‘American Idol’ Recap: The Top Three Duke It Out For A Spot In The Finale

Tuesday (May 18) was “Make Sure Casey Doesn’t Have A Chance To Ruin Our Plans For A Lee/Crystal Finale” night on “American Idol.” Actually, it was “Judges’ Choice/Contestant’s Choice,” a scary evening when Randy isn’t allowed to say, “For me for you for me for you, I wasn’t feeling the song choice” since he had a hand in picking it. I hope he’s well rested. I wouldn’t want him to pop a blood vessel from being forced to come up with an original idea.

With only three contestants remaining, one would hope that they would step up their game and fight for a spot in the finale. One contestant came guns blazing, one contestant needed a song to get warmed up and one contestant mentally folded clothes during his performance. Before I go on a rant about how Crysey-Lee is the least promising Top Three in “Idol” history, and how the judges may as well wear puffy paint T-shirts with the names of their favorite contestant on them, let’s get right to the performances!

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Casey James
His Song: “Okay It’s Alright With Me” by Eric Hutchinson
Judges’ Song: “Daughters” by John Mayer (as chosen by Randy and Kara)
Verdict: Just Okay
Casey picked an Eric Hutchinson song because he thought it represented what he will be as an artist: Obscure. (No offense, Eric. I’m a fan!) Unfortunately, Casey didn’t perform the song with much conviction. The poor thing looked more uncomfortable than Danny Gokey at PrideFest. Casey knew he was going to be thrown under the bus regardless of what he attempted, so I don’t blame him for trying something contemporary to see if it’d stick. And as I’m sure he expected, Simon spent 99 percent of his time railing his song choice (by comparing it to a salad) and then waited until the “Idol” music stinger played before quickly shouting, “But you sounded good!” Better late than never, I guess?

When introducing John Mayer‘s “Daughters” as Casey’s second song, Randy basically admitted he thought the dude had no chance in surviving the week. “We think that John Mayer and this whole idea of the song is a great direction even as a career as he leaves the show.” As he leaves the show! Be more blatant, Jackson! Kara’s explanation for the song choice was just as honest. She thought it would appeal to his core fan base: Ladies. (Kara awkward moment #5004: Urging Casey to “give it” to little girls across the nation. First of all: Ick. Second of all: You’re too late, Kara. Constantine Maroulis did that during the “Idol” tour in 2005. Hey-o!)

I knew Casey was in trouble when we saw footage of his hometown AT&T visit and only 40 people showed up. (I’ll refrain from making a “bad reception” cell phone pun.) It’s no wonder Casey looked as though he was making a mental checklist of all the things he had to do while packing his luggage. (“I’ll be so bummed if I forget to pick up that one flower shirt I left at the dry cleaner,” James thought to himself. “Is it my guitar solo yet?”)

Crystal Bowersox
Her Song: “Come To My Window” by Melissa Etheridge
Judges’ Song: “Maybe I’m Amazed” by Paul McCartney (as chosen by Ellen DeGeneres)
Verdict: Half-Amazing
Me: “Oh man, I really hope Crystal Bowersox takes advantage of her freedom and picks a super-contemporary song while putting her ’90s rocker chick vibe on it.”
Crystal: “I’m going to sing Melissa Etheridge‘s ‘Come To My Window.’”
Me: “Um…”
Crystal: “This song means a lot to me.”
Me: “OK. Maybe she’ll do something really cool and different with it then! Ooh, the beginning is so neat! It’s so slow and dark! I love the harmonica!”
Crystal: [The drummer clicks three times and then the karaoke machine takes over.]
Me: “Oh. Kimberly Caldwell did it better.”
Judges: “That was boring as all hell but we really hate Casey so that wasn’t so bad! Go Crystal! You have an amazing voice! You are a godsend!”

Crystal’s second performance? Awesome. Ellen DeGeneres made up for all the lame schtick and vacuous comments on “Idol” with a razor-sharp song choice for Crystal that forced the once-frontrunner out of her comfort level. No instrument. No bong mic stand. Throat-killing high notes. Breath-killing low notes. Maybe I wasn’t amazed by Crystal’s vocals from start to finish (this is season nine, after all), but any time she began to shout or fall off pitch, she’d pull it back with a gorgeous, sensitive — and yeah, I’m gonna say it — damn near sexy falsetto. Biggest coup? “Baby I’m a man/ Maybe you’re the only woman who could ever help me.” Yep, MamaSox kept Paul McCartney‘s original gender orientation in tact, a first on “Idol” (at least as far as this sleep-deprived “Idol” fanatic can remember).

Lee DeWyze
His Song: “Simple Man” by Lynyrd Skynyrd
Judges’ Song: “Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohen (as chosen by Simon Cowell)
Verdict: Lee Had A Moment. “Hallelujah” Was Okay, Too
Lee told Seacrest that he’s a different guy after visiting his hometown last week, and boy is he ever. The new and improved DeWyze 2.0 boasts a pitch accuracy of 89 percent, a confidence level of 79 percent and a likeability factor that pings all the way up to 68 percent! In all seriousness, DeWyze wiped the floor with Crystal and That Other Guy Whose Name Escapes Me in round one. His “Simple Man” rang emotionally true and was quite moving, without the aid of choirs, orchestras and a lighting schematic typically reserved for Jesus Christ.

I wish I could say the same for Lee’s second performance, the much-touted “Hallelujah” heard ’round the world (via Twitter). How over the top and contrived was the arrangement? By the time the choir glided out from backstage in a pillow of smoke (smoke!), you could hear Elvis Presley and Liberace up in heaven gagging from its excess. Unfortunately, the pomposity of the performance overshadowed Lee’s vocals, which — once you chipped away at the crusty cheese outside — seemed to be quite lovely (for season nine). Although on second thought, perhaps the split-screens and violin players and SteadiCams and orphaned puppies on stage were there precisely to keep us from talking about his pipes? It worked. I truly couldn’t pay attention to his voice because of the tornado of bulls— that surrounded him. Where “Simple Man” got under my skin and approached chills territory, “Hallelujah” was the equivalent of every final montage in every “Grey’s Anatomy” episode, where a lite-FM song blares on the soundtrack and a patient dies and a voiceover tells me something meaningful about life and I feel like I’m being told I’m an idiot from such blatant imagery and fortune cookie wisdom.

Leonard Cohen‘s original recording is sparse and haunting (even with a choir backing him up). Lee — who definitely used Cohen as a reference point (as opposed to Jason Castro and Tim Urban, who went straight for Jeff Buckley‘s version — approached the song with a “more is more” treatment and ended up with one of the most polarizing performances of this season. The DeWyze Fans followed Lee, defending him tooth and nail to the “haterz,” while Cohen/Castro/Urban/Buckley fans had a rage-filled meltdown. The judges non-stop talk of Lee’s “moment” only added fuel to both sides of the argument. But look at the bright side, folks: Somebody finally delivered a performance worth arguing over!

In honor of DeWyze’s “moment,” one of my Twitter followers sent me lyrics to his own version of “Hallelujah” which he called, “Leelelujah.” Feel free to sing along the same way the studio audience sang with Lee. Perhaps our united voices can also make Lee cry. (The longer he’s on the show, the less I realize it takes for him to get choked up.)

“Leelelujah” (Lyrics by @j_tak, to the tune of “Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohen

I heard this was your moment for
Breaking through and getting to soar
‘Cause Simon told me this was something special.
Well the stage is lit
Who cares for pitch
Or subtlety? That’s all amiss!
This just might be the greatest moment ever!
This is a moment!
This is a moment!
This is a moment!

Your voice sounds like barbed wire
Though all that matters is your gospel choir
The smoke-filled stage tells me this is brilliant
It’s quite alright that your phrasing sucks
And that you’re screaming at the top of your lungs
Just look at the spotlight, this must be a moment!
This is a moment!
This is a moment!
Did you hear them?
This is a moment!

(Cue the confetti.)

What did you think of Tuesday night’s performance show? Did you laugh when Casey told Ellen to stop saying the word “die” in her critique of his first performance? Did you think Crystal’s “I’m gonna galumph down the steps towards the judges like a drunken rock star” swagger was amazing or awkward? Or both? Do you think Simon uses exclamation points in texts? And did anyone else catch the disturbing “Casey Lee and Crystal Sitting In A Tree” sign in the audience? Leave a comment below! And for more “Idol” insanity, follow me on Twitter @jambajim!