Top 14 Performance Night

Before we get to the singing, a little stage setting…

  • The contestants all waved to the crowd like they knew each other, which seemed strange at first but I had forgotten that there is a dress rehearsal before the show, with the same crowd. They did know each other.
  • The four fast-passes were my ‘big two’ – Dalton and Olivia – along with Trent for his voice, and La’ Porsha for her personality. I was mildly surprised they didn’t take Sonika over Trent, but Sonika shouldn’t have any trouble getting the vote out while Trent might have, so I’m glad they chose the way they did.
  • It’s too bad La’Porsha didn’t get to perform, she is having a great hair day.
  • The singers tonight will be reprising songs from earlier in the year, which makes me wonder how much effort the show is putting into getting them a variety of songs to choose from. I understand that it’s the last season and they aren’t drawing 30 million viewers anymore, but they have made a FORTUNE over the last 15 years. Spend a few bucks and get the kids some new songs, ok?
  • The big stage has swallowed up its share of singers over the years and the first big stage performances are always an intonational nightmare – so don’t expect anyone to have perfect pitch tonight.
  • Kymberly Willoughby, who could show these kids a thing or two about singing herself, is guest-judging with me tonight. Her takes on each performance will be underneath mine, and I’ll mark ‘em clearly so you know it’s her.

Ok, let’s have it, guys. The singers, the songs:

Manny Torres, “Master Blaster”

Manny bores the hell out of me. He doesn’t have any high range, and he always looks to me like he’s posing, like a Chippendale dancer. I hate it when the judges tell singers to ‘connect with the song’ – mostly because the phrase is one of their favorite smart-assy ways of saying “sing better” – but Manny didn’t even get close to the song. He needed to sing way better. He didn’t look comfortable up there.

Judges: Keith gave the obligatory ‘way to open the show’ speech, then said “sing better.” Not in so many words, but that was what he meant.

Kym: “Manny has a lot of charisma and energy, but not a great song choice for him tonight IMO. There’s a fine line between confidence and arrogance….but he’s shown us enough in previous weeks, I’m not totally convinced that he won’t make the top ten.”

Verdict: It’s the first dammed song, get off me. Seriously, Manny could be in trouble but then again this might be the best it gets. It’s the first song. He wasn’t very good, and I don’t know if he’s very popular.

Gianna Isabella, “I Put a Spell on You”

Gianna’s inexperience shows up in her phrasing as much as anywhere else – she sounds really amateurish whenever she has to do a complicated rhythm – plus she has that dreaded early adolescent upper range problem (she ain’t got none). She could have used that big note at the end, and she tried to find it but all she could manage was a harsh, sandpapery silhouette of a high note. All that said,though, I thought she was pretty good by her established standards tonight, and she’s getting better every week.

Judges: Jen gushed.

Kym: ”Gianna looks like she’s having the time of her life. I didn’t want to like her, because of her annoying mother but I have a soft spot for those that have fun on stage over those who sing flawlessly (probably from years of running Karaoke) not a mind blowing performance tonight, but I still like her.”

Verdict: Seeya next week.

Thomas Stringfellow, “Story of My Life”

T-String was in tune, which doesn’t sound like a ringing endorsement but that’s actually the part of his show with the highest degree of difficulty. For the baseball fans out there Tommy is a singing metaphor for the Robin Roberts, Catfish Hunter family of pitchers. He only has one pitch, one primary skill, but it’s one hell of a skill and he has such remarkable command of it that he can keep bringing it, over and over, without losing effectiveness.

Judges: Harry told him to stop throwing his pitch.

Kym: “Thomas has more fun on stage than anyone else I think. He’s quirky and unique but I’m not sold on his style.”

Verdict: Harry should know better than to tell him to change his vocal style right now. What a horrible piece of advice, like telling a NASCAR driver to keep his hands at 10 and 2 right before a green-white checker restart. Save that advice for the end of the season.

 Tristan McIntosh, “What Hurts the Most”

The way she started, almost running out of breath at the end of her first phrase, I was worried that she was going to get sideways – but she got it together, took a deeeeeep breath for the next phrase, and blew the doors off the rest of the song. We may look back on this performance as a moment later, especially if Tristan makes it deep in the competition. She was brilliant once she got her feet set.

Judges:  Keith gushed, Jen slobbered.

Kym: “Tristan has a lot of talent and she took some risks tonight, but so do a lot of other girls in this competition. I don’t know if she stands out enough.”

Verdict: Kym knows things about singing that I don’t know, which gives me pause, but my take is that Tristan is safe as hell.

Avalon Young, “Yo (Excuse Me Miss)”

Her stage presence feels forced to me, but she’s trying and I think she’ll loosen up and look a little less play-acty as she gets some reps. Her voice stands out – even following Tristan she sounded strong – and her tone is as cuddly as a care bear wrapped in a Fabreze scented dryer sheet.

Judges: gushed.

Kym: “Avalon confuses me. I think she could sing the phone book, she is such a pretty girl, but her fashion choices don’t match her looks and vocal ability. Her song choice didn’t do it for me tonight. I like the song, but not on her. She could’ve done better.”

Verdict: Avalon wore makeup tonight, which I don’t think she had done before. She usually looks like a tomboy.

Jenn Blosil, “True Colors”

I had a hard time getting past the eyebrows, they looked like they were coated in sand. She probably should have stuck to the blue theme from last week. Vocally she was all over the place, even more than usual, though she did stick one great note. It might hurt her that she sang that song; she ain’t going to out-weird Cyndy Lauper. She should have done “Hanging Tree” from her showcase round; she was impressive that week.

Judges: Harry talked her up bigtime; he knows Jenn is important to the television show aspect.

Kym: “Jenn is another quirky and unique singer and if there is only room for one in the top ten I wouldn’t pick her. I didn’t love what she did with that Cyndi Lauper song tonight. It could’ve used a bit of polish.”

Verdict: We will find out what the voters think of Jenn this time around.

Lee Jean, “Make It Rain”

I had a weird Tracy Chapman flashback early in the song… Lee’s performance was split – the first half (and the end) were terrific, sweet and strong. The middle part, though, his nerve endings tensed up, almost like he was having nerve cramps, and he had to fight through it. He did, and I give the kid a lot of credit for it, but he was straining on notes he usually nails. Nerves have destroyed many, many Idols over the years … Lee struggled with nerves last week, too, so he’s going to have to find a way to relax or he ain’t going to last long.

Judges: Keith noted the nerves, too.

Kym: “Lee is adorable. I love everything about this kid. He’s got a voice like butter, just the right amount of charisma without being overly cocky. I want to put him in my pocket and carry him around with me.”

Verdict: chicks dig the cute boys – that has to be a good sign for Lee.

Sonika Vaid, “I Surrender”

Her first performance of this song is on her bio page, and if you listened to it you know she wasn’t nearly as good tonight. She nailed the higher register parts, but her phrasing was all over the place and her rhythm sense was so bad that I thought the band was going to have to stop and wait for her at one point. Her tone when she first came out gave it away: nerves, nerves, and more nerves. As she warmed up her beautiful tone came out, but she never really got the nerves tamped down. She needs to relax even more than Lee does.

Judges: Jen blathered like a vacuum cleaner salesman, making sure the voters knew who to vote for. Keep talking, keep selling, Jen. The show needs Sonika.

Kym:  “Sonica couldn’t have a better stage name! Her voice is so clear pure. She can you pull you in with those big brown eyes.”

Verdict: She should be safe as hell, even with a rough performance.

Jeneve Rose Mitchell, “Ring of Fire”

I have no idea what to think about lil’ June Junior. I like her – hell, even Mikey from the old life cereal commercials likes her – but she has the weakest voice in the competition and she phrases as poorly as the other 15 year olds. Speaking of, how many 15 year olds are there? I think four out of the ten singing tonight were 15 when they auditioned. Jeneve’s chances are as live as any of ‘em.

Judges: “pay no attention to the shitty singing, please vote for our southern meal ticket”

Kym: “I don’t think she has the chops. She can play the $#&@ out of any instrument she picks up, but this IS a singing competition, right?”

Verdict: We’ll see. There are a lot of “we’ll see” singers, aren’t there? I think this is a good thing – Eclectic Idol – and Jeneve is as interesting and entertaining, all things considered, as any of them.

MacKenzie Bourg, “Roses”

I don’t remember him having breathing issues before; he ran out of breath in the middle of a couple of phrases, and a couple of his high notes could have been stronger…. But don’t get me wrong: This was a strong performance, right there with Tristan as the best of the night. MacKenzie wrote this song; if Idol was still pulling in 30 million viewers this song would get a million Youtube hits by the end of the season. Somebody remind me to check it later, to see how many it ends up with.

Judges: gushed.

Kym: “MacKenzie looks like my cousin. His smile is infectious. He’s believable and brings his own thing to his performances. I’m not quite ready to let him go.”

Verdict: seeya next week.

Safe to in Danger –

Safe as hell

  • Sonika
  • MacKenzie
  • Tristan
  • Lee

Wild Cards – who knows?

  • Gianna
  • Thomas
  • Jenn
  • Jeneve
  • Avalon
  • Manny

I thought Gianna would be in the safe group but they gave her a horrible, awful edit in the end-of-show reprisal of their performances; they found every bad note she hit. Of the ten, Gianna and Manny had the worst edits.

