‘American Idol’ Top 9 Go Helter Skelter

It was a very daytrippy Tuesday when “American Idol” held its Lennon/McCartney Night. No, no one performed a song by the Plastic Ono Band or sang the backwards-masked “Tomorrow Never Knows.” That would’ve been cool. But there was a didjeridoo, a bagpipe player, an actual good performance by underdog Tim Urban, a (hopefully pre-screened) heckler who got up close and personal with Siobhan Magnus, a few bizarre outfits that might get a couple stylists fired, a pectoral comparison, and a whole bunch of Beatles songs that surprisingly didn’t end up totally mangled (as I’d feared). Everything went a little helter skelter on Lennon/McCartney Night, but kind of in a good way. It was far and away my favorite episode among this season’s live shows.

So here’s my breakdown of the fab and not-so-fab moments of Tuesday’s tribute to the Beatles’ Fab Two:

Aaron Kelly – Not exactly living up to the legend of David Archuleta–to whom he is often compared, and whose “Imagine” cover from Season 7 is widely regarded as a high point of the entire “Idol” series–Aaron warbled “The Long and Winding Road,” and, as Ellen DeGeneres put it, it was a long and winding song. It just went on and on and on. And on. It’s not like he sang it badly, but it certainly didn’t sound like a song by arguably the best band of all time. Aaron’s blank-eyed performance just sucked all the majesty and grandeur out of this pomp-and-circumstance-filled weeper. Randy Jackson griped that Aaron should have gone a more country route (although in Aaron’s defense, that disastrous Kristy Lee Cook “Eight Days a Week” bluegrass cover from Season 7 might’ve scared him away from doing that). Kara DioGuardi rightfully complained that all of Aaron’s performances are starting to sound the same, and they’ve all been “good, but not great.” Simon Cowell, struggling to be heard above the angry din of Aaron’s noisily booing relatives and other hecklers, pulled out the staple criticism he’s been using all season long, and called Aaron too “old-fashioned.” (Come to think of it, Simon’s critiques are kind of starting to sound the same, too.) Then Aaron rambled something long and windy about this song being representative of his long and winding “journey” on this show, and his explanation was as dull and overlong as his performance. Despite all this, I’m sure he’ll still be safe this week, but I agree with Kara: Aaron better switch it up and step it up soon, or his days will be numbered on “Idol.”

Katie Stevens – “Let It Be” was a risky choice for Katie, especially after she’d been in the bottom three two weeks in a row. The song had already been iconically performed by past Idols like Brooke White, Jennifer Hudson, and, just this season only a few weeks ago, Kris Allen. Katie also chose to sing the solemn, also gospel-ish number while dressed in a Pepto-pink getup that looked more suitable for a concert by Jem & The Holograms, and this was a little disconcerting. As for Katie’s performance, it was tame, with none of the soul or pathos of the aforementioned Idols’ versions–but vocally, it was admittedly her best work of the season. Randy raved, “This reaffirms to me and to all of America: Dude, that was hot! That’s why you’re in top nine!” Ellen described Katie’s version as “a perfect example of changing it just enough to make it your own without disrespecting the song,” and assured Katie there’s no way she’ll be in the bottom three again this week. (I’m still not so certain about that, but I don’t think Katie will go home.) Kara praised Katie’s confidence and good attitude in the face of adversity, and told her, “You’re blossoming on that stage.” And Simon summed it all up by saying, “When you’re in the bottom three consistently, that shows you’re doing something wrong. Tonight, however, you got it right.” Simon also claimed this song showcased Katie’s more country side (a direction he’s been strongly urging her to go in), but that comment just proved that Simon really has mentally checked out of this show and is already on his way to “X Factor,” because I soooo did not hear anything countryish about Katie’s performance. Was Simon even paying attention here?

Andrew Garcia – Oh, Andrew. Grrr. This guy frustrated me so much this week. After managing to stage a mini-comeback last week with his unexpectedly pleasant acoustic cover of Chris Brown’s “Forever”–a strong effort that slightly hearkened back to his lavishly praised best Hollywood Week moments–Andrew managed to squander all of his newly reacquired goodwill with yet another hokey performance this week. His rendition of “Can’t Buy Me Love,” performed with a fussy arrangement while wearing a retina-scaldingly bright yellow shirt that appeared to be borrowed from that Big Bird Lady reject auditioner from a couple seasons ago, had me wondering if this was Big Band Night, not Lennon/McCartney Night. It was all very Brian Setzer, but without the pizzazz, or without the jump, jive an’ wail. His vocals were decent, but overall this was a misfire. Randy called it a “solid performance, but a little corny at times.” Kara was disappointed that the song didn’t reveal any new sides to Andrew. Simon likened the performance to that of a sideman guitar player singing lead on one throwaway song–“You and the band together kind of got this all wrong tonight,” he moaned–and of course he called the whole production (wait for it) “old-fashioned.” Andrew Garcia couldn’t buy himself no love this evening. “Can’t Buy Me Votes” would have been a more fitting title here.

