There are only three things I'm uncomfortable with in discussions of music: snobbery about what are really only personal tastes, uncritical dismissals of entire genres (*cough* hip hop *cough*) (*cough* also country *cough*), and the idea that there are artists people should not cover. Since I am very often a hypocrite about point #3, I admit that I already had this week written off as a failure of epic proportions. Season 7’s back-to-back Beatles bomb is still fresh in my memory, so no, I didn’t have high hopes that these kids, seemingly less talented and certainly less charismatic as a whole, could pull off anything better. So color me surprised that the music of Lennon-McCartney actually brought out something like star quality in quite a few of our songsters.
An Opening Segment In Which Absolutely Nothing Happens
We open on Ryan in the Control Room pointing out everything necessary to make this show go, so please take note that this is a serious night, and recognize that a lot of work will go into persuading us that we should take these contestants seriously. Look, there’s loser Lacey Brown in the audience. And there’s the fallen Didi Benami up on the big screen. RIP, Bananas.
The Top 9 file out and stand on stage while a montage rubs in what we already know about John Lennon and Paul McCartney, (Hey Ringo! Heeeey, George!) and we learn that Casey thinks they’re the best thing ever to happen to music, Big Mike thinks they are collectively “music genius,” and Crystal feels privileged to be allowed to sing their songs. And, Paul McCartney would not sully himself by comparison to Miley Cyrus and so is not a mentor, but did send a very encouraging video message to the contestants. What a guy.
Preliminary judge chat: Randy says the contestants should “Bring it.” Ellen loves every Beatles song ever. Kara wants us to remember that she, too, is a songwriter. I know I put “Walk Away” right up there next to “Michelle.” Simon is there too, and is star of the show. This took ten minutes of show. Please let us be going to 90 or 60 minutes next week.
Aaron Kelly! First up! Big smile on his face! Tonight we are treated to pre-performance packages featuring the contestants saying nice things about each other. Mike says Aaron’s sweet face hides his mastery of Jedi Mind Tricks, which Katie Stevens informs us has led to him being nicknamed Yoda, which leads to Siobhan and Lee Dewyze offering Aaron-as-Yoda impressions. Also everybody is impressed that though he is a baby and very small, Aaron is also very mature and wise. Like Yoda!
To prove this wisdom and maturity, Aaron has chosen to sing “The Long and Winding Road.” The band strikes up an adult contemporary arrangement, the swaybots in the pit raise their arms in time, and Aaron goes to town. Although it’s tiptoeing into Borington wearing soggy shoes and carrying a dull cane, his singing is quite capable as always, and he’s even sporting a little rasp on some of the power notes that, while it makes me worry for the health of his voice, does fit the tune well. But get some honey and some a whole lot of warm water in you, stat, young man. And, um, a personality?
Randy wishes Aaron had tried to change things up, since, as Ellen puts it, it was a “long and winding song.” Kara thinks he is talented but dull, and Aaron promises that if he is still around next week he has a trick up his sleeve. Simon asks why Aaron chose this song, and Aaron answers that the title mirrors his journey on the show. Simon rolls his eyes in response, and then calls the performance old-fashioned and boring. Oh Aaron, you adorable deer. This is not English class. Metaphor should have nothing to do with song choice. Kill that thought as dead as the whole “I thought it would be fun” revolution, please, for our sake and your own.
We follow this up with Katie Stevens, so a one-two punch of dull teen screams. Perfect way to open Beatles Night, yes? We get a pre-chat with Katie, who pimps herself out as a prom date in exchange for votes. I’m not sure she meant to do that, but yeah, she did definitely do that. Package: everyone talks about how Katie is a cute little sister always doing goofy things, like the Single Ladies dance. How goofy! Katie speaks to the camera about her father always playing Lennon-McCartney songs, and that influencing her to choose “Let It Be,” somehow.
And, you know, here's Katie in a high ponytail, a cute pink blouse dress, and a metric ton of beads. She’s a good singer and stuff, so it sounds really good, but as she tries to vamp the ending, for me (for you) there is no there there. I’m glad we got these two out of the way first. Randy though, thinks this is Katie’s best outing ever. Also there is officially a Campaign to Keep Katie Out of the Bottom Three, as Ellen, and Kara, and Simon mention that she does not deserve to be there this week. Even though only two people have performed so far. We also revisit the tiresome What Katie Should Be debate, as Simon thinks Katie succeeded this week because she countrified her arrangement, but Kara and Randy vehemently deny that the arrangement was anything but Pop/Soul. Just like at a forensics society meeting! Which, as we all know, are thrilling to sit through.
Everyone Says They Love Him
Glee! In one week I will be able to stop yelling about it here because it will be back!