Jeneve and Jenn – my brain tells me that they are both gone, toast, dust … but they have had amazing staying power. Avalon deserves to advance, but it’s a numbers game. Did she stand out enough to get voters motivated for her? If it were up to me I would take my four safe singers plus the two Jens, just because they are the most interesting, but Tommy and Avalon probably deserve the final two spots based on their voices.

        Kym’s safe to in danger:

  • Sonica
  • Jenn
  • MacKenzie
  • Gianna
  • Avalon
  • Lee
  • Tristan
  • Manny
  • Thomas
  • Jeneve

If you have your own safe to in danger list email it to me or post it on one of my facebook entries. I’m sure you won’t have any trouble finding them, I’ve been shilling my blog like a friggin’ salad shooter for weeks.

Four go tomorrow night! Bloody! Messy! See you then!

Power Rankings – top 14

Here is your cheat sheet for Wednesday night’s show. Print this out, and when the singer’s name is announced you can read the entry below and have an idea what your eyes and ears are about to be assaulted with.

14. Avalon Young: Wants to be Rhianna. Looks like an East L.A. skateboarder. Sounds like Beyonce. Why bother? Her gummy tone would make beautiful radio babies.

13. Manny Torres: Wants to be Bruno Mars. Looks like Brutus from Popeye. Sounds like Stevie Wonder a little, his tone does, but his style is closer to Adam Levine. He’s pretty much one big o-face, all the time. Why bother? No idea – he bores me.

12. Gianna Isabella: Wants to be a diva, I imagine. Looks like Jennifer Grey in “Dirty Dancing.” Sounds like a pageant contestant who has been practicing for the talent competition since she was three years old when she sings, Tony Soprano’s daughter when she talks. Why bother? Her voice is genuinely good; if she can pull off one minute and a half without any big mistakes she could create a moment.

11. Jeneve Rose Mitchell: Wants to be June Carter. Looks like somebody dressed up Daisy May’s little sister in the clothes off the Tom Mix display model from L.L. Bean. Sounds like somebody stepped on a cat. Ok, that’s not fair. She sounds like every average-voiced kid who dreams about being on the Grand Ole Opry, singing in the shower at the top of her lungs, with no fear or self-awareness. Why bother? She is magic with just about any instrument she grabs onto, and she has personality oozing out of her pores.

10. Lee Jean: Wants to be Dave Matthews. Looks like Lou Brock at 12 or 13 years old. Sounds like El Debarge imitating Dave Matthews. Why bother? His tone is diabetic coma inducing sweet, and with that nice a tone he is always one perfect vehicle from a moment.

9. Jenn Blosil: Wants to be herself, but with more money. Looks like a thorazined Cindy Brady grew up and got a job in a methadone clinic. Sounds like … there have always been these sorts of singers around. I don’t know who the template is. Maria Muldaur on horse tranquilizers was my first guess, or something like Tinkerbell dropping to earth and becoming an ecstasy-addicted German cabaret singer. Why bother? Why do we watch reality television in the first place? Jenn is a lot of things, but boring ain’t any of ‘em.

8. Tristan McIntosh: Wants to be Carrie Underwood. Looks like Marilyn McCoo. Sounds like a very green, very young Carrie Underwood. Why bother? That syrupy tone could create a moment at any moment, if – like several others, this is a pretty young crew – she can avoid inexperience-driven mistakes.

7. Thomas Stringfellow: Wants to be Ed Sheeran. Looks like Buh-Billy from One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Sounds like Buddy Holly, trying to sound like Ed Sheeran. Why bother? He seems popular, and despite the gyrations he puts his melodies through he sings in tune very well. A perfect song for his style could certainly create moment potential.

6. Trent Harmon: Wants to be … I have no idea, really – I’m sure there’s someone out there just like him, but I don’t know who it is. Looks like Goober Pyle – the walk, the talk, the body type – but with Jethro Clampett’s face. Sounds like Elton John when he sings, Goober when he talks. Why bother? Trent has one of the highest ‘seat of your pants’ factors on the show; you will never know what he’s going to do next, because he has a terrific voice that can do crazy things.

5. MacKenzie Bourg: Wants to be the ostrich guy, Five for Fighting. Looks like a scale model of Robbie Benson, the 1970s actor. Sounds like Paul Simon. Why bother? If we get a Simon and Garfunkel theme week and he sings a Garfunkel song I’ll be pissed.

4. Olivia Rox (Hill): Wants to be Taylor Swift. Looks like the little girl in the Chocolate Factory who ate the wrong candy, but instead of turning purple and blowing up she just keeps stretching taller, and taller, and taller…. Sounds like Jennifer Warnes a LOT, but with an extra gear at the top. Why bother? She has every dammed trick in the book, and no idea what to do with them all in a minute and a half. If she can get them all together one time, though…

3. Sonika Vaid: Wants to be Celine Dion. Looks like Shriya Saran. Sounds like Celine Dion. Why bother? Well, because we have ears. And eyes. And souls.

2. La’Porsha Renae: Wants to be Tina Turner, I suspect. Looks like a chia pet mixed its DNA with a panda bear and mated with Aretha Franklin. Sounds like … I think she sounds a little like Gladys Knight, with a little scratch and the types of trilling she likes to do. Why bother? I’m already a little tired of the ‘she’s so brave’ narrative, but she is charismatic and fun – and she can sing a little, too.

1. Dalton Rapattoni: Wants to be Justin Timberlake. Looks like Rod Stewart’s cuter little brother. Sounds like every boy band singer ever. Why bother? History. Dalton is going to be the last American Idol.

Don’t take the rankings too seriously. I am pretty sure I have the right one at the top, but numbers two through 14 are wide open. It wouldn’t surprise me to see any of them go home Thursday night, or stand next to Dalton for his confetti shower in May.

Vote in the poll below for your favorite singer (vote once this time).

Semifinals – first 12 perform

Semifinals first 12: safe to in danger

harpHere are my quick-takes on the performances from the first semifinals round. I’ll go ahead and put a letter grade on ‘em, mostly for fun and comparisons with Bob Gregory. I try to stay consistent with my grades, so it will look like I’m getting softer and softer as the show goes on. What’s actually happening – or at least what usually happens – is that the singers get better and their performances get tighter. Tonight was pretty loose, so the grades will be lower.

Stephany Negrete semifinal performance: “Mama Knows Best” – Jessie J – C+

Steph was a little stiff, a little imitate-y, and a little out of tune. She has a big voice, but the competition is too stiff to let her keep making mud pies. She needed to be noticeable to have any chance; the show expressed their opinion about her chances when they gave her the opening spot. That spot is death in the semifinals, even when the judges are doing the voting.

MacKenzie Bourg semifinal performance: “Say Something” – A Great Big World – B-

The original version of this song is really quirky, sort of like an REM album cut. MacKenzie, who usually makes his versions quirkier than the originals, actually made this song less quirky. I don’t think that’s a good move for a guy who doesn’t really have a deep arsenal of vocal calisthenics he can draw on.

Jenna Renae semifinal performance: “My Church” – Maren Morris – C-

Jenna has a terrific voice and she can sing melodies all night long, but whenever she tries to go big or go low she loses her intonation. I think she needed to be perfect tonight, and she wasn’t.

Sonika Vaid semifinal performance: “Safe and Sound” – Taylor Swift ft. The Civil Wars – B+

Most years Sonika would have competition for her style but she seems to be the only one who sings the movie themes and whatever Celine Dion just put out. She stuck the ending like a champ, which should make everyone forget a couple of wonky notes in the middle. Her tone was beautiful, and she nailed her dynamics.

James Dawson VIII semifinal performance: “Love Lockdown” – Kanye West – B-

I loved it because I love his style, but J8 gave ’em an album cut on singles night, and nobody was happy. He’s going to be white knuckling it.

Jeneve Rose Mitchell semifinal performance: “Angel” – Sarah McLachlan – B+ (singing only D)

It’s impossible to not love her. Her vocal technique is awful, her range is limited, and her tone is all over the dammed place, but it doesn’t matter with her puppy dog eyes, her 47 instruments that all sound like they just got done playing “Amazing Grace,” and her heart-on-her-sleeve emoting. Whatever ‘it’ is, Jeneve has it. Now, for chrissakes, will somebody teach her how to sing?

Gianna Isabella semifinal performance: “I put a Spell on you” – Annie Lennox – D+

I don’t know why they called it an Annie Lennox song, but whatever. Gianna has a strong, richly textured voice, and just enough knowledge to get herself in trouble. She’s like a good high school golfer: she can hit long straight drives, crisp irons, smooth chips, and strike firm putts. If she doesn’t hit it crooked she can shoot a score that looks as good as a pro’s score – but if she mishits juuuust a little bit the whole world is reminded that she’s not a pro. Not yet, anyway.

Emily Brooke semifinal performance: “I am Invincible” – Cassadee Pope – D

Oh Gawd that was a total train wreck – she was out of tune from the first note to the throne she threw up all over afterwards. This would have been bad drunken kamikaze karaoke. From mortal lock to already gone in sixty seconds. Apologies to the late, great Glenn Frey and the not so late, not so great (kidding) Nicholas Cage.

Avalon Young semifinal performance: “Love Yourself” – Justin Beiber – C+

I felt like she was trying to do too much – trying to ‘perform’ instead of just being natural – but her gumdrop tone came out and she finished strong. She always sounds like herself, which I think might be what the judges were saying unconsciously. They want her to have another facet. I don’t know if she does.

Jordan Sasser semifinal performance: “All by Myself” – Celine Dion C-

Eric Carmen,  but never mind. He did Celine’s version, which was a bad idea in front of judges old enough to have heard the original.

