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So, although it still kind of feels like Hollywood Week in that we’re waiting for all the stars to break out, we are actually down to this season's Top 5. Where in past seasons our top five finalists enjoyed double performances and two chances to win our love, we have departed from that ever since Paula’s Second Song Disaster/Psychic Hotline Audition in Season 7. That means tonight we’ll only be getting one song from each contestant, amounting to approximately nine minutes of singing. The bulk of the rest of the hour will be devoted to: advertisements, Kara talking, Ryan needling everyone, the crowd cheering, and us all staring into space. Sound fun? Let’s do it then!

Something Stupid

Simon’s V-neck is obscene this evening. I have to point that out, because I’m going to avoid looking at him for the rest of the night, so I might miss some stuff. Meanwhile, Ryan narrates a very complimentary package discussing the litany of accomplishments of tonight’s mentor Harry Connick Jr., and then Harry Connick Jr. helps Ryan list the greatnesses of Frank Sinatra, tonight’s theme. Got it? Ryan also lets drop that Harry will be arranging the contestants’ selections. Harry jokes about doing more work than any other mentor when he could be lying by the pool. Aw, I’m sure you’re rich enough to both, sweetheart. Harry and some of his band, mostly strings, are also sitting in with the regulars tonight. Ryan asks for last minute advice to the contestants, and Harry suggests that they “respect the words” and the melodies of the songs they’ll sing.

And, commercials! Ten minutes in and nothing has happened.

Young at Heart

Once back we meet Fraaaaankie’s daughters Nancy and Tina, who give Simon a handkerchief that their father once used. Well, I hope he didn’t use it, but you know.

Okay, so, Young Aaron Kelly is up first. Harry hails him “Big Mike,” which is pretty funny, because Aaron is tiny. They work on Aaron’s “Fly Me to the Moon,” and near the end as Aaron tries to vamp, Harry warns him with perhaps more musical expertise than I have seen shared on this show (outside of Lulu and Barry Manilow), to get out of the dissonant high note range before the band moves on to its new chords. Aaron nods and Harry compliments his “sweet voice,” and wishes him luck.

Aaron needs it, poor baby. He’s so Young. It’s difficult to get past his youth and earnestness to receive a silky love song. To his credit, Aaron is in strong voice, even if his enunciation dips into bratty territory, where a lot of the notes aren’t rounded and come out slightly whiny. He looks just adorable though. When he’s finished, Randy thinks Aaron is now in it to win it, Ellen ribs Harry and says that though the piano was pitchy, Aaron pulled off “beautiful” vocals. Kara thought he was stronger last week, although I can’t even begin to remember what Aaron sang last week. She urges him to fill up the stage more, and then condescendingly calls him “honey” because she is gross. Simon agrees with her and says that if tiny, tiny Frank Sinatra could be cool and be a lion on stage, then Aaron can learn to do the same. Perhaps in a few more years.

Casey No Function Guitar Well Without

Casey almost quit last week because some long lost friend without a TV called him up for a gig, complete with free food. Score. But Casey chose instead to remain on this bus. His rehearsal with Harry starts a little awkwardly – Casey professes himself star struck, so much so that he forgets his starting key and gets mocked by Harry Connick Jr. on live TV. That’s a story to tell your children. Actually I can’t tell if Harry is poking fun or really exasperated with Casey. He gets Casey thinking about the mood behind the lyrics (ah, artistry!) and exhorts him to take that mood with him when he sings. Casey nods.

Out on stage in his slicked back ponytail and open collared shirt he looks more like Saturday Night Fever than Swinging Sinatra Cat, but I won’t discriminate against him for that. For his horrible singing I will though. He again has trouble finding his key at the beginning, but also the middle, and also the end. And his rapid-fire vibrato is shown off to unfortunate effect as he actually has to sustain notes in this song. It just wasn’t good.

The audience claps like mad anyway though. They must like Saturday Night Fever. Randy cuts to the chase and pronounces that Casey’s worst performance ever. Ellen again makes a joke about the pianist because she’s in a superstar buddy buddy club with Harry Connick Jr. and that’s important for you to know. Re: Casey, she found him stiff and uncool. His Secret Lover Kara at once congratulates Casey for actually holding notes, and then smacks him for singing like a lamb when he holds notes. That was probably hurtful. Simon continues the Good News/Bad News by saying that while Casey looked and sounded awkward, at least he has a gig lined up for after his elimination. Yeah, even I felt that one. They go to Harry for some reason, who implicitly agrees that Casey just crapped it by asserting that he “was much better in rehearsal,” and that it was difficult to hear up on the stage. Yeah, unlike rehearsal, which takes place on the very same stage. Nice try though, Harry.