Meanwhile, the contestants are on a crusade to convince us against all rumors and knowledge to the contrary that Andrew has a personality, and it is one they all find appealing and fun. Casey and Big Mike pay tribute to his “homie” potential, Siobhan and T-Urb each testify that he is full of goofy energy. Aaron and Katie defy Simon and proclaim that Andrew has the most personality of them all. So I think I’m now clear on why this season is so uninteresting. Lee and Andrew are BFF, their bond forged on guitar strings during Hollywood Week. Take note, America! Andrew is a one man friends and fun machine, and if you don’t see it? The fault is your own.
Andrew to prove this point is offering a jazz-funk that turns into Chuck Berry and back to jazz-funk version of “Can’t Buy Me Love.” He’s rocking a nifty pompadour and appropriately vintage tight gray suit, and his ubiquitous guitar is ubiquitous, although I can’t hear it over the band’s strings and horns. I’ve never been a fan of Andrew’ voice, and I’m still not after tonight, but it’s a serviceable performance that I think is his best so far. Randy agrees and calls it solid, but a little corny, and Ellen loved it wholesale. But Simon compares the performance to a wedding band, when the lead singer goes for a restroom break and the guitarist takes over. Also he couldn’t hear the guitar either. Poor Andrew’s face crumples, but during post-chat with Ryan he yet again invokes the almighty power of FUN! to protect him from elimination. We’ll see if it works another week.
Thoughts on Big Mike: He is big, he is a teddy bear, and he’s a big teddy bear. Also he snores. Yup. Thoughts from Big Mike: He and his siblings used to be a traveling band called … wait for it … no really … The Lynche Mob. Yup. They had a version of Eleanor Rigby in their repertoire, and so that is what Mike is doing for us tonight. This is one of my very favorite Beatles songs, and I don’t really want to hear it from him. But it is my duty. Mike, like me, loves the strings in the song, so they are emphasized in his modernized pop/soul arrangement. His voice tonight is the strongest I have ever heard it, and he adds some interesting melodic variations in there, like a kind of gospelly bridge, and some not so interesting, like that misplaced “ooh yeah” at the end. So, not full on awesome, but I liked it way better than I liked David Cook’s Season 7 version, which I didn’t like.
Randy says, “Yay, you can do whatever you want, let’s make an album.” Ellen concurs. Kara: “Blah, blah, blah, commercial, relevant, blah, blah, blah, contemporary, you are relevant.” Simon is the lone voice of dissent; he feels the performance was too akin to a musical number and was not contemporary, but dated. Randy answers by cross-promoting Glee (yay!) and asserting that post-modern musicals are the wave of the future, so Mike is right on track. Ryan instigates more exhilarating debate between Randy and Kara, and Simon, who have different thoughts and lots of feelings, but who alas, are too exasperating for me to pay any more attention to at this juncture.
I Strum, Therefore I Am
And here comes Crystal. B-sox is looking very laid back in leggings and a tunic in her Seacrest pre-chat; they talk about her having had a cold (is it not yet spring time in Los Angeles?), and her father buying a population sign for her hometown, that also conveniently says “Home of Crystal Bowersox.” Sweet. Her colleagues also have plenty of sweet things to say about her, including Andrew calling her a “beautiful mother,” and Siobhan noting her mothering influence on the rest of them. Lee and Aaron compliment her candor and kindness. La, la, la, love, love, love.
Tonight Crystal is singing “Come Together,” of course, because she’s all about being true to herself and not letting criticisms of predictability get her second-guessing. On the one hand, hooray for identity, yay, but on the other, I like surprises so I do want to hear something unexpected from Crystal one of these old days. This is clearly not the day, unless you count the didgeridoo (and I don’t ‘cause Crystal’s not playing it). I like this less than both Kris Allen’s and Carly Smithson’s versions, but that is not to say that Crystal is not awesome, because I thought both of the former were super-awesome. Crystal only slightly less so. She makes a kind of jam session of it, as Kris Allen did before her, but hers is tinged with a more sultry acoustic vibe, which make sense as her acoustic guitar strums along with the band. The voice is what you expect from Crystal, raw and cool, although I think she was having some trouble finding the breaths near the end as she starts to rock out.
Randy says it wasn’t her best, but he loved it. Ellen is having problems thinking of creative ways to tell Crystal she is great, and will be borrowing Simon’s big book of analogies next week. Simon thinks this performance is radio-ready, and points to Crystal as an example of how to make something very old feel refreshing and new. Also he brings the didgeridoo player up front to say hey, which is nice. Crystal is giddy with approval, and Mr. Didgeridoo plays us out to the break.
Guy Smiley is next up; his fellow Idols all talk about Tim always smiling, so I guess that’s all there is. And Tim selected “All My Loving” because he thought it would make people smile. So, yeah. It’s just him, his mop top, a guitar, and an amp at first, and then the band kicks in for the hook, and the swayers sway, and everyone in the audience is wearing a goofy grin, so I think Tim succeeded, in spite of what I can only call non-vocals. Must be nice to be successful even when you fail.
