I’d like to open Tuesday night's (March 2) "American Idol" recap with a short excerpt of a screenplay I'm working on, which is loosely based on what I think might have happened backstage Tuesday. It's called "Bower Power."
INT. CBS Studios, backstage.
The Top 10 men are hanging out. A producer enters with purpose.
Producer: Crystal Bowersox is really sick. Doctors say she can't perform on "Idol" tonight. So you boys are going to sing in her place since we're willing to sacrifice all of you in order to save one of the season's breakout stars. Get into wardrobe, you pitiful excuses for "Idol" contestants. You're live in three hours.
Alex Lambert: [vomits, weeps, craps pants simultaneously.]
Tim Urban: It's okay, Alex. Just pray. That's what I do.
Jermaine Sellers: [puts down his vocal humidifier] Yeah! Jesus is my homeboy!
Cut to Heaven.
Jesus: [shakes head, sighs] I miss season eight.
Jesus presses play on his iPod, listens to Danny Gokey's new CD (in stores now)! He sings along to "It's Only" but changes the lyrics.
Jesus: [singing] It's only meeeeee.
Yes, poor Crystal Bowersox was ill Tuesday night and "Idol" said, "Call in the rodeo clowns." An odd move, considering Megan Joy, Bo Bice, Jason Castro and a host of season seven girls all had to sing through their various ailments. But then again, Crystal is under "doctor's orders" to sit out, so it must be serious. (Get better Bowersox! My life would suck without you on "Idol!") And you can't fault the producers for trying to save one of the four contestants who don't make viewers want to bash their televisions to smithereens.
Before I go on a rant about how conflicted I was about Ellen DeGeneres' "American Gladiator" jokes (I laughed but was angry that she took screen time for shtick), let's break down each performance!
Song: "It's a Man's, Man's, Man's World" by James Brown
Verdict: Poppa's Got a Brand New Bag
We found out Big Mike was big into theater and football growing up. (How "Glee" of him!) Now he spends his time ignoring his newborn and doing arm curls with Aaron "Light as a Feather, Stiff as a Board, Still Not as Good as Archuleta" Kelly. Big Mike neglected to talk to us about his multiple personality disorder, however. The guy's obviously got one, since last week he was all "I'm a giant black guy who sings skinny white boy acoustijams" and this week he's all "Just kidding! I'm a sharp-dressing retro R&B singer!" I'm all for people shattering racial expectations, but this soulful crooner persona was a better look for him. It was miles better than anything we've seen the boys do this season, even if it didn't deserve Randy's standing ovation. (I say that like it matters. We all know America fast forwards through the other judges' comments to get to Simon, anyway.)
Song: "Gravity" by John Mayer
Verdict: Sunk Like a Stone
John Park learned Korean before he learned English. Neat! But when will he learn how to have charisma when he sings? (You'd think Purple Haze, his a cappella group, would have taught him some tricks. Aren't a cappella groups just an excuse for college dudes to be smarmy?) Park's low energy songs continue to go over like Zima at a frat house. The judges struggled to come up with words to describe their disappointment, except for Kara, who told John that he was obviously too concerned with being perfect in order to deliver a good performance. Nice, Kara. So you tell the Asian guy he's an overachiever just five minutes after you spoke to an African-American about being a baby daddy using your finest "urban" accent? I can't wait until you tell Siobhan Magnus she's belligerent and obsessed with potatoes.
Song: "I Don't Want to Be" by Gavin DeGraw
Verdict: Shred of Decency
Casey James made two mistakes on "Idol." First, he picked one of the most performed songs in "Idol" history. (Remember Bo Bice? And Elliott Yamin? And Chris Richardson? And Michael Sarver?) Then, he told Seacrest he wanted to sing the song precisely because it had been chosen so many times. ("Over 99 billion people served? This McDonald's is gonna rule!") Casey's decision was bad, but his shaky goat-like vocals were more damning. The doofy teenager-in-his-room guitar shredding didn't help convince anyone that he's a rock star, either. (Well, except Randy, who boldly evoked the holy name of Jimi Hendrix when talking about Casey. Seriously.) You know you're in trouble when even Kara, who used Sharon Stone as hairspiration and thinks of you as her boy toy, calls your performance "two steps backwards." Now she's getting Paula Abdul lyrics wrong? I don't know how much more of this I can take.
Song: "Everybody Knows" by John Legend
Verdict: Mullet With Butterfly Wings
Lambert's segment is the closest we've come to having "a moment" on the "Idol" stage in season nine. But not just because of his vocals, which happened to be about six million times better. It was also due to some brilliant storytelling on the producers' part. They spun Lambert's stage fright as a sob story and gave the guy the chance to admit to America that he was so nervous last week that he puked! "I was trying to be so likeable," Lambert admitted of his uncomfortable live debut, "that I was not likeable at all." By the time Alex took to the stage to sing about "one more try" and "making it right," the song’s meaning had switched from "break-ups" to "'Idol' contestants desperate to get one more shot." At judging, Ellen continued her banana analogy (for you fruit fetishists out there) and Kara astutely pointed out that everyone was rooting for him. And just like that, Alex Lambert went from being America's punchline to America's sweetheart. Hell, I'm even starting to dig the mullet.
