Offering a backstage look at the American Idol experience, Season 9 rolled on as the top 10 singers perform soul and R&B songs. There to guide the contestants was Usher, who despite sounding like a broken record, seemed genuinely committed to helping every singer squeeze the most out of his or her songs. In the end, one contestant finally stood out, one reclaimed former glory and one stumbled right out of the gate. Who impressed and who fell flat? Let's find out.
As mentor Usher said, "This isn't the finish line." (Thank goodness!) As I said, Usher seemed to be a solid mentor, even if he seemed to mostly stress to all the contestants the need to make a personal connection. Personal highlights were Tim's awkwardness when Usher asked Tim to sing the love song to him and when Usher took his own advice and took off his shades in order to connect with Andrew.
Also, the "backstage moments" were silly wastes of time. I have no need to see people cry in the green room, or to know that Big Mike was wearing a sleeveless T-shirt under his jacket. On to the singing:
Siobhan Magnus, "Through the Fire"
Yikes. Siobhan never really found the right groove in this song. As I noted a few weeks ago, there are certain spots in her range that just aren't pleasant to listen to, and she seemed to utilize all of them tonight. I was impressed especially by the softer moments in her voice, but then she pulled out her big screeching note at the end which absolutely must stop. This was a big step backwards in my opinion.
Judging the Judges: C They lose points for actually going around the table twice. (What up with that?) Randy said it was all over the place while Kara said she's entitled to have an off night. Simon said it sounded like she was singing the song while running a marathon and that she killed the song. (In the bad way.
Casey James, "Hold On, I'm Coming"
Does anyone know if Casey was happy during this performance? I couldn't tell. Aside from his cheesing, Casey did do a very nice job on this totally awesome song. It was the perfect choice, and for the first time, I actually paid attention to him singing rather than him playing the guitar, even though he did a full-on solo tonight. Do I think he's shown much range in style? No, but that's not going to matter until we lose some more dead weight.
Judging the Judges: A Randy said it was the perfect song, while Kara and Ellen want Casey to push himself with something different. Simon said it was authentic and for the first time, he's impressed with Casey.
Michael Lynche, "Ready for Love"
I officially take back my ban on Michael using the guitar. (But I reserve the right to reinstate the ban if he goes to covering Maroon 5 again.) This performance, aside from the blinding center spotlight, was simple and honest and Big Mike didn't overdo it as he is prone to do. I'm not that familiar with the original, but I thoroughly enjoyed this rendition.
Judging the Judges: B+ Ellen said it was beautiful and Kara said it was incredible. Simon said he can finally take Mike serious as an artist.
Didi Benami, "What Becomes of the Broken Hearted"
Oh, Didi, don't make me take back all my praise for you. First, the girl has got to get her crying in check. Secondly, while it wasn't a train wreck vocally, the arrangement was unbelievably cheesy and boring that I almost reached for the fast-forward button. Although I am sick of seeing every contestant play the guitar, she needs to get hers back out there ASAP.
Judging the Judges: B Randy said it never connected and Kara said Didi has lost her way from the singer/songwriter she was in Hollywood week. Simon likened it to the terrible performances you hear in the background of dancing shows, "if you ever watch them." (I can't wait for the Idol-DWTS war!)
Tim Urban, "Sweet Love"
Hope you enjoy seeing this kid's act during the tour, America. His style and delivery and pretty much everything about the way he sings is boring. And while he laughed through the judges' harsh criticism, it's really not funny any more that this guy is still in the competition when he was originally cut to begin with. Enough already.
Judging the Judges: A Randy said Tim had no swagger and Kara said the Broadway-Vegas combo took the soul out of the song. Simon said it didn't matter what the judges say because teen girls will keep Tim around as long as they can. Sad but true.
Andrew Garcia, "Forever"
While I don't think he will continue to survive forever on the "make a pop song cool by stripping it down" approach, Andrew was miles better than he's been in weeks. His arrangement didn't feel forced and he sang the song well. If only there had been bridesmaids dancing down the aisles, everything would have been fine.
Judging the Judges: B The judges agreed Andrew was back in the competition, though Simon said Andrew has to stop appearing so boring. In an attempt to kill time, Ryan invited Andrew's mom up to challenge Simon, and all she did was prove Simon's point: She had more personality in 30 seconds than Andrew has had all season.
Katie Stevens, "Chain of Fools"
Finally Katie makes it through a whole song without butchering notes. I though it was easily her strongest performance in weeks (maybe of the whole season), and she seems to be one of the few to actually listen to the judges and improve.
Judging the Judges: C That said, the judges spent the next 10 minutes arguing about whether Simon or Kara is right about which genre Katie should pursue. Oh, and Ellen wants her to be more current, young and fun.
Lee Dewyze, "Treat Her Like a Lady"
The best performance of the night and Lee's breakout performance of the season. Like I said last week, I think the soul-rocker vibe works much better for Lee than, say, Snow Patrol did earlier this season. He also looked incredibly relaxed for the first time ever. I think he's really about to take off.
Judging the Judges: A Kara said the song was ready to be on his record and Simon said this was the night that may have changed Lee's life forever.
Crystal Bowerox, "Midnight Train to Georgia"
So Usher ruined Crystal's big surprise: She plays the piano, too. One problem: She is noticeably uncomfortable behind the ivories, and even when she stood up for the power part of the song, she looked so lost without her guitar. I liked the falsetto touches she added much better then the stilettos, but I applaud her for mixing it up. If nothing else, it now makes it easier to support seeing her behind the guitar each week.
Judging the Judges: B Randy loved the paino and Kara said she can't wait to see what else Crystal is capable of. Simon urged her not to lose herself by trying to conform to what Kara & Co. want.
Aaron Kelly, "Ain't No Sunshine"
I like Aaron, and his singing was OK, but didn't this feel really flat for show-ending number. His rehearsal with Usher sounded so much better than what the full-band did. Maybe Kris Allen's version last season spoiled me, but this just didn't measure up to much at all for me. But, Aaron is definitely a talented youngster.
Judging the Judges: B Randy said it started rough but improved when Aaron his his power zone. Kara thought he should have started in a higher key and Simon called Aaron's performance the cupcake to Lee's main course.
So who did you like? Who do you think is in danger of being eliminated?
Offering a backstage look at the American Idol experience, Season 9 rolled on as the top 10 singers perform soul and R&B songs. There to guide the contestants was Usher, who despite sounding like a broken record, seemed genuinely committed to helping every singer squeeze the most out of his or her songs. In the end, one contestant finally stood out, one reclaimed former glory and one stumbled right out of the gate. Who impressed and who fell flat? Let's find out...