Yeah, I got one wrong last week.
Apparently when I was watching I thought Katie Stevens sounded a lot better than the rest of the world did. Looking back a week later, I can see where people would take issue with the performance. It was kind of shaky, but I really thought the arrangement had as much to do with that – if not more – than the singing did. I made the mistake though of figuring for that handicap when I shouldn’t have, so it was Katie and not Didi who ended up in the bottom three last week. Didi’s performance last week could have apparently flip-flopped with Katie’s because people saw a lot more in her last week than I did. Maybe my powers of clairvoyance were just a little too strong and off a week, hmmm?
This week Idol’s Top 10 hit the Soul/R&B theme with Usher serving as guest mentor. I’ve always found Usher to be a little bit odd in that I remember when he first came out as a 16-year-old and later being the only DJ working in a high school in “She’s All That”, and here he is now as this second coming of Prince. Anyway, Usher’s insistent that he’s not going to sugarcoat his comments and really tell them if they’re doing something wrong and that if feelings get hurt, so be it. Suuuuure.
Siobhan Magnus leads off tonight with Chaka Kahn’s “Through The Fire”. Feedback to start. Something was a little bit off, and I’m not sure if the feedback was part of something larger, but it affected Siobhan. It sounds like an excuse, but when she was off key, she she was off at the same points every time. Again, maybe I’m making excuses, and we tend to fall into a trap of holding people at different levels for what we know they can do instead of even across the board. She hit some cringe-worthy notes, but most of the song was strong. Since we hold her at a different level though, the judges picked it apart like it was this steaming trainwreck, which it wasn’t.
What I found interesting was that they spent a LOT of time on analysis after the song. Seriously, you could have put another song in the time they took going over it. I think the judges all know that they have a lot of say in the votes of viewers, and not just in whether they like it or not. They obviously know that she’s one of the best people in the competition, and with her going first (one of the weakest spots to go, especially in the early rounds) and having a not-so-great performance, I think they were choosing their words carefully in order to not lose their credibility, but at the same time keep her on the show since they (at this point) had no idea what the rest of the show was going to look like. I felt bad because I like her and I want her to do well, and she knew she blew it and was probably harder on herself than the judges at their worst. I don’t think she’s in any kind of danger by any means though, and I think the post-performance shot where she just kind of went into the corner will get her some sympathy votes as well. She’s fine this week, but she knows that a performance like that when it gets down to 6 or 5 performers means she’s done.
Following Siobhan was Casey James covering Sam & Dave’s “Hold On, I’m Comin’”. Casey is the leader across the board (male or female) when it comes to looks. He has looks, and he has charisma, and he seems to be confident. But he still seems to be a bit rigid in front of that camera. Even with the smile that he constantly flashes, he still seems like he’s two seconds away from shitting his pants. He’s not comfortable and the charisma that he actually has isn’t showing until three-quarters of the way through the song, when he’s already sure that he’s done enough to be safe and if he screws up, he’ll still be OK. If he doesn’t get past that, once he does stumble he’s going to look BAD. Judges gushed over it but it was really a middle-of-the-road performance. He can do better, and if he keeps doing the “good enough to survive” performances people may start turning against him, especially with other guitar rock guys in the competition. The good news for Casey is that it won’t take much for him to get back to a higher level – just a little bit more comfort in front of the camera.
Michael Lynche was up next, covering India.Arie’s “Ready For Love”. One of the things that I couldn’t get over with this performance is that he placed himself behind the judges, playing to the audience. My wife mentioned that he closed his eyes a lot during the performance too. The thing that irked me about the location was that it was almost a cop out in regards to whom he was performing too. While we know that it’s the viewers that cast the votes and there’s a studio audience that he was singing to, it’s the judges that are his biggest critics and the looks and reactions from them can change how the performance mid-song. Ellen mentioned Siobhan missing a note and looking at the judges, something that surely affected her. Michael didn’t have to worry about that – he performed to a bunch of people who would have applauded for him if he sang “Real American” and started doing Hulk Hogan poses (which admittedly I would have marked out for and called in my vote for the rest of the competition.) It seemed almost like “cheating” to me, and it ruined for me what was a very good performance from him.
