Season 9 of American Idol has degraded into a jarring mix of apathy and frantic desperation. The contestants–even the Top 4– appear strangely apathetic. The judges seem to have thrown in the towel–particularly Simon, who’s just sitting there counting the days until he can escape. Ryan falls more on the desperate scale, staging faux hostilities with Simon, asking the contestants embarrassing questions, and throwing out double entendres left and right. Tonight’s American Idol movie music mentor Jamie Foxx even printed up motivational T-shirts and initiated uncomfortable staring contests in an effort to liven things up.
Nothing seems to be working. The only thing keeping the American Idol audience watching these days is a combination of not wanting to have wasted all the time already invested in the show, and a sort of blind hope that someone will suddenly pull out an amazing performance. Movie music mentor Jamie Foxx even said tonight that he was hoping to see a butterfly emerge from the caterpillars. If we’re at the Top 4 of American Idol and no one is a butterfly yet, I think we’re in big trouble.
American Idol Top 4 — In a Word: Awkward
Sure, American Idol is full of amateurs, and past seasons have all had their most embarrassing moments. Season 9 just has more than their share. If you get some great, show-stopping performances, you tend to forget about the few misfires. When it’s all misfires, you start to nitpick. Take Ryan’s patented “THIS is American Idol” introduction, which tonight included all the American Idol contestants looking at the camera in unison. Or at least it was supposed to be in unison. Seriously, we can’t even unify a head turn?
Then Jamie Foxx showed Idol host Ryan Seacrest his special t-shirts for the Top 4–one labeled “Contestant” and one labeled “Artist”. After a long-winded explanation, Ryan understandably conjectured that the American Idol wannabes didn’t want to get that contestant shirt. “Not necessarily,” Jamie said, and then Ryan was confused, and the whole segment dissolved into “Wha?” Perhaps Jamie realized he didn’t want to seem like he was picking favorites with his attempts at motivation-by-t-shirt.
I’ll admit I drifted off a little during the American Idol mentor introduction. One can only handle so many cliches per season, and once Jamie said that music was the “soundtrack of our lives”, my ears tuned out.
American Idol Top 4 — Lee DeWyze Performance
I have no idea why Lee chose “Kiss From a Rose”, and I don’t think he does, either. Instead of worrying about Lee’s stage presence, American Idol mentor Jamie Foxx should have smacked Lee upside the head for choosing a song completely out of his range in every direction. I have to give Jamie props for making a good point about eye contact. After forcing Lee to sing while he hovered 6 inches from his face, Jamie noted that if a contestant can’t sing to hm, how can they engage a whole audience? Lee turned bright red, but he did manage to hold Jamie’s gaze pretty well and he earned himself an artist shirt.
While I’ve become something of a Lee convert as he’s progressed on American Idol, I’m unable to deny how bad this performance was. While he was facially more relaxed and engaging, his vocal performance was all over the place, and it was clear that the high notes in particular were way out of his range. This was all made worse by his horrible black and white plaid flannel shirt and odd body posture as he strummed rapidly on his guitar. His crooked smile at the end was the best part of the song.
American Idol Top 4 — Lee DeWyze & Judges
American Idol judge Randy was not happy. He felt Lee did nothing with the song, and was “pitchy” (Harry Connick Jr. is grinding his teeth at the term right now). He wondered at the song choice, and thought Lee should have nabbed a rock tune from Bon Jovi instead. Ellen wanted more done with the song as well, but over all she was still liking Lee and his performance.
Kara jumped on the “love the American Idol sinner, not the sin” bandwagon and told Lee he was still great–despite the fact that he got “lost in the arrangement” and was “out of tune” (Harry cheers) for most of the song. Simon was flabbergasted over the song choice out of “so many brilliant songs”, and blasted Lee with the “karaoke” label, “i.e., trying too hard to sound like the original artist”.
Lee then made things worse by channeling ousted American Idol contestant and compadre Andrew Garcia again. Answering Ryan’s question about song choice, Lee “felt good about it”, “enjoyed singing it”, and “liked it”. I love ya, Lee, but the rest of us were not feeling good about it at all.
American Idol Top 4 — Michael Lynche Performance
Perhaps inspired by Ryan’s request for it last week, Michael gave us his patented two-hand kiddie wave at least three times tonight. That could be enough to send him home tomorrow night. Michael then talked about the goal he set last year–to be in the American Idol Top 3 this year. He added that there was a lot of pressure from his family and city to do well.
American Idol mentor Jamie Foxx’s assessment of Mike was unbelievably a lack of confidence. Apparently Mike was not feeling like he deserved to be this far on American Idol–understandable considering he got voted off a while back, but not apparent by his demeanor. Perhaps Mike has hidden insecurities we don’t see. Seemingly awed by Jamie Foxx’s presence, Mike also forgot the lyrics to the song, earning him a contestant shirt. Mike said he didn’t want it, pointing to the artist shirt and declaring “I’ll be back for that”.
