The ‘American Idol’ Top 11

I admit that when I first learned that teen-queen Miley Cyrus would be the guest mentor on “American Idol” this week, I bristled and balked. Considering that past “Idol” mentors have been veterans with decades of experience–Smokey Robinson, Dolly Parton, Burt Bacharach, Stevie Wonder, Brian May and Roger Taylor of Queen, Gladys Knight–the idea that Miley (who, at 17, is younger than all of this season’s remaining contestants except for Aaron Kelly) would be doling out advice seemed very suspect. But Crystal Bowersox, arguably the most indie-credible contestant of Season 9, showed Miley some real respect Tuesday night by asking Miley to autograph her six-string. (“I always have powerful and beautiful women sign my guitar,” Crystal explained; other honorable signees include Melissa Etheridge and past guest judge Shania Twain.)

And Crystal had a point. Honestly, Miley is no Gladys Knight, but she was surprisingly credible as a mentor this week; some of her advice seemed to really help the contestants.

There was, of course, the issue of whether or not Miley is good enough as a singer to dole out singing advice (although, to be fair, similar complaints were made in the past about mentors Jennifer Lopez, Jamie Foxx, and Quentin Tarantino, and quite frankly about Autotune-dependent judge Paula Abdul). And yes, this booking seemed like somewhat of a transparent ploy on the producers’ part to get someone who’d draw in younger viewers the way, say, graying mentors like Andrew Lloyd Webber, Peter Noone, and Barry Gibb never could.

But then again, Miley is not your typical teen. She is actually a veteran of sorts herself, born into a showbiz family and practically springing from the womb onto the “Hannah Montana” soundstage. And she was probably more relatable and less intimidating to the contestants–particularly youngsters Aaron (who admitted to a Miley crush) and Katie Stevens, who seemed particularly excited when Miley showed up Tuesday night–than older mentors would have been. And Miley certainly knows what kind of pop music sells nowadays. (She’s shifted 15 million album units in her career thus far.) So her stint on “Idol” made sense in a way, after all.

I just wish that this week’s theme hadn’t been switched at the last minute from “Teen Idols” to “Billboard Number One Hits.” Come on, how awesome would it have been to see Miley coach a contestant on a Jonas Brothers song, huh? I also kind of wish Miley had showed up earlier in the season, when Haeley Vaughn was still in the running. I would’ve loved to hear what Miley had to say about Haeley’s elimination-inducing cover of “The Climb.”

Anyway, here’s how Miley–and the top 11–did on Tuesday:

Lee Dewyze – Miley gave her first sound advice of the evening by telling Lee to oomph up his stage presence. Lee’s voice has never been an issue on this show; his problem has been his paint-dryingly, grass-growingly dull personality (or lack thereof). This week, Lee sang the Box Tops classic “The Letter” (incidentally, the Box Tops singer Alex Chilton was only 16 when he sang on the original recording, and Alex went on to a long career in the seminal powerpop band Big Star), and it seemed like Lee had taken Miley’s advice to heart. True, his Blues-Brotherly performance occasionally veered dangerously into Taylor Hicks/Danny Gokey territory, but at least there was a spark there, for a change. Ellen DeGeneres praised him with some extended pen metaphor (she likened Lee to a pen that almost ran dry, then got a fresh burst of ink after a good shake…or something like that). Kara DioGuardi raved, “You’ve raised the bar for yourself!” Simon questioned the old-fashioned song choice, but I really wonder if Lee picked the song because Alex Chilton passed away last week. If so, this was a nice tribute.

Paige Miles – Miley told Page she was “pitchy” during their rehearsal, and once again, Miley knew what she was taking about. Paige sang “Against All Odds,” and after this, the odds are definitely against her; she’s quite likely to go home. Come on–Phil Collins was a DRUMMER, and he managed to sing this song well. Granted, Phil Collins actually could sing quite well (that was a joke; Phil fans, send your hatemail elsewhere, please). But Paige tried to sing the even more amibitious Mariah Carey version of this song, which was especially unwise. “Yo, man, yo, wow,” groaned Randy Jackson. “That was honestly terrible.” Ellen copped out by praising Paige’s outfit and ability to perform in teetering high heels without toppling over, choosing not to comment on Paige’s vocals at all. Kara, less shy about her opinion, called it the “worst vocal of season.” Simon Cowell said the all-over-the-place performance sounded like that of five singers (all bad singers, of course). Last week, Paige had laryngitis and managed to deliver a knockout performance, but this was the week that she needed an excuse like that. Now she has no excuse.

