American Idol’s final five could not have wished for any better mentor for Sinatra week than Harry Connick, Jr. His performances on record and onstage definitely have moments when he channels the Chairman of the Board. Connick not only mentored the young finalists, but orchestrated their arrangements for this week, and accompanied them onstage, along with several of his touring band. Kudos to him for his generosity and humor in pulling the best from these newcomers, too. His efforts showed, and he and his orchestra are certainly no slouch of a backing band!
Aaron Kelly led off the night with Fly Me to the Moon, the most iconic Sinatra song of the night, and there were moments when I felt the music and the orchestrations swallowed him whole! Without a doubt, he has an amazing voice and range, but he does not yet have the concept of working the stage, genuine audience rapport, or pulling you into his song. That all may come, but hasn’t arrived yet.
Casey James tried to use Blue Skies as a vehicle to enhance his blues vibe, but he was so rigid while performing that none of his usual ease was there. For the first time, nerves got the better of him, and his voice faltered, leaking loads of uneasy vibrato. This was probably the hardest week of his performing life, and he tried. He slicked his hair, tucked his ponytail, and got the look, but got none of the soul of Sinatra into his delivery. The judges were merciless, too, even Simon Cowell admitting “This is difficult.”
Crystal Bowersox did a soulful but easy treatment to Summer Wind, and in her form fitting black gown and relaxed ringlets around her face, you could buy her as a lounge singer if you’d never seen her belting it out with her boots and guitar. This week stretched her, too, and I thought she delivered, and really sang the song and emotionally connected with its elusive meanings. Her phrasing was flawless, and that is crucial to feeling any Sinatra song. Randy Jackson and Ellen Degeneres felt that, too. Simon Cowell and Kara Dioguardi failed too catch her mood. Typically herself, though, she fearlessly defended her artistic choices!
Before he sang a note, I sensed that Michael Lynche would revel in the Sinatra aura, and that he did, right down to the honorary fedora he donned in tribute to the king of cool as he crooned The Way You Look Tonight. My favorite part of his performance was how he sang the And that laugh that wrinkles your nose line. He has an innate ability to sing any song to someone he loves, almost as though he wrote it himself, and that cannot be taught, and explains how he connects with his audience. The arrangement was masterful, as well, and had to come out of mutual collaboration.
Lee Dewyze was the closer this week, and he really embodied Sinatra’s swagger without losing an ounce of himself, as he sauntered and swayed to That’s Life-a true Sinatra anthem. Harry Connick Jr.’s mentorship really imparted something special to Lee this week, in addition to a unique organ arrangement. The nerves were not visible this time, and there was even an exuberance to him this week. He embraced the big stage with a big song, and commanded it! Those moments are life changing for any performer, and this may be the start of a new life on the Idol stage for Lee Dewyze. Only the votes know for sure!
Source: American Idol telecast, May 4, 2010, FOX TV