Following that up was Didi Benami with Jimmy Ruffin’s “What Becomes of the Brokenhearted”. Didi is going with the glam look again and she looks good tonight – better than last week. The song seems like it’s just off. I don’t know enough about music to put my finger on it. Like, it doesn’t have any fluidity or smoothness. Her voice isn’t cracking and she’s holding notes consistently, but it just doesn’t sound pleasant. Judges hated it, and were a lot harsher on her than they were last week, which I thought wasn’t much better. She’s in trouble. Interesting side note though – Ryan starts in with an uncomfortable line of questioning trying to get Didi to spill why the song is special to her, since she broke down when she sang it to Usher and kept mentioning that the song was special to her. Didi is NOT giving it up, though. It’s funny because Didi’s obviously in trouble and Ryan’s trying to save her by having her play the sympathy card and either she refuses to do it, or she’s just not taking the hint. I wonder if Ryan was pressing down on her foot?
Tim Urban is next for some reason, and OH DEAR LORD he’s covering Anita Baker. I don’t care if it’s “Sweet Love” or any other song in her catalog – we’ve got our first TRAINWRECK ALERT of the evening. I think Usher knows that it’s going to be a trainwreck. Here’s the thing – he didn’t kill the song. I guess on the Tim scale we could give him points for that. On an actual competitive level though, it was sad. To steal a Simon term, it was straight “piano bar”. It’s something that you’d hear with the guy playing the piano during dinner or in Macy’s where he’s just kind of in the background. To be honest, I think this actually hurts him – there’s a whole group of people who would vote for him because he’d trainwreck a song, and he couldn’t even do that right.
That said, what really got me more than that was his whole demeanor during the judges’ comments. He’s gotten to the point where he absolutely doesn’t care what the judges say and that he just knows that you jailbait-hunting cougars and you 12-year-old Jonas Brother-loving sheep are going to vote for him anyway, because damn it he made the tilted-head puppy dog eyes face during the song. The cockiness that seems to come off him – this isn’t like Sanjaya in Season 6 where he would come out each week and try and fail and still get voted on or John Stevens in Season 3 where he was basically apologizing each week he was kept on because he wasn’t at the level that everyone else was at – he comes off like he doesn’t need to be better and that he’s got everything figured out. I think that – more than his inability to sing at a competitive level – is what’s going to put him most in danger this week, because even those who like to vote for the trainwrecks and to see the discomfort of a John Stevens-type up there would find it hard to vote for someone who isn’t even giving them that.
In the choice spot (since anything after Tim sounds good) this week is Andrew Garcia covering Chris Brown’s “Forever”. Andrew has been teetering on the brink of the bottom 3 and looking lost ever since his first performance of the semifinals. Every week we hear about “Straight Up” and how disappointing he’s been, and each week he listens – bless his heart – and tries to do everything that the judges (and at this rate, I think, just about any other outlet giving advice) and tries to repackage himself for the following week, trying to be something he isn’t. Basically, Andrew is the anti-Tim Urban. I honestly think if Andrew had Tim’s attitude regarding his talent, he’d be in the top half of competitors right now. Usher sees it, and tells him what I was hoping the judges would have the past four weeks, that he needs to just play the damn music his way – the way he knows how to do.
Congratulations Usher, you are now the king of the mentors, actually having DONE something instead of smiling and plugging your latest album. I had to go find the Chris Brown version to compare, and I liked Andrew’s version better. THAT is the person I said in my original review was “one song away”. Unfortunately for him, his previous performances pushed him away from that “one song away” barrier, but he looked comfortable, he sounded good, and it sounded like a song I would buy. Only issue I have is that Simon called him boring (though he loved the song) and he thinks that that’s going to hurt him. I call bullshit – if he didn’t have a fanbase that embraced him, he would have been gone by now. He’s likeable, he’s got a good story, and he’s got the trademark fake glasses. I cringed when I heard Simon’s comment, because Andrew pre-Usher would have spent next week looking for some over-the-top song and put on a Zoot Suit and made me want to shoot myself. I pray he blocks out the Simon comment and keeps it here in his comfort level – he needs a few more of these to contend again.
Katie Stevens made me look bad last week when I gushed over her performance and everyone else (including the voters) wondered what the hell I was watching. Katie’s got the pipes though, and she had something to prove this week with Aretha Franklin’s “Chain Of Fools”. While I’ve had faith in her in the past, getting burned last week forced me to put out the TRAINWRECK ALERT here – a skinny 17-year-old white girl doing an Aretha Franklin song is usually bad news. Again though, Katie proved that she’s got one of the better voices in the competition. This week judges seemed to agree with me (with the exception of Simon, who seriously seems to have a chip on his shoulder with her.) She did the song very well, and while there are few that are going to be able to sing at Aretha’s level, she did better than most. Some criticized the song choice – I think this was more of a challenge song than it was a marketable song with her. If she does a more current pop-type song this week, she’s not going to gain any fans. By doing what she did this week, she’s going to have a lot more people talking about her, and in a positive fashion.
