Expectations are now so low on this season of "American Idol" that when news broke that Miley Cyrus was going to "mentor" the Top 11 as they sang "Teen Idol Hits No Wait Billboard #1 Hits No Wait Both Maybe," I shrugged and said, "Eh, they've had worse." (I'm still laughing at producers for letting Jennifer Lopez give singing tips to Melinda Doolittle.) Looking back on my reaction, I now see I was dead wrong.
Miley Cyrus is a genius mentor for the season nine contestants. The best lesson these kids could learn is how to become uber-famous performers with limited vocal abilities. Who knows that better than Miley Cyrus?
Tuesday night's (March 23) show opened with the Top 11 nervously standing on stage while Ryan Seacrest's giant face appeared behind them on a massive monitor borrowed from 1984. (That number works as both a reference to George Orwell's classic and perfectly encapsulates the year most of Tuesday night's performances could have taken place. Fun fact to make some of you feel really old: In 1984, Kris Allen had not yet been born. You're welcome.) It's an important week, as the person eliminated this week won't be going on tour with the Top 10, so the stakes are extra high.
Seacrest then introduced Miley, a 17-year-old with "a lifetime of experience" who instantly rubbed me the wrong way when she said she'd seen some episodes this season and knew the contestants could sing. (Which episodes did you watch, Miley? Better question: What drugs did you take before you watched said episode? Best question: Can your supplier make weekly house calls Tuesday nights in New York?)
Okay, enough jibber jabber. I'm starting to sound like Miley! On with the performances!
Song: "The Letter" by the Box Tops (and later covered by almost everybody in the history of music)
Verdict: Insufficient Postage
Producers have decided that Lee's biggest problem is his lack of stage presence and confidence, though I'd still argue that the guy treats pitch like a casual booty call. This week, backed by the Mighty Mighty Bosstones (not really), Lee tried commanding the stage without a guitar. Unfortunately, Lee's idea of owning the stage is hunching over like a geriatric shuffling to his Lincoln Town Car (or Rod Stewart warbling "Maggie May" at last year's "Idol" finale — same difference). I'm not quite sure what confused me more: That three out of the four judges raved about Lee's awkward performance or that nobody on a show that's supposed to be all about music mentioned that Box Tops member Alex Chilton just recently passed away.
Song: "Against All Odds (Take a Look at Me Now)" by Phil Collins
Verdict: Take Her Home
Paige's Real Coke Moment proved that she does, in fact, have fans. During the commercial break, a Paige supporter apparently gave her a giant ring to wear on stage. Cute! Unless that the ring was some kind of witchy trick handed to her by a secret Siobhan fan to make Paige sing like a schizophrenic deaf person. Speaking of double-agents, at this point in the episode I started to suspect that Miley was in cahoots with Vote for the Worst. Hannah Montana's advice to Paige? "Use your soft voice!" Yes, your soft voice, the same one that you used when you ruined "Smile" a few weeks ago. Somehow, Paige's "Against All Odds" was even worse than her "Smile." Within five seconds of her off-key warbling, I was sitting on my couch as stiff as Paige on the moveable "Idol" stairs set piece. It was a game of chicken, as if she were singing to me, daring me to move from my position to grab the remote and throw it at the television. Alas, I sat there still, totally hypnotized by how awful it was. To add insult to injury, Paige's song selection kicks Phil Collins' Lite-FM staple out of a three-way-tie and officially makes "Against All Odds" the most performed song on the "American Idol" stage. (Scott Savol, where have you gone?)
Song: "Crazy Little Thing Called Love" by Queen
Verdict: Hack Efron
Miley Cyrus, Secret Agent, urged Tim Urban to ham it up as much as possible, citing the judges' "you have no personality and are boring" critiques. (Huh? Silly me thought that they were always complaining that Tim cannot sing.) Miley gave Tim a hug and sent him on his merry way, with the newfound Miley-approved confidence to act like a complete doofus on stage. And how! When Tim wasn't sliding into an invisible home plate or strolling into the crowd to awkwardly high-five the audience, he was stealing poses from the androgynous robot in the opening credits of "Idol." (You know the position: Back arched, head tossed behind him, microphone up above his mouth.) The crazy thing, though, is that Tim's vocals were his best yet. The judges crapped all over him (Simon told him to take some proper singing lessons), yet he has shown a lot of growth. If Kara is going to praise Lee for "how far he's come" since the first episode, she should say the same thing to Tim. At least Tim was on key the whole time tonight. (I can’t believe I'm writing this.) Alas, tragedy struck immediately after judging. The forehead of the Tim Urban wax figure melted into a shiny puddle of goo under the hot lights, foiling any chances for Urban to make it on the "Idol" tour this summer.
