Tonight’s ‘American Idol‘ showcased the Top Three, with each of the remaining finalists performing two songs and getting some face time both with Ryan and in their hometowns. This night had lots of guitars, lots of emotion, and a healthy dose of Simon Cowell trying to manipulate America into picking a winner before the Top Two had even been set in stone.
1. Lee DeWyze. “Simple Man” by Lynyrd Skynyrd is something of a no-brainer for Lee, who took this track and knocked it out of the park. It was a Lee song in every possible way — big-voiced, tender, “rocking.”
2. Crystal Bowersox. There were a few things off about Crystal’s take on Melissa Etheridge‘s “Come To My Window”; it was bookended by some superfluous harmonica bits that reminded me of Alanis Morrisette‘s “Hand In My Pocket,” and her voice felt like it was being swallowed by both the house band’s big arrangement and the song itself. (Kara noted post-performance that Crystal was lacking the rasp possessed by Etheridge, and it’s true; while that’s not a bad thing in most cases, tonight it made the desperation of “Window” seem a bit lacking.)
3. Casey James. Casey’s ascent this season has been sort of a fluke, so it’s probably not too surprising that his first song of the night was Eric Hutchinson‘s “OK, It’s Alright With Me” — a laid-back, coffeehouse-ish ditty that he seemed to be 100% comfortable with. Of course, his performance confused the judges, who had never heard it before and who proclaimed that in order to Make A Song Your Own, you needed to pick a song that the judges knew. Is that how things work now on ‘Idol,’ or were the judges just trying to ease Casey under the bus? Hard to tell, especially given the events that transpired during the second half of tonight’s show!
Ah, the judges’ choice round, the last safe harbor for shenanigans by the ‘Idol’ powers that be. Simon Cowell, clearly seeing tonight as his last chance to pull the ‘Idol’ puppet strings before his end-of-season departure, gave Lee the Leonard Cohen track “Hallelujah,” which we have heard before this season (thanks to Tim Urban) and during seasons past (thanks to Jason Castro). And not only that — Lee also got a full string section and a timpani and a gospel choir to assist him in his Officially Sanctioned Before It Even Happened ‘Idol’ Moment. Simon said before Lee took the stage that this night pretty much belonged to him, and the producers certainly pulled out all the stops on that front. The judges of course ate it up, with Kara saying that he was “the heart of the show this season” (really?) and Simon saying that he was both a “fantastic singer” and a “great person.” Has this show become ‘American Nice Guy Who We Want To See Win Because He’s Relatable’ while I wasn’t looking?
Strip away the bells, whistles, constant cuts to signs being hoisted by audience members, and winking by Simon and what you have is a fine, if overwrought, performance of a song that has pretty much become at this point all about its transcendence-triggering chorus. (I prefer Jason’s sweet version, which sent Jeff Buckley’s take to No. 1 on the all-sales Hot Digital Tracks chart in 2008 and is probably what made Simon see dollar signs dancing around this song in the first place. But I digress.)
I am averse to ranking Lee against his two competitors in this round, what with him being given every in-performance advantage that could possibly have been handed to him with the exceptions of on-the-fly AutoTune and a giant neon sign behind him that said “Vote For This Guy, We Really Want Him To Win” in blinking hot pink letters. So I will instead just say that the other judges’-choice performances were good, too: Casey whipped out the ‘Top Scallop’ routine for maybe the last time with some sweet guitar work on a tender performance of John Mayer‘s “Daughters”; the instrument-less Crystal barreled through one of my favorite songs ever, Paul McCartney‘s sweet “Maybe I’m Amazed,” and while she sounded pretty good for most of it, I kind of wish she’d been able to go longer with her performance because that song is one that builds to its climax quite gracefully.
WHO I VOTED FOR: Crystal.
WHO SHOULD GO HOME: Casey, who had a bemused smirk on his face as Ryan read out his phone numbers. Think he figured that the judges’ tepid response to both his performances was a sign that he knew he wasn’t among The Chosen Ones?
WHO VERY WELL MIGHT GO HOME: Then again, as Kara noted after his performance of “Daughters,” Casey has a fanbase of women and girls — and they’re very motivated when it comes to the calling and the texting during the post-show glow. Could they send him to the final on the basis of his good looks and sweet licks at the expense of Crystal? This season, anything is possible!
JUDGING THE JUDGES: They all loved the songs they picked for their chosen contestants, that’s for sure. The best moment of the night was probably when Kara got defensive over picking “Daughters” for Casey, a selection that Simon found a bit “limp.” She seethed for pretty much the rest of the night after that, although I found her critiques to be on point more often than usual this evening.
NEXT UP: OMG JUSTIN BIEBER OMG — yes, the windswept Canadian heartthrob will make his long-teased ‘Idol’ appearance tomorrow. (No word on whether it’s the performance that was taped weeks ago, or if he’ll be freshly in-studio tomorrow night.) Plus someone goes home, thus setting the final two in stone. And in even worse news, we have to sit through an appearance by the technicolor-haired Internet scourge Perez Hilton, who’s been given the filler space to plug some ex-boybander who he’s decided to hitch his music business horse to. (Whither Sliimy, Mario?) Man, do I hope that Fox’s announcement that next year’s ‘Idol’ elimination shows are only going to last half an hour stays true, because this right here is what I’d call really rancid filler material.