Tonight the American Idol Top 3 performed in what was supposed to be a dramatic, action-packed, nail-biting, contestant-clawing-to-the-top extravaganza. Instead we got an enh, a hmm, and a hey-not-bad! In other words, it’s season 9 of American Idol. On a night where only one tune came from the current century, and all were presented in largely lackluster performances, you could just hear Christopher Walken in his famed Saturday Night Live sketch begging for “more cowbell!” There’s definitely been something missing from the American Idol Top 3 all season, and perhaps the cowbell could do what all the bagpipes, mandolins, and didgeridoos couldn’t.
American Idol Top 3 — Wake Me Up for Adam Lambert’s Tour
I’m not sure anyone over at the American Idoldome is even trying anymore, except for Ryan, who probably has a bottle of those 5-hour energy tablets before each show to help convince himself he’s awake. As he began the show, he marched down the stairs where the three contestants stood looking serious. Ryan told Lee to smile, and it took Lee a minute to realize Ryan was speaking to him, but he did finally grace us with a crooked grin.
Casey at least played along when Ryan moved back up a step to appear taller. Casey jumped up the step to show Ryan’s real height, and then Ryan did his trademark intro, “THIS is American Idol”. He has done this intro every day of the show this season in front of these contestants. They were supposed to say it with him tonight, but it was like a grade school class mumbling their way randomly through the Pledge of Allegiance, trying unsuccessfully to follow the teacher. Since simultaneous head turns were too much to master, they never should have tackled speaking in unison.
American Idol Top 3 — Casey James Contestant’s Song Choice Performance
Oh, Casey. You have to give him credit for selecting the only song from this decade for his American Idol Top 3 performance. Unfortunately, many people probably don’t know Eric Hutchinson’s “OK, It’s Alright with Me.” Casey told Ryan that this was the sort of song he’d write, and was “representative of [him] as an artist”. The original is catchy and heartfelt, and Hutchinson is cute as a button, but I never really pictured this soulful pop as being representative of Casey’s style.
Considering it is the American Idol Top 3 show, where it’s all down to the wire, it was sad to see Casey strap on a guitar and adopt his stiff posture and manic smile. The performance was okay, and his vocals were fine, and he looked nice in pale blue. Toward the end he looked slightly more relaxed, but it just wasn’t much of anything.
American Idol Top 3 — Casey James & Judges
American Idol judge Randy hit the nail on the head when he said the song title accurately described the performance, saying, “it’s kinda just alright with me, too.” He felt it was too far along in the competition for this safe and easy of a song, which I believe is something the judges have been saying to Casey for the last five weeks. Ellen agreed with Randy, calling it a “live or die, do or die” moment and saying she wished Casey “would have brought it”.
Kara brought up the obscurity of the song for most of the American Idol audience, saying Casey basically had to introduce the song to the masses, rather than showing how he “took it to the next level”. Simon said to Casey, “It’s not going great for you, is it?” Simon told him that if the American Idol competition was dinner, that song was just “salad”–in that everyone was hoping there was something more substantial to come. He called the song a dud, but amid some audience boos, added, “but you sounded okay.”
American Idol Top 3 — Crystal Bowersox Contestant’s Song Choice Performance
There’s been a loud buzz on the Internet for some time, complaining about song choices and saying Crystal should do a Melissa Etheridge tune. Well, tonight she announced she’d be doing “Come to My Window”, that she said she liked because it was “about passion and love…and stuff”. Ryan asks these contestants practically every week why they chose a particular song, and yet they always seem surprised. Can they not prepare an answer that sounds thoughtful?
I’m not sure how they do it, but the American Idol contestants this season have an uncanny knack for taking songs and stripping all of the life and passion out of them. Crystal went back to her early Idol days and brought out the hands-free harmonica, rolling out a few dreary chords before sliding into an arrangement of Etheridge’s tune that eliminated the cadence of the song and cut short any build-up of emotion. Crystal’s vocals ranged from super light to screaming, and then landed back on the harmonica for a few dull notes, and Crystal seemed like she might fall asleep herself.
American Idol Top 3 — Crystal Bowersox & Judges
The American Idol judges varied in their opinions. Randy said he “did not love the arrangement”, but he liked the vocals, even though he felt Crystal was fighting against that arrangement to achieve them. Ellen thought it was a good song choice, and said that “Melissa would be proud of you.”