Song: "I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing" by Aerosmith
Verdict: I Don't Miss Your Voice
Little Aaron Kelly has a crush on Miley Cyrus (his wandering eyes towards Hannah's Montanas proved this). But puppy love was the least of Aaron's ailments, as the poor thing lost his voice thanks to laryngitis and tonsillitis! (Yet Ryan ineptly wrote his questions on a piece of paper for Aaron, as if Seacrest was the one who couldn't speak. Reminder: This is the guy who tried to high-five a blind man.) Aaron powered through his performance and his voice held up pretty well, all things considered. My favorite moment was the end of the bridge, where his "end of tiiiiiiiiime" power note morphed into "tiiiiiii-ouch!" Actually, scratch that. My favorite moment was when Ryan Seacrest called Aaron "David Archuleta." The name is Countryleta, Seacrest, and you're not allowed to call him that until he stops singing like a wheezing goat! Don't you dare soil the name of ArchuAwesome!
Song: "Me and Bobby McGee" made most famous by Janis Joplin
Verdict: Magic Carpet Ride
Crystal's 1:50 rendition felt five minutes long, but I mean that in a good way. It started quiet, then slowly built up until it exploded in a freak folk singalong of "la di di das." This performance didn't have a couple of verses and a chorus, friends. This thing had movements. It worked for a few reasons. First, Miley smartly suggested Crystal kick the key of the song up a smidge. (Hearing Crystal strain to hit those high notes made her sound human.) Secondly, Crystal performed — and then sat with Seacrest — on a carpet. That's fun! Lastly, Crystal is a pro. I still have no idea how she's going to put out an album that is expected to compete with Ke$ha and Justin Bieber, so instead I hope a movie producer casts her as Janis Joplin in that biopic that has been in the works since before Aaron Kelly was born. Raise your hand if you're worried about Crystal ditching the guitar next week!
Song: "When a Man Loves a Woman" by Percy Sledge
Verdict: Paging Michael Bolton
Big Mike's lounge lizard take on Percy Sledge's aching soul classic is only noteworthy because it showed America that the way into Miley Cyrus' heart is by staring at her like a stalker. It also proved that velvet suits can come in size XXXXXXXXXXXL. Lastly, it provided Simon with an opportunity to secretly promote "X-Factor." ("If I had advised you about choosing that song..." I see what you did there, Cowell.) But still, Big Mike, you've got a fantastic voice. Just get your on-stage cheese down to acceptable levels. Right now, you're Spray Cheese. I need you to be at least a Havarti before I can stomach you.
Song: "I Heard It Through the Grapevine" most famously by Marvin Gaye
Verdict: Pitchy in the U.S.A.
Apologies to people who have heard me say this already, but I think it bears repeating, particularly since Simon echoed my sentiments Tuesday night: Andrew Garcia is the "Saturday Night Live" of "American Idol." Like "SNL," his early work ("Straight Up") was hailed as groundbreaking and game-changing. Yet week after week, he has squandered his good faith with the audience to such extremes that now when you go back and watch those early episodes you start thinking, "You know what? I don't get what the big fuss was to begin with. Those bee sketches were lame. 'SNL' kind of always sucked." So if Andrew Garcia is "SNL," his "I Heard It Through the Grapvine" was his January Jones-hosted episode. (Yeah. It was that bad.) Even show producers showed pity for Andrew, mercifully cutting to the backup singers when the clueless singer attempted to moonwalk. Why didn't Andrew try playing the guitar this week? Oh right, because Secret Agent Miley Cyrus yelled at him for hiding behind that on stage. Her cover was almost blown when she mistakenly clapped Simon Cowell while everyone else booed him. I saw that, Miley. I'm on to you. (And spit that gum out of your mouth!)
