And so we reach the final two of ‘American Idol,’ where Crystal Bowersox and Lee DeWyze face off in order to figure out which one is more beloved by the calling and texting public of this fine nation. Who would correctly manipulate the voting public into assisting them to the top? Who would pick the right coronation song that would correctly showcase their talents for both singing and manipulating audiences?
Tonight, in order to flesh out the final two, the individual performances were preceded by packages on the two contestants. Lee was called “energetic” and “curious” and his parents talked about his baseball aspirations, although hearing Lee talk those aspirations were pretty casual; Crystal got the chance to discuss her early musical adventures, and she and her dad talked about how she was a self-taught guitar prodigy.
Tonight the two finalists were given three songs each: a reprise; a pick by ‘Idol’ producer Simon Fuller; and a song that would be their coronation single, should they win. The round-by-round breakdown:
1. Crystal Bowersox. In the first round, where the singers were charged with reprising songs from previous episodes, Crystal revisited her take on Janis Joplin’s “Me & Bobby McGee.” It wasn’t perfect, but man was it lovely; while it was just as dependent on wordless singing as the composition her competitor turned in, she did a formidable job with it.
2. Lee DeWyze. Lee, for some reason, decided to reprise his performance of Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Boxer.” Why he picked this song and not one of the others where he had the crowd more in the palm of his hand — “Treat Her Like A Lady” in particular comes to mind — is I guess a decision lost to history. I wasn’t a fan of his take on “The Boxer” the first time around and I liked it even less here, finding him relying too much on the emotion supplied by his eyes gesturing during his really-meaning-it scatting.
1. Crystal Bowersox. ‘Idol’ producer Simon Fuller decided that Crystal should sing the old karaoke standby “Black Velvet,” a song about Elvis that so many people love to tackle because, well, it’s a really fun song to sing. Crystal performed it well, despite indulging in some audience high-fiving at the song’s outset; her voice fit its emotional wallop pretty perfectly, and she asserted herself as a total pro.
2. Lee DeWyze. Speaking of karaoke hits, Fuller saddled Lee with R.E.M.’s ode to heartbreak “Everybody Hurts,” and he just sort of wilted underneath its demands to be both emotional and restrained. The arrangement made his vocal performance even more drab and needy, and it also sounded kinda reggae-lite? If anything, Lee made me want to nominate R.E.M. lead singer Michael Stipe for a future guest-mentoring session, which would probably be a transformative move for a show that clearly wants to shift to a singer-songwriter mode.
1. Crystal Bowersox. Round Three was all about the songs the winner would pick as their coronation songs; this time out the winner’s single would be a cover of an already-existing song, which meant that there would be no “No Boundaries” or “This Is My Now” for a potential winner to awkwardly navigate through. (Took the powers that be long enough!) Crystal decided to sing the nu-folk track “Up To The Mountain,” which was something of a risk as inaugural ‘Idol’ Kelly Clarkson tackled it during the 2007 installment of Idol Gives Back. But her version was solid and reverent, and it inspired Simon Cowell, in his final ‘Idol’ critique ever (at least until he comes back for a ratings boost), to dub her “outstanding.”
2. Lee DeWyze. Oh Lee. I know that you’re trying to make your mark as a Big Rock Star, but if you’re going to take on Bono — as you did during your cover of “Beautiful Day” — you need to make yourself at least 75% as grandiose as the U2 frontman. And you didn’t. Maybe next time, you should cover Coldplay instead?
WHO I VOTED FOR: Crystal.
WHO SHOULD WIN: Crystal was game, set, match tonight — she even got the final knighting from the outgoing Simon. But will that be enough?
WHO MIGHT VERY WELL WIN: The appeal of Lee is very strong; even though Crystal closed out the night on an exquisite, emotional performance, he has a very devoted fanbase and might well close it out.
NEXT UP: The two-hour finale! A farewell to Simon, a bunch of cameos (including, as Ryan threatened, “a bunch of surprises”), and — after a long time — the coronation of our ninth American Idol. Can you feel the excitement?
Take a look back at Simon’s meanest ‘Idol’ moments!