There’s something I’ve noticed about this season of ‘American Idol’: A lot of cringes.

Those cringes come whenever we see who’s coming up next.  Like in this scenario: Ryan says, “Up next it’s Casey James”.  Instantly, there’s a shudder as we think of the boring mess he’s about to give us.

This feeling of unease goes pretty much down the line.  Be it Tim, Katie, Aaron or Andrew, there are so many contestants whose impending performance is something you’d rather not see.

But tonight, many of those shudders were unfounded as a lot of the former bottom dwellers raised their game, turning in some of the better performances of the evening.  Particularly the subject of my first scenario.

But let’s not spoil the surprise.  On with the recap!

Random Thoughts Waiting for the Actual Show To Start:

What’s worse, that lame muzak version of “Come Together” they played under the intro to the Lennon/McCartney video or Aerosmith’s version of it?  Discuss.

Really?  Paul was able to take enough time out of his schedule to record a thirty-second video greeting for the Idols?  What a sacrifice!

It was nice of Ryan to pull the figurative hook on Ellen as she just continued to list Beatles songs.  That was very insightful there, Ms. Degeneres.

Oddly, Ryan was right when he mocked Simon’s comment – he really said absolutely nothing about whether or not to rework a song.  A rarity for him.

And, after a commercial break,. . .On with the show!


Aaron Kelly Sang “The Long and Winding Road”

The Other Idols Said: We call Aaron Yoda and we’re going to talk in really bad Yoda voices now. (I have a feeling this will be increasingly fun to make fun of as the night goes on.)

Randy Said: You have a beautiful tone, but the song and arrangement was kind of sleepy.

Ellen Said: It felt like a long and winding song.

Kara Said: You’ve been delivering good performances, but you haven’t reached the level of being great.  It feels like the same performance every week.

Simon Said: We could repeat what Simon said, but nothing he said was nearly as good as when he rolled his eyes after Aaron claimed he chose the song, “Because it was a long and winding road to get here.”

The Verdict:

All right, time for another perfect comparison.  Picture a wedding.  Picture the best man.  Picture a few too many glasses of vino.  Picture the wedding band.  Picture the bandleader saying, “Let’s slow it down.”  Picture the band starting to play “The Long and Winding Road”.  Now picture that aforementioned and slightly toasted best man hearing the first few chords and shouting, “I love that song!”.  Now picture him jumping up on the stage like Spicoli at the Spring Fling, stealing the mic and singing the song as the west of the wedding watches in horror.  Wait, you didn’t need to picture that last part because you already saw Aaron butcher this song with a lifeless vocal and even more vapid performance.

Grade: D

Prediction: Even after that dud of a performance, Aaron seems too popular to go home now.


Katie Stevens Sang “Let it Be”

The Other Idols Said: She’s fun!  She’s unpredictable!  She might break out dancing!  (How kooky!)

Randy Said: To me, this is your best performance ever.

Ellen Said: There’s no way you’ll be in the bottom three this week.  That was amazing.

Kara Said: You’re blossoming on that stage.  Tonight, you’re confident.

Simon Said: Tonight you got it right.

The Verdict:

So is that what it took?  All she needed to do was pull her hair back and she suddenly doesn’t look like she’s 11-years-old?  Where were the Idol style gurus on that for the rest of the season?

Okay, how about the performance?  I really like the arrangement – super spare, wonderfully mild.  The vocal, not one of Katie’s best.  Of course, that’s because it fell more in line with this airy arrangement, so it worked out well for her.  There’s also more of a connection to the song tonight – ordinarily, Katie is just all about the technique, no she’s actually singing.  This was Katie’s best so far and while it wasn’t a blow away, it was still very nice.  

Grade: B

Prediction: Two trips to the bottom three the last two weeks.  Not this week.


Andrew Garcia Sang “Can’t Buy Me Love”

The Other Idols Said: He’s not boring!  He feels like a friend!  (Just earth-shattering compliments right there)

Randy Said: I think it was a really solid performance.  A little corny at times for me.

Ellen Said: Perfect song choice.  A lot of fun.  I loved it.

Kara Said: I want to see more, I see the same thing from you every week.

Simon Said: It was very corny, old-fashioned and irrelevant.

The Verdict:

First of all, there’s the ridiculous disco cowboy Elvis look he has going.  Second of all, there’s the fact that he really can’t sing beyond about one-third of an octave.  That’s no range, kids.  No range.

