May 4, Tuesday, and the Five Little Indians took the stage on “American Idol.” Then, on Wednesday, May 5, there were (will be) four. It was Old Blue Eyes night, with Harry Connick, Jr. providing the mentorship as the singers took on the Frank Sinatra catalogue.
For a change, it appeared that the tips being given the singers were substantial. To help things along even more, Connick himself accompanied the young singers on piano as they sang, and he had brought along several members of his orchestra, an impressive array of talent in and of itself AND he wrote the arrangements.
The question that needs answering is: “Who’s going to get the boot?” If there’s any justice, Casey James is gone. Just before Casey went onstage (singing second behind Aaron Kelly) Connick said, “I want you to remember one thing. Don’t screw it up.” Unfortunately, Casey did screw it up. He sounded as though he was really struggling to hit the high notes and his opening was off-key. In fact, his entire performance was off-key, something that even Connick recognized. At the end of his public dissing at the hands of the judges, Connick said, “In his defense, it’s hard to hear up here. But you killed it about two hours ago.” Unfortunately, Casey killed it again in front of millions, but not in a good way, after sharing a humorous story about a buddy who didn’t know he was on “American Idol” and had urged him to join his group to perform on Tuesday. “Fifty bucks and a free meal,” said the clueless friend. This story later caused Simon to say, “Good news: Band was great. And the good news is you’ve got a booking for next week.” Simon tried to pass off his prediction of Casey’s elimination as just a bad joke, but the truth hurts.
It wasn’t just Simon who didn’t like Casey’s performance. Randy said, “Your worst performance. Pitchy all the while till the last note. It just didn’t work, Baby.” Ellen made a joke at Connick’s expense, saying, “It was a bad idea to have the piano onstage,” but then went on to say of Casey’s performance, “It felt very stiff to me. I agree with Randy. I’m sorry.” Kara said, “At least you held some notes. I haven’t heard you hold a note for more than 2 seconds at any time during the competition, but you kind of sounded like a lamb,” and told Casey he should “work on his vibrato” after demonstrating with a bleating sound, like a sheep. Simon, in addition to his bad joke about the booking next week, said, “This is really uncomfortable.” And it was. It was painful to watch and it was not fun to hear. Furthermore, Casey did not look nearly as good as he has previously, with his hair greased down, a stubble, and dued up in a suit. Casey should be eliminated this week, if performance is the criteria, hair do and attire aside.
First performer of the night was the young Aaron Kelly, singing “Fly Me to the Moon” and receiving good reviews such as Randy’s “Dude, you did a really good job.” Ellen went for a joke, saying, “I think that the piano was a little pitchy,” but soon recovered to compliment young Aaron, saying, “Beautiful vocals. You really pulled it off.” Kara said she would like to see, “A little bit more charisma.” She wanted him to “command the space,” saying that Sinatra, himself, was about the same height as the young Aaron. It must have been very intimidating, performing with both Nancy and Tina Sinatra in the audience.
This brings me to a further critique of the Sinatras presence. Tina, the younger of the two sisters looked a lot like her deceased mother (Nancy, Sr.), but the Nancy Sinatra (“These Boots Are Made for Walkin’) looked more than her age, as though those boots had walked all over her face, and she had on a very unattractive and casual outfit, to boot. Blue jeans and a jacket that looks like Roller Derby is not the way to present mementos to the judges from the first row. The sisters presented Simon with one of their father’s monogrammed pocket-handkerchiefs, and Simon, a huge fan, seemed genuinely touched. I realize time has marched on, but it was still hard for me to believe the way Nancy Sinatra has aged. Let’s just say: Not gracefully. It almost seemed as though she may be a victim of too much plastic surgery. Her sister, Tina, resembled pictures of their mother, Nancy,Sr., whom Frank divorced early in his career to go on to marry Ava Gardner, Mia Farrow, and Barbara Sinatra, the widow of a Marx brother (his last wife), and to have so many flings with famous stars that listing them would be impossible.