Kara agreed with Randy that Crystal got “lost” in the arrangement, and that her voice didn’t have the “rasp” that Melissa’s did, and it wasn’t her best vocal. Simon said it was “not the most stunning version of the song”. He did say that he admired Crystal, however, because she hadn’t “compromised” herself as an artist during the competition. He felt it was an “honest performance” and the “right choice” for her American Idol Top 3 song.
American Idol Top 3 — Lee DeWyze Contestant’s Song Choice Performance
It’s a wonder my beleaguered hubby still sits in on some of these American Idol episodes, after he’s heard them murder the Beatles and the Stones and a host of other respectable artists. When Lee announced he’d be doing “Simple Man” by Lynyrd Skynyrd, my better half gritted his teeth in anticipation of another slaughter–though he did appreciate that Lee wasn’t rolling out “Free Bird”.
Finally going against his usual trend of a shaky start, Lee belted out some clear, steady vocals from the opening line. He was relaxed as he strummed on his acoustic guitar, he sounded great, and he was clearly getting into the vibe of the song and conveying that mood to us. It was one of Lee’s finest performances, and got a stamp of approval from the classic rock preservation society sitting next to me on the couch–which is a high honor, trust me. The American Idol theater went crazy with screaming fans as Lee concluded, showing their own admiration for the number.
American Idol Top 3 — Lee DeWyze & Judges
Randy was thrilled, calling it a “brilliant song choice” and telling Lee he “sounded amazing”. With a teasing note to his voice and a sparkle in his eye, he announced, “Someone’s feeling like they can win this!” Ellen was thrilled that Lee was an American Idol contestant “who took this seriously”. She then launched into an exuberant metaphor about Lee turning form a shy lamb into a graceful gazelle or impala or something that basically translated into a “Rowrr” for Lee’s performance.
Kara declared that “Round 1 goes to Lee!” Simon said “that song was absolutely on the money”, and in a move that could invite backlash, told Lee that he had “crushed the other two” American Idol performers. Ouch.
American Idol Top 3 — Casey James Judges’ Song Choice Performance
Simon, Kara, and Randy stood with their arms around each other, and Ellen stayed seated, as Ryan announced the judge’s song choice round for the American Idol contestants. We saw a glimpse of Casey’s hometown visit in Texas, surrounded by teenage girls and finding out that his song for the American Idol Top 3 was a John Mayer tune: “Daughters”. Kara explained that Casey’s audience was “women and girls”, and so he needed to show his “vulnerable side”.
This was a definite improvement over Casey’s first performance. His vocals were more sincere, and richer sounding, with only a few flat notes here and there. He captured the romantic spirit of John Mayer without imitating him, which was admirable. He did launch into another guitar solo, which many American Idol fans have criticized, since it means he’s often bailing on a song’s lyrics in order to jam away.
American Idol Top 3 — Casey James & Judges
American Idol judge Randy was pleased with the performance, saying the song “fits you like a glove” and urging Casey to “continue in this direction”. Ellen felt it was a good performance, and that she was sure there were plenty of mothers and daughters–and maybe even sons–who would be voting for Casey. I’d guess there’s no “maybe” about it, and appealing to both guys and girls is how you get the largest number of votes.
Kara was obviously proud of herself for the song selection, saying it showed Casey’s “sensitive and vulnerable” side, and that he changed it up just enough without straying too far from the original. Simon was chuckling throughout her somewhat overly dramatic admiration, and the two subsequently started arguing about the song choice. Simon thought the American Idol performance was “much better” than his earlier number, but that it was a “bit of a lazy arrangement”. Simon was disappointed that the “climax was a limp guitar solo”. Kara felt that the song was “not about a climax, it’s about emotion”. Surprisingly Ryan did not jump in with a double entendre; someone may have been holding him back.
Simon clarified that Casey “sounded great”, but he felt there was “no ‘wow’ moment”. John Mayer will be thrilled that Kara defended him by saying “That’s because it’s not written that way.” So, no “wow” moments for John, apparently.
American Idol Top 3 — Crystal Bowersox Judges’ Song Choice Performance
The American Idol cameras panned to new FOX series “The Good Guys” stars, Bradley Whitford and Colin Hanks. The two had “contractual obligation” expressions on their faces, but mustered up the energy to give a “we’re not worthy” seated bow to American Idol host Ryan Seacrest. Next we got a quick view of Crystal’s hometown visit at an AT&T store where people had “gathered by the tens”, as my hubby would say. Crystal found out she’d be singing “Baby, I’m Amazed” by Paul McCartney.