Most of all, though, there’s that hideous arrangement.  That’s like what I imagine going to see a Barry Mannilow show must be like.  Y’know, Barry’s out there, all plastic surgeried up and all, he starts singing his hits, then suddenly he goes into some weird version of “Can’t By Me Love” with whatever version of a smile he can muster on his face.  He shakes his hip a bit, his band laughs along with him while they constantly remind themselves of the check they’ll be getting for throwing away their musical dreams, and a few thousand geriatrics suddenly think this is the best thing they’ve ever seen.  Unfortunately, it’s actually the worst thing anybody’s ever seen, and also the same type of performance we got out of Andrew Garcia.

Grade: F

Prediction: I have a sneaking suspicion there’s a lot of people who would like the Barry Manilow show watching “Idol”.  That means Andrew should stick around.


Big Mike Sang “Eleanor Rigby”

The Other Idols Said: His nickname is Big Mike.  Also, he’s big.  Also, he snores really loud (nope, just kidding – that was Casey James’ idea of a joke).

Randy Said: I’m not sure all of that worked, but the parts that did work were great.

Ellen Said: There’s so many different sides of you, and you handle each one equally well.

Kara Said: I thought that was fire.  (I think that’s a compliment)

Simon Said: I didn’t love it as much of the other three.  This is the sort of thing you see and hear in musicals.

The Verdict:

As soon as I heard he was singing this song, I shouted to empty chair with whom I share an apartment, “Why?”

Then he started singing, and I got right on board with his cool soul breakdown of this song.  Now I’m going to make a bit of a hyperbolic claim here.  This was similar to what Marvin Gaye did with the National Anthem at the 1983 NBA All-Star Game.  It’s similar in that Big Mike took an intensely melodic song and found a new way to sing it in the rhythm track.  I’m not saying it was nearly as good (Marvin’s anthem is one of the best performances of any song ever) but it was similar in the way he reworked it.  And the finale was the high point – big voice, big notes, Big Mike, ladies and gentleman!  Well done.

Grade: A-

Prediction: Yeah, Mike’s not going anywhere anytime soon.

Quick Commercial Tangent:  I have no idea if “The Good Guys” with Bradley Whitford and Colin Hanks is going to be a trainwreck or the best thing ever, but I’m betting on the latter.  I’ll be tuning in.


Crystal Bowersox Sang “Come Together”

The Other Idols Said: She’s not only a mother, but she acts like a mother.  Plus, she’s an artist.  (Wow, haven’t heard that yet.)

Randy Said: Another solid performance, I don’t know if it was your best.

Ellen Said: The only thing I have to worry about is a new way to tell you how great you are.

Kara Said: I think this is one of my favorite performances you’ve ever given.

Simon Said: That’s a performance I could hear on the radio.  (Then he went on about the didgeridoo player – which, by the way, had nothing to do with Crystal, it’s nice they’re so in the bag for Crystal that they’ll compliment her for things she didn’t do.)

The Verdict:

This is just a terrible song choice for this show: The song isn’t even slightly about the vocal, it’s a song steeped in a bass line and its rhythm, and this is a singing competition.  So what does Crystal do?  Ehh, not much.  She does an okay version, she tries to work her voice as much as she can, but really this is nothing more than a college cover band version of this song with a lead singer trying way too hard to prove she has a great voice.  Just never quite came together.  (My, aren’t we punny today?)

Grade: C

Prediction: Just like Mike, there’s no way she’s going home.


Tim Urban Sang “All My Lovin’”

The Other Idols Said: Tim has a smile that makes you happy.  (Even in this section he’s all looks and no substance!)

Randy Said: It was a good Tim performance.

Ellen Said: Your second best performance.

Kara Said: You can smile after that performance.

Simon Said: I thought you did really well tonight with that song.

The Verdict:

What a weird night for Tim.  His hair, normally the best part of his performances, let him down tonight.  He was either going for something of a strange moptop or he slept standing on his head.  Either one would make sense to me.

Then there was the performance it was. . .wait for it. . .keep waiting. . .I think my fingers are rebelling against my brain and refusing to type this. . .wait for it. . .okay. . .Not. That. Bad.  It wasn’t great, just a nice pleasant vocal, a nice pleasant arrangement, he didn’t do anything to embarrass himself or Lennon/McCartney, he just came out and sang the song and got out of the way.  That’ll do, Tim.  That’ll do.

