Tuesday night's (April 20) "American Idol" featured the Top Seven tackling "inspirational" songs in honor of "Idol Gives Back," that time of the season when Ryan Seacrest gets to say things like, "When you cast a vote you save lives!" and pat the "Idol" corporate sponsors on the back for donating money to charity.
Alicia "The Princess of Soul" Keys was on hand to mentor the contestants. "I want to teach them how to be part of something that's even bigger than them," she said. Um, the only thing bigger than Michael Lynche is the continent of Asia, so that might be a little tough, Alicia. But I applaud the effort.
Before I go on a rant about Kara's hair, let's get to the performances!
Song: "Don't Stop" by Fleetwood Mac
Verdict: Please Stop (Too easy, right?)
Alicia Keys urged Casey to connect with "one of the biggest songs in the whole universe," which he interpreted as lathering on gallons of self-tanner and getting a perm. We're nine weeks into the competition and Casey's stage presence is still stiffer than Tiger Woods at a strip club. In fact, I'm starting to think that Casey's (trademark?) goofy grin is an unsettling coping mechanism. If he stopped smiling during a performance, he'd start weeping. And there's no crying on "Idol" (unless your name rhymes with Pistol Powercox). I'm hoping Lindsey Buckingham sent in his guitar intending it to be auctioned off during "Idol Gives Back," because the thought of that rock god lending James one of his rare instruments makes me want to throw my mint condition vinyl copy of Tusk out the window.
Song: "The Boxer" by Simon and Garfunkel
Verdict: A Knockout
During rehearsal, Alicia asked the Lee "Holy Tattoos, Batman" DeWyze to speak the lyrics of the song in an effort to get him to connect to the meaning. (Do you think he spoke the "lai la lai" chorus? Because that would be ridiculous.) And it worked! Lee's "The Boxer" was his best performance on "Idol." Emotional, tender, sincere (all words Simon also used to describe DeWyze's delovely rendition) and his stage fright was kept at bay. On a superficial level, two things distracted me: The out-of-control strings of saliva clinging to the roof of his mouth (ick!) and the stray pieces of glitter stuck to his face. (Did he cheat on Andrew Garcia with Adam Lambert last week? I'm so confused.)
Side note about Randy Jackson: Remember the movie "Multiplicity," where Michael Keaton cloned himself so he could golf and do it with his wife more? And remember how things got complicated because the clones didn't tell each other everything, so it was hard to keep their stories straight? And remember how he made a clone of a clone and it turned out sorta special? Yeah, I think Randy cloned himself. How else to explain his "This season is all about artists" declaration? This Randy clone obviously didn't sit in during season seven or eight.
Song: "Better Days" by the Goo Goo Dolls
Verdict: Goo Goo Go
I’ll let my wife Jess guest-critique Tim's dull and pitchy performance.
"He is a really good looking kid."
Song: "I Believe I Can Fly” by R. Kelly
Verdict: Space Ham
Aaron has been singing this song since he was five years old, right around the age R. Kelly would have dated him if he were a girl. (Yes, MTV lawyers, I know R. Kelly married Aaliyah when she was 15, not five, and yes, I know he was acquitted of all those child porn charges. Just a joke.) Oddly enough, watching this little munchkin unleash his jaw and forcefully push out power notes had the same freak show appeal I imagine Aaron's pre-school graduation performance had. By the time the key change and big finish came, A. Kelly hadn't exactly spread his wings, but he had spread his legs into a stance so wide, I half-expected the kid to fall into a split like a death-dropping drag queen. Now that would have been inspiring.
Song: "When You Believe" by Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey
Upon hearing Siobhan's high notes, Alicia Keys cooed, "That's your money" and urged her to milk it as much as possible. Oh, Alicia. Have you not been watching this season? Yet I totally get Alicia's instincts because when Siobhan isn't hitting the sweet spot of her voice (and her high notes were quite lovely and natural in rehearsal), she sounds like she's suppressing a burp. Vocally, she was in way better form than she has been, but her odd song choice ultimately undermined her. ("The Prince of Egypt" ballad, Siobhan? Come! On!) Even more depressing? Kara's assessment, which was basically, "I want to hang out with you, but only when you're not singing." True that! Except after Siobhan filibustered about how important that terrible song was to her, I'm not so sure I'd want to hang out with her either. Could you imagine the crap playlist she'd want to put on as mood music? "Oooh, Savage Garden's 'Animal Song' from The Other Sister soundtrack! And then after that, we'll have a double-header taken from Scott Stapp's solo album." Oof. If only Siobhan had listened to the magical animals who had dressed her, maybe she wouldn't have picked a song that even my grandma thinks is uncool. (Granted, Siobhan gets a few cool points back considering her friends in the audience were Rob Halford from Judas Priest and Win Butler from Arcade Fire.)
