Tonight’s ‘American Idol‘ was tense right until the show started thanks to the questionable status of Crystal Bowersox, who got taken to the hospital yesterday and whose illness forced the producers to flip-flop the gender lineup for last night’s and tonight’s shows. Would she be able to perform? Would she be disqualified if she didn’t? Nerves abounded online, and it’s not hard to suspect that the producers were on edge as well since Crystal is clearly one of their favorites. (If Michelle Delamor had been sent to the hospital, would there have been a similar flip-flop? I’m going to guess not.)
Anyway, tonight had a happy ending, with Crystal not only making it back to the ‘Idol’ stage, but a) referring to herself as a “tough cookie” and b) going first and c) absolutely nailing her performance. She not only didn’t sound like someone who had been dealing with doctors a few hours prior, she sounded like a star — and for that reason alone she vaulted into front-runner status tonight.
The ten singers, in order of performance quality:
1. Crystal Bowersox. Forget the fact that she was in the hospital maybe six hours before she took the ‘Idol’ stage. Her Sunday-morning take on Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “As Long As I Can See The Light” started the night off right and made me have hope that tonight’s proceedings would be a great leap forward from all the other shows so far this season. Unfortunately, that was far from the case — but there were a couple of other strong performances, like the one by…
2. Lilly Scott. OK, so first off, Lilly gets points for being what I think is the first person to name-drop the Moog synthesizer on ‘Idol.’ (I really really hope she brings its space-age bloops and bleeps out in future weeks.) And on top of that, she took a risk and performed Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come,” which actually has a double-risk factor — not only is Cooke one of the best singers ever full stop, Adam Lambert delivered a memorable performance of the track last season. But Lilly’s bravery paid off; she sounded absolutely incredible, with a performance that was completely absorbing. My only quibble with her performance was the guitar strapped to her, because it didn’t sound like the song actually needed it.
3. Siobhan Magnus. The kooky glassblower’s take on Aretha Franklin’s “Think” was sort of all over the place (and her styling was terrible in a Minnie Mouse Goes To Kohl’s sort of way) but she hit this note at the end that was insane. According to the Adam Lambert diehards who saw my impressed Tweet, the note was a B-flat 5, which their hero hit multiple times last year. But — and I realize I’m going to be engaging in some light blasphemy here — her B-flat sounded much better than any of Adam’s glory notes last year. And it was more than enough to vault her ahead of the next seven singers.
4. Katelyn Epperly. She did a sloowwwwww version of Coldplay’s “The Scientist” at a piano, and the tableau and her rich voice both made me think of Lady GaGa’s solo piano reworkings of her catalog. If only she’d taken on a GaGa song instead of Chris Martin’s sleepy track — Katelyn’s performance was so unmemorable, Ellen DeGeneres forgot that she was accompanied by a big Yamaha, and not a six-string. Oops?
5. Paige Miles. Kelly Clarkson’s “Walk Away” is one of my favorite pop songs of the past decade, and Paige has been touted as having one of the best voices in the competition. Would this be the week that I finally realized that she was wesome? Well, no — her cover of “Walk,” which is admittedly a bit rapidfire in the bridge, was pretty sluggish, and her voice seemed oddly hollow in multiple spots. I’m still not seeing why the judges love her so much, and I am starting to doubt that I ever will.
6. Katie Stevens. Why do ‘Idol’ contestants love Corinne Bailey Rae’s minor hit “Put Your Records On” so much? Perhaps it’s the combination of recent vintage and vague “soulfulness,” which is seemingly catnip for singers who feel like they need to prove themselves? I couldn’t help but wonder if sweet young Katie even knew what “double Dutch” was — I mean, this was a girl who apologized for having multilingual knowledge of ways to ask people to kiss her. “Don’t think badly of me, America, please!” she said after that revelation, and it was a statement that seemed to be very illuminating about where, exactly, she’s been coming from all these weeks.
7. Lacey Brown. Taking the judges’ advice and running with it, Lacey sang Sixpence None The Richer’s “Kiss Me” — which Kara suggested she do in the wake of her semi-disastrous “Landslide” performance last week. “Kiss Me” was certainly a better fit for her sorta-pinched voice than the Fleetwood Mac chestnut, but it still didn’t sound very good at all. Not only were there pitch problems all over the place, there was something very self-conscious about the whole performance, and it bordered on insincere.
8. Haeley Vaughn. Poor sweet Haeley, who just wants to sing twangy songs and show off her goofy grin and be a kid — her version of “The Climb” was all enthusiasm, and no good. It’s kind of a shame that the judges’ vision of her post-Hootie-and-Taylor commercial potential blinded them to the fact that her voice isn’t really very good; Kara’s statement that she needed “a year of really strengthening [her] instrument” made her passage to the Top 24 seem pretty unfair. (Especially to poor out-of-‘Idol’-chances Angela Martin!)
9. Didi Benami. And as long as I’m doling out the sympathy cards, poor Didi, who just wanted to show off her soulful side by busting out an interpretation of “Lean On Me” that had her improvising off the original’s iconic melody. Unfortunately, by the end of the song we were all in a karaoke bar on a bad night, with Didi playing the role of The Possibly Too Convinced Of Herself Singer Wearing An Outfit That Made Her Resemble A Pirate’s Wench. Yeesh.
10. Michelle Delamor. No sympathy here for Michelle, sorry. Because when you’re in a singing competition and your version of a song doesn’t measure up to the one Scott “Mr. Tortured Yarl” Stapp laid to tape? You’ve got serious problems. (I’m feeling bad about Angela Martin all over again!)
WHO I VOTED FOR: Crystal and Lilly.
WHO SHOULD GO HOME: Michelle, obviously — although she let slip tonight that she works at a church, and I suspect that revelation might be her equivalent of singing “God Bless The USA.” Didi wasn’t so great either.
WHO VERY WELL MIGHT GO HOME: Didi, probably, who might be relieved after a rough night that nearly left her in tears; and Haeley, who has probably exhausted the patience of those people (like me) who were endeared by her kooky Beatles cover last week, and hoping that she’d come back strong tonight.
KARANNOYANCE QUOTIENT: Lots of on-point critiques and only a little bit of self-indulgence tonight — including a ponytail that looked like it had been waiting in cold storage since 1985 — results in her rating 1.5 out of 5 tonight. Even her story about herself wasn’t too irritating, since it was in the form of her telling Paige why the kiss-offy “Walk Away,” which DioGuardi wrote, is not exactly the sort of song you should smile your way through.
Tomorrow: Four people go home! And the return of Danny Gokey, which I’m going to hold off on judging until I see him because, well, people can change a lot in a year. And I’m an optimist!