We’re cruising towards the finale on season 9 of American Idol, and the Top 3 contestants each performed two songs, one of their own choosing and one selected by the judges.
At the top of the show, host Ryan Seacrest came down the main steps on the stage, introducing where each contestant was from (to be funny, he stood one step above Casey, to seem taller). Then in unison, the Top 3 announced, “This is American Idol.”
First was Casey James, who chose “OK, It’s All right with Me” by Eric Hutchinson. Wearing a gray suit jacket, with a floral shirt and jeans, he accompanied himself on acoustic guitar. It was a good, bluesy song for his voice but maybe a little too mellow. Also, it’s not terribly well known, which probably didn’t help. He needed another opportunity to blow it out of the box.
Judge Randy Jackson said the funny thing about that lyric was “that song was just all right with me, too.” (I knew he’d say that!) He said it didn’t quite work. Ellen DeGeneres said this was the moment to live or die, and she felt the same way as Randy. “I wish you would have brought it.” Kara DioGuardi observed it’s hard to pick a song not everybody knows, because “when you pick a first listen, you can’t take it to the next level.” Simon Cowell said that “It is arguably most important night of your life” and Casey was lucky he had two song choices. “If you were having dinner, that’s the salad.” He thought it sounded like he was just busking for a few dollars. And oh, but he sounded good.
Next was Crystal Bowersox, who went with “Come to My Window” by Melissa Etheridge, which has always been one of her favorites because it’s “a song about passion and love.” This time, she shook things up a little by adding some harmonica, which she wore on a brace around her neck. She also, of course, played guitar. It was a good song for her, but because of the time constraints, she had to abbreviate the first verse to make it to the chorus. There were lots of big notes and a sweet ending with the harmonica, but the song really got fractured in order to make the time limit. I thought that threw off the feel of the song and probably distracted from her strong vocals. Still love her, though.
Randy did not love the arrangement but loved her vocal and thought she rose above it. “It all worked in the end.” Ellen called it a good song choice and the “exact kind of song you want to sing.” She said, “Melissa would be very proud of you.” Kara thought she got a little lost in the arrangement, saying that “acoustically, it would have been stronger” (that wouldn’t have fixed the fractured quality of it, though). She thought it was still a good vocal but added, “You’re capable of a moment. I hope you have a moment tonight.” Simon didn’t think this was the most stunning version of the song. He liked that, “from the very first day we met you… you haven’t compromised yourself as an artist.” He said he has “a lot of respect for you” and called it a “very honest performance.”
Last in the first round was Lee Dewyze (meaning he’d also get the coveted pimp spot at the end of the show). He had selected “Simple Man” by Lynyrd Skynyrd, wearing a brown leather jacket with a black T-shirt. He said the song speaks to him; he can relate to it. He was playing guitar as he growled his way through the song. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t that exciting either. Lots of teenage fans in the audience screamed their faces off (oh, please!).
Randy thought it was a great song choice and could see him making a record like this. He said it sounded amazing and said, “Somebody here is feeling like they could win this.” Ellen liked it, too, saying, “You took this thing seriously.” She said he’s grown a lot: “When we met you, you were like a lamb” and now he’s like a gazelle or impala. Kara thought that he’d “showed us everything you’ve got.” She liked that he’d picked a song that had meaning for him and proclaimed that “round one goes to Lee.” Simon asked Lee why he chose the song. Lee responded that “when I play it, I’m really happy to be playing it.” Simon said that the contestant song choices so far have been OK, but “that song was absolutely on the money.” He added, “I don’t think you won round one; I think you just crushed the other two.” Really?
