Saddling this group of ‘American Idol‘ contestants with the songs of Frank Sinatra — a smooth singer who knocked the bobbysocks off even his male admirers — seemed like a curious choice when tonight’s Ol’ Blue Eyes-themed show began, and as things wore on it started to seem more and more like a cruel joke. The master of phrasing on a show that defines “subtlety” as using a regular old hammer instead of a sledgehammer? The suave Sinatra being channeled by the perpetually awkward Aaron Kelly, or the grunged-out Lee DeWyze? It became an even worse idea as the show went on, with only one hopeful — Michael Lynche, who sings in a wedding band at home — doing the man any justice at all. (Conspiracy theorists, get your tinfoil hats ready!)
So, no, none of the hopefuls get the No. 1 slot tonight. Every single performance had problems on this cruel joke of an evening. But one man stuck it out and at least salvaged part of the night:
1. Harry Connick, Jr. The evening’s mentor and arranger thankfully spared us from the syrupy musical stylings of outgoing bandleader Rickey Minor, and he was another fine choice to guide the contestants through material that was pretty much out of their depth all around. Well done, Harry. Sorry the producers’ and judges’ ineptitude this season didn’t allow you to work with the likes of Lilly Scott or even Todrick Hall.
2. Michael Lynche. Perhaps this week was picked by the producers as an hour-long justification of saving Michael a few weeks back; before he went on he talked about how “The Way You Look Tonight” was a guaranteed crowd-pleaser for his band. And he pulled it off ably, although his smug smile at the song’s outset made me cringe a bit.
3. Lee DeWyze. I heard that Lee would be singing Sinatra’s ode to hard luck “That’s Life” before the show started (thanks MJ!), and I figured that he would finally channel his regular-guy persona in such a way that would finally make me “get” it. But that just didn’t happen — there were still too many moments where he just seemed lost, with a faraway look in his eyes. The judges (who, to be fair, probably can’t see the extreme closeups offered by the Fox cameras) are really trying to turn him into David Cook Mach II though, with the overpraising of his perfectly acceptable bar-band pipes and the insistence that Connick’s wife is crushing out on him and Kara asking him, point-blank, “Do you think you can win?” “Yes,” he said, completely unconvincingly. Mind you, that doesn’t mean he isn’t the front-runner at this point in time.
4. Crystal Bowersox. Crystal picked “Summer Wind” as a way of Sending A Message To Someone Mysterious, and I swear, if the producers force her to have some sort of “marry me, boyfriend” arc behind her song choices for the rest of the season I am going to flip out. “Summer Wind” is one of my favorite Sinatra songs and I was eager to see what Crystal would do with it — but she for some reason tried to pull off this overly fussy interpretation of the first half of the song, and it fell all sorts of flat. She eventually recovered enough to transform the song into Yet Another Bowersox Belter, but by that time, she’d lost me. Loved her gown, though.
5. Casey James. Oh, Casey. He had some nice-ish moments while singing “Blue Skies,” but there were also many rough patches, from poor pitch to awkward phrasing. I even found myself agreeing with Kara, who likened his voice at times to that of a lamb, which, well, yeah. Not good. (Also, couldn’t he have shaved? Five o’clock shadows grow back pretty quickly.)
6. Aaron Kelly. He looked very presentable in a tie. That’s something nice to say, right? Otherwise, his supremely nervous “Fly Me To The Moon” was sung in such a jittery way that I expected him to dedicate it to either his mom or the deity of his choice immediately afterward in hopes of it garnering him votes.
WHO I VOTED FOR: Nobody.
WHO SHOULD GO HOME: Aaron. For the love of Archuleta, the kid’s time is up.
WHO VERY WELL MIGHT GO HOME: Casey was roundly panned by the panel and even Connick said that his performance was a lot more palatable in rehearsal. But he still has the “hot guy” vote on his side, and his drubbing by the judges might very well result in a Save Casey movement.
JUDGING THE JUDGES: Given that this ‘Idol’ offseason will be all about cleaning house, can the producers maybe please do something about Randy Jackson? Not that I was the biggest fan of Crystal’s “Summer Wind,” but his hemming and hawing after that performance — as well as similar reactions after other outings this season that have been lacking those huge, anachronistic Whitney/Mariah/Celine glory notes — make me wonder if he just takes naps while the hopefuls are onstage singing and only thinks a performance is “good” if it rouses him from his slumber. He’s almost as useless as Ellen, who despite her awkward punning and ever-worse attempts at injecting “humor” into the proceedings at least has a function in the way that she brings booted contestants onto her daytime talk show as part of the post-elimination non-victory lap. Maybe Connick can come in to replace him? (Or at least Rickey Minor?)
NEXT UP: An elimination, a Connick performance, and Lady GaGa — because, hey, she can play the piano!