On tonight’s ‘American Idol,’ Kara DioGuardi and Simon Cowell seemed to be obsessed with the idea of making the music of the Beatles “relevant” to contemporary audiences. You know, the Beatles, the band who were the best-selling musical act of the first decade of the 21st century and whose songs aren’t exactly Metal Machine Music?
So, good performances in the eyes of the judges were heralded because of their radio-readiness; lousy performances were called either boring or “not contemporary.” What made these criticisms even stranger were the performances dubbed the most “relevant” of the night; Michael Lynche’s cheery, wedding-bandy take on “Eleanor Rigby,” and Lee DeWyze’s bagpipe-assisted version of “Hey Jude.” Bagpipes on the radio? It makes one wonder when any of the judges last listened to the radio of their own volition, and not because they were in a green room prepping for an interview on Ryan Seacrest’s coast-to-coast Top 40 extravaganza.
The performances were for the most part decent; unlike last week’s collection of trainwrecks, the biggest crimes committed this evening involved aggressive blandness. Although the aggressive attempts to stretch nine 90-second performances into two hours worth of TV were pretty criminal as well: The lingering shots of signs in the crowd; the montages that only consisted of the hopefuls aping Yoda (it was an extended in-joke about Aaron Kelly, because the lack of a mentor this week meant that all the intro packages consisted of the kids making laughs about each other); and Randy having more than 20 seconds to give his bland critiques were all super-obvious signs that Fox’s unwillingness to program any new comedies that aren’t from the overly self-referential mind of Seth MacFarlane is starting to wear on the network’s signature singing competition.
1. Casey James. The shaggy-haired singer unplugged for an emotional, tremulous take on “Jealous Guy,” and it was pretty successful; he didn’t make the mistake of previous weeks and rely too much on his soloing, and his shaky voice fit well with the song’s anxious longing.
2. Crystal Bowersox. Battling a cold this week, Crystal was slightly off during her didgeridoo-assisted take on “Come Together” (did she flub a lyric? Scandalous!). But she’s still so head and shoulders above every other performer on the ‘Idol’ stage this year that even when she’s coming off her worst performance of the season, she’s better than most of the competition.
3. Tim Urban. Poor, beautiful, forever-smiling Tim Urban. At least deciding to play “All My Loving” tonight played to his strengths, namely his teen-idol blend of cheer and winsomeness. And whoever decided to style his hair like the blowdried Canadian YouTube sensation Justin Bieber probably made every female fan fall in love with him just a little more. Heck, I did.
4. Siobhan Magnus. Perhaps in preparation for the similarly shrieky Adam Lambert’s visit next week, the nose-ringed glassblower toned it down this week, performing a muted version of “Across The Universe.” (At least vocally; her outfit was some sort of hybrid of Great Expectations Miss Havisham and some ’90s sitcom sidekick who was obsessed with vests.) It sounded OK, but there’s something about her voice — and Katie Stevens’ as well — that seems sort of hollow, like the meat of her vocal chords is actively refusing to engage with the notes she’s supposed to sing. Perhaps she’s using her head voice?
5. Lee DeWyze. His “Hey Jude” closed the show, and it started off shakily, but eventually fought its way to bar-band competence. Until the big, singalong ending, when… a bagpipe player descended from the top of the stairs in a way that reminded me of John McGuirk spontaneously breaking into Scottish Highland Dancing on ‘Home Movies.’ No, really, what? At least it ended the show on a somewhat amusing note.
6. Michael Lynche. Oh, the minefield that one walks across when one tries to turn “Eleanor Rigby” into something sort of uptempo. His voice sounded fine, but his hamminess overpowered the song, which is a pretty sad meditation on loneliness and longing if you actually listen to the lyrics.
7. Katie Stevens. Katie’s annoying story about being asked to prom by a whopping five boys (ooh) and then saying that she’d pick whatever suitor voted for her most — with proof of phone bill! — prefaced her take on “Let It Be,” which, you know, is kind of a weird intro to that song? Is the light that shines on her the light of her not going home this week?
8. Aaron Kelly. This week’s performance made me wonder if the youngest ‘Idol’ contestant is aggressively trying to age himself all the time. Yes, the 16-year-old Aaron picked the mournful “The Long And Winding Road” — why? Because his road through ‘Idol’ has been long. I guess when you’re 16, those sorts of things are all relative.
9. Andrew Garcia. So tonight Andrew decided to switch things up and perform a lively, horn-assisted version of “Can’t Buy Me Love,” instead of the old slowed-down coffeehouse takes on pop songs that the judges have fawned over in the past. It came off sounding like a very special guest performance by Andrew Garcia & The News, although part of me thinks that characterizing it as such is sort of an insult to the fine work of Huey Lewis.
WHO I VOTED FOR: Casey and Tim. (I’m starting to really appreciate Tim these days. It’s that smile!)
WHO SHOULD GO HOME: Andrew or Aaron. I’m leaning toward Aaron, because every single one of his performances has just been so… old. Really, Aaron? “The Long And Winding Road”? Why not just go all the way age-wise and perform “When I’m 64”?
WHO VERY WELL MIGHT GO HOME: Given that the ladies have been getting picked off one by one as Top 12 unfolds, I’m going to say that Katie has the best shot of unexpectedly going home tomorrow night.
JUDGING THE JUDGES: We discussed Kara and Simon’s obviously misplaced idea of “radio readiness” earlier, so let’s just pause for a second and look at Alessandra Stanley’s bizarre New York Times piece heralding Ellen DeGeneres’ arrival at the judges’ table, which ran on Sunday. There is nothing right about it at all — instead of rightly noting that Ellen has seemed tense, it claims that she has “all but hijacked” the show, and also admirably notes her metaphors while neglecting to use the word “banana” — and yet it was the cover story for the arts section of this country’s biggest daily newspaper!
NEXT UP: Rihanna, David Archuleta, and Jason DeRulo perform. (Guess which one of those three received zero applause when Ryan Seacrest announced his name?) Also, someone gets kicked off. I’m hoping that the Ford ad at least uses the bagpipes that have been revealed as an item in the ‘Idol’ arsenal…
Watch a recap of last week’s performances: