One of the best guest judges during the American Idol audition rounds, Shania Twain proved to be a helpful mentor and supplier of great songs. Being overwhelmingly positive as well as constructive, Shania managed to coax good performances out of some Top 6 performers we’d been ready to give up on. While there’s still no doubt this is one of the most lackluster seasons of American Idol, tonight at least offered some pleasant surprises and an overall pleasant night of entertainment.
American Idol Top 6 — Tim for the Win?
American Idol host Ryan Seacrest began the night thanking the audience and home viewers for their generous support of Idol Gives Back–which raised over $45 million. Ryan then introduced the judges, leading up to “Fountain of Youth, Simon Cowell.” Simon seemed pleased by the new title. Things got interesting when Ryan asked the audience who they thought would win American Idol, and the roar of voices seemed to be shouting “Tim!” Whether this was just a quirk of how the cacophony of shouting blended together, or an actual crowd of Tim Urban fans, I’ll let you decide.
American Idol Top 6 — Shania Twain
I’m not sure, but I think they may have played the same video for Shania Twain’s mentor introduction as they did for her American Idol guest judging spot. It seemed familiar. For the uninitiated, Shania Twain has 5 Grammy Awards, for her ground-breaking work as a singer/songwriter pop/country cross-over artist. She has the distinction of having the best-selling album by a woman in any genre. While tonight’s American Idol contestant performances largely proved how strong her catalog is, I hope she’ll earn her own theme week in another season with more lively contestants.
American Idol Top 6 — Lee DeWyze Performance
Lee first met American Idol guest judge Shania Twain in Chicago, where she also went a little ga-ga over John Park of the “beautiful bottom end”. Shania did enjoy Lee’s performance as well, and she had plenty of advice for him on performing her hit “Still the One”. She felt that Lee was “rushing the song”, and she suggested he start with just a slow lead-in accompanied by the piano. She shared with the American Idol audience that Lee had a “fantastic style” of singing that shouldn’t be “buried by the guitar”. The usually stoic Lee seemed quite happy to give Shania a hug before and after the mentoring session.
I sound like a broken record each week, but Lee once again started out a little weakly. Shania was astute with her “buried by the guitar” reference, as Lee seems to use that as a crutch sometimes in his American Idol performances. When he’s forced to just swing out there alone with his vocals, it takes him a little bit to warm up. What was different this week was that after a few shaky lines, Lee busted out some of his clearest vocals yet, only slipping into the gravelly tone on the power notes. It was a nice change-up for him, and a good step in his progression towards more emotional performances. We even got a hint of a smile here and there.
American Idol Top 6 — Lee DeWyze & Judges
American Idol judge Randy called “Still the One” one of his “favorite songs of all time”. He noted that Lee was a “little pitchy” in the beginning until he found his “sweet spot” and made the song his own. Ellen said Lee made every song sound like it was his, and that he “couldn’t look cuter”. She then joked “All aboard Shania Twain!”
Kara said the sound of Lee’s voice was “so relevant”, and complimented him on how far he’d progressed in the competition. She seemed a little skeptical at his connection to the love aspect of the song, but she was happy he’d smiled some during his American Idol performance. Simon said it was the “absolutely perfect song” for Lee, though he’d seemed a bit “hesitant” at the beginning.
Simon then noted that Lee had been “pulling strange faces” at the beginning of the song, but Kara intervened, saying he was smiling and it was all good. When Lee smiled for her, Kara enthusiastically cried, “Keep that face!” Simon asked if he could finish his critique, but then threw up his hands in defeat as there wasn’t any time left. Ryan asked if Lee was happy with the critiques, and Lee said he was. Ryan laughed, apparently amused by Lee’s ever-calm demeanor, and asked “That’s you, happy?”
American Idol Top 6 — Mike Lynche Performance
Shania Twain loved Mike Lynche, who wisely opted not to lift her off the ground during their American Idol mentor session. Mike chose the very emotional ballad “It Only Hurts When I’m Breathing”. Shania said she was “moved to hear his voice” singing her lyrics, and she declared him one of those artists that could “sing the phone book” and make people “melt”. She urged Mike not to rest on his vocals, however–that he needed to make it memorable by bringing emotion to his American Idol performance.
Mike has often had stellar vocals, but I think tonight may have been his best. His tone was rich and varied, and he even soared into a brief falsetto that was perfectly transitioned into the rest of the song. For Big Mike, it was also low on the cheese scale, though he started to do a little of that strange bouncing from foot to foot move. Shania showed her love for his American Idol performance, swaying in time with the music and looking a bit misty-eyed.
American Idol Top 6 — Mike Lynche & Judges
The American Idol judges were impressed. Randy rambled on about Mike finding his “zone” in the R&B genre, and something about the sign of a great song–a thought he never finished. Ellen compared Mike to Luther Vandross, and said that Shania’s advice had obviously helped him with his most “beautiful” and “emotional” American Idol performance yet.
Kara said that Shania’s great appeal was how connected she was to her songs, and that she felt that connection from Mike tonight as well. She also liked that Mike didn’t alter the “beautiful melody” too much, but just enough to make it his own–a thought which Mike seemed to heartily agree with. Simon agreed with the Luther Vandross comparison, but then said the whole American Idol rendition felt “a bit wet”.
This confused everyone, and Simon didn’t seem able to explain, finally settling on “theatrical” and “girly”. Obviously it’s one of those English phrases that doesn’t have an exact translation here. Ryan joked that Simon woke up in England every day where it was very wet. He asked Shania for her opinion, and she admitted she’d gotten a bit teary–“you got me”. All this praise was the worst thing for Mike, as he lost his new, less cheesy/more humble persona and started preening for the American Idol cameras. Ugh.
American Idol Top 6 — Casey James Performance
Hallelujah. When asked by Ryan how he felt about the American Idol judges’ critiques that he’d gotten “lazy”, Casey admitted he went back and watched his own performances–and agreed. He felt that he hadn’t offered anything different last week, and this week he hoped to change that–just as he’d changed to acoustic guitar. For his American Idol Top 6 performance, Casey chose Shania’s song “Don’t”, which he felt was “amazingly beautiful”.
Shania told the American Idol crew that it sounded strange, but she felt that Casey actually lacked confidence. She urged him to dig deeper and bring out his emotions through the song. Shania even sang with him in rehearsals to help him get into it. “It’s a singing song,” Casey shared with the audience, “and I don’t think I’ve really sang here before.” It’s nice that he’s become a little more self-aware (thanks to the bottom 3 placement last week, no doubt), but he might not want to advertise that he hasn’t been “singing” up until now.
Obviously Casey was pointing up the complexity of this Shania Twain song, and he tackled it well. Sitting with his guitar behind the American Idol judges, Casey had his eyes closed through much of the song, and truly seemed to be in the moment a lot more than usual. The vocals were also prettier, less gritty, and more engaging than many of his previous American Idol performances. He still struggles with something Adam Lambert pointed out a couple weeks ago, however. Casey has trouble creating that beginning/middle/end to his performances. He needs a tad more drama.
American Idol Top 6 — Casey James & Judges
Randy felt it was Casey’s best performance on American Idol yet. “I hope you learned something here,” Randy said, saying this was the type of song that would be perfect for Casey to have in his “wheelhouse”. Ellen agreed that it was Casey’s best performance to date. Kara was happy to see Casey not hiding during this rendition, for being “vulnerable and warm”.
Simon declared that last week’s American Idol results show was a “needed wake-up call” for Casey. He agreed with Randy that it was the best performance so far, and that it didn’t feel like he was just singing someone else’s song. He then instructed Casey to give Shania a “big kiss on the lips” for helping him out this week. Casey ran down the steps to give Shania a heartfelt hug, and she sweetly patted his cheek as they parted. The two were definitely a good match, and a duet from them in future could be a big seller.
American Idol Top 6 — Crystal Bowersox Performance
Shania joked earlier that she was disappointed that none of the guys had tackled “Man, I Feel Like a Woman.” However, it was disappointing that neither of the girls tackled it, either. I think Crystal could have had fun with that one. It might have suited her vocals better, and would have shown a completely different (and less fragile) side of her. Instead Crystal chose one of Shania’s more traditionally country songs, “No One Needs to Know”.
Crystal said she could identify with the unrequited-yet-hopeful-love song, and seemed slightly confused when Shania told her to be a bit happier in her rendition “because it’s a happy song”. Crystal told the American Idol cameras that she was singing it for her boyfriend, “and hopefully he’ll man up one of these days”. I’m not sure if pressuring your cute boyfriend into marriage via American Idol is your best bet, however.
If you check out the video for Shania’s version, you’ll see that Crystal pretty much copied it, with individual musicians joining her in a line on the American Idol stage, twanging out an old style country tune. Crystal’s vocals started very airy and almost not even there, warming up a bit later with the help of her back-up female vocalist. She ended on a strong note, but overall her American Idol performance was just okay, and not particularly inspired.
American Idol Top 6 — Crystal Bowersox & Judges
The American Idol judges started in with their qualified praise. Randy said he loved Crystal’s sort of “Nickel Creek version”, though it was not his favorite performance. He appreciated that she did a country version and kept changing things up every week. Ellen agreed that it wasn’t her favorite performance, but quickly said that Crystal was always “brilliant and good”.
Kara said it was impossible for Crystal to not be good, because she sang from a “place of truth”. She started to talk about how it wasn’t the best performance for her either, when Crystal jumped in to talk about doing country and that “bigger isn’t always better”. Simon had to bite his tongue, chuckling to Kara, “I could be in so much trouble”.
Simon then laid it all on the table and said what was going on with the American Idol judges was that for the first time, they didn’t like a Crystal performance. He declared the whole thing “limp” and compared it to a coffee shop hiring a band “when you don’t want them to”. He said he didn’t feel any conviction, and with apologies to Shania, said it was a “forgettable” song.
Crystal then defended herself to Ryan, and borrowed from ousted American Idol contestant Andrew Garcia’s playbook by saying she had “a great time up there”. It seemed Ms. Bowersox was a little stunned to be receiving criticism of any sort.
American Idol Top 6 — Aaron Kelly Performance
For his American Idol Top 6 performance, Aaron Kelly chose Shania’s song “You’ve Got a Way”. Shania said that the song suited him “beautifully”. During their mentor session, Shania learned that Aaron was too preoccupied with hitting the notes, even debating mid-song how to attack each one. She urged him to make a decision and stick with it, and be confident. Aaron seemed pleased with his mentor session, and the two shared big hugs before and after.
While there was still evidence of that hesitancy, Aaron brought out some beautiful vocals when he let himself relax into the song. His lilt at the “Oh, how I adore you,” lyrics was emotional and just gorgeous, and he hit some great big notes at the end. While I don’t think Aaron is American Idol winner material, he constantly proves that he has singing talent that will hopefully mature as he does.
American Idol Top 6 — Aaron Kelly & Judges
Randy felt Aaron did a “really good job” and named him the country artist of this American Idol competition (you can just hear Simon Cowell thinking, “No, that was Katie Stevens.”) Ellen said that she was impressed at the emotion he exhibited, only being 16. Aaron quickly corrected her that he was 17, and Ellen deadpanned, “Well, then I’m not so impressed.” She then seriously reiterated her admiration of the amount of maturity he displayed in his performance.
Kara got herself into trouble when she noted that Aaron changed the words for his American Idol performance, notably eliminating the “when we make love” lyrics. She said this was smart, since at 17 he hadn’t–she then stopped herself, held her hands up, and declared she didn’t know anything. Aaron then said, after attempting to explain to Ellen earlier, that he was singing to his mom. Kara found this adorable (or at least pretended to) and couldn’t say anything else about it.
