Tonight's "American Idol" -- with mentoring by longtime music legend Adam Lambert and songs by some old has-been named Elvis Something-Or-Other -- brought out most of what's good about this ninth season of the franchise, and just about all of what's not so good. With nine contestants left, nine weeks to go, and nine different flavors of fury on Siobhan Magnus's face, here are nine reviews of this evening's nine performances:
Crystal Bowersox -- "Saved": Bowersox kicks off an episode for the first time since back when Haeley Vaughn was still around. I miss her. Anyway, this season's front runner takes us all out for some churchin' up with a number from the Gospel Medley in the King's 1968 Comeback Special. There are moments when she gives me chills. The good kind. I fully expected one of the judges to make some kind of lame pun about having already "saved" someone (get it?), but they resisted, bless 'em. Simon could relate to a song about debauchery, he claimed. Ellen used her time to wish "Happy Birthday" to anyone having a birthday. Seriously, an empty chair could contribute more to the show than she has this year. Bowersox is the indisputable cream of this year's "Idol" crop and not even Adam Lambert could mess her up.
Andrew Garcia -- "Hound Dog": Lambert suggests putting a "twist" on the song, so naturally Garcia decides to give it a wildly ill-fitting bossa nova beat. I'm sure it's original. His vocal is all over the place and not even a microphone that Elvis would have found old-fashioned can mask that fact. Kara thought he used the microphone as a crutch, which is nonsense. If he had done that, he would have been singing into his armpit. It would have sounded loads better. Randy called it "not good karaoke" and, to the delight of everyone at home playing the "American Idol" drinking game, said it was pitchy. Glug, glug, glug.
Tim Urban -- "Can't Help Falling in Love": Seacrest introduces him as "Turban." Perfect for an intimate, heartfelt performance. Bring back Dunkleman! VoteForTheWorst.com's fave of the season has been steadily improving since his baseball-slidin', ridiculous (and way fun) version of "Crazy Little Thing Called Love" a few weeks ago. They may have to pick a new boy because this is sweet and pretty and if he still isn't exactly a great singer, he does seem to be learning how to be an engaging performer. Can you say "Taylor Hicks?"
Lee DeWyze -- "A Little Less Conversation": DeWyze puts some extra, industrial strength gravel into his voice tonight and more than makes up for his silly -- but stunt-acular -- foray into the Scottish moors last week. Watch out for Mr. DeWyze. He has positioned himself exactly where the last three "Idol" winners were at this time in the competition; hanging back in the pack, not being flashy, consistent. Just like Jordin Sparks, David Cook and Kris Allen, victors all. He picked up his game on the Cornelius Brothers song "Treat Her Like a Lady" two weeks ago and here, he delivers a straightforward, solid performance that -- dare I say it -- even rocked a bit.
Aaron Kelly -- "Blue Suede Shoes": I'd drink the cider from his old fruit jar. The lyrics to this 60+ year-old song make Aaron feel funny. Awww. Welcome to the 8th Grade Talent Show. Orange drink is available in the Utility Room at the Booster Club table. Or is that cider? Kelly looks terribly out of place up there on the great big grown-up stage. His breathing is off and it throws his vocals off and nothing is on. Randy liked when he half-timed the song. I liked it when he sang faster because it seemed like he might get done sooner. Someone call VFTW; we have your new boy.
Siobhan Magnus -- "Suspicious Minds": She starts off, back to the judges (smart), smiling happily, which would be fine if she wasn't singing lyrics about being "caught in a trap." She seems quite pleased with the whole being caught in a trap thing. Seems to suit her. At first, her singing resembles the tones produced by the human larynx, but this is a Magnus opus, so naturally it's only a matter of time before the baying and the howling. Actually, her caterwaul is more palatable tonight than usual. Cowell disagrees with me however, calling her "screechy" and "terrible." And that leads to one of the best reactions to criticism I've ever seen on "Idol." If looks could kill ... Magnus looks positively homicidal up there. Don't fight that impulse, baby!
Michael Lynche -- "In the Ghetto": Lynche is a great big man who could easily snap me in two so I know I'm taking my life in my hands when I say the following: Big Mike sings like a pussy. Cat. Pussycat. Pussy Galore? Whatever. After being scraped off the ash heap last week, Lynche uses the opportunity to oversing one of the King's most maudlin tunes. He's relatively competent and given some of the dreck we've heard tonight, he should be able to hang on for another week or two. The guitar in his meat hooks looks like Tiny Tim's ukulele. The judges are forced to rush now because the cast of "Glee" is glaring over their shoulders, demanding that the show end on time and clear the way for their half-season premiere. So am I. Loves me some "Glee." I wonder if Big Mike is any relation to Jane Lynche ...?
Katie Stevens -- "Baby What You Want Me to Do?": Stevens is mad at the judges. Grrrrr. She's not Magnus-mad, but she is mad. Well, frustrated. And it looks adorable on her. She decides to show her fury and rage -- well, y'know, perturbation anyway -- by channeling it into this obscure little rocker. Her voice goes careening all around the melody, maybe because of the trumpet blowing directly into her left ear. She wants to project all kinds of attitude, but only manages an adorable little pout. Randy calls her sassy while Simon thinks the song was loud and annoying. They're both right!
Casey James -- "Lawdy Miss Clawdy": In the so-called pimp slot tonight (probably because of his passable take on "Jealous Guy" last week), James traffics out a real old R&B chestnut from waaaay back in what the kids call "the day." It's a real oddball choice for an "Idol" audience that isn't gonna have a clue what this song is. He gives it a reasonable bar band go. Kara thinks he fell short of his brilliance. I think he sat down right in the middle of every teensy scrap of brilliance he'll ever have.
And on that rather lackluster note, we put another "Idol" performance show to bed. Hang gold stars on Bowersox and DeWyze tonight, with an honorable mention for Smilin' Timmy.
Two go home tomorrow after Big Mike got saved last week, and if there's any correlation between how well someone sings and whether they get the boot (crazy!), we've seen the last of Aaron Kelly and Andrew Garcia. Aaron's mother Kelly Kelly will be inconsolable. Andrew's bromance with Lee will come to an untimely end. Tragic.
So who's gonna win? Well, prognostication aficionados, that boils down to one thing: Does Bowersox go the distance or does someone sneak up and upset her? I am predicting here and now that despite herself, the Soxer will indeed come out on top. I say "despite herself" because I think she has already gotten everything out of the "American Idol" experience that will ever be useful to her. If she wins, she gets caught in a "Suspicious Minds" style trap by being stuck in the regimented "Idol" crappy teeny-bop pop machinery. It would ill-suit her.
But she's gonna win anyway. I can only see one realistic upset possibility in this crowd and that's DeWyze. In fact, I think it's a Bowersox-DeWyze finale, with Crystal scoring the dubious prize. Can't wait to hear her album of all Kara DioGuardi originals!