I hate the song choice for Jordan; he’s already at risk of sounding too white, and he sang one of the whitest songs ever written in one of the whitest ways possible. None of that would have mattered if he nailed it, but I felt like he promised this massive thing and then he delivered something smaller, like watching someone light off a huge firework and watching it fizzle and pop a little, then fall over. The whole thing was underwhelming and unimpressive to me.

Jordan needed to be better than this tonight.

Tommy Stringfellow semifinal performance: “Creep” – Radiohead – B

My only reservation comes from liking the original version of the song so much that Tommy’s version was a little jarring. The judges hammer singers for not sounding emotional enough all the time, but what it actually means is that they want to hear a more emotional delivery, not that they need to actually feel the emotions. Tommy doesn’t ever have to worry about it because his natural delivery is emotional. Tommy has to be careful on his high notes – he was on the edge (or over the edge, depending on your tolerance for edges) of screeching there for a few notes.

La’Porsha Renae semifinal performance: “Proud Mary” – Tina Turner – C (but an A for bravery)

Getting the pimp spot means she is about as safe as she can be, but hoo boy that was not the safest song choice and Chia Girl stood toe-to-toe with Tina Turner herself, practically copying her arrangement down to the dance moves. I know she’s safe, but if one of the less safe contestants had done that they would be in trouble. She couldn’t hit her high note at the end, either, without catching her breath and setting her feet first. That was weird and uncomfortable.

Shelbie Z

shelbie zIt’s too bad Designing Women isn’t on anymore. Every time I see Shelbie I think of a hairdresser, prattling away while she snips and combs, gossiping about her family, her co-workers, and whomever else we both know, with a husband at home, about eight kids, fat underarms that keep slapping my ears – but she has perfectly coiffed hair and she smells amazing.

I think that’s my largest reservation about Shelbie’s chances. She has the biggest voice of anyone on the show, just a massive howitzer of a vocal jackhammer. She seems to have gained the range she was missing at her audition and during her run on the Voice. 

Shelbie’s showcase performance:

There is no reason to think she can’t contend for the confetti, except that she looks like a middle aged hairdresser. If she looked like a middle aged waitress maybe, but hairdresser? Oh hell, she might do ok anyway. It would be hilarious if she won Idol, the show that looks for the whole package, after a show that claims to be ‘all about the voice’ dumped the biggest voice they had the week after they got a look at her.

She ain’t going to win, though. She has a huge voice, but she doesn’t have the control or the variety of styles that she would need to last past the middle rounds and go deep. She might make the tour, though.

On the Voice. Gotta love a harmony singer who carries the mail.

Semifinals

Shelbie Z “Work Hard, Play Harder” – Gretchen Wilson: B-

shelbieHarry was fine with it but the other judges dunned her for singing in too low a key … my take is that the key was ok, she just didn’t have as much power as she normally has. She mucked up her first up-scale run, and I think she sang a little scared after that. The song choice was right in Shelbie’s wheelhouse, so she really should have been more impressive, but she was still pretty good.

Shelbie with Constantine Maroulis “Bohemian Rhapsody” – Queen

Watching Constantine talk and sing is so weird, like Keanu Reeves singing like Freddy Mercury. Shelbie is over whatever made her nervous last night; she sounded like her old self. I would have put a little bit more harmony in the arrangement but they decided to keep it simple. It worked, the performance was good.

I have no idea what the judges were talking about. Are they looking to dump Shelbie too? I thought she was pretty safe.

 

 

 

Season Nine Recap

Wednesday night’s crowning of Lee Dewyze brings the 2010 season, and an era, to a close. Simon Cowell, the dominant personality on the judging table and the most polarizing personality on the show, is leaving to produce “X-Factor”. Musical director Rickey Minor is also leaving to take over the same role with the “Tonight Show” band.

Before I get to Simon I want to tie up a few loose ends, and put a cherry on the season. I have some lists, links to my personal Top 30 performances and a short final observation for each contestant.

First, the lists: Billboard voters’ poll of their all-time favorite Idol contestants:

Males:

1- David Archuleta

2- Adam Lambert

3- David Cook

4- Clay Aiken

5-TaylorHicks

Females:

1- Carrie Underwood

2- Kelly Clarkson

3- Katherine McPhee

4- Kelly Pickler

5- Allison Iraheta

Billboard’s top 24 Idol artists by sales and airplay combined:

24- Allison Iraheta

23- Diana DeGarmo

22- Danny Gokey

21- William Hung

20-KimberleyLocke

19-TaylorHicks

18- Blake Lewis

17- Bo Bice

16- Kiatherine McPhee

15- Elliot Yamin

14- Josh Gracin

13- Jennifer Hudson

12- Adam Lambert

11- Kris Allen

10- Ruben Studdard

9- Fantasia Barrino

8- David Archuleta

7- Kelly Pickler

6- Clay Aiken

5- David Cook

4- Jordin Sparks

3- Chris Daughtry

2- Carrie Underwood

1- Kelly Clarkson

Next is a capsule look at the season, through a list of my favorite performances with links to youtube so that you can watch them. As always, they are all virus free and safe. I ranked my top 30, and I’ll count them down one by one:

30: Casey, “Lawdy Miss Clawdy”, top 9R:

The judges didn’t get it, but I loved it. This is an example of the judges dismissing what they don’t understand. Because none of them knew this song, they couldn’t understand just how cool of a re-arrangement this was. I’ve been caught doing this myself, usually by Sean. I don’t want to hammer on the judges for this. They can’t know everything. Trust me, this was exceedingly cool. If I was still playing, I would steal this arrangement for myself.

29: Siobhan, “House of the Rising Sun”, top 16:

Siobhan is on the list a few times already. Because of that I thought about leaving this performance off, but (1) Slezak called this his favorite performance of the semifinals by anyone, and (2) you can see the other contestants, in the foreground, lit up like Christmas trees while she was singing, and (3) It was at LEAST one of the 30 best of the season.

28: Alex Lambert, “Trouble”, top 16:

Alex was getting so much better, and so quickly, that he might have made the list a few times had he not been prematurely bounced. Ellen, you hugged the wrong guy.

27: Didi, “You’re No Good”, top 11:

This song was better than the reviews as well. I listened to it a few times, and once I got over that it was a weird song for Didi I came to really love it, and I came to love the idea of Didi singing it. The studio version is fantastic.

26: Lee and Crystal’s auditions, back to back in Chicago:

I recapped these kids in the Chicago Auditions page. I loved Lee (called him a standout) but I dismissed Crystal for her crappy rhythm and went off on a rant for several hundred words about the lack of standout female contestants in season 9. Oops.

25: Leah Laurenti’s audition:

“Blue Skies”, beautifully sung. Blue notes, perfect pitch and phrasing from a kid that was scared out of her wits.

24: Lee, “Treat Her Like a Lady”, top 10:

Lee’s first big performance, the one that made him a top three contender.

23: Siobhan, “When You Believe”, top 7:

Siobhan’s last great performance. Her beautiful version was unjustly hammered on by the judges, because she isn’t Whitney Houston. Was Whitney competing this season? This was one of their most unfair critiques, in a season when Siobhan just couldn’t buy a break from the judging table.

22: Crystal, “People Get Ready”, top 7:

Crystal broke down at the end, and she struggled for a few weeks after this.

21: Lee, “Hallelujah”, top 4 :

I liked it, but the judges almost peed themselves over it. I only ranked it this high because it was so important to the final results.

20: Crystal, “You Can’t Always Get What you want”, top 12:

Vintage Crystal, and a damned good arrangement.

19: Didi, “Terrified” in Hollywood:

I had this one a lot higher, but I dropped it down some because Katherine McPhee just blew Didi’s doors off with her own version.

18: Crystal, “Maybe I’m Amazed top 3:

Crystal pulled out some incredible range, and added some scratch to her voice that she hadn’t used before. I ranked it this high mostly because I really love this song. It was kind of weird, her using the male gender, but whatever.

17: Siobhan, “Think”, top 20:

I’d have it higher, but the scream ended up being Siobhan’s worst enemy. Had Siobhan won or at least made the top three, this would have been way higher.

16: Thaddeus Johnson, “Man in the Mirror” in Hollywood:

You have to skip to about 1:30 to get past the crap and to Thad singing, I couldn’t find one that was edited. It’s worth it. Thad was one of the best male singers of this years’ crop, possibly THE best in hindsight, but his mother was just unbelievably obnoxious and Thad is only 16 and somewhat erratic. The judges decided that they didn’t want the grief.

15: Crystal, “Come Together”, top 9:

The Didgeridoo got most of the attention, butCrystal’s performance was fantastic.

14: Vanessa’s audition:

Our hick chick was one of the coolest auditions ever. Idol isn’t always about winning the title. For some it’s about getting that one “yes”, to validate their existence a little, have some excitement in their lives, and have a story to tell their grand-kids. No Idol contestant in Hollywood came from further away.

13: Lee/Crystal, “Falling Slowly”, top 4:

Amazing, especially Crystal. Don’t be surprised if Crystal sings a lot of harmony on big stages, doing duets and other things. She is, by nature, a harmony singer. Emmylou Harris, Mary Chapin-Carpenter, Patty Loveless, Jennifer Warnes, there have been some very cool lead/harmony singers. Crystal can hold her own with the best of them.