Tim Urban – Miley said she felt sorry for Tim because of all the flak he’s received, and she gave him a sympathy hug during rehearsal. (Why is everyone always embracing this kid? He got a congratulatory onstage snuggle from Ellen a couple weeks ago, too.) But it was after his so-so performance that Tim could have really used a hug. Tim took a risk by singing Queen’s “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” (Freddie Mercury is pretty untouchable, plus past “Idol” winner Fantasia did a great version of this song in Season 3), and while it was not horrific, it was hardly the performance of a champion. Really, the most memorable part of the performance was when he did a “High School Musical”-style knee slide across the stage floor. The normally nice Ellen called Tim “corny.” Randy, who likened Tim’s performance to “bad karaoke,” said, “The dopest thing that you did was the slide, dude; the vocals were so boring!” Quipped Simon, sort of agreeing with Randy, “The knee slide distracted from the song, so I kind of understand why you did that.” Simon further called Tim’s song “completely and utterly pointless and silly” and informed him, “You’ve got zero chance of winning right now.” On the plus side, Kara said that Tim resembled Zac Efron this week, so the tweens who tuned in for Miley will probably vote for him in droves. He did look kind of cute.

Aaron Kelly – Aaron sang “The Climb” during his first audition (much better than Haeley did), so he was understandably a little nervous meeting his crush. But Miley put him at ease–and even gave him a hug as well. (Aw. They’d make a cute couple, actually.) Aaron sang Aerosmith’s power ballad “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing”–a big song for such a little kid, especially since he was suffering from tonsillitis this week–but he pulled it off. His voice was so good, in fact, that Miley “made a face,” which she insisted was a compliment. Sure, this squeaky-clean boy hardly exhibited any Steven Tyler-esque rock ‘n’ roll swagger, but he gave a solid performance. Kara declared it the “best song choice of the night,” and while Simon warned him, “For your age, you’re in danger of making yourself seem old-fashioned,” he also reassured Aaron, “There is zero chance that you’re going home.” Then Ryan Seacrest compared Aaron to David Archuleta, and I gained new respect for Ryan. I’ve always said Aaron was Archuleta 2.0!

Crystal Bowersox – Miley’s advice to Crystal? To push herself more. This seemed pretty audacious–Miley’s just a kid, and Crystal is a real woman–but Crystal seemed to heed Miley’s advice during her lovely acoustic cover of her idol Janis Joplin’s “Me and Bobby McGee.” Randy was incredibly impressed, exclaiming, “America, that’s what’s called being a star! That’s how you do it! That’s what it’s about! I’m so happy now!” Even the not-easily-excitable Simon was excited, saying Crystal’s version of the song was as good as Pink’s. Ellen and Kara were less thrilled, saying they felt a Crystal/audience disconnect and that they’d like to see her let go even more (Ellen called her too “stoic,” and I sort of agreed). But Crystal promised she had a “big surprise” for next week that would surely please all doubters. And there’s little doubt that Crystal be around next week to enjoy that opportunity.

Michael Lynche – Big Mike, aka Ruben Studdard 2.0, bonded instantly (in a big brother/little sister way) with Miley during rehearsal. By the time the show’s “resident Casanova” (Ryan’s words) was done staring into Miley’s “kind eyes” while directly serenading her with “When a Man Loves a Woman,” she confessed she was in love with him. The judges were less smitten, however. Sure, Michael’s vocals were great as usual, but as Ellen pointed out, it was too safe of a song choice. Added Kara, “Technically, it was really good; you hit all the notes. But I felt it was a bit boring and loungey at times.” Simon agreed for the most part with Kara–but said, “You’ve got tons of charisma, you’ve got a great voice, and people like you.” So Mike will probably be safe. Miley is probably speed-dialing for him right now, as a matter of fact.

Andrew Garcia – Andrew became nervous in Miley’s presence while rehearsing “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” and even forgot the lyrics, so Miley ordered him to ditch his guitar, thinking this would help him loosen up. Bad advice. Andrew’s performance, which featured many lounge-singer moves and a leisure-suit-like outfit to match, couldn’t have been cornier if the “Idol” producers had stuck corncob holders in him or slathered him with movie-theater butter. “Dog, man, it wasn’t good,” Randy moaned. “This is not the kind of vocalist that you are.” An equally displeased Kara told him, referring to his famous Hollywood Week “Straight Up” performance, “You’re chasing that moment, which was brilliant, and I think it’s messing with your head. You have to go back to that moment and look at what you did, because you are so far from that now.” Simon just shrugged and voiced what a lot of America is thinking by now: “Maybe we just overstated that moment in hindsight. It wasn’t like listening to Beethoven; it was a cute version of a Paula song.” Simon also didn’t mince words when he slammed Andrew’s “Grapevine” cover with, “You ruined one of the great pop songs of all time.” Ouch. Talk about being straight up.