Crystal Babblesox

Crystal’s doing “Summer Wind” for her own set of mysterious personal reasons, and when they rehearse, Harry professes an ability to feel that mystery coming through when she sings. He thinks that the more nebulous her reasons are, the more the audience will feel it in the song. I think that’s the Associative Property. We don’t see him offering Crystal much advice, but he counts himself intrigued by her delivery, and says that his wanting to hear her sing it again and go all Scooby Doo on the mystery of it is part of the charm.

Crystal is dressed in a tight, stretchy, black lace gown, and the effect is something like see-through snakeskin. Her hair is up off her face, and she looks a smoky crooner at any run-of-the-mill goth dive bar. The song starts softly lightly, not unlike the summer wind, and although you expect the swing to get kicked up by the time she gets to “autumn wind,” and that tonal shift in the lyrics, that doesn’t happen until much later, so the payoff is diminished. Crystal’s voice is sweet throughout, but the performance is overall much more subtle than maybe it should’ve been.

Crystal’s Still Just a Boyfriend in the audience looks confused but points to his sign anyway. Randy thinks it was too “sleepy and subdued,” Ellen says Crystal took too long to start “really singing,” because apparently all real singing is loud singing. She also wants Crystal to loosen up, but is continually impressed by her many facets. Kara says she was clearly a fish out of water, but compliments her phrasing. Simon thought the moment the song made was too small for that stage at this time, and she must show more spirit next week to impress us into voting for her. Ryan instigates Crystal into responding to the criticism that she went too soft, and she goes on a full-length Magnus Ramble about how the song is a sweet song that deserves a sweet delivery, and there’s a pronounced build to it, and it means things to her, and not everything on AI has to be BIG! AND GLORIOUS! to be good music. Okay Crystal, I agree and stuff, but one sentence would’ve been enough of an answer. Anyway, Ryan tells her she’s wearing a pretty dress, and we all move on.

Say Cheese

Mike’s hats are never big enough for his massive head, and this is never more obvious than tonight, when a properly turned hat would so smoothly fit the theme. So instead of a rakishly tilted porkpie, we get like, a fedora surgically bonded to his hairline. Not a good look. However, singing. Mike has chosen “The Way You Look Tonight,” and during their time together, Harry tries like anything to get Mike to project sincerity instead of schmoozing the audience, so that his admittedly pretty vocal delivery will land.

He fails. Not only was this sung more pleasantly and by someone I actually like last season, it was also done more honestly, so I can’t approve of this. I feel like Mike is about to cross a line with me into a dangerous place, from being hammy to being a damn ham and cheese sandwich on white bread with mayo. Again his voice is pretty lush, and the orchestration is just gorgeous, but he kills it dead and burns the remains with all the smirking and hand waving and head bobbing and eyelid lowering. But, everybody in the building loved it; Randy raves a bunch of things that may be words but are probably not sentences. Ellen thinks he was the most comfortable in the theme, and Simon says he was the best so far, even with all the challenges of impressing the Sinatras in the audience, and Harry on stage, and him – Sinatra Fan Number 1 – at the judges’ table. Mike is clearly pleased with himself and is totally grossing me out as we go to break. That double wave thing is not cute, Mike. Stop it.

The Dark Horse Rides Again

And Lee DeWyze is closing the show with “That’s Life.” That’s a tall order for anyone, but especially a one so likely to be a ball of nerves and not of cool on stage. Harry claims that Lee looks like a younger him, not that such a compliment means Lee is hot. It does though. In the bit we see, Harry counsels Lee to meditate on the words “puppet,” “pauper,” and “poet,” so that he can deliver them with personal sincerity instead of just aping Sinatra’s groove. Lee agrees.

There’s good old church organ and big brassy trumpets in this number, so I admit to kind of checking out of Lee’s deal and listening to the instrumentation. But from what I heard, this number found Lee at his most consistently in tune, and his voice at its most pleasant and least grating level of rasp. The closing was a bit rough though. He goes in for a cute dap session with Harry when he is done, and then each of the judges raves as if he has just won the show. Oh, except Kara gives him confidence homework. Ellen also manages a randy allusion to “Harry’s organ.” Ahaha.

Performance recap: Oh yeah, there’s an Aaron on the show, Casey’s almost certainly dead in the water, Crystal is suffering from her early peak, Mike is gross, and Lee is all of a sudden a contender. All in all, the night was far from disaster, and yet, it lacked punch. If they weren’t coasting on Connick Jr. charm, I think I’d have checked out long before Lee got done growling. But, hey, Season 9 is dull. I know I should be used to it by now, and I do promise to stop complaining some time before the finale. Between now and then, be sure to stay tuned here, because my jazzalicious partner MsFroggy will be right back with your results.