12: Andrew, “Straight Up in Hollywood:

I wanted to add “Sugar” from the first round of the semis to the list for Andrew. He was terrific, but Simon went first and he buried Andrew for no reason at all. He didn’t hate how he sang, he hated that he didn’t improve on this song. It was really unfair in retrospect, and it killed Andrew’s season. Andrew, I think, will be ok. Lee loves him, and don’t be surprised if they tour together next summer.

11: Crystal, “I’m Alright”, top 4:

I probably have this higher than most would put it, but I know every inch of this song andCrystalbent into an incredibly cool shape.

10: Siobhan, “Living For the City in Hollywood:

I’ve listened to this one so many times that it’s getting old to me, but the contradiction between the sad little geek with the granny glasses and the thrift store dress, and the kid with the bright eyes and that HUGE voice on the stage will never get old. Siobhan still does this song in her concerts.

9: Lee, “A Little Less Conversation”, top 9R:

I like “The Boxer” more because of the impact, but this was his best pure performance of the season.

8: Lilly, “Lullabye of Birdland” in Hollywood:

My personal favorite among the Hollywood auditions.

7: Crystal, “Natural Woman” in Hollywood:

Lilly was my favorite, but this was the best and most important Hollywood audition. It catapulted Crystal to the top of everyone’s power rankings. Oh, and the audience joined in, then they gave Crystal a standing ovation at the end of the song.

6: Lee, “The Boxer”, top 7:

One of my favorite Lee performances, and as it turned out Lee’s signature song of the season.

5: Casey, “Jealous Guy”, top 9:

The studio version is even better. I liked it so much that I added the original version to our jukebox and it made the top 3 in plays within a couple of weeks.

4: Didi’s audition:

It just doesn’t get any sweeter, does it? Didi nailed a very tough melody while her blood pressure was roughly 800 over I’m having a stroke.

3: Crystal, “Long as I can see the Light”, top 16:

Back from the hospital, Crystal’s best song of year among a long list of terrific performances.

Until her last one.

2: Siobhan, “Paint it Black”, top 12:

I thought that this would end up number one for a long time. Nobody all season came up with a more creative arrangement, or a more theatrical performance. Her almost primal banshee run at the end was probably the most electrifying moment of the season. That last dark look into the kid’s eyes, as she sang the last phrase, put the perfect cherry on the top.

1: Crystal, “Up the Mountain”:

Just watch it. If it doesn’t move you, get someone to beat on your chest.

Notable ommision: Lee’s “single”. I despise U-2 anyway, and the song arrangement sucks. I’ve heardhammond organs that write better songs than Bono does. Everything about their songwriting bores me. They just don’t aim themselves at musicians. No guitar licks, no harmony, no cool chord progressions, no cool rhythms, just nothing that I can get interested in. Sorry. (rolls eyes, takes a drink and winks at Kara)……

Ok, Simon……

I am not going to rant about the guy, not now. I’ve done that plenty already. While I don’t like what he added to the show, I don’t hate the guy. He is a cold fish, but not truly mean. He is arrogant, but he can be personable. He is good at what he does, even if he isn’t as good as he thinks that he is. I won’t miss him on Idol, but I might peek in on X factor.

The main problem with Simon’s public perception is similar to the problems with the public perception of George Steinbrenner. George bought the Yankees at the perfect time, and he was the main guy for over 30 years. They won, so George got the credit. This is all normal, and in most cases fair. For a guy like me, though, who looks a little deeper, there are some problems with simply anointing George the King, and the savior of the Yankee dynasty.

I won’t bore you here with those details, but Simon has some rats in his own cellar. Simon wanted Kelly Clarkson bounced inHollywoodin season one, but Paula talked him out of it. He turned down Chris Daughtry at his audition, and Casey James this year. He didn’t want Didi, and he didn’t want David Cook. He flat killed several singers this season; singers who could have made this season a good one, not a mediocre one. His handling of Andrew and Didi, not to mention Siobhan, were questionable when you consider he had such a huge conflict of interest. Do I believe he was trying to sabotage the show? No, not really. I think Simon is basically an honest guy. He is just stubborn, and he is fairly limited in his own expertise when it comes to modern music. He wasn’t trying to cheat. He was just wrong. ALOT.

Simon has clear ideas of what constitutes a great pop singer. He wants big notes, and he wants big voices. He wants Whitney, he wants Aretha, he wants Mariah, he wants Luther Vandross, but don’t you DARE actually sing their songs. He will hammer a singer every time for:

-Singing something middle of the road

-Singing something without a glory note

-Singing something he doesn’t recognize

-Singing something that he does recognize, but old (unless it’s old song week, which it seems to be a lot lately)

-Singing anything happy

-Singing a song from one of his favorite artists

-Singing a melody without changing it, unless it’s from one of his favorite artists. If it is, you are already screwed.

If a singer combines more than one of these traits, Simon will get mad.

Going forward, the show should be fine without Simon as long as they keep their eye on the prize. Make the show about the singers, not the judges. They really need to go back to three judges, but will they have the stones to let Kara be the hammer?

Final recap, the contestants:

Many of these kids will find some fame outside of the studio. Several former contestants have scored gigs as hosts and reporters, and there are always reality shows.

Crystal and Lee will be recording stars, though Lee might take a few years to get his intonation and stage shows where they need to be. Casey has a chance to get some love as well, but he might be best served by moving to country music. Mike Lynche is not going to be a recording star, but he might end up being one hell of a tv personality. Aaron Kelly will probably get some offers inNashville, and eventually do fine.

Siobhan, who knows? My best guess is that she will get an album out, but she needs to give up on pleasing everyone and channel her inner Amy Lee and Annie Lennox. That’s her best shot. Tim Urban will be hosting something somewhere. Katie needs some time, but she should have a career in a few years. Andrew will be opening for Lee next summer I think, and put out a very nice album. Didi will get an album out, but I don’t know if she can do much better than Brooke White did. Brooke is still touring, but she is also taking on some TV hosting. She is good at it. Didi is a lot like Brooke, so her career prospects are about the same.

Paige will probably go back to teaching, but she might have some other offers. She got her voice back and she was impressive at the finale. Lacey Brown might get an Indy album out, and it might be pretty good. Lilly will get an album out, but it’s hard to say if it will get any backing from the major labels. Alex Lambert is already doing a reality show. Todrick will be in the business for years at least as a dancer and choreographer. Katelyn is working with Lilly, so they might be able to get something going together. She will be in the business somewhere.

Michelle Delamor will probably do a gospel album, and be singing for years below the radar. She might end up hosting as well. Haeley Vaughn I dunno, but I love her talent. She needs some years to put it together. John Park will be never seen again, but he should have a nice life. Jermaine Sellers, I have no clue. He has talent, but obvious blocks to getting something done with that talent. Janelle Wheeler is already hosting, and she is perfect for those kinds of gigs. Ashley Rodriguez, I believe will resurface sometime. She is better than her first round ouster, and she has a chip on her shoulder now. Joe Munoz, who knows? Tyler Grady, appearing at a bar near you soon.

It wasn’t the best season ever, but the talent was there. Simon’s short timers disease wasn’t the only problem; the voters did more damage in the semifinals than I can remember, and they didn’t really get it right all year. There were more political movements than performer movements. Still, we got a full season out of Crystal, most of a season out of Casey and Siobhan, and we at least got to meet Lilly, Alex, and several other sweet singers who didn’t last as long as they should have. Taking everything into account, it was as enjoyable for me as any other season. I’m signing off for this year, so thanks for reading, and sharing the journey. See you in January.

Finale

Lee Dewyze is our season nine American Idol. I predicted that Crystal would win last night, but I knew from DialIdol.com’s prediction process that Lee was almost certainly going to win. Last season Kris held a tiny advantage over Adam on DI, and won by less than one percent. Lee had a commanding lead on DI, so he most likely won going away. I don’t know the actual voting totals but I would guess that Lee received over sixty percent of the vote.

The show hasn’t started yet. Before I get to the show, here is a short recap of the season:

Idol went to Boston (Siobhan, Ashley, Katie, Tyler from the semis and Andrew the future serial killer), Orlando (Skiboski, Guitar Girl and Larry Platt, along with our favorite hick chick Vanessa Wolfe. Jermaine, Paige, Aaron, Janelle, Michelle and Big Mike from the semis), Chicago (both Lee and Crystal, along with John Park and Katelyn from the semis; they started the show with “Welcome to Chicago, F U”), Los Angeles (Andrew, Didi, Joe Munoz), Dallas (Todrick, Lacey, Alex, Tim), and Denver (Casey, Haeley, Lilly).

The first round of Hollywood featured command performances from Didi (Terrified), Lilly (Lullaby of Birdland), Andrew (Straight Up) and Crystal (Natural Woman). We lost early faves Mallory, Justin and hick chick Vanessa. Group night saw the demise of early personal favorites Leah, Kelsey (the little red haired girl) and Kimberly Kerbow and gave us our first glimpse of Siobhan as part of Todrick Hall’s “Bad Romance” group. The final Hollywood round featured commanding performances from Todrick, Soibhan, Crystal and the (later) ousted Thaddeus Johnson.

The semis started off with a couple of surprise ousters in Ashley and Janelle, then the second show was fairly predictable. The final semi show was a bloodbath for some early frontrunners and momentum building dark horses as Lilly, Alex, Todrick and Katelyn all got the boot. Lacey and Paige left in the next two weeks, respectively, as the show pared down to the top ten, and set the roster for the Idol Tour. Siobhan, in particular, was spectacular in this period with four consecutive strong performances capped off with her “Paint it Black” moment. Andrew fell out of his early front running position, while Crystal established herself as the one to beat with a couple of moment-worthy performances.