Michael Lynche – The moment I learned that Big Mike, one of my favorite remaining male contestants in the competition, was doing “Eleanor Rigby,” I just knew he’d kill it. Michael took a risk turning the symphonic, string-laden funeral ballad into a funk-soul workout, and some viewers probably didn’t like his take on the tune, but I think he nailed it and made the remake seem (to borrow some overused judges’ terms) relevant, current, and believable. This was one of my favorite performances of the night. Simon was less enthused, saying it sounded too much like a number from a “Glee-“style musical, but the other judges seemed more in agreement with me. Said Randy, “You’ve got that license now that you can do whatever you want. That could really be a joint on your album. I love seeing you blossom!” Kara called the performance “on fire,” “amazing,” and “committed,” raving to Mike, “You made that song commercial today. You made it come to this generation!” Simon just continued to roll his eyes, until Big Mike challenged him to a “pec contest.” Um, yeah. That was about as awkward as the time when Simon Cowell told Alex Lambert to imagine Randy Jackson in a bikini. Just concentrate on winning this singing contest for now, Michael, OK?

Crystal Bowersox – Leave it to this year’s rebel granola girl to perform accompanied by a didjeridoo. I’m pretty sure that was an “Idol” first–not even Season 7 Australian contestant Michael Johns got to do that! Crystal performed “Come Together” while a nice large-lunged man named Ernie huffed and puffed into the Australian wind instrument, and the result was definitely one of the more memorable performances of the evening. That wasn’t just because of the didjeridoo, however: Crystal explained she’d picked this song because of its “groove,” and she did indeed get her groove on during this number. For the first time, she seemed to actually be having fun, cutting loose, even smiling! (Crystal Bowersox grinning? Yup, another “Idol” first!) Kara in fact called the performance “slinky, sexy, and playful,” and told Crystal she seemed more accessible than ever before. Simon said, “That’s a performance I can hear on the radio.” And Ellen echoed Simon’s sentiment when she told Crystal that she’d made the song “current.” Because, you know, didjeridoos are all the rage with the kids these days. Just kidding. I wouldn’t be surprised if didjeridoo sales skyrocket tomorrow, actually, after this.

Tim Urban – I admit I was skerred to hear Tim Urban do a Beatles song, any Beatles song. I braced myself for a bigger debacle than that time when Steve Martin sang “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” in that horrific “Sgt. Pepper” box-office-bomb movie back in 1978. But you know what? Tim actually pulled this off. Picking a song he could “do with a smile” from the Fab Four’s lighthearted moptop era, “All My Lovin'” (with a moptop Liverpudlian hairdo to match), while strumming a red guitar, he delivered a performance that was very cute, very Partridge Family, very Tim Urban. It was definitely his finest moment of the season; he was wise to go with a tune that fit his vocal limitations and perky persona. Sure, it was a somewhat safe song choice, one that involved no tricky high notes or complex phrasing, but it was a literally safe song choice–as in, he’ll definitely be safe this week. All the judges were pleased, even Simon, who flat out told Tim, “I thought you did really well tonight with this song.” Simon and Kara both praised the boyish Tim for taking all his flak like a man, and Tim just kept on smiling as they complimented him for the first time in, well, practically ever. And I was kind of smiling too. (Darn it, Tim…do NOT make me like you! You weren’t even supposed to be here!)