Katie Stevens – Katie stood to benefit the most from some face-time with Miley, as they are peers, both 17-year-old girls. And after Katie was done performing, Simon told her, “I think you meeting Miley Cyrus was probably the best thing that could ever happen to you.” Miley advised Katie to “edge it up more,” and while it could be argued that Miley is not exactly some edgy punk rocker, this advice seemed to work for Katie. Singing Fergie’s “Big Girls Don’t Cry” in riding boots, flatironed hair, and a black leather jacket, Katie seemed like a big girl for the first time–not some stage-parented pageant princess. Ellen told Katie it was her best performance yet. Kara praised Katie’s pop/R&B direction, telling her, “This was a different Katie! This is where you belong!” Finally Katie delivered, and this big girl won’t be crying this week, because I doubt she will be voted off after this.

Casey James – Casey amused me when he told Miley, “I’m a big fan…of your dad’s!” Ha. I was less amused when he chose to cover Huey Lewis & The News’s “Power of Love.” Huh? Huey Lewis? I thought Casey was supposed to be cool and sexy. Huey is NOT cool or sexy–he wasn’t in 1985, and he certainly isn’t now. Casey would have been better off singing “Achy Breaky Heart”–that would have been way cooler. It was particularly disconcerting that Casey sounded so much like Huey when he performed live. This of course decreased his heartthrob factor by roughly 82 percent (even with the increased audience eye contact recommended by Miley). Ellen and Kara gushed over the performance (Kara, Casey’s biggest fan, declared, “You’re just on another level! You’re ready to make an album!”), but I agreed more with Simon, who said, “That song was old-fashioned 25 years ago when it came out. This was like watching and listening to an ’80s cover band.” A really uncool ’80s cover band, I might add. Hopefully Casey’s older-female fanbase likes Huey Lewis, because the Miley-loving tweens probably didn’t dig this performance.

Didi Benami – Didi, once one of this show’s great blonde hopes, covered Linda Ronstadt’s number one hit “You’re No Good,” and sadly the title was prophetic. It was indeed no good. Miley gave Didi some decent advice on how to overcome her stage fright, but Didi overcompensated by being too sassy and trying to act like a slinky vixen, which is soooo not her vibe. It came across as forced and contrived, and it seemed as if Didi’s very DNA were rejecting this song and its accompanying vampy persona. “You’re not no good–you’re good–but I didn’t get that song choice,” Ellen subsequently lamented. Said a disgruntled Kara, “I felt like you were playing a character; it didn’t feel like it was you.” Simon said it seemed like something out of a musical–“the bad part of the musical, just before the interval.” Judging by this, Didi’s chances of advancing far in this competition are, well, no good.

Siobhan Magnus – It was adorably obvious when lovable geek-girl Siobhan shuffled into the rehearsal room, all excited to meet Miley, that Miley was just as excited to meet Siobhan. “I love that you’re so different!” raved a giddy Miley. “You have swagger to your voice!” And equally giddy Siobhan, who hails from Massachusetts, said she thought it was “wicked cool” that Miley praised her quirkiness. But speaking of quirkiness…what was up with Siobhan’s seemingly Sheena Easton-inspired up-do this week? Was she auditioning for Casey’s ’80s cover band or something? I didn’t like Siobhan’s odd image makeover this week–I preferred the granny-spectacled riot grrl look she rocked during rehearsal–but I sure liked her showstopper version of Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition,” as did Randy. “You’re so fearless!” Randy said. “I never thought you would have sung that song, but I’m happy you did!” Simon wasn’t a big fan of Siobhan’s trademark song-ending scream and suspected it would alienate some viewers, but I am still thinking plenty of viewers will be screaming later on–screaming Siobhan’s name at the finale, that is.

So now it is prediction time. This one seems an easy one to call: Paige, Paige, Paige. She was already in the bottom three last week, after a good performance, so it’s hard to imagine she’ll survive after this week’s travesty. Also at risk are Didi, Tim, and Andrew, but I definitely think that Paige’s Miles’s mileage has run out.

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