Top 10– Didi was bounced, while Lee gave a command performance and made his way up the power rankings. Siobhan had a disastrous week, singing out of key and getting trashed by Simon. Crystal played the piano.

Top 9– Mike finished last, but got the save. Crystal (Come Together) was terrific, and Casey (Jealous Guy) had his moment.

Top 9/8– Andrew and Katie were tossed, and nobody sang all that amazingly. Casey was probably the best of the night with a cool re-arrangement of Lawdy Miss Clawdy, but none of the judges knew the song so they hammered him. Siobhan sang beautifully, but the arrangement of her “Suspicious Minds” was horrible.

Top 7– Tim Urban finally got the boot despite singing very well (for him, anyway). Lee had a signature moment with “The Boxer”, and Crystal was fantastic on “Get Ready”. Siobhan sang well, but got hammered for wearing clothes, or something. By then she was so sideways with Simon that her moments in front of the judges were getting really uncomfortable.

Top 6– Siobhan was bounced despite the judges giving her the positive reviews (that she should have gotten several weeks before), and didn’t really earn with her horrible performance of “Any Man of Mine”. Crystal, for the first time, wasn’t brilliant. Casey was praised for a turkey of a song, after getting hammered two weeks before after pulling off a brilliant song.

Top 5– Aaron Kelly was bounced, and nobody sang very well. Lee was praised to the rafters despite a sloppy performance.

Top 4– Mike was bounced after a technically perfect but emotionally bankrupt performance. Crystal brought life to an amazing but dated song (I’m Alright) and absolutely killed her duet with Lee (Falling Slowly). Casey had a very good week, with “Mrs. Robinson” and his half of the duet with Mike. Lee was fine, but he didn’t stand out.

Top 3– Casey was bounced despite a terrific performance night. Crystal and Lee were both brilliant in their second performances, after mediocre openers. Apparently none of the judges, or Mike Slezak and his crew, have ever heard of Shinedown.

And now we get to the finale. From here I am going forward in blog format:

The Finale-

8:04– What in the heck is Crystal wearing? That looks like a Catholic Schoolgirl uniform. Lee looks like he is about to broadcast the 1972 Super Bowl along with Frank Gifford and How.word.Co.Sell. Where the hell is Bob Eucker and his ape suit when we need him?

8:05– Ok, now I get it. Alice Cooper!!! All of the finalists came out for “School’s Out”, in those wonky/creepy school outfits. Crystal and Lee obviously didn’t get time to rehearse the dance moves, as they just moved around in the middle. Casey got to do the introduction. Orianthi, the chick with the guitar, was on Idol earlier in the season and is the opening act for Adam/Allie’s summer tour. Siobhan and Didi, in particular, were really animated for the song and dance.

8:11– Kris Allen with “The Truth”. This is his latest single. If his pop career fizzles, he could have a future in country music as a pop/country crossover type. I’ll be honest; this style of music generally bores me. I love acoustic guitars, or driving guitar licks. I love harmony vocals, powerful melodies and massive dynamic changes. This song, and this style, just seems to be in the middle, with no edges or dynamic power. It’s just a-ight. I think I owe Randy 6 cents now.

8:16– Simon is leaving after the show, as everyone knows. This first tribute segment was sort of a roasting, pointing out some of Simon’s less than flattering moments. It was a reach, to get 2 minutes of this.

I am serious about this. To pick just one thing would take a week of weeding out the lesser evils, and setting up a 256 moment tournament of bile, manipulation, inconsistency, ignorance coupled with arrogance, and outright nastiness and spite. Hell, I am not even sure that his attempt to dismiss Kelly Clarkson in Hollywood during season one would make the tournament. He wasn’t nasty enough about it. Paula wouldn’t let him.

8:18– Siobhan and Aaron. This is probably it. I have been looking forward to Sha-Von’s last performance for weeks. Bee Gees!!!! Siobhan and Aaron sang beautifully together, and I am impressed with Aaron’s harmony singing. Hell, I love it when I get to hear any real singer sing harmony. It’s the most beautiful part of music, to me.

It sucks to see the Bee Gees without Maurice, who passed away in 2003. I was a huge Bee Gees fan growing up, and I always wanted Barry Gibb’s hair and his voice. For you musicians out there, try something: take any one of their songs, and play it just with an acoustic guitar. Yep. Amazing, isn’t it? My only regret here is that they didn’t do one of their early, pre-disco songs. How cool would it have been for them to do “Run to Me”? Note to self: Go find a good youtube version of that song…

8:26- Big Mike and the Doobies. Ok, Michael McDonald, but that’s fine. Mac doesn’t have the huge power that he used to have, but man does he have great hair. When I hear the term “blue eyed soul”, I always think of McDonald first. He looks like my own Dad did late in his life, doesn’t he? I’ll be thrilled to age that gracefully.

8:28– Wow, that was a short song, wasn’t it? More Simon. Dane Cook singing a song full of Simon’s critiques. This was really funny, and Simon took it all gracefully. My favorite:

“Simon, you have the all honesty of Abe Lincoln, and all the charm of the guy that shot him”

They brought out a few of the more outrageous bad auditioners. I recognized Tatiana, Normund Gentle and the girl who thought that she was going to win because she won on the Idol video game.

Let me be Simon for a second, and give my take on that song. “It started out brilliantly, but the last part was TERRible. Your performance was fine, I guess, but the song choice was horrific, and I am not sure that I am going to be seeing you next week. Sorry. (rolls eyes and takes a drink from his coke glass)”

8:34– Lacey started off Christina Aguilera’s “Beautiful”, and the rest of the female finalists joined in. Crystal got most of the glory notes, as she should. Siobhan admitted, in her exit interview with Slezak, that she wasn’t allowed to wear heels on stage because she kept stumbling in them. Idol actually made a rule about it. She is wearing some ridiculous heels tonight, they have to be at least 3 inches. She almost fell on her butt going down the stairs beside the judges’ table, so that rule was probably a good idea.

The girls came back up on stage and Siobhan, Katie and Paige took a turn on Christina’s “Stronger”. Paige in particular sounded terrific on this, as did Katie. Siobhan was Siobhan, and they were all very animated. It was terrific, and I rewound it to listen again. Christina came up late in the song, and then the lights dimmed for Christina’s next song. It was “You Lost Me”.

Christina was, when she came out, compared to Britany Spears. That’s a ridiculous comparison in hindsight, but that’s how it works. She went through a musical “slut” stage, pushing the envelope and getting a lot of flack and jokes told about her. She has come out of that and I think that she has established herself as the new Mariah, not that the old Mariah is gathering dust. She is a consummate performer, a brilliant songwriter and a force on the stage. She wouldn’t be the worst choice to replace Simon as a judge.

As long as Idol can get the true superstars like Christina to show up for their little talent show, they should be ok. It was beyond pleasing to see the energy and passion that the Idol contestants gave to this performance. While some of us can get jaded at times, this is one of those little things that makes Idol special. This is the local talent getting to sing with the superstar, and both of them are happy to be there. It’s Pygmalion winning the lottery. It’s the best, most accomplished artists of our culture mixing with kids from towns that don’t even have a 7-11. In America, anything is possible. That was what I was taught in school. Idol represents a form of that, with the added spice of instant gratification that allows us all to be interested in the process.

8:42– Rickey Gervais took a moment to give Simon some grief by satellite, as if he was in England, but the shoot was actually taken from less than a mile away. I’m not kidding. You could see the Nokia Theater over his shoulder, in the background.

8:47– It’s the men’s turn to take the stage, singing some Hall and Oats. Surprisingly, Tim Urban sounded the best of all of them. Lee got to introduce the guys, and Casey got a few glory notes. We should see him again later, I hope, with his own stage turn.

I was hoping for “Rich Girl”, but “You Make My Dreams Come True” is fine. I grew up in H&O’s heyday of the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. I had 45’s of “Rich Girl”, “She’s Gone”, “Sara Smile”, and “You Lost That Loving Feeling”. Bill Frizzell and I sang that last one at Karaoke together for years and years. I was Hall, he was Oates. Oates looks like a dark haired Ron Cey, with one of the more famous disco mustaches of the era. They didn’t sound great tonight, but who cares? They look good, and they had plenty of energy for a couple of guys who have to be at least pushing 60. Screw current. Idol IS current, by crossing every generation in search of musical beauty and greatness. To understand the future, it’s helpful to understand the past. Right? RIGHT?? Ok, I’m reaching, I know it….

8:52– Hey, a Janelle Wheeler sighting!!! Janelle is reporting from Toledo, Chrystal’s hometown. I just found out tonight that Janelle used to date Tim Tebow. I’m not sure which one I should be high fiving. Their kids would go for big bucks on the open market, I’ll tell you that.

8:53-Crystal sang a verse of “Ironic”, and then introduced Alanis Morrisette!!! They dueted “You Oughta Know”. They changed the words on the racier passages, so the censors can relax. I leaked some, it was soooo good…..Crystal was commanding, and Alanis was great as she always is. “Jagged Little Pill” has to be on the shelf of any serious collector of the seminal albums of rock and roll, doesn’t it?

Idol is a beautiful thing. People like me get to say whatever we want to say about it. Youtube is full of bile and vitriol about the show; how dumb it is, how stupid the producers and the judges are, and how bad the singers are. People with no other qualification than a modem get to tell millions of people in various forums that the show stinks, and that it should be canceled, and that they PERSONALLY want so and so shot. This is all fine, and very American, very human. Not everyone kills the show. Some are positive, and even the most angry of them will say something nice once in awhile.

