Moments before the Top 10 took to the "Idol" stage to sing soul and R&B songs, an "Idol" blogger colleague messaged me on Twitter freaking out. "Gahhh! Jim, season nine needs to start getting serious. It's getting out of hand. Maybe tonight will be the night."
"Well, it certainly can't get any worse."
On that note, let's get to the performances!
Song: "Through the Fire" by Chaka Khan
Verdict: Through the Ringer
Ever wondered what it would sound like if Marlee Matlin sang in a wind tunnel? You're in luck, because Siobhan Magnus' take on Chaka Khan's classic provided just that! Boys and girls, step right up and see the incredible shrieking shrinking woman! Marvel at how quickly the Queen of Quirk can become as boring and atonal as previous seasons' ear-terrorists Jasmine Trias, Ramiele Malubay and Carmen Rasmusen!
What went wrong here? Well, Siobhan did use the words "wicked nervous" in front of guest mentor Usher, who was there to not only advise the singers but to also remind America that Raymond v. Raymond is more than just the name of his recent divorce case ... it's also his new album, available in stores now! Perhaps if Usher had given Siobhan some voice tips instead of talking about her clothes, she might have found the new ingredient she needs to add to her "sing sing sing YOWL" formula before it works.
I'm curious to see how Magnus bounces back next week. Don't stress, Siobhan-bies. She'll be safe. Yes, her song was a bomb, but Kara spent about 45 minutes reminding America how great her previous performances have been. And Simon's nasty "I'm gonna call it manslaughter" jab was enough to rile the Siobhan beehive and get them texting all night. Plus, although Siobhan went in the dreaded first spot, the judging lasted long enough that anyone who tuned in during the first half hour got to see Siobhan on TV.
Song: "Hold On I'm Comin" by Sam & Dave
Verdict: Stop. Smiling.
Casey "Swag" James (according to Usher, who promised/threatened to keep his eye on Casey post-show, "winner or not" — watch out Kara!) picked a song that has never been performed on the "Idol" stage. Therefore, by default, I liked it. Also, it allowed Casey to talk-sing in short bursts, rock a guitar solo and give the saxophone section plenty of action. Good choice. Vocally, James commanded the heck out of this awesome Stax tune. Visually, though, he was upstaged by the band. Again. If he doesn't stop smiling while he performs, I'm going to start campaigning for him to duet with Jackie Chan. Otherwise, he'll always look like the dorkiest person on stage.
The male judges flipped over Casey's soul but the women kept it real. Ellen used the word "generic" and Kara pushed Casey to go acoustic next, which he is apparently going to do. Wait, when do the contestants pick their songs for the following week? Fascinating!
Song: "Ready for Love" by india.arie
Verdict: Likin' It
Big Mike Lynche went kosher for Passover, finally separating the meat and the cheese on the "Idol" stage. Mazel! The personal trainer took a song that is small, quiet, hushed and subtle and didn't bench press it into lounge lizard oblivion. Whoa! During rehearsal, Usher urged Mike to open up and connect with the camera more, a skill he creepily displayed in his interview. Big Mike didn't connect to the song as much as I had hoped, but the judges — who couldn’t watch Mike perform live because he strummed the song behind them in a sea of heavenly light — raved about it. Randy even said, "It wasn't as exciting but it's good to pull it back every now and then and show your sensitive side." This coming from a man who complained that Katelyn "Should Have Won Season Nine" Epperly's brilliant "The Scientist" was "sloooooow." Rage. No, actually it's more like raaaaaaaage.
Song: "What Becomes of the Brokenhearted" by Jimmy Ruffin
Verdict: Cardiac Arrest
Didi's downward spiral towards the rubber room continued Tuesday night. First, she wept in front of Usher, prompting the sensitive crooner to purr, "A very emotional song for a very emotional young lady." (Dear Mr. Raymond, you just made me take off my panties. Damn, you're smooth!) Then Didi sang the most unsettling version of "Brokenhearted" ever (and I've heard the Westlife cover). The endless key changes! The botched notes! The jarring "Tell me" shouts! If hell had a cabaret club, Didi would be its biggest star, and this performance would be her show-stopper.
