So how did the American Idol Top 5 fare with access to the great Frank Sinatra’s songbook from which to choose their songs for Tuesday night? With only three more sing-offs to go, the pressure was on to perform admirably. Did Crystal Bowersox stay on top? Did one of the guys (she’s the only female left in the competition) get a foot in the door? But more importantly, could any of the remaining five actually pull off a Frank Sinatra tune worthy of the immortal “Chairman of the Board” himself?
American Idol does this every season — putting the contestants in an awkward genre as the competition gets down to the wire. Perhaps it’s a way of knocking off the weaker hopefuls. This week’s Top 5 contestants were challenged with the music of Frank Sinatra and mentored by the charismatic Harry Connick Jr. If there is anyone alive today that captures some of Sinatra’s swagger, it is Harry Connick Jr.
The show began with a montage tribute of ole “Blue Eyes” himself, the legendary Frank Sinatra. Then Frank Sinatra’s daughters, Nancy and Tina, presented Simon Cowell, an unabashed Sinatra fan, an monogramed Sinatra Vegas handkerchief.
Aaron Kelly performed “Fly Me To The Moon.” The 17-year-old certainly is smooth, but he’s not Sinatra. He doesn’t have to be, not with the voice he has. Harry Connick Jr. noted it as well. The boy couldn’t quite become the man, but American Idol judge Randy Jackson said that even though he’d been worried about Aaron for this week (because of his youth), he thought the young man did a good job. Ellen DeGeneres said she thought the piano was a little pitchy (a jab at her friend and fellow Louisianan, Harry Connick Jr., who accompanied each of the performances Tuesday evening), but thought Aaron Kelly’s vocals were beautiful. Kara DioGuardi said the performance was good but nothing compared to last week’s performance. Simon Cowell agreed and said that Frank Sinatra was such a great performer, that if he were a lion, Aaron was a mouse. But Aaron tried hard, he added, which was why people liked him.
Casey James was second man up, singing “Blue Skies.” During rehearsal, he said that he was glad Harry Connick Jr. was cracking jokes because he was nervous around the man he’d been listening to all his life. Connick said that he liked Casey James “blues vibe” and what he did with the song. But after Casey James finished performing live, the judges didn’t pick up on any of the cool vibes. Randy Jackson flat-out said it was Casey James’ worst performance in the competition. Casey just laughed. Ellen DeGeneres, after telling Casey that it was a bad idea to have the piano on the stage (another poke at Harry Connick Jr.), but that she thought he was stiff and had to agree with Randy. Kara DioGuardi was less kind and said that his vibrato was “out of control” and that he sounded like a lamb. Simon Cowell went the good news/bad news route, telling Casey James that the good news was that the band was great. The bad news was that Casey seemed a “bit embarrassed” and a “bit awkward.” He said that at least Casey had a gig next week (referring to a story Casey James told before his performance about a friend who had called offering work playing a local venue for $50 and a free meal), which the audience did not appreciate.
Crystal Bowersox pulled the number three position, singing “Summer Wind.” Harry Connick Jr. asked her why she was singing the song and she told him it was personal, which only intrigued him, adding mystery to her performance. And it was a little subdued, but it was nicely done, a soft change-of-pace with a torchlight singer ambiance. Judge Randy Jackson said that it was a bit “sleepy” for him. Ellen gave Harry a break on this round and said she felt as if Crystal was swallowing her words at first, but she thought that she came into her own, that her performance was so different from what she normally performs. “Impressive,” she added. Kara DioGuardi noted that Crystal Bowersox was out of her element but her phrasing, like Frank Sinatra’s, was great. Simon Cowell found the beginning of the song “too jazzy,” but the second part was better. He noted that she had had two consecutive weeks of “okay” performances and that she needed to show the American Idol audience she was “in it to win it.”
Big Michael Lynche was next-to-last, performing “The Way You Look Tonight.” Like Casey James, Michael Lynche puts his own stamp on a song. Dressed to kill (they all were, by the way, except for Lee Dewyze, who had a rumbled kind of comfortable look about him), the big guy slid into that Luther Vandross sound and nailed the song. Randy Jackson was excited, noting that Michael was indeed “in it to win it.” Ellen left Harry alone again and told Mike that he looked “comfortable” on stage and that his lifetime of performing was evident. She thought his performance was “really good.” Kara DioGuardi said he found the “drama in the song” but didn’t lose himself. Simon Cowell said the performance “clicked” and was “well done.”
Where Michael Lynche was smooth, Lee Dewyze was working smooth. Pulling down the pimp spot (the last position), Lee Dewyze got into “That’s Life” like it was his song. He stepped around the stage, looking a little rough, looking every bit the lounge singer, the big band crooner. And he nailed the classic Frank Sinatra tune. Perhaps it was Harry Connick Jr. telling him that his wife thought Lee was cute. Perhaps it was Harry Connick Jr. jokingly saying Lee reminded him of a newer, improved version of him — it worked. The judges felt it as well. Randy Jackson noted the great arrangement and said that he loved it because Lee Dewyze stayed true to his “rocker self.” Ellen couldn’t let the night go without one more shot at Harry Connick Jr. She said she was at “first distracted by Harry’s organ” (he played organ instead of piano on “That’s Life”), but then added that “if this had been the last night of performances, you would have just won the whole thing.” Kara asked Lee if he thought he could win and after he said he could, she told him to write it down a hundred times and believe it. Simon Cowell said that Harry Connick Jr. had somehow brought out Lee’s personality and confidence and that the former paintshop salesman had given it 110%. He added that it was the best performance for all of them (the judges) of the night.
So who was best? According to the American Idol judges, it seemed that Lee Dewyze pulled it out at the end, capturing the Sinatra style and swagger in his performance as well as in the vocals. Michael Lynche was a close second. If the critiques are to be considered, Casey James came in dead last, with Crystal Bowersox pulling the next-to-last position. That would put Aaron Kelly in the fencerider’s position.
But it is doubtful that Crystal Bowersox will see her first Bottom Three. Despite his excellent performance, Michael Lynche will probably join Aaron Kelly and Casey James at the bottom during the results show.
If taken as the only performance to judge, Casey James will most definitely be sent home. It was nowhere near his best and even after last week’s killer performance, Casey James still ended up in the Bottom Two. Overall, however, Casey James has been probably the most consistent as to his singing style throughout Season 9. But blues ain’t rock or R&B or even country, so the style might also be what’s unfortunately keeping him in the Bottom Three.
It looks as if fans just might send Casey James back to Texas this week.
But we shall see. American Idol results for the Top 5 air Wednesday night at 9 p.m. on Fox Television.
“American Idol,” Fox Television