Song: "What's Love Got to Do With It?" by Tina Turner
Verdict: We Don’t Need Another Ballad
Todrick Hall (whose full name sounds like a college dorm) got in trouble for obliterating Kelly Clarkson last week. (I still like how weird it was.) This time, he settled for simply crapping all over Tina Turner with a tuneless, fairly straight take on "What's Love Got to Do With It?" ("Straight" being used loosely, given that the guy was rocking a silver lamé jacket. Werk.) In the pre-performance interview, we learned that Todrick was (spoiler alert!) a dancer. Also, he does push-ups to pump himself up before the show. (Funny, I thought his pre-performance ritual involved swindling parents of aspiring actors!) He went from being a dancer who sings to a dancer who sucks the life out of a TV show. He should have tried "Private Dancer" and dedicated it to season seven also-ran David Hernandez.
Song: "What's Going On" by Marvin Gaye
Verdict: What Will Jesus Do?
Jermaine put the religious movement in an awkward position Tuesday by delivering the worst vocals of the night and then telling the critical judges he knew he'd make it to next week because Jesus was his "homeboy." If Jermaine gets eliminated Thursday, America has defied Jesus, or Jesus is just dead wrong. (And if there is a God, he'll be too busy with real issues to rig an "American Idol" vote. Hopefully.) Nevertheless, neither of those options are viable for religious folk, so it's in their best interest to text like the Holy Spirit has entered their thumbs. Jermaine's good for unintentional hilarity, though. His golfball mohawk, onesie pajamas and throat humidifier all inspired me to pick up the phone and let Mr. Sellers continue to embarrass himself.
Song: "You Give Me Something" by James Morrison
Verdict: Breakin' 2: Electric Boogalooser
We learned that this season's golden boy can break dance! We also learned that without a guitar, the guy doesn't have a prayer. (Garcia ditched the razor, too. Did the backlit peachfuzz on his face distract anyone else?) His song choice lacked pizazz, his vocals lacked precision and his performance lacked magic. Is the uber-serious singer cracking under the pressure, or did he peak way too early in the competition? Garcia's got greatness in him for sure, but until he delivers us the "wow" we're waiting for, I'll be in my room making puffy paint shirts for Alex Lambert.
Song: "My Girl" by the Temptations
Verdict: 16 Going on 60
With a vague Southern accent and a vibrato that shakes like a Glambert in the front row of a casino gig, Aaron Kelly's vocals sound like a sped up Elvis Presley record. The photography hobbyist definitely worked on his swagger (I spied a neck snap in the opening lines of the Motown tune!) but the karaoke arrangement undermined any progress he made. Ditto the breakdown of the song, which slowed the track down to four beats per minute and vacuumed up the remaining energy in the studio. Points to Kelly for giving us at least half of an uptempo number on a night of dreary ballads. But it was his hesitation to answer whether he likes Justin Bieber got him extra super double bonus points.
Song: "Come On Get Higher" by Matt Nathanson
Verdict: Pretty Boy, Ugly Voice
A Tim Urban performance is a religious experience. He prays before he starts singing. I pray that he stop singing. Okay, so Urban's offering was oodles better than last week's catastrophe. (At least he picked a song with five notes that he could approximate.) But Ellen DeGeneres hit the nail on the head when she urged Urban to ditch the singer aspirations and focus on an acting career. And if acting isn't his forte, he has nine siblings at home — that's a TLC reality series waiting to happen. Is "Idol" really going to tell me that this was the 13th best male singer they found during auditions? Mark my words: If Urban makes it through to next week's show, he's going to perform shirtless.
Song: "Lips of an Angel" by Hinder
Lee Dewyze sang in space at the beginning of his performance, thanks to some gnarly background animations. But then he hoisted his falling jeans back up to his waist, and that evidence of gravity ruined any illusion that Dewyze was up in the stars. The former bad boy/current paint salesman delivered his second over-pimped performance of the season. Where the judges praised his "radio-friendly voice" and "risk-taking," I heard bum notes and thought he played it safe. Simon said once he gets some confidence, he could be the one to beat this year. I believe you, Simon. Just like I believe that "Idol" will be worth watching once you leave. Just not buying it yet.
Who was your favorite? Who do you think will go home Thursday? Do you think Simon praising Tim Urban was reverse psychology for viewers? What the hell were Ryan and Kara doing when she had hair in her mouth after a commercial break? Am I the only one who is starting to think that Andrew Garcia resembles Kim Jong Il? And did anyone else catch Cowell's sly "X-Factor" reference when he told Alex he wished he could pick songs for him? Leave a comment below, and you best be following me on Twitter @jambajim.