dewyze fans? That’ll hit the sweet spot.
Ellen, Randy, Kara and Simon Say: Randy is overjoyed. Lee thanks Simon. Ellen calls it “stunning, just stunning.” Kara tells Lee he’s what the show is all about, calling it incredible and epic and assuring him that he owned the whole night. Simon is proud of Lee.
TONIGHT’S BEST/WORST: I’ve come to accept the mediocrity of this season’s contestants. I’ve spent too long watching this season not to. Even Crystal, who I generally prefer and who may be the season’s only contestant capable of moving me, has become a polished version of herself after these months of training, with too many of the rough edges or dangerous instincts sanded away. So on Tuesday night, all three singers met the expectations of their fans. I think Lee probably had the best overall night, though I really enjoyed Crystal’s “Maybe I’m Amazed.” In terms of skill level, Casey was two or three levels below Lee and Crystal and he was the night’s least good (not exactly “worst”) without a doubt. But if you prefer the product Casey is selling, you prefer the product Casey is selling and he showcased it as best he could. Yup. It’s time to move on to another “American Idol” season, because I’ve lost the will to hate anybody and I wasn’t moved to love anybody.
IN DANGER: The judges want Casey gone. The producers want Casey gone. And *I* want Casey gone. So the only thing saving Casey will be Casey fans. If Texas and The Deep South come out for Casey, then Crystal goes home. If not, the show gets the Lee/Crystal finale that’s been set up for months.
What do you think? Who was tonight’s best? And who’s going home?