Then, tonight, Alanis Morrisette, Christina Aguilera, Alice Cooper, Hall and Oats, the Bee Gees and several others to come take time out of their own lives to show up and sing with these amateurs. Everyone from the top of the business to the bottom of the food chain are involved in the process. The show isn’t about the superstars so much as it’s about the contestants and the hometown supporters. The naysayers and the bloggers have their own role, whether they appreciate the platform or not. With 9 seasons in the tank, Idol has a history, and an illustrious alumni. It has a cache in the business of TV, the business of music, and the business of theater. It has a cache on youtube, facebook and it is followed by literally millions of internet gadflies.

In a bad year it was the number one show on TV, with just under 24 million watchers per show. It’s a simple talent show, but its talent base is an entire country, 300 million people. There are literally billions of others available as interested parties, with satellite/cable TV and internet access. Sitcoms get tired because they run out of ideas. Idol is a show that sells current events, more in line with “Meet the Press” or “SNL” or “The Today Show”.

It’s interactive, and it’s always current because the script is always written live with no cue cards for the true main characters (the contestants), who change every season. The audience gets to judge along with the show’s judges, by going on the internet. There is some talk about the show losing its mojo, jumping the shark, but I don’t see why this should happen. The show is a renewable resource. There is no real reason why it should end.

9:01– Carrie Underwood, singing her latest single. Vintage Carrie, her style completely. I’ve heard it before, it’s a terrific song. A couple of things that I noticed: ONE: Carrie has a backup singer that looks just like Carrie did when she was on Idol. That got me to noticing TWO: Carrie, over the years, has gone through a transformation physically almost as remarkable as she has vocally. On Idol she was a little bit chubby and mousy. Once she got going with her career she got so skinny that I was expecting her to end up in rehab for an eating disorder. She had no butt at all, her legs were pipe cleaners, and she was just a stick. Now, she looks healthy as you can look. She even seems to have grown a couple of inches, but that’s probably an illusion, from some serious heels. Also, I have to go find Carrie’s “Last Name” from last season’s Idol. It was amazing live, with so much female attitude and head bobbing that I could feel her channeling everyone from Tammy Wynette to Aretha Franklin. I’ll try to find and send that one on later.

That song was a co-write between Carrie and Kara. I don’t know about you, but I love that kind of thing. How cool is that? Kara also wrote “Terrified”, so can we all give her a pass for “No Boundaries”? No? Ok…. That was pretty bad….

9:05– Ford video finale, when they present the finalists with their own cars. The editing was horrible, to misquote Simon. They both were probably going nuts, but they edited that out and left them looking almost like it was no big deal. I looked harder, between the lines, and I could see the beginnings and the endings of their excitement. Why would they edit that out? I don’t get it. If it’s me, I want to film the screaming and the jumping up and down. I did love the song, and they showed Siobhan with her fangs one more time. Crystal’s harmony was tuning fork. She won’t win the title, but she has certainly won a lot of important fans with her musicianship. She sure as hell won me.

9:07– Casey James, singing “Every Rose has its Thorn”, with an acoustic guitar in his hands and an electric guitar strapped to his back. Halfway through the verse someone else came in with another acoustic, way out of rhythm with Casey. Casey grimaced, but he kept on going and everything came back in rhythm eventually, right before Brett Michaels walked up to him on the stage. Brett told Casey “sorry man, it’s hard to hear up here” and Casey laughed and said “it’s the game, man, right?” I was trying to read lips there so that ain’t a quote, but I’m pretty sure that I got it close to right.

I’ve been there. Dale Sampson used to get so mad at me when I made him play my original songs. He’d say “Dammit Terry, I don’t know that chord. I’m a singer, not a frigging guitar player”. I wouldn’t tell him that I made the chord up. I’m not a guitar player either.

Brett Michaels has had an eventful month, to say the least. Brett suffered a brain hemorrhage April 22, just ten days after having an emergency appendectomy. He came back just a few days ago to Celebrity Apprentice, and won the title.

Casey switched to his electric and played lead when Brett joined him. I don’t know about you, but it’s just cool to see a guy who is like me and my own peer group playing along with a star like Brett Michaels. Casey held his own, playing some cool licks on the guitar. I kind of wish that he’d sung some harmony, but that’s just me being greedy.

9:14– Lee and the band Chicago. Terry Kath has been dead for over 30 years, and Peter Cetera left in 1985. Their amazing drummer Danny Seraphine left in 1990. While they still have most of their original horn section and their original keyboardist Bob Lamm, this is not really “Chicago” to me. I was, and am, one of Chicago’s biggest fans and I’ll enjoy this, but no exclamation points. Terry Kath and Peter Cetera were to Chicago like Lennon and McCartney were to the Beatles.

Chicago remains a formidable band, but without a formidable lead singer. Like Queen when they propositioned Adam last year, Chicago might be trolling for a leader from the Idol pool. You know who would fit them very well? Clay Aiken. I am not kidding. He can be Cetera. There is only one Terry Kath, though.

9:18– More Simon. Paula came back to poke some fun, and Simon took some time to film some footage, poking fun at himself.

9:21– General Larry Platt with his “Pants on the Ground”. William Hung (famous bad auditioner, sang Ricky Martin’s “She Bangs” and became a cult hero there for awhile) joined him later, and the whole thing was a mess, but I couldn’t get over how cool Larry was, this 62 year old guy busting move after move. He was all over the place. As far as the song itself, the best version was the first one, just Larry on the stage at the auditions in Orlando. It was reported back then that Larry wasn’t getting any money for his song. I hope that this has been rectified, and that this very cool man is getting paid for his contribution to our culture, no matter how cheesy it was. The guy who invented the pet rock got paid. William freaking Hung got paid. Larry should get paid.

9:28– Simon, the journey. This segment was long, emotional, and it summed up 10 years of Idol history. I am going to just table my take for now, and move on. I’ll write about it as one article. Simon deserves his own article. To throw a couple of paragraphs at the Simon Cowell dictatorship (oops) era would be an injustice.

9:44– Siobhan!! I can’t let the finale go by without naming my favorites of the season. Obviously Siobhan was my personal favorite of the season, and I’ve written several thousand words about her so I won’t go into that. Just a few favorite moments, from the pre-semifinal portion of the season:

– Didi singing “Hey Jude” at her audition

– Leah Laurenti singing “Blue Skies” at her audition

– Christian Spear at her audition, recovering from Leukemia

– Vanessa Wolfe jumping off of bridges and getting to ride in an Aero-plane and eat some pea-nuts

– Andrew Garcia channeling his inner Stevie Wonder at his audition, even if he never could do it again

– Lee Dewyze humming the guitar part in between the vocals at his audition

– The contrast between Soibhan’s geeky look with the granny glasses and her singing when she did “Living For the City” at the end of Hollywood Week

– The Little Red Haired Girl (Kelsey Madsen) finally getting some airtime and singing beautifully on group night

– Lilly’s “Lullabye of Birdland”

– Janelle Wheeler in Hollywood, her one perfect song

– Ashley Rodriguez, Charity Vance and Michelle Delamore on group night, with perfect harmonies

-Shelby almost making it to the semis with “Carry on Wayward Son” (Simon wanted her in). She had nerve damage that made one side of her mouth droop. I especially loved her for cussing in her audition when she screwed up her words, then grabbing her mouth and saying “oh my God, I’m SO sorry!!!”…

– -Thaddeus Johnson just destroying “Man in the Mirror”, in the final Hollywood Round, after the band started out with the wrong song. It was better than all but a few final performances. He was probably tossed because he is fat as a cow and his mother was obnoxious as hell. The kid can sing, though; better than Casey, who finished third.

– I am probably missing a couple of dozen, but it’s getting late.

9:44– Is that Janet Jackson????? Wow…..

Janet Jackson is fascinating. She is everything that she isn’t. She isn’t anything like who she is. She is everything that nobody knows, and nothing that everybody knows. She screams softly, and she growls sweetly. She is a tiny girl, with an almost vulgarly curvy body. She is shy and demure, yet she changed the rules of a major network by brazenly showing off her breast in front of several hundred million people. She has been one of the top 30-40 papparazzi targets for 30 years, yet she kept her marriage secret for almost a decade. Only the fact that her own brother was so famous and so polarizing kept her from having her secrets revealed in bright lights. I almost think that she planned it that way. Is there anyone in pop culture today who is more of an enigma than Janet Jackson?

Oh, and she is an amazing performer. She is a better dancer than even her hand picked troupe, and she is able to whisper with more power than anyone this side of Adam can scream. She has had 34 number ones singles, the most in rock history. The Beatles had 20, Elvis 17, her brother 16. Madonna is the defining star of her generation, but Janet has been the better hitmaker. Nobody knows, though. Janet probably wants it that way.

She was the best of the night, on a night of amazing performances, and she made it look easy. How hard does this girl work? That body, that performance, and everything is just perfect, tightly produced, and powerful. Idol hopefuls should be paying attention. This is how it’s done, if you want to be the BEST. Only Fergie can compete with her, in my mind, and Fergie is well below her level. Fergie would be, to Janet, like Lee would be to Jon Bon Jovi or Crystal to Joni Mitchell. Grasshoppah, meet your master.