Song: "Big Girls Don't Cry" by Fergie
Verdict: Little Girls Can't Sing
Miley Cyrus encouraged Katie "Memaw" Stevens to be edgier. And Katie switched it up by sporting a leather jacket, a Peace Sign tank top, pink suspenders and high-waisted jeans. Basically, she wore Fergie's wardrobe from "Kids Incorporated" twenty-plus years ago. Baby steps! The beginning of Katie's song showed promise, with the teenager connecting with the song's message. Once the "I hope you know" part kicked in, it was an off-key shriekfest. She may be listening to the judges by picking better songs and attempting to look younger, but she's not listening to herself when she sings. As far as Simon's claims that Katie should pursue a career in the country world, I'm starting to think the word "country" means something different in England — like the way they say "lift" and "snog" and "Robbie Williams."
Song: "The Power of Love" by Huey Lewis and the News
Verdict: Guy Smiley
Casey James knew just how to butter up Miley. "I'm a big fan ... of your dad's." Perhaps that's why the Disney star's worthless advice to Casey was to make eye contact with a few people in the front row of the audience. Casey's "Power of Love" was so sound-alike to the original artist, I expected to see a vested Michael J. Fox skateboard across the stage at any moment. Alas, all we had was Casey goofily grinning the entire time while he alternated between looking down at the neck of his guitar and at the people in the pit of the "Idol" studio. Thanks, Miley! That advice to stare at the crowd paid off big time for TV viewers. Regardless, Kara DioGuardi had a full blown Caseygasm. "You're ready to make an album! You're in a zone now!" (The danger zone?) Like Big Mike, Casey's performances are more successful when you're listening to them, not watching them.
Song: "You're No Good" made most famous by Linda Ronstadt
Verdict: You're So Crazy
Siobhan gets a lot of credit for being the resident quirky girl of the season, but I'm starting to warm up to Didi's oddness, too. Following up last week's scowl-filled "Play With Fire," Didi slinked around on stage like a boozy 70-year-old barfly looking for a man to go home with. Is this weird character performance art a defense mechanism against her stage fright? (She did, after all, spend her precious Miley Time asking her the Teen Queen tips on how to remain calm before a TV appearance.) Didi, I have two words for you: Beta blockers. But I'd like to keep you a Nervous Nelly because the results of late are endlessly fascinating. Was that a stank face I saw at the end of the first verse? Why, yes it was! The judges couldn't look past Didi's off-key notes (although they quickly forgave Katie Stevens' similar, if not worse, pitch problems), with Simon telling Didi, "It sucked [Shatner pause] the life out of me."
Song: "Superstition" by Stevie Wonder
Verdict: Songs in the Key of Siobhan
Miley and Siobhan's meeting was the most telling out of everyone. Allow me to translate highlights from their rehearsal.
Miley: "You're my ... I'm really excited to hear your song. What are you singing?"
Translation: "You're my favorite. Whoa! I almost let that slip. I have to be professional and stuff."
Miley: "Your voice has swagger."
Translation: "You are singing an R&B song."
Siobhan: "I've been different my whole life, and the fact that that's being noticed by people like her gives me more confidence."
Translation: "Mean girls like her dunked my head in the toilet every day in high school. And now she wants to be my best friend? I really am that famous, aren't I?"
Season nine's resident kook debuted a new coif this week, complete with slicked back bleached white sides (for you, Lilly?) and purple faux-hawk. Some have compared the top of Siobhan's head to Sanjaya, but Magnus' style reminded me more of Jane Child (minus the braids and the chain that connected Jane's earring to her nose ring).
Siobhan's song choice was even bolder than the new 'do. Between Stevie on Tuesday and Aretha a few weeks back, we're starting to get a good idea of what kind of album Magnus will put out: Siobhan Mangus Wails Her Way Through R&B Classics. It was fun, but almost identical to her "Think," complete with the high-pitched "Ahh!" Still, three out of the four judges tripped over their words (including Ellen, who misquoted "Oliver"), but Simon wants Siobhan — and the rest of the Top 11 — to bring some magic back to "American Idol." You and I both, buddy.
What did you think of the Top 11? How was Miley's performance as a mentor? How was Miley's chewing gum's performance as a mentor? Did you spit take when Crystal asked Miley to sign her guitar of "beautiful powerful women," and did you notice that Crystal had a new un-signed guitar for her performance? Did the autograph incident make Miley cooler or Crystal lamer?
Leave a comment below, and for more "Idol" commentary follow me on Twitter @jambajim.