I thought this would lead to a dramatic moment when Mike wowed the American Idol crowd with “Will You Be There?” and Jamie presented him with an artist shirt. I also expected one of Mike’s usual strong vocal performances. I was wrong on both counts. Backed by a gospel choir, Mike nonetheless performed the song in a lightweight bouncy way–bouncy both physically and vocally. It was insubstantial and totally forgettable.
American Idol Top 4 — Michael Lynche & Judges
The American Idol judges were unimpressed. Randy prefaced his comments with “I don’t know what’s going on tonight”. He didn’t like the performance, felt it “didn’t take off”, and he didn’t know why Mike didn’t choose an R&B song to play to his strengths. Ellen went more for jokes, saying that you can’t go wrong with “a choir behind you” and music from the “classic Free Willy“. She also noted that it was strange for Mike to have “Top 3” as a goal instead of having a goal to win it.
Kara said she was looking for Mike’s previous American Idol performances, where she got “goosebumps” and cried fake tears. She felt he needed to go back to that style and wow factor. Simon lamented the song choice again, and then wanted to know what the film Free Willy was about, anyway. This led to an awkward conversation about whales and willies and finally wound down to Simon saying that Mike “gave it 100%” and he “kinda felt that [Mike} meant it”.
Ryan had to do his duty and throw in a suggestive joke, asking Ellen if she could explain Free Willy to Simon. Ellen: No. Har. Har.
American Idol Top 4 — Crystal Bowersox & Lee DeWyze Duet
After slogging through the valley, we finally reached a small mountain in the American Idol telecast. Facing each other on the stage, playing their guitars, Crystal and Lee gave a rousing rendition of “Falling Slowly” from the movie Once. They engaged well with each other, and put together some nice harmonies, and we got to hear Lee’s strong rocker tones that he completely obliterated on his solo performance.
Continuing their tradition of ignoring He Who Must Not Be Names, the American Idol judges failed to mention Kris Allen’s heartfelt rendition of this song last year. And while last year they thought the song was obscure, this year they thought it was awesome and relevant. This could further point up their prejudice against last year’s American Idol winner, or it could just be that they were ravenously excited about an actual good performance from this year’s American Idol Top 4.
Randy was wound up, exuberantly declaring that the song could be “a hit right now” and “that’s what I’m talkin’ about!!” Ellen labeled them the “new Captain & Tenille”. Kara declared it her “favorite moment of the entire season”. She loved their “chemistry” and felt that they “brought out the best in each other.” Simon declared that it wasn’t a good song, but a “fantastic song”.
Once again shooting themselves in the foot, Lee and Crystal chose not to play up their shining American Idol duet moment. Instead they talked about how awkward it had been at first to actually look at one another while singing. Crystal got some suggestive “ooohs” when she declared Lee her “musical crush”, and Lee looked sweetly blushy, and then Crystal frantically tried to clarify that it wasn’t romantic but musical. “We get it,” Ryan cut her off, obviously as frustrated as I was with their total lack of understanding on how to play a crowd.
American Idol Top 4 — Casey James Performance
Casey James chose to sing “Mrs. Robinson” for his American Idol Top 4 performance. Taking a page from the Usher/Tim Urban awkward vocal-love showdown, Jamie instructed Casey to look into his eyes and “seduce” him. He felt that Casey was just “not into” the song enough, which is definitely a valid impression of most of Casey’s performances. Casey labeled the Jamie seduction “a very intense moment” and he earned himself an artist shirt.
Casey then proceeded to sing “Mrs. Robinson” while playing on a mandolin, sitting in the pit of wavy-armed-“fans”, and with his eyes closed 50% of the time. His vocals were miles better than last week, and better than the previous two solo American Idol performances, but it still wasn’t much to get excited over. While I appreciate the punch of color of Casey’s turquoise jacket in this drab sartorial season, he looked a little too coiffed, make-upped, and uncomfortable. Can’t we simply dress up his western look with a red cowboy shirt, snakeskin boots, and sexy tousled hair?
American Idol Top 4 — Casey James & Judges
American Idol judge Randy was more excited by the song choice and the apparently HILARIOUS jab at Kara than he was in saying much of anything about the performance. Ellen joked that she wished Casey had gotten the “big boy guitar”, and said she liked that Casey did something different–though she’d been hoping he’d push it even further.
After more awkwardness involving an explanation (for who, the 12 year olds at home?) about how The Graduate involved an older woman seducing a younger man, Kara tried to address the actual American Idol performance. It wasn’t quite clear if it was a compliment when she said “this is you trying to stay in the competition”. She noted that Casey had done a lot of the things he was normally uncomfortable with, in an attempt to diversify. It seemed she appreciated the attempt more than the actual execution.