Song: "Hero" by Chad Kroeger featuring Josey Scott
Hold the phone. So we went from "Space Jam" to "The Prince of Egypt" to "Spider-Man." Is this "Inspirational Tunes" or "Movie Soundtrack Night?" If Crystal sings something from "Crazy Heart," I might have to change the channel. (Although it would be refreshing for MamaSox to finally tackle something from a year that begins with the number "2.")
Big "Pit Stains" Mike hoped to put his stamp on Chad Kroeger's "Kiss From A Rose 2: Canadian Boogaloo." And apparently his stamp no longer means "Sing the crap out of a woman's song in falsetto." Now it means, "Court the remaining Hootie and the Blowfish fans with bland vocals and generic rock." If Siobhan's going to get the "I don't know who you are" treatment from the judges, I don't get why Big Mike gets a free pass for being an R&B showman one week and a lite-FM rocker the next. (Although Simon and Company have always been pretty easy on Michael. See: The Judges' Save.) The British One's remarks were most cutting, slamming the "Spider-Man" song choice, but then he immediately softened the blow with a "you're gonna be around next week" proclamation. Thank you Psychic Simon. Now tell me: When will this season not suck?
Song: "People Get Ready" by the Impressions
Verdict: BowerSobs Wins the Season
"I'm just really grateful for everything in my life right now," Crystal FrontRunnerSox told Alicia Keys. See that, America? Don't let those stories about quitting fool you! MamaSox is in it to win it! (By the way, Seacrest, way to sell out a contestant in the press. "Idol" should disqualify you.) And if you need further proof, just look at Tuesday night's season highlight.
Crystal opened her impassioned "People Get Ready" by pulling a Bo Bice and going a cappella. Bo had fancy lighting back in season four, but Crystal had fancy lighting and an embellished microphone stand that Michael Phelps was photographed using last year. (Turns out the antique belonged to Crystal. She used it in her pre-"Idol" gigs ... and any time "Yo Gabba Gabba" is on the air.)
As always, Crystal exuded a confidence and respect for music that's lacking in most of her castmates. And while it wasn't technically a perfect vocal, what she botched in high notes she made up for in gasp-inducing raw emotion. Her ending breakdown (and I mean that in both a musical and emotional sense), where the eventual winner became too choked up to properly sing the final notes of the song, gave season nine it's first water cooler moment worth championing. Finally, America got its "I'm so glad I'm watching this happen on live television" fix that "Idol" used to provide on a more regular basis.
So about that sobfest. Was Crystal succumbing to the pressure of being the Chosen One? Was she crying over Seacrest's betrayal? Was she coming to the realization that in 24 hours she would likely be decked out in all white swaying next to Paige Miles in a cheesy group number? What drove the chill troubadour to lose her cool on national television? It was PapaSox, sitting in the audience for the first time this season (in shades, naturally).
There will probably be haters who accuse Crystal of being a phony drama queen. (This is, after all, the Internet.) But for me, "People Get Ready" rang true from the first note through the last sob and adorable "sorry." To paraphrase the Impressions' hit, "You don't need no ticket, just hop right on the express train to the finale." (Doesn't have quite the same ring to it, does it?)
Is there any way Crystal can lose this season? If Kara said Crystal earned her "MamaSox" nickname by "schooling" the contestants, shouldn't Crystal's nickname then by TeacherSox? Do you think Big Mike should burn his playbook of songs he wants to cover if said list had "Hero" on it? And did you get a weird chill down your back when Simon let Ryan sit in his chair? (Do you think Ryan will replace the Brit next season? Foreshadowing!) Leave a comment below. And for more "Idol" fun, follow me on Twitter @jambajim.