‘American Idol’ Recap: Big Mike Moves To The Front Of The Pack

Wednesday night’s (March 10) “American Idol” kicked off with Ryan Seacrest staring into the soul of the remaining eight men. I wonder if he knew that some major shake-ups were about to go down in the boys’ talent department. Hard rockers covered pop tunes, a bad singer didn’t completely suck and the grand finale left one judge in tears.

Let’s break this down.

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Lee Dewyze
Song: “Fireflies” by Owl City
Verdict: Ow! City
It’s a Christmas miracle! Lee Dewyze looked like he was having fun while performing! And he showed his creative side by turning the twee electro-pop of “Fireflies” into a frat house jam. He probably should have saved original recording’s Auto-Tune, because his pitch was as off as Ryan Seacrest’s pronunciation of Owl City. (Did the radio DJ really say “Al City?”) Kara went so far as to say Lee’s guitar-based arrangement was superior to Adam Young’s Postal Service-y bleeps, but Kara was going through some heavy stuff Wednesday, so I’m not so sure we can trust her. (More on Kara in a bit.)

Alex Lambert
Song: “Trouble” by Ray LaMontagne
Verdict: Tremblin’
The charming Alex Lambert we fell in love with last week has turned back into the nervous nelly from week one. The trouble with Alex’s “Trouble” wasn’t his hazy voice or his marble-mouthed delivery. Both suited the song well. It’s the petrified expression on his face that you usually only see on five-year-olds who’ve been separated from their moms at the mall. Ellen praised Alex, comparing him to a banana that continues to ripen (yep, she’s still on that banana analogy) while begging him to avoid becoming a “cocky banana,” which, as my co-worker Gil noted, might be the best name for a gay bar ever. Simon’s got an easy fix for Lambert’s stage fright: Picture Randy in a bikini. Let’s all be thankful Ellen didn’t suggest a “banana hammock” for Randy’s imaginary swimwear.)

Tim Urban
Song: “Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohen
Verdict: You Don’t Really Care For Music, Do You?
Tim Urban will not go away, though as disasters go, Urban’s “Hallelujah” was pretty tame. He managed to not completely embarrass himself on TV for the first time, and considering the sacred song he attempted, that’s worth a little credit, right? But let’s be real here, folks. In a pile of D+ papers, Tim finally handed in a C. And “Idol” surely isn’t graded on a curve … until now. Ellen’s hug, Simon’s rave, Kara’s “fantastic?” Really, guys? Sure, they were surprised to see a one-legged dog not fall on his (adorable) face, but that puppy sure as hell can’t keep up with the four-legged specimens! It also feels like an insult to put Jason Castro’s name anywhere near Urban’s. Castro crushed this song two seasons ago. Hell, he still does — he’s about to release it on his debut album.

One positive note: I admire Urban’s attitude and perseverance. Even though he’s been a punching bag on the show and on “Idol” blogs everywhere, he still hasn’t thrown in the towel unlike some other contestants. (Achoo, Katelyn Epperly.)

Andrew Garcia
Song: “Genie in a Bottle” by Christina Aguilera
Verdict: Unhappy Ending
Remember when your little cousin or nephew or sibling said a silly word like wiener” for the first time, and you cracked up at how off the cuff it was? And then the little rugrat thought to himself, “If I say wiener, people will laugh.” So he kept saying it more and more, and his “wiener” stories and jokes would become more and more elaborate yet less and less appealing because really the only thing that was funny to you to begin with was how surprising it was? Well, Andrew Garcia told a really lame “wiener” joke Wednesday night. I can see the reasoning behind picking Christina Aguilera’s “Genie in a Bottle” (“If people liked ‘Straight Up,’ they’ll like an even girlier cover more!”), but watching a 24-year-old man croon, “I’m a genie in a bottle, you got to rub me the right way” was stomach-churning and, as Simon said, “desperate.” Congrats are in order for sixth season semi-finalist Jared Cotter” His “Let’s Get It On,” dedicated to his mom and dad, is no longer the ickiest performance on “American Idol.”