Wearing a black stretch dress/stretch pants 80s style outfit with over-the-knee boots, Crystal looked fairly uncomfortable as she moved from an unladylike seated position to walking around the stage. Once again her vocals went from airy to screamy, though in her defense, Paul gets pretty screamy on the original. American Idol judge Ellen chose the song to test Crystal’s range, but I don’t think it did her any favors.
American Idol Top 3 — Crystal Bowersox & Judges
The American Idol judges were more effusive about this performance. Randy declared it a “great song” with “great vocals”, and was happy that “someone else was in it to win it”. Ellen was pleased with the outcome of her song choice and said she “couldn’t have asked for more.”
Kara wasn’t as thrilled with the arrangement and the fact that Crystal didn’t really “change it up”. She did say that Crystal “showed parts of [her] voice that we’ve never heard before”, but didn’t clarify if we actually wanted to hear them. Simon told Crystal that she had soul, and that she’d admirably worked outside her comfort zone and probably earned herself a place in the final.
American Idol Top 3 — Lee DeWyze Judges’ Song Choice Performance
Lee was apparently late for his American Idol hometown visit, as we only saw him in a limo getting his song choice from Simon: Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”. Lee didn’t seem all that thrilled, and it was a surprising selection considering it’d already been done this season by Tim Urban, and previously on Idol by Jason Castro. Simon immediately addressed this on the American Idol performance night, saying that we hadn’t yet heard it the way Lee was going to do it and it was the contestant’s chance to have “a moment”.
A miraculous compliment for this American Idol season, I have to say–it wasn’t boring. I tend to like the beauty of an understated performance for this song, but Lee’s brighter, more gospel version was definitely entertaining. Lee gave a soulful performance, backed up by a circle of singers who were just as into it as he was. Lee’s vocals were warm and heartfelt, and he used the gravelly tone as an exclamation point to certain phrases, rather than rasping his way through the whole song. He’s learning how to create “moments”. There were a few wonky notes, but I’m willing to trade flawless pitch for actual emotion any day this season.
American Idol Top 3 — Lee DeWyze & Judges
Randy was all enthusiasm, saying that Simon set Lee up for his “biggest moment” and that it was “unbelievable”. Lee quickly jumped in to give a “thank you to Simon”, confirming that he’d been uncertain about the song choice, but glad that he’d followed through with it. Ellen said she was glad as well, and that the American Idol performance was “stunning”.
Kara rolled out the “you’re what this show is about” card and told Lee he had “owned the entire night”. Simon, who’d had an affectionate gleam in his eye the whole time, told Lee he was “very, very, very proud” of him. He noted that American Idol had given Lee a good break, that he was a “fantastic singer and a great person” and he really hoped Lee would “make it through to next week.”
Asked by Ryan about the love from the American Idol audience and fans, Lee was choked up as he tried to describe the feeling of everyone “singing along” with his performances. He called it “a moment for me”, clearly moved by the outpouring of love from the crowd.
American Idol Top 3 — The Verdict
It’s been clear for some time now that the American Idol producers want a Crystal Bowersox/Lee DeWyze finale. I’m guessing that’s what they’ll end up with, but I would not be surprised if there was an upset of that balance tomorrow night. Crystal has been turning in weaker performances the last few nights, and tonight the judges’ comments largely fell on the side of “That sucked, but we like you!”
The American Idol judges also apparently haven’t learned from their mistakes of prematurely crowning Adam Lambert and David Archuleta as winners of seasons 8 and 7, respectively. Telling fans that one contestant is a shoo-in often gets American Idol voters in a huff and makes them vote the other way out of spite–and it makes fans of the opposing contestants that much more determined in their power-voting. So it wouldn’t be surprising if Lee suffered for the judges’ favoritism on this one, even though he had the strongest performances tonight.
While the American Idol Top 12 seemed largely like a really nice group of kids, there just weren’t enough stand-out performances to elevate this season from Epic Snooze Fest. Even when the contestants do well, it’s still not Kris Allen’s “Heartless”, David Cook’s “Billie Jean”, or Adam Lambert’s “Mad World”. The question is, though, is it all the contestants’ fault? Or can we blame the manipulative Idol machine for some of the mistakes and ZZzzzz-inducing moments?
American Idol’s official website recently ran a survey to ask that very question. Fans have voiced their opinions to see if we can move on to a stellar season 10 and pretend season 9 never existed–the same way Simon pretends Kris Allen never won season 8.
Watch American Idol on FOX, every Tuesday and Wednesday night. Check local listings for times, as they can vary.