Grade: C-

Prediction: Wow, Tim didn’t suck (Okay, even at his best he’s still below average, but still).  There’s no way he can go home when he’s actually okay.  Right?


Casey James Sang “Jealous Guy”

The Other Idols Said: We make fun of Casey for looking like a soap opera star, and come up with names for him like Goldilocks (hilarious!) Fabio (wow, really original) and Trevor (what does that even mean?)

Randy Said: I love that you set yourself apart like that.  I love that you did this.

Ellen Said: That was your best performance to date.  It was so soulful.

Kara Said: (Kara said it was tasteful again, can somebody please tell her what that word means?)

Simon Said: The best performance of the night so far.

The Verdict:

No matter what he does with the song, he gets props for doing a non-Beatles song that isn’t “Imagine”.  Kudos off the bat.

And he doesn’t make me like a fool for praising him before he sang a note.  This is just a dynamite arrangement – he makes this a real blues song.  It always had a blues lyric, but in Casey’s hands it became a blues song.  He left his vocals out to dry for most of the song, allowing his ace guitar playing and the spareness of the arrangement carry him, but when he unleashed the full breadth of his voice at the end he gave us a raw power that we always suspected he had in reserve, but was too busy drowning under a cascade of boringness.  Well, tonight there was nothing boring about Casey’s performance, and there really wasn’t anything that wasn’t superb.  This is the best performance by anybody so far this season.  And that includes Lilly performances.

Grade: A

Prediction: Casey + Good performance = as safe as possible.  Also, he is shockingly taller than Ryan.


Siobahn Magnus Sang “Across The Universe”

The Other Idols Said: She’s weird, she’s amazing, she’s unique. (In other words, nothing we didn’t already know)

Randy Said: It was a little sleepy for me, but I loved the notes you hit.

Ellen Said: You are special.  You are really talented.

Kara Said: Technically it was good, but it was a little restrained and very polite.

Simon Said: Much much stronger than last week.

The Verdict:

What in the world happened to Siobahn?  She sounded like a drunk opera singer and her dress was just one swan away from being a Bjork ensemble.  The whole performance was super-indulgent and seemed to have no point to it other than for Siobahn to try and show some sort of restrained register that unfortunately for her, doesn’t exist.  Wow was that creepy and bad.  She’s one more of these away from losing her status as my favorite.  (The only question: with whom do I replace her?  I’d say Big Mike is the frontrunner right now).

Grade: F

Prediction: Apparently the judges didn’t share my distaste for her performance.  And her moment with the soon-to-be-legendary Earl and his fauxhawk will help her as well.  She’s safe.


Lee Dewyze Sang “Hey Jude”

The Other Idols Said: Lee always thinks he’s going home. (Wow, this was actually interesting and funny.  One-for-nine ain’t bad!)

Randy Said: You don’t have to be nervous.  It was another hot one for you.

Ellen Said: I felt so much more comfortable watching you.

Kara Said: I can hear you on the radio.

Simon Said: I think you were doing great and then the bagpipe player walked down the staircase.

The Verdict:

So Lee broke through the wall from being to uncomfortable onstage and went straight through to being overly comfortable.  The problem there?  This performance just smacked of laziness.  He was just up there singing his tune like a guy impressing girls in the parking lot after school.  It was great to see him having fun and really working the audience, I just wish that would have come along with a vocal that actually sounded like he was trying.  And if you’re going to do the bagpipes, at least surprise us with “Mull of Kintyre”.

Grade: C

Prediction: He’s number one on the power rankings for a reason, and despite Simon’s protests, I think the bagpipe helped him out.  Not that he needs it.

Final Thoughts:

While the judges were almost universally glowing in their praise tonight, this was actually still a mixed bag from the Idols, with more mediocre than good performances during the show.  Still, mediocre is much better than poor so, all in all, this turned out to be a pretty good night in Idol land.

It’s kind of like what Randy said about Tim.  That tonight he gave a good Tim performance.  A Tim performance is a little different than everyone else, so less is required.  Just like how this season is a little different from most other seasons – less is expected of the contestants. That being said, this was a good This Season episode.

There’s really only one logical prediction this week and it results in Aaron’s going home.  Aaron was the only one the judges really panned and he also led off the night.  This is a deadly combination, so there’s no reason to think he won’t be on his way out.