9:51– Crystal and Lee together, “With a Little Help from My Friends”. Oh, with a little help from Joe Cocker!!!!! Crystal was all over it, enthusiastic and animated. Lee was into it too, but something happened to his mic so we couldn’t hear him. Joe is getting old, but he is still the master of the almost orgasmic turn of a note that nobody can identify without forensic tools. Woodstock was 41 years ago, and ole’ Joe can’t really hit the notes anymore, but the man can still preen, can’t he?

10:02– Lee is the next AMERICAN IDOL!!!!!!! Crystal knew, I think, like I did when I saw the DI result. She was congratulating Lee before Ryan even opened the envelope, laughing and slapping him on the back while Lee looked terrified. I don’t think that he was actually terrified, he was just thinking about having to sing that mess of a U-2 song that he picked for his single and worried juuuuuust a little that the voting would go the other way. Crystal was deserving and she had to know it. Adam handled his loss gracefully last season, and Crystal handled her loss gracefully this season.

Lee is a good guy, and he can sing with that tree trunk of a voice. He might not have the career of David Cook, but he’ll handle himself with class like David always has. Crystal didn’t get her confetti shower, but she will get her fame and fortune. It’s ironic that the best singer of the season ended up being the only one who didn’t get to sing herself off at the end of her run.

Note to Crystal:

I won’t forget that song last night, girl, or all of the amazing performances that you shared with us. You were, like Adam last season, the standout. Winning isn’t everything. Being great is a nice consolation prize, and we will be enjoying you and your music for many years. Watch the ole’ blood sugar, ok?

Final Two Performance Night

Oh my God, Crystal….

I’ll keep this short: Crystal’s last performance was the best song, the best vocal, the best performance of Season 9. Every singer dreams of that one perfect song, that perfect vehicle that allows them to soar above mortality and obscurity and stake their claim to a small piece of eternity. This was it for Crystal. Everything about it was perfect. I started out listening, almost distracted while I was thinking about what I was going to write about tonight. By the end of the song there were tears running down my face. I had to rewind several times to listen to Crystal’s final thoughts. I was buzzing, just blown away by that one incredible performance; after a season without very many defining moments.

The audience was speechless at the end of the song. There was a stunned silence for just a beat, before the audience jumped to their feet for a standing ovation. It was very wet in the Nokia Theater.

I could spend a few hundred words on the rest of the show, but why? This was the defining moment of the season, by the season’s defining performer. It pretty much erased the rest of the night.

Lee, my man, you were terrific. I liked “The Boxer” more than the judges did, and “Everybody Hurts” less. You should be back stage yelling at whoever sent you out with your “single”, that overproduced and melodically vanilla mess. I can’t say that you got hosed, because Crystal should win anyway, but that sure didn’t help your cause.

Crystal’s other two songs were very good, and she left it all out there on the stage for both performances. That set her up perfectly for her final, commanding performance.

This was the year of the singer/songwriter, so it’s fitting that the best singer/songwriter is going to win. Before tonight I expected Lee to win, because he has been the leading vote-getter for a couple of weeks, but I would be pretty shocked if Crystal didn’t win after that last song.

Final 3 Results

Tonight, Casey James walked the plank. You probably don’t need me to tell you that Casey was eliminated, you probably already knew, but I have to justify asking you to read this. This sets up what is probably the correct result, a Crystal/Lee finale.

Tonight’s show was filled primarily with footage of the final three contestants going back to their hometowns. Justin Beiber sang a couple of songs, and Travis Garland (more on him later) also sang.

Before I get to the show, a thought:

Adam Lambert ruined this season.

Don’t shoot me; I’m Adam’s biggest fan. That’s the problem. Adam wasn’t really an amateur when he auditioned last season. He was a veteran of 16 years of musical theater, and he had been performing for large enough audiences that the Idol stage was candy to him. He had no fear, and he was salted in many ways that amateurs can’t possibly be. He knew how to block out a show, and how to set up the lighting and camera angles to enhance his performance.

He knew the dynamics of competitive performing. He knew how to choose a song as a vehicle to show himself off. He knew at a much deeper level how to work a crowd, and how to draw whatever emotion that he wanted out of the crowd. He could make them scream, he could make them cry. He knew how to emote, and how to express himself. If the band screwed up, he could adjust seamlessly. He knew how to start it off, and how to end it. He was a consummate professional, vastly more experienced than all but the most seasoned performers in any arena.

Idol isn’t supposed to be looking the next Adam. Frankly, there aren’t very manyAdamsavailable (and most of them are already superstars). If the bar for being a strong Idol contender is Adam, nobody on this year’s show would be a contender, and nobody on any season would be a contender. Kelly Clarkson was probably the best contestant ever, other than Adam. She would look comparatively weak next to him performing on the stage even now, let alone back when she was a 20 year old waitress. Carrie Underwood would look like an unpolished, rough diamond next to him if it was still 2005. Carrie is amazing now, and in my opinion the most improved performer ever that got their start on Idol. Five years of steady and remarkable improvement later, five years of awards and platinum albums later, five year of network shows and magazine covers, sold out tours, super bowl performances later – and Carrie is now so good that she is ALMOST as good as Adam was when he first walked into the audition room.

The bar can’t be set at that level. Adam can’t be the bar. Enjoy him, but set the bar a bit lower, ok? The real bar, the best of the best, needs to be set somewhere around the level of the following contestants:

David Cook: David was a bartender who almost didn’t even audition. His professional experience was mostly in bars, and doing some writing.

Kelly Clarkson: Kelly was a waitress, and Idol’s shining star who put the show on the map by being as good as the pros before she was a pro.

Carrie Underwood: Carrie was also a waitress, and she was very much a raw and undeveloped talent when she auditioned. Her success post-Idol wouldn’t have happened if she hadn’t dedicated herself to personal improvement. Some of it wasn’t important (she lost a lot of weight, too much weight for awhile before leveling off at a good level recently) and some of it was hugely important (she took lessons and made herself into a singer worthy of comparisons to Faith Hill, who incidentally also made drastic improvements on the fly, after becoming a star).

Fantasia Barrino: Fantasia created moments on the show with a voice that isn’t your typical big church voice, by yanking as much pure emotion out of herself as anyone possibly could.

I’d call that a pretty good “fantastic four”. Adam has to be set aside, put on a pedestal to appreciate, but not be compared to. The show is about amateurs, isn’t it? I love Adam’s performances, and I am excited that he is on his way to superstardom. I was glad that Idol got him, but Idol won’t be served by using him as the standard. It will just create more and more discontent and disappointment.

Ok, now compare Crystal and Lee to the above “Gold Standard”:

Lee sings like David Cook, though he isn’t as polished as David was on the show. It’s not a mismatch. Cookie had some pitch issues at times, and he was dunned for his lack of personality a time or two as well. They share similar personality traits, and I see no reason why Lee can’t do what Cookie is doing, and is doing very well.

Crystalis not like the other Gold Standard girls. She might become the fourth Gold Standard girl. She is unpolished, but none of these kids were polished when they were on the show. Kelly was almost dumped inHollywoodby Simon, and Carrie was out of tune on even her most powerful performances, her moments like “Independence Day”.Crystalhas a voice capable of making an album that even 19 Entertainment can’t screw up. I hope. I think. I pray…..

The show-

I really liked the group interview. I get a kick out of it because they are spontaneous and talking straight, with no cue cards. I am interested in them, so I am interested in what they have to say when it’s not choreographed. By contestant, here is what I got out of the interview:

Casey– He actually mentioned that he felt like he had won the lottery. I have always thought the same thing. Casey is the closest comparison to the world of music that I lived. Casey later got a big laugh about the contestants taking any and all comments from the judges for personal growth. He slyly tiptoed around what happened in his audition, when he was asked to take his shirt off.

Lee– Lee didn’t say anything that was surprising, but he explained about how he is struggling with the demands on his time, and how that makes it hard to stay connected with his old world. This is obviously a common problem, maybe the largest downside to sudden fame and fortune.

Crystal– She talked about most of the same things, but she does have one unique issue, which she was very eloquent about: Her diabetes. She thanked Idol for the care that she is getting because she is on the show. She said that she has never been healthier, and I think she was thinking about what her life was going to be like if she never got out of the world that she was in. Young people with diabetes don’t live long and healthy lives without the kind of care thatCrystal is getting now, and some serious discipline with their diet and lifestyle. I don’t know for sure, but the videos that I have watched ofCrystal from her pre-Idol life don’t show a kid that was taking very good care of herself. Idol might not have saved her life, but Idol gave her a much better focus on taking care of herself; and the tools to do it.

Ford video next. Ok, let’s move on.

Homecoming video for Casey James

It must be just amazing and mind blowing to experience that. When Casey left this small town to audition, he was a guy that sang and played in bars. He is too good looking to have ever starved for attention, but coming back and seeing thousands of women that a year ago wouldn’t have even noticed him going crazy over him? It’s just surreal. Casey hasn’t really changed, but the perception of Casey in others’ eyes has undergone a metamorphosis that has to be almost impossible to get his head around. Tiger Woods wishes that he had the kind of female attention that Casey is going to be getting until he decides to settle down. Did I mention the lottery? Lucky bastard….

He made a special trip to the hospital that saved his arm, so that he could continue to play the guitar. This was, to me, a much bigger deal than they could show on tape. He would not be where he is without a doctor pulling off a miracle just to give him a chance. Casey knows this. He struggled to avoid choking up when Ryan asked him about the doctor, and he was trying to say that it was so much sweeter to be able to tell that doctor just how much his miracle had mattered. He said that, if he had just gone back as a bar band guy, it would have been nice but no big deal. Coming back as a star, playing his guitar with that miracle of an arm, gave the doctor a hand in something very special. Grammy Award winning songs have been written about lesser acts. Expect Casey to have a song on his first album about it, and expect it to be emotional.