The judging was even more uncomfortable. The panel batted at her the way they always do (except this time, for once, her bad reviews were justified), and instead of crying Didi pulled a Cameron Frye Catatonic State and just stared back at them blankly. It only took five weeks, but "Idol" producers finally learned how many licks it takes to get to the Toosie Roll center of Didi Benami's brain. Girl. Was. Over. It.
In a refreshing moment of clarity, Didi refused to play ball with Seacrest when he urged the shaken singer to pimp her dead friend as a way to get votes. "Tell America why that song means so much to you," Seacrest begged. Didi's face said it all.
(An aside: Between this exchange and the opening "Yo Simon, give Ellen a kiss" demands, Ryan has never been sleazier on "Idol." By the time Aaron Kelly closed the show with his Astro Boy hair, I fully expected Seacrest to bark, "Drop 'em, kid, then turn your head and cough.")
Song: "Sweet Love" by Anita Baker
Verdict: Sanjaya 2.0
Coming back from the commercial break, Seacrest said, "It's all going down right here right now in Hollywood." That statement is missing the words "in flames," buddy — especially since Teflon Tim was up next to sing Anita Baker. (I'm starting to think this dude's a plant. To Howard Stern or Vote for the Worst: Well done!)
Tim's "Sweet Love" was a clueless masterpiece, complete with Kermit the Frog high notes, blood-curdling camera stare-downs and an inexplicable wounded-veteran limp to the end of the stage. Even if Randy gave Tim props for "at least" singing in tune, the judges were appropriately harsh. Yet Tim sat back and giggled because he knows, as Simon put it, "You're gonna smile, the audience is gonna vote for you, nobody cares, and you'll be here next week. Well done!"
Song: "Forever" by Chris Brown
Verdict: How Garcia Got His Groove Back
My favorite part of Andrew Garcia's return to form performance wasn't the stripped down arrangement, which featured a man banging on a box and a string section bringing some class to the mosh pit. It wasn't Garcia's vocals (which for the most part were on key). It wasn't the passionate mid-song breakdown (although I'll admit I clapped my hands over my head like I was at a Bon Jovi concert). The highlight for me was when Andrew Garcia smiled. For the first time on the "Idol" live shows, he looked like he was having fun.
I'm not going to go so far as to call Andrew's performance a "moment," mostly because of his bone-headed song selection. I used to wince when Chris Brown sang the Double-Mint gum tagline. Now I wince when Chris Brown invites a girl to sit in the front seat of his car. Too soon, man. Not cool.
I don't know why I'm talking about Andrew when the real star of the segment was Mama Garcia. Exhibit A: Zebra print vest. Exhbit B: She could out-sass Jackée. Exhibit C: She (jokingly) got in Simon's face after he called her son boring. Mama Garcia's short-but-sweet outburst made me think that "Idol" was pre-empted for a repeat of Cristina's Univision talk show. More please!
Song: "Chain of Fools" by Aretha Franklin
Verdict: High School Talent Show
Katie Stevens met Usher when she was chilling at Epcot Center, but Usher's bodyguards wouldn't let her take a picture with him. This anecdote had more of a lasting impression than her competent-but-forgettable Aretha cover. Oh, and Randy Jackson compared her to a young Christina Aguilera. Ellen liked her "Snooki poof" and Simon called her a robot. Silly Simon. If Katie Stevens were a robot, she'd have more of a personality! And I imagine she'd be able to snap her fingers on the beat.
Song: "Treat Her Like a Lady" by Cornelius Brothers and Sister Rose
Verdict: Weeeee, Lee's On Key!!