For the second round, we saw videotaped moments of the Top 3 getting notification of their judges’ picks. On Casey’s visit to Texas, he learned that Randy and Kara had picked the John Mayer song “Daughters” for him. Ryan asked Kara about the choice, and she told Casey, “Your audience is women and girls. That’s what this song is talking to.” Er, OK. It’s actually directed at fathers about how they should treat their daughters, which is why it’s the most frequently picked song in recent years for the father-daughter dance at weddings. But anyway… Casey wore a button-down in a grayish purple with charcoal stripes and black pants. At the beginning, he was kind of swallowing the words. It was a very mellow version of the song, but he did get in a guitar solo. He really seemed sort of bored by his song choices this evening, which does not bode well.
Randy, who picked the song, felt “this fit you like a glove” and he hopes “that you continue this direction.” Ellen “thought that was beautiful for you” and predicted “there will be a lot of daughters, mothers and sons voting for you.” Kara liked that “this showed the more artistic side of you.” She thought he did a good job, changing it up but not straying too far from the original. Simon thought “it was a much, much better song choice than the first one” but felt it was a bit of a lazy arrangement, and observed “the climax is a quite limp guitar solo.” He actually held “these two” (Randy and Kara) responsible for not working with you to give you a better vocal (Gee, are the judges allowed to do that?). Nevertheless, he thought Casey “sounded very, very good on it” even if “that song didn’t have the wow factor.” Randy defended the song choice: “It’s soft and gentle. It’s his gentle side.”
Then to Northern Ohio for Crystal‘s trip home, where she found out what Ellen chose for her, the Paul McCartney song, “Baby I’m Amazed.” Ellen chose it because she loves the song. “I think it’s amazing. I think she’s amazing.” She also thought it would allow her to show some range. Crystal started out sitting on the spiral stairs, wearing all black, including big black boots, this time with no guitar, simply accompanied by an off-stage piano. Considering how well she typically relates to other musicians, it might have been better to have the piano onstage. The song, and her vocals, got bigger as she progressed through it, but since she didn’t change the lyrics, she had to sing over and over, “Maybe I’m a man.” Awkward. At the end, she walked into the audience onto the second stage behind the judges, walking right by the outstretched hands from the audience (perhaps afraid of the sort of criticism performers have received so far for responding to those touchy-feely fans). She hit some really big notes, which apparently is all the judges care about any more, and she had a very nice ending.
Randy thought it was a great song with great vocals. “America, we’ve got somebody else in it to win it!” Ellen couldn’t have asked for more. “That’s what I was hoping you’d do, and you did it.” Kara said that Crystal didn’t change it up that much but she’d “showed parts of your voice I don’t think we’ve heard until tonight.” She liked that she’d taken the risk of not having an instrument. Simon admitted to being surprised when he heard the song choice, but now he got it. “What you just proved is that you’ve got soul.” He liked that she’s worked outside of her comfort zone. “After that, you may be thanking Ellen next week for putting you in the final.”
Finally, Lee was in Chicago when he received a text message that told him Simon had chosen “Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohen. Although, Lee thought it was by “Leonard Feldman.” Accompanying himself on guitar, wearing a white button-down with rose pinstripes, Lee was the only contestant the entire night to benefit by patently dramatic staging, with violins shown playing (remember, none of the other band members were shown for any other performance), and a contingent of background singers coming out on stage. Oh, please. Are they trying to hand this to him? It was probably his best performance to date, even though he screamed it more than sung it at points.
Randy thought “this was your biggest moment. That was unbelievable.” Lee jumped in before Ellen to say thank you to Simon. (But he still couldn’t even manage a smile, despite all the effusive praise.) Ellen was “glad you listened to him” (So, did Simon arrange this for him? Or give him additional advice? Because he had no choice but to sing the song he was given.) She thought it was stunning. Kara said, “You are what this show is all about. Somebody who starts in one place… ends up in an epic moment.” She said, “You owned the entire night.” Simon said he was “very, very, very proud of you.” Furthermore, “Tonight, with that performance, you proved that you are a fantastic singer, a great person, and I really hope for you that you make it to next week.”
Kudos to Crystal and (reluctantly) to Lee (although his moment was so clearly manufactured it’s hard to believe).
Does anyone doubt that Casey is going home?