After shaking off a performance I thought was his worst one to date last week, Lee DeWyze went back to his comfort zone with his guitar, covering “Treat Her Like a Lady” by the Cornelius Brothers. Why the hell did Lee look different this week? I can’t peg it. Maybe it’s confidence? Here’s the thing that we’ve been saying all along with Lee – when he’s comfortable, he’ll be fine. He was confortable this week, and he showed it. He got the rub from Simon, and HOLY CRAP IS THAT A SMILE? Well, 3/4 of one. Don’t know if he’s got “winning” talent, but he’s got “top 5″ if he picks the right songs. Odd possible Catch-22 coming up for Lee: we’re all saying that he needs more confidence in order to content, but how many people are voting for him because he seems to be so humble because he doesn’t have that confidence? In striving to gain confidence and become a more likeable personality, is he actually going to lose votes? He’s fine this week, but I’m curious as to how it plays out.
Crystal Bowersox promises a surprise, and she does by ditching the guitar for the piano for Gladys Knight’s “Midnight Train to Georgia”. Obviously Crystal reads this column. For weeks I’ve been saying that she’s got to get out of this narrow classification she’s put herself in. She glamed herself up (as much as she can), she sat behind a piano, and she belted out some Gladys Knight. The girl can sing – that has never been the question. The key this week is that she has proven that it doesn’t have to be Lilith Fair Birkenstock rock in order for Crystal to be in her comfort zone. Was it groundbreaking and the best thing I’ve ever heard? No, but it was the song she needed to establish herself – in my eyes, at least – as the clear favorite in this competition. She just needs to make sure she doesn’t get cocky, or to come off as too cocky, and she shouldn’t have a problem any time soon.
Wrapping up the night was Aaron Kelly, covering Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine”. Bill Withers says “I Know” 26 times in the original song, which he did as a placeholder for an area where he was going to write more lyrics, but was convinced by the other musicians to keep it in. It’s a thing that song people talk about since there’s no real reason why it should work (since it’s just filler), but it just does. Usher wanted Aaron to make that his own, but Aaron didn’t go crazy with it, and that’s probably to his advantage. I’ve mentioned this before – he may be only 16, but he absolutely knows how to play the game. He didn’t do much with the song, and the judges kind of called him out on that. That said, he sounded good enough that he’ll be safe this week. Aaron’s not going to win the competition, but he knows the game well enough to stay around longer than he probably should.
Performance of the week: Crystal Bowersox – not her best performance, but I think the one that impressed me most
Trainwreck of the week: Didi. I refuse to say Tim because “trainwreck” implies “try and fail hard”. Tim wasn’t trying.
Surprise of the week: Andrew Garcia getting himself right back into the competition and probably keeping himself alive for another few weeks, and potentially more.
Disappointment of the week: I want to put Michael here because I really hate what he did, but that’s a personal thing for me and didn’t make the song sound any worse. It’s Siobhan this week, definitely. I know she’s beating herself up for it and she needs to let it go if she’s going to survive this competition, because she’s not going to be able to survive an Andrew Garcia-like downward spiral.
Projected Bottom 3: These start to get a little harder because you have to start guessing fanbases better as time goes along and the performances keep getting better. Tim Urban and Didi Benami had the only two real stinker performances (unless you’re counting Siobhan, who I think is still in golden territory), so they’ll be there, but as for #3 I think it comes down to two people who had decent performances this week in Aaron Kelly and Katie Stevens, and my hunch is that despite it being the better performance of the two, it’s going to be Katie again in the bottom three. I think it’s going to be a struggle for her to develop a fanbase.
Going home: Alas – this is the toughest one of the season so far. Once again, logic says Tim Urban. But I honestly think he stays alive one more time, although I think he’s probably gone next week if he repeats the crap from this week, which leaves me with Didi and Katie. While the last two weeks you could justify the departures with bad performances, this week it’s going to be the best out of the three that goes home – goodbye, Katie Stevens.