Tonight the six remaining ‘American Idol‘ hopefuls worked their way through the catalog of Shania Twain, the Canadian country singer who actually hasn’t released much new music in the past few years. But her turn as a guest judge during this year’s auditions got a fair amount of buzz — thanks in large part to the way she mooned over the dearly departed a cappella singer John Park — and the producers probably were desperate to remember the good times that happened before this season’s gradual sink into the morass of “eh” performers, so they invited her back.
Which isn’t to say she wasn’t a good mentor. She was, and most of the singers tonight rose to the challenge presented by her savvily constructed pop-country tracks.
1. Crystal Bowersox. Again, tonight was a case of “Crystal And The Everyone Elses,” with the dreadlocked mom performing a lovely, delicate version of “No One Needs To Know” in which she eschewed the overwrought house band for accompaniment by a pedal steel, an upright bass, and a backup singer who was actually amplified properly. Maybe Simon was annoyed that she didn’t use Rickey Minor, or maybe he just has bad taste (cough-cough, over-reliance on the hacktastic Ryan Tedder for his protégé Leona Lewis, cough), because he spared no expense in saying how unimpressed he was. But he was pretty much wrong for all of the show’s second half tonight, perhaps because he was in the mood to mess with everyones’ heads?
2. Casey James. I’m not sure why the judges were bending over backwards saying that Casey was “back,” since his performance of John Lennon’s “Jealous Guy” a few weeks back is still one of this season’s standouts. Tonight he took on Twain’s mid-oughts ballad “Don’t!” and he (thankfully) said that he was planning to focus on his singing instead of his guitar playing. And the strategy pretty much worked; his performance was so radio-ready, I felt as if I had been transported to my local drugstore and was wandering the aisles listening to the piped-in radio instead of sitting on my couch, watching TV. (No, really.)
3. Michael Lynche. Turned on the Luther Vandross for a serious performance of “It Only Hurts When I’m Breathing,” and it was completely passable. The guy still gets a bit Moons Over My Hammy for my taste, but he certainly works well in the soulful-dude-singing-songs-written-by-ladies zone.
4. Lee DeWyze. How do you know that a performer has become The Chosen One? He gets the night’s Big Hit (in this case, Twain’s top-five hit “You’re Still The One”) and the obvious pitch problems in his performance get smoothed over by vague mau-mauing from the judges. (Seriously, the guy was out of key for a good portion of his performance.) I know that there are a lot of readers here who think that Lee Can Do No Wrong, and they express themselves with such fervency that I’m pretty sure he’s a lock for the top two. But I am still on the whole pretty unimpressed; he’s lacking a confidence that would actually make him a good performer, instead of just a nice-seeming guy who happens to be on stage.
5. Aaron Kelly. What is it with this kid and picking songs that have to have their lyrics changed? Does he not read all the way through during the song-picking sessions? Are the producers playing a joke on him? A few weeks ago, he had to alter “Blue Suede Shoes” so that a reference to drinking liquor was stricken; this week, his version of Twain’s love song “You’ve Got A Way” was changed so that he wouldn’t sing about making love. Because, you know, he’s a kid. And also the song was dedicated to his mom! Which makes sense, since his awkward performance was straight out of a high-school talent show.
6. Siobhan Magnus. Siobhan’s blast through “Any Man Of Mine” was one of those ‘Idol’ performances marked by the singer awkwardly running all over the place in an effort to “work out their excess energy.” (Think Tim Urban. Or Sanjaya.) She sounded plainly terrible for the first half of the song, although her hitting the glory notes at the end meant that the judges loved it enough to call what she did at its outset “punk.” (I personally would call it “manic.”) But did anyone else notice the reaction shot of Twain immediately following Siobhan’s overwrought heap of awfulness? Clearly, it didn’t impress her much, either.
WHO I VOTED FOR: Crystal.
WHO SHOULD GO HOME: Based solely on tonight’s performance Siobhan, but c’mon, Aaron has been teetering on the edge for weeks.
WHO VERY WELL MIGHT GO HOME: Could this week be the shocking Michael Lynche elimination? I only bring it up because he went second; the judges were lukewarm on him; and the much weaker Aaron dedicated his performance to his mom, which surely prompted a few extra votes.
JUDGING THE JUDGES: Leaving aside the way that Ellen DeGeneres twice tried to trot out the “Shania Twain when I mean train, get it get it???” joke, what was up with the judges tonight? Particularly at the end. Perhaps having to rush through Aaron and Siobhan’s performances made them not pay attention to either at all, because the praise directed toward both singers was off the mark in every possible way.
NEXT UP: A positively stuffed-to-the-DVR-brink results show with Shania, Shakira, Lady Antebellum, and Rascal Flatts! And somewhere along the way someone’s going to get kicked off, too.