Travis Garland performed next. He is an internet sensation, discovered by someone who I am not going to bother looking up. He is, as best I can describe, what a white Irish kid with questionable rhythm would sound like if he was impersonating Michael Jackson. He did a duet with some girl who was dressed like Daisy May, who apparently forgot her microphone. The performance was a mess, mostly an attempt to distract us from the fact that the kid can’t sing any better than somewhere around 10 thousand kids that are singing in the shower as I am typing. If Travis ends up being some huge superstar, let me know. I won’t hold my breath.

This kid isn’t any good, and the money they wasted setting up that horrible performance was probably more than they pay all ten Idol contestants for the entire Tour. All flash, and not one iota of substance. Just crap. They should have just given him the money and told him to go to college.

This kind of arrogance irritates me. This wasn’t an unveiling of an unknown diamond in the rough, as they want us to believe. This was a vacuum cleaner sales pitch. It was all about some egomaniac, that I still refuse to look up, thinking that he can create a superstar out of spam and Velveeta, and figuring that he can sell the packaging. That is an incredibly cynical and small minded attack on Idol’s process. Idol contestants go through a ringer, not a processing plant. Idol’s singers sing live, with no net. This kid lip synched to a crap song, with a dozen hot dancers to distract from the show. I can’t possibly have hated it more, and I feel for the kid. It’s not his fault; he is just living his own dream. For his sake I hope that they can get him on the shelves at WinCo, or maybe Rainbow food outlet. People will buy him if he is on sale, and maybe he’ll make a few bucks before his expiration date. Just stock him next to the pork and beans.

Next was Crystal’s homecoming: First thing that I noticed is that she had the presence of mind to bring a camera. It wasn’t a digital camera, it was one of those disposable ones that you can buy at Walmart for four dollars. I don’t think I ever really noticed it directly before, butCrystal really reminded me of my sister Alison in this video. Looking back, while Crystal isn’t the same type of lead singer that Alison is she is very similar as a musician, and she reminds me of my memories of the younger Alison as a person, in how she looks at the world. Alison was always an incredible harmony singer, and THAT girl, the one who pulled everything together and made the song work.Crystal has that, in spades. I love her lead singing, but I love her musicianship even more. It’s what I cared about more than anything in my own experience, and it brings me home.

Crystalhas one hell of an arm. She threw a perfect strike when she tossed out the first pitch at a Mud Hens’ game.

Lee’s homecoming was next: Lee has a damned good arm, too. He threw a strike at the Cub’s game, with some serious mustard on it. He visited his old grade school, and that was nice. I got a little bit emotional myself when he sang “Homeward Bound” in front of thousands of hometown fans. Lee is maybe shy and he sometimes rambles, but Lee is honest and without guile. When he was singing I first noticed his parents singing along and smiling, with sweet looks of contentment on their faces. Lee himself, when he was singing the last verse, choked up and lost himself in the moment.

It was real emotion, the kind of emotion that the Red Sox evoked in me when they made their ridiculous comeback in 2004, but ramped up a thousand times because he was the miracle himself. Lee was feeling everything, knowing himself in a moment that he could not have, in a million years, imagined himself in. He was lucid and eloquent when he thanked everyone, bringing it all down to a low speaking voice and telling them that this was the best day of his life, and that they were the reason why. There was no stammering and rambling then. He knew exactly what he wanted to say.

Justin Bieber sang next. I almost skipped it because I was all emotional about the Idol homecomings. I’m glad that I didn’t. This kid is pretty good. His rhythm is extremely strong for such a young kid (his voice hasn’t even changed yet, for chrissakes), and he shows a lot of professionalism. He took the drums over at the end, to show off. He wasn’t great, but he was pretty good and a hell of a lot better than I was when I was six , or whatever age he is. I’m not sure why they use a flange on his microphone, but it didn’t sound bad. He is young enough that I thought about the idea of a celebrity Idol show. How cool would that be? Get young stars to go through the meat grinder, and compete with the judges driving them crazy with “artistry” and “be true to yourself” and hammering them on song choice when they sang one of their number one hits. It would be hilarious, and those singers would give us some incredible performances along the way.

Results-

No drama, but it was interesting anyway. Lee’s celebration when he was the first one to make the finale left no doubt that Lee wants to win. He was as excited as, well – the Red Sox in 2004. Ryan didn’t take any time to build drama; he just namedCrystalas Lee’s opponent in the finale.Crystalsaid, “Safe? I’m safe?!??” and then hugged Casey and said “keep playing”, then she ran over to Lee and hugged him hard, wrapping her legs around him.

What I really liked was that so much of the nervousness that everyone suffered from all season just flat left the stage, and I think it was when they all got to see their “going home” footage that took it away. Casey wasn’t bummed that he lost. Crystal and Lee weren’t worrying about the next judging, not at all. They were celebrating. This was like making it to the World Series. There will be some partying tonight, for both contestants, and they will probably celebrate together.

Whoever wins next week they both won, and they know that. While Adam was gracious in defeat last season, he had to know that he was jobbed. Nobody will feel jobbed this season. One will win, and one will lose. Neither will feel jobbed.

Casey sang “Daughters” as his final song. He didn’t sing all that well, but who cares? We are past that. He brought a kid out of the audience to join him on the front and center stage. He sat with her, and sang out the rest of the song. She said something to him in the guitar break, and I really wish that I could read lips. I rewound it a few times to try and get it, but I couldn’t.

The kid looked to be around four years old, just cute as all getout. She was dressed like Siobhan was when she sang “Any Man of Mine”, with the flowery dress. She didn’t get all excited and jump up and down, though. She was quiet’ and STARING. I know that look from a kid. She was memorizing something, so she won’t forget it. When I see that look from a small child, I just hope I don’t have my finger in my nose. It’s like the kid was taking a picture.

Casey has a lot of the same problems that Bo Bice has, because his style isn’t mainstream right now. He does have several things going for him: His looks, his charm, his musical skills, and the fact that the studio just loves him. Some people are photogenic, and they always look good in pictures. Some are camera friendly, and they make good movies. Casey is studiogenic, and he always makes good recordings. He should have a nice career, and if he can find a market he could have hit records. Tastes change, and you never know what will be hot in 2012.

Final 3 Performance Night

I am just about to watch the show. Rhonda Lobe called me a few minutes ago to assure me that Lee blew the doors off tonight and that he is now her pick to win it all. Each singer will sing two songs, one of which was their own choice. The other three songs were selected by the judges. I know that Ellen chose “Maybe I’m Amazed” for Crystal and that Lee was given “Hallelujah” by one of the judges, Simon I think. Kara and Randy chose “Daughters”, by John Mayer, for Casey.

The singers, the songs-

I am going to review the show by the two rounds of songs tonight. There is no real point in individual critiques, there really hasn’t been for a couple of weeks. Either you watch the show and you know these cats, or you don’t care. There isn’t much more to say about how they sing, is there? To recap:

– Casey has a sort of bleating yet warm tone to his voice, and he is really good looking. He plays guitar (all of the three remaining play guitar) and mandolyn and sings harmony. He can play lead somewhat better than your typical bar band picker, but he ain’t Jimmy Hendrix. His style is a sort of a Texas blues/southern rock mix. He is from a small town in Texas, and he has a good dose of Texas charm and southern sensibilities. He is cool and uncomplicated. He doesn’t give speeches. He gets to the point.

-Crystal is a folksy, sweeter voiced doppelganger twin of Janis Joplin, who kind of looks like Janis as well. She plays some piano and harmonica to compliment her campfire styled guitar strumming. She is a consummate professional, and one of the better harmony singers that I’ve heard on the show. She is still green as a lead singer, and her only vocal weakness is that she occasionally gets sloppy with her rhythm and phrasing. Her personality is that of a somewhat shy and stoic earth mother. She probably has a dream catcher in every room of her house, and I would be shocked if she owns any pastel colored clothes.

– Lee has the most contemporary voice left in the competition. He scratches, he growls, and he has good range. He is the greenest singer of the trio, but he has the most power in his voice. His main weakness is his intonation (inexperience….), and it will probably be gone by the end of the Idol Tour. Lee’s personality is that of a laid back kid who probably has more friends than he can count. I wonder sometimes if he holds back on stage because his basic sense of humor is too sick for network TV, even Fox. He seems like THAT guy, yaknow? While Big Mike got all the attention for being the glue of the show this season, Lee seems to be the one who everyone wanted to be best friends with.

Round One-

Casey went first, singing “Ok it’s Alright with me” by Eric Hutchinson. I liked the song, and I liked how he sang it. The judges hammered him for singing it “easy” and hated the song choice. Yeah, right.

Crystal went next, singing “Come to my Window” by Melissa Etheridge. It was a mediocre effort. I hated the arrangement, and Crystal’s vocal was inconsistent and she seemed out of whack the entire time that she was singing. Her rhythm wasn’t the best, and she was maybe trying too hard to milk something out of a song that didn’t have much to offer. The one thing that she could have done was to pull a Siobhan and take it up to the rafters. She made a couple of weak attempts at that, and then folded it up and mailed it in. The judges weren’t crazy positive, but they called it a good song choice. Yeah, right.

Lee sang “Simple Man”, by Lynyrd Skynyrd. Shinedown covered this song recently, very well