To quote the great Montell Jordan, "This is how we do it." Take a great song, tweak the arrangement so it fits your personal style, sing the s--- out of it. Easy as one, two three. (Although for this season's group of misfits, it's as easy as 1 - 2 + 3 X 9683.)
I've always been resistant to the judges' support of Lee, mostly because his pitch is as reliable as a deadbeat dad. But Tuesday night was a big coming out party for Lee "Look America, I Can Sing On Key" DeWyze, and I'll gladly throw a ticker-tape parade in his honor. (Especially if said parade takes place in his hometown, Chicago. I could really go for some deep dish pizza right now.)
Will Lee's life change forever thanks to that performance, as Simon so boldly proclaimed? Who knows? At the very least this "Idol" blogger will now think twice before he calls Lee a "tone-deaf David Cook" again.
Random fact: Carter Cornelius of the Cornelius Brothers quit music, moved to Miami, joined a black Hebrew sect and re-branded himself Prince Gideon Israel. Happy Passover?
Song: "Midnight Train to Georgia" by Gladys Knight and the Pips
Verdict: She Ain't Leavin'
Usher is a powerful persuader. Aside from convincing the youth of America to purchase Justin Bieber CDs, he talked Crystal Bowersox into playing the piano, even though she can play the keys as well as Tim Urban can sing.
The Almighty Savior of Season Nine didn't get her piano skills up to "second nature" status, as Usher had hoped, but Crystal's torch song was a standout. And it was about 50 times more important than, say, her Rolling Stones cover because it shattered expectations. Just as Adam Lambert unveiled a stunning soft side with "Tracks of My Tears" on last year's Top 10 show, Crystal proved that there's more to her than just guitar playing and carpet riding. This is a big deal, folks.
Backed by a female version of the Pips, Crystal's performance didn't truly leave the station until she got up from the piano. I dug the Bowersox's energy without the guitar. I could see her taking in all the adoration she was receiving (a criticism Ellen had last week), and it warmed up my insides like a big bowl of soup. (Did y'all catch when she mouthed "I love you" to a special someone in the crowd at the end? I melted.) Sure, Simon, her performance verged on being old fashioned, and yes, ears, I wasn't entirely happy with her failed attempt at a Siobhan note, but hot dang, let's hear it for a contestant who took a risk without sacrificing who she is as an artist.
Now, about that train wreck of a hair style. In the front, it looked like Janine from "Shear Genius" tried giving you the "Updated Gwyneth" from last week's episode. From the back, it looked like the Predator was playing piano on "Idol."
Song: "Ain't No Sunshine" by Bill Withers
Verdict: Ain't No Kris Allen. Or Christina Christian.
Oh no he didn't.
I know, I know, I shouldn't dwell on the past. But come on, Aaron. You can't sing a karaoke version of this song and expect it to hold a candle to Kris Allen's rearrangement, which helped him win the "Idol" prize last May. (Aaron should have taken a cue from the lyrics: "I ought to leave the young thing alone.") Putting my Kris Allen fandom aside, Aaron's arrangement was nearly identical to the version performed by first season singer Christina Christian eight years ago (when Aaron was a mere zygote), and his attempt doesn't even come close to that.
But I want to know what you guys thought of Tuesday night's episode! Here are some questions to ponder.
When Seacrest opened the show and demanded the audience shout out the name of their favorite contestant, how awkward would it have been if all 500 people chanted "Bowersox" in unison? Speaking of the B-Sox, did you audibly swoon when Crystal told Randy to tell Gladys Knight "Hi?" (I did.) Between Simon making fun of "Dancing With the Stars" singers "murdering" classics and his dismissive words about "Star Search," do you think Cowell will slam "Idol" once "X Factor" launches? (I do! And I cannot wait!) Did you find it ironic that Usher kept telling contestants to make better eye contact while he was wearing sunglasses?
Leave a comment below! And for more "Idol" and pop-culture ramblings, follow me on Twitter @jambajim.