Casey James
Song: “You’ll Think of Me” by Keith Urban (No Relation To Tim)
Verdict: Forgettable
I honestly don’t remember anything about Casey’s performance. My notes are “sat on stool” and “sounds like Rob Thomas.” If it’s my job to recap the show and even I can’t recall specifics, that doesn’t bode well for the casual viewer. His only hope would have been another Kara/Cougar moment to make him stick in people’s minds, but the most we got was Kara mentioning something called a “Casey Train.” (Apparently Amtrak does have a Casey Train. It’s known for its beauty and inconsistency. Sometimes it shows up on time, other times it takes a detour to buy Funyons.)

Aaron Kelly
Song: “I’m Already There” by Lonestar
Verdict: Little Person, Big Song
Aaron Kelly’s Lonestar rendition was bumpier than Lonestar’s post-”I’m Already There” career. If it weren’t for Allison Iraheta’s dominance last season, I’d be begging “Idol” producers to raise the age minimum to 18. These young’ins are not ready for prime time. Or afternoon time. Or morning time. Or even nap time! Speaking of age, Kara pointed out that it would be impossible for a 16-year-old to relate to Lonestar’s hit, but Simon called her theory “complete and utter nonsense” and thinks anyone can sing any song ever written. Let’s note this exchange for the next time Simon complains about a young contestant’s gloomy song choice.

Todrick Hall
Song: “Somebody to Love” by Queen
Verdict: A Royal Effort
Say what you will about Todrick (he’s a dancer first and a singer second, he steals money from children, he’s a diva), but you have to admit the guy gave it his all this week. Todrick aimed his slingshot at a giant and let it rip. He didn’t quite conquer the beast, but he took out one of its legs handily. I loved the gospel fusion he added to the song, mostly because I could picture Jermaine Sellers sitting on his couch (in a onesie, naturally) cursing up a storm out of jealousy. In a night where most guys sat on a stool or robotically swayed their hips back and forth (Oh, Aaron), Todrick added some much-needed pizzazz to the proceedings. And when I say “pizzazz,” I mean air-punching. Because Todrick does that a lot. Kara had the gall of accusing Todrick for being “too dramamtic” with the Queen classic (because Freddie Mercury was known for his subtlety?) but Simon articulated it better. “That is ‘American Idol on Broadway’ doing Queen.” Since half of the ejected “Idol” stars end up on the Great White Way at some point in their career, how exactly is that Broadway dig an insult?

Michael Lynche
Song: “This Woman’s Work” by Kate Bush (though this was the Maxwell variation)
Verdict: Mike Hits The Big Time
Am I a heartless bastard for not getting swept up in Big Mike’s “This Woman’s Work?” (Don’t answer that.) When I closed my eyes, Big Mike’s ferociously emotional rendition was a season stand-out. But I didn’t close my eyes for very long l because I was watching TV, and on my TV screen I saw a large man chewing the scenery in a small studio. “But Jim,” you say, “you just praised Todrick for jumping around the stage and causing a commotion. Big Mike can’t do the same?” Well, no. “This Woman’s Work” doesn’t lend itself to kicks and shimmies. The more Mike “felt” it, the more I resisted. Regardless, the judges freaked out and deemed it the moment of the season so far. (Take your harmonica and shove it, Bowersox!) The craziest thing about Big Mike’s vocal abilities? His high-pitched falsetto acted like a dog whistle to Kara DioGuardi’s empty womb, and the judge burst into tears — tears! — during his performance. “As a woman who doesn’t have a child, I could relate to it so much,” she sobbed. Whoa, DioBarren. Slow your roll. (Upon further reflection, it seems what Kara meant to say that he did such a good job telling the story of the song that even though she doesn’t have kids herself, she understood all the heavy stuff he was feeling being a new father. Instead it came out as, “I have no babies and I’m sad!”)

And just like that, we have a new front-runner. Do you think tonight’s performances had any effect on who is going home Thursday night? What did you think of Big Mike’s Kate Bush/Maxwell impression? After the cancer routine on “So You Think You Can Dance” and now Mike Lynche, is “This Woman’s Work” becoming a reality show shortcut for tears? Leave a comment below and follow me on Twitter @jambajim to make sure you keep up with all my “Idol” coverage.