After Mighty Casey struck out, singing second, Crystal Bowersox sang “The Summer Wind.” She was dressed in a lovely strapless black lace gown and received good comments, but not glowing ones. Randy said, “It was a great arrangement.” The arrangements were all courtesy of Connick, who, as the show kicked off, was seen working at the computer and saying, “American Idol is keeping me pretty busy right now, to be honest. I ought to be out layin’ by the pool. You think Shania Train was up in here doin’ this?” Connick was funny throughout. Furthermore, the show has finally tapped someone who really knows his stuff, musically. Good choice of mentors. Head and shoulders above Miley Cyrus. I loved his remark to young Aaron at the outset when, after telling him, “Great job, Bro,” he asked Aaron during practice if he had enjoyed singing with the trio Connick had brought to the show, and Aaron said, “It was fun.” Harry responded, “It’s more than fun, Bro’. It’s my life.”
Crystal received rather lackluster comments from Simon, who said that she had had two “okay” weeks, but needed to do better. Even Randy called the song, “Subdued. Okay. A little sleepy.” Ellen, however, said, “You have so many different sides. You’re impressive.” Kara commented, “It’s out of your element, but I liked it.” Simon, however, felt the first half was “too jazzy” and the second half was “a lot better,” questioning her decision to sing the first part of the song softly. I thought that Crystal did a very credible job, and I’m going to compare her, again, to the always-reliable Melinda Dolittle on one “Idol” season. After reading a story in the Chicago Tribune about how the bartenders at the bar where Crystal used to sing in Ohio vote at least 200 times a night for her (“Take an order. Vote. Take an order. Vote. Repeat 200 times.”) and after her many fine performances, I hope that Crystal is safe. It also seems that the Sinatra catalogue is more suitable for a male singer than a female singer; Crystal is the only girl left and singing Frank Sinatra songs does seem more the province of the male voice.
Contestant number four, Big Mike Lynche, did a great job with “Just the Way You Look Tonight.” Before he sang, Connick said, “If he’s lucky enough to find that fleeting moment of truth, there’s nothing anyone can say, because it’s perfect.” Mike found that “fleeting moment of truth.” Randy said, “Unbelievable arrangement. Unbelievable vocals. Mike, you threw down the gauntlet tonight, Baby. Eyes on Mike.” I agree with Randy. Ellen felt that Mike “moved easier” than the other contestants and was “very, very smooth. Lots of charisma. Very good.” This “smooth” remark was somewhat surprising, because, when Mike sang a fast song one week, he looked as though his feet were on fire or he was trying to shake dog doo-doo off his sneaker. (I suppose the answer to that, for Mike, is to stick to the slow stuff and wear the hat.) Kara liked his performance because he “didn’t lose yourself” in the song and Simon said, “I actually felt that you listened (to the judges). Terrific arrangement. Fantastic. Well done.” I would have to agree that Mike hit it out of the park tonight, even though later comments were made by the judges that Lee DeWyze had bested Mike’s performance. Lee was good. Crystal was good. Aaron was good, but, for me, Big Mike was the best this night, with Lee a close second. I’m changing my mind on who will finish third. Apparently, good looks are not enough. The James Gang should get one of its brothers back.
The last man to sing was Lee DeWyze singing “That’s Life.” During his time with Connick, he shared that his wife (a former lingerie model) thought that Lee was cute, and Connick said, “I think he looks like a new and improved version of me.” Randy said, “Another great arrangement by a Louisiana boy. Dude, I loved it.” (Randy and Ellen and Harry Connick are all from Louisiana). Ellen said, “At first I was distracted by Harry’s organ.” This was a reference to the fact that Connick played an organ accompaniment for Lee’s version of the Sinatra song. Connick, recognizing the joke, played along, telling Ellen to “Stop it now!” Ellen said, “If this were the last night, I think you’d just have won it.” After having just heard Mike Lynche’s performance, to me, it would have been close between these two as to who did the very best job. Undeniably, they were both great. Simon then commented, “Harry, you’ve been absolutely incredible tonight.” Simon felt that Connick had “brought out your (Lee’s) personality and confidence” and said, “By far the best performance of the night, so far.” Since it was the last performance of the night, I would have to disagree, as I think that Lee and Mike might have tied for those honors.
But the big disappointment was Casey James: Mighty Casey has struck out!