Randy acknowledges that Tim is in his own separate category apart from the rest of the show, and says that on the Tim Scale it was a good performance. Ellen thinks this was almost his best performance, and knows he drives the girls wild. Kara congratulates Tim for taking her insults last week without wanting to smack her
as I did, and gives her permission for Tim to smile as much as he wants. Simon rejects the Tim Scale as an absurdity, but still says that Tim did a good job on his own merits by picking a song that would fit his skill set. He also congratulates Tim for taking their insults like a man. Yeah, none of that womanly sadness for him. Just big manful smiles.
Ladies Love Cool James
Bones! I don’t watch that show, but people from it are in the audience. Equal time, you know. So, Casey James. Mike reveals that Casey is the playboy of the bunch. He, Lee, and Crystal amuse themselves by giving him soap opera names like Trevor and Ethan. Katie and Siobhan mock his big, boisterous laugh, and everyone is jealous of his lush blonde locks.
Casey’s doing John Lennon’s “Jealous Guy,” which I’m pretty sure is a new one on the Idol stage, so he is automatically a point up. Unfortunately somebody put a deep wave on his hair, which is a point down. Fortunately, earns points on its own aside from Casey’s teen dream hair. His voice is controlled and earnest, apart from some vibrato problems near the end, and overall the performance is soulful and lovely. Randy is impressed by the way Casey set himself apart from what else went on on the stage, and wonders who he was singing to. Ellen says Casey was great because even if he wasn’t singing to anyone, it felt like he was. Simon proclaims it best of the night.
Glee some more! And uh, Bones, yay.
Autobahn is our penultimate performer, her fellow contestants think she is weird and awesome, and love those crazy notes she hits. I can’t deny that I feel a sense of doom when she announces her intent to sing “Across the Universe,” because this song deserves greatness, and while I think Siobhan has a great voice, I am not convinced that she knows how to sing with it. It’s just a very difficult song to sing without knowing how to sing. She’s also dressed like a flock of seagulls dressed like Flock of Seagulls, which to me signals doom at any time.
The performance isn’t bad though. Siobhan delivers it like a love song, which is kind of weird but I can dig it. Seriously, her voice is beautiful, even though she still tends to sing from her throat on higher phrases. Randy is pleased to finds Autobahn can be soft and subtle, and liked the performance, even though it was “a little sleepy.” Ellen loves that she is weird and says “Remember that you are special,” which is very sweet and makes me want a graham cracker and a cup of orange drink like in kindergarten. I hate Kara’s face and can’t really deal with it right now. Simon asks what Autobahn was connecting to while singing, and she gets teary and says some stuff that doesn’t really go together about loving her sisters, and nothing changing her world, I guess meaning nothing changing her loving her sisters. I don’t know, whatever. Everyone claps, and Simon says she was much better than last week. Some heckler in the audience gets to stand up and be on camera, and then be on stage hugging Siobhan, and everybody’s happy.
In the Bag
Leaving Lee Dewyze to close us out in the pimp spot. Lee is neurotic and always feels he is destined for elimination, so Katie and Andrew bet on him staying each week. Also Lee and Andrew are locked in an epic bromance – Crystal longs for them to get married and “have lots of little Danny Gokey Babies.” She is stellar.
Lee doing “Hey Jude” is less so. I don’t want to be leader of a Kris Allen fan club, except for how I totally do, but whatever, his tour version is worth looking up to compare. Oh wait, I'll help you. Lee must be really excited, because he goes flat with a consistency that I recognize from having been really hyped up before a performance and forgetting to breathe properly during it. I also recognize that it doesn’t sound awesome when people do that. He’s having a great time turning Idol into a party though, and I admit I had FUN! watching and singing along. Lee does also get a lot of approval from me for bringing out a bagpiper (in full dress, no less) during the clap-along “na-na na na” breakdown, because bagpipes are one of my favorite instruments. I’m not at all kidding about that.
Randy is culturally insensitive and laughs at the bagpiper’s kit and kilt; Ellen lauds the confidence Lee is gaining inch by inch. Kara dings his vocals but still says he was great fun to listen to and watch. Simon thinks it was too much, with the bagpipes coming out of nowhere like a comedy sketch. The bagpiper was completely Lee’s choice; Ryan asks him why, and Lee answers, “Why not?” Why not indeed. Hooray for bagpipes!
Performance recap: I forgot about Aaron, Katie sure can sing, I forgot about Andrew, Mike is acceptable when I don’t look at him, Crystal rules, T-Urb is unstoppable, Casey is underrated, Siobhan is overrated but sings pretty, and Lee is here for the party. For the first time in a while I can’t tell who is going to be in the bottom three besides Katie and Tim. But, stay tuned because my super snarky partner MsFroggy is on deck to bring you the results.