Simon fel the song and performance “didn’t have the substance required on this important night” of American Idol. He thought it was “a little bit lazy” and yet another strange song choice.
American Idol Top 4 — Crystal Bowersox
Crystal hoped to liven up the American Idol stage with a performance of “I’m Alright” from the movie Caddyshack. Like the other contestants, Crystal was “a little starstruck” by mentor Jamie Foxx and messed up the words. “Keep going,” Jamie chastised, “and you can’t swear on TV!” Jamie once again stressed getting into the lyrics and turning it from a mere song into “testimony”.
While Crystal had arguably the strongest performance of the night, and the most adventurous, it was overall pretty odd. Playing guitar and accompanied by a man and his hand drums, Crystal took the song to a loud and screamy place. Dressed in a strange black cut up dress with unflattering mid-calf boots, Crystal’s trip on American Idol took another mysterious turn. To quote an oft-confused Randy: “I just didn’t get it”.
American Idol Top 4 — Crystal Bowersox & Judges
Randy awarded Crystal his own “artist” label, and appreciated that she changed up the song–even if it wasn’t his “favorite” performance.Ellen and Kara both felt that Crystal took the song “and made it better”. Simon said he wasn’t going to ask what the film was about lest he get into more trouble, and then he told Crystal she was “back in the game”.
We then got Ryan telling Crystal that the only problem was with her boyfriend’s rhthym. I’m not sure if Ryan was trying to make some sort of bad double entendre again, but Crystal took it to mean her boyfriend’s dancing. We also got a great shot of his American flag pants.
American Idol Top 4 — Casey James & Mike Lynche Duet
For their American Idol Top 4 duet, Casey and Mike chose “Have You Ever Really Loved a Woman?” It can be tougher for two guys to duet on a song, but Casey and Mike did a nice job on this Bryan Adams tune. Casey’s vocals were miles better than his solo American Idol performance, and Mike was back to his usual stellar form. There was a bit of a falter in their harmonies on some of the higher notes, but overall they blended well, and seemed fairly comfortable performing together on stage.
Randy loved the guitar playing and Mike’s “sultry and sexy” vocals. Ellen gave up completely on sensible critique and merely said “Yes, I have loved a woman”. Kara accurately noted that the duets tonight were better than the solo performances, and Simon quickly agreed, saying the duets were “a million times better”.
American Idol Top 4 — The Verdict
The American Idol Top 4 have made it very difficult to predict who will go home, since all four did poorly on their solo performances and very well on their duets. Crystal Bowersox is probably the safest, since she’s a favorite and turned in the best solo number. Lee may have scored enough points with his Crystal duet and cute smile, but his constant pitch issues could put him in the danger zone.
Past history indicates either Mike or Casey will be next to go home tomorrow, but who knows. I’m expecting apathy on the part of American Idol voters, so it all depends on whose fans are the most diehard at this point.
As for the show, the whole mentor bit might have to be reconsidered. So many of the mentors merely offer a few platitudes and gimmicks (t-shirts!) and the American Idol contestants perform just as they did before. Perhaps they should limit the number of mentor weeks. We could have done well with just Adam Lambert, Shania Twain, and Harry Connick Jr. Less mentors would also help limit the number of reused cliches about feeling the music and seducing the audience.
American Idol judge Ellen DeGeneres received a lot of criticisms before her first day of work, due to her lack of musical training and experience. I was willing to give her the benefit of the doubt, and accept her as the voice of the regular people. She started out fine, with a mix of humor and constructive criticism, and most behind-the-scenes reports list her as the most attentive judge when the American Idol contestants are performing. Maybe it’s the lackluster season, but Ellen has devolved into mostly one-liners and surreal humor now. And the “ha-ha-yes-I’m-gay” jokes seem forced and unnecessary.
As awkward and airheady as Kara can be, I still feel sympathy for her as the whole cougar/Casey thing has been unfairly blown out of proportion. If Casey had an ounce of sexy rocker in him, he would have played this situation up and given Kara the occasional sassy wink to get her blushing and the audience whooping. Instead we get a sort of awkward disgust from the American Idol contestant and Randy going “ha ha you’re old and you like young guys!” nonsense. It’s insulting to Kara and to all women. Older guys have been perving on young girls for ages, and no one cares. There’s no reason why a woman of any age can’t find a guy of any age attractive, and she shouldn’t have to endure this kind of crap for it.
As for the results show tomorrow, the existential question might be: “If an American Idol contestant goes home and no one cares, did it really happen?”
Watch American Idol on FOX every Tuesday and Wednesday. Check local listings for times, as they can vary.