Simon seemed to be the dissenting American Idol judge when he prefaced his critique by saying he was going to be “honest”. He told Aaron that he’d struggled the last few weeks…but “tonight you were like a different artist.” He felt Aaron’s performance was “sincere” and “believable” and that Aaron did “really well”.
American Idol Top 6 — Siobhan Magnus Performance
After 5 slower tempo songs from the other contestants, Siobhan chose the upbeat “Any Man of Mine” number for her American Idol Top 6 performance. Shania told Siobhan that it was a fun song, and that she needed to put some attitude into it. Shania shared with the American Idol cameras that Siobhan had to get into the idea of playing a character and putting on a spirited performance.
Unfortunately, we got the usual Siobhan formula. Her opening lines were completely lackluster and off pitch, as most of her non-belted notes are. Then she started to pick up the tempo, and the volume, and her pitch improved. She still was dragging out the notes in more of a choral or theatrical style than country, and her walking around the stage was just that–walking. The song had no sway, no real conviction. And then…Siobhan belted out another scream that ended in a screech, and then tacked on a soulful growl and an endless big note that had nothing to do with the rest of the song.
American Idol Top 6 — Siobhan Magnus & Judges
Perhaps to make up for their tidal wave of criticisms in previous weeks, the American Idol judges suddenly jumped on the Siobhan bandwagon. Randy shouted “I loved it” and complimented her “punk/country look” and “big notes”. Ellen said she’d “pulled the Shania Twain into the station”, and that it was a fantastic performance.
“Guess who’s back?” Kara called out, before handing it over to Simon. Clearly the judges were out of time, which is only fair since Siobhan’s previous rambles had cost other American Idol contestants their time for critiques. Simon complimented Shania’s song, which he noted was a big deal since he wasn’t a country fan. Then he said the shriek at the end was a bit much, and that if someone hadn’t seen what was going on on the screen, they would have thought she was “giving birth”. Siobhan looked dumbfounded, and the other judges chastised him, but after saying the note at the end was too long as well, Simon declared it a “fun” and “good” American Idol performance.
American Idol Top 6 — The Verdict
Tonight’s American Idol turned everyone’s expectations around, with former bottom 3 finishers Aaron Kelly, Mike Lynche, and Casey James turning in emotional and vocally rich performances. Crystal got flack from the judges, while Siobhan got praise. Only Lee stayed in his steady spot of good, soulful performances and plenty of judges’ praise.
Tomorrow night’s results are tough to call. Despite his improvement, Aaron Kelly could end up in the bottom 3 again. It all depends on whether people find a 17 year old singing a love song to his mom endearing, or creepy. At the end of the show, Aaron immediately went over to hug Shania again–perhaps he’ll have someone new to sing his love songs to if he stays on American Idol another week. And Aaron, if you do stay another week, pick a song that doesn’t have any “offensive” lyrics you’re afraid to/against singing. I know there’s lots of “sex, drugs, & rock n’ roll”, but surely there are songs out there that don’t require rewriting.
Siobhan Magnus should be in the bottom 3, but her die-hard anti-establishment fans will probably keep her at the top for at least another week. Crystal’s lackluster performance and back talk (which has been a regular thing since day one, but has ceased to be charming–if it ever was) could land her in the bottom 3, though American Idol voters often ramp up their efforts for contestants they feel are in danger.
Mike Lynche turned in a stellar vocal performance, but the over-confident posturing and chest-thumping turns a lot of voters off. Casey was in the bottom 3 last week, but tonight’s performance and the return of his gorgeous curls (the straight look was a bit too Fabio) could launch Casey back into the top 3.
Lee DeWyze has consistently been one of the front-runners, but being first of the night and being outshone by some of the “lesser” American Idol contestants could put him in a surprising bottom 3 place.
Tomorrow night will mark the last American Idol results show where the judges could have used the save. It will be interesting to see if a shocking result makes them second-guess their decision to save Mike Lynche.
Watch American Idol on FOX, Tuesday and Wednesday nights. Check local listings for times, as they can vary.