Casey James – All season long, I’ve been waiting for a “WOW” moment. You know, something that would make my hairs stand on end and my posterior move to the edge of my seat. Something along the lines of David Cook’s “Billie Jean,” Adam Lambert’s “Ring of Fire,” or Blake Lewis’s “You Give Love a Bad Name.” Well, this week I finally got it. Casey did the only non-Beatles song of the night–John Lennon’s dark and desperate solo ballad, “Jealous Guy”–stripped down and acoustic, accompanied only by a cellist, and it was unexpectedly magical. His voice, possibly due to an authentic lump in his throat, took on a gruff, Eddie Vedder-esque quality during his raw and emotional performance. (I wonder if he had someone special in mind when he was singing this song?) He seemed a genuinely choked up, and so was I by the song’s end. Said Ellen, “Whether it was about somebody or not, it felt like it was. It was so soulful!” True, Casey’s David Coverdale perm/white jacket combo was a bit odd-looking, but other than that, there was nothing cheesy about his performance, which in my opinion was the best performance of the night (Simon concurred) and actually the best live performance of the entire season. For the first time in weeks, I became legitimately excited about Season 9, and I was grateful that Casey had restored my flagging faith. If Casey can keep knocking out goosebump-raising performances like this one, he could very well win this whole competition. He might want to lose the Goldilocks ‘do, though. Someone get this guy a flat-iron!

Siobhan Magnus – Siobhan is still my grrrl, but even I will admit she had a rough time last week. She oversang her Chaka Khan song and ended up sounding more like Chaka Kan’t. This week she got her chance to redeem herself, and fortunately for Siobhan, and for me and the rest of the Magnus Militia, she did just that. “Across the Universe” was a perfectly understated song for her, an opportunity for her to prove that she can do more than just scream like a banshee. Sitting on a stool, delivering an uncharacteristically mellow and controlled performance with nary a single bum note, she revealed a softer, more sedated side to her wacky personality–not unlike last season when Adam Lambert sang “Tracks of my Tears,” actually. It was the same sort of strategy: a sudden switch from wild to mild. Ellen called Siobhan “really, really special” and namechecked Rufus Wainwright’s stellar cover of the song (Yay! Another “Idol” first! Love for Rufus!), and told Siobhan, “I’m a big fan of people who march to the beat of their own drum.” Said Randy, “No one in this competition screams ‘artist’ more than you.” Kara wasn’t as big a fan of Siobhan’s personality makeunder, saying Siobhan was too restrained this evening, but Simon told Siobhan, “What’s great about you is you’re unpredictable.” Of course, Simon could have been referring to Si’s wacky outfit, some sort of Miss Havisham/Stevie Nicks/quinceañera floor-length lace atrocity paired with boxer boots. But anyone not entirely won over by Siobhan’s performance Tuesday, or anyone alienated by her bizarre costume, was surely reduced into a puddle of jelly and/or tears when Siobhan started emotionally convulsing while lovingly talking about her baby sisters at home. (One heckler, who’d been booing Simon all night, was inexplicably invited onstage at this point. Was this such a great idea, especially considering Siobhan’s fragile emotional state at that moment? Like I said, it was a weird night.) Anyway, Siobhan’s not going anywhere this week. And hopefully not for many, many more weeks. And maybe one day, she’ll win this show and become a star across the unvierse.

Lee Dewyze – Simon’s pet Lee closed the show with “Hey Jude,” and oh, what a memorable closer it was. I didn’t think anything could erase my fond memory of the Idols Live Tour version by Kris Allen accompanied by the rest of the Season 8 cast, but I ask you, did the Idols Live Tour have a…bagpipe player? Yup, you read that right. For reasons that made no sense to anyone–probably not even to Lee, judging by the vaguely panicked look on his face–midway through Lee’s acoustic rendition of the venerable Beatles classic, a plaid-kilted bagpiper appeared out of nowhere. Ellen said the poor piper looked like he’d gotten lost and separated from a  parade, and honestly, Lee looked a little lost too. In Crystal’s case the didjeridoo worked, but in this scenario the addition of an unusual instrument was just kind of superfluous and silly. The bagpiper did not take this sad song and make it better. “I don’t know what you lot are drinking in the house,” Simon laughed, referring to the overall strange night. More seriously, he told Lee, “I wouldn’t have done that. I think you were doing great. It was like [the bagpipe player] turned up on the wrong show!” (Ha. What, is this “Scottish Idol” now?) Ryan Seacrest, understandably confused, asked on behalf of all of America…why did Lee have a bagpiper play with him? To which Lee just shrugged, almost Tim Urban-like, and said, “Why not, man?” Well said, Lee. Well said. Why not indeed.

So, now it is prediction time. This was a surprisingly strong night, with awesome performances from Casey, Michael, Siobhan, and Crystal, an amusing performance by Lee, and redeeming one by Tim. So that, by obvious process of elimination, leaves my predicted bottom three of Aaron, Katie, and Andrew. But in the end, I think it’ll be Andrew’s time to go on Wednesday night. Some people (and by “some people,” I mean, um, me) think he should have left a while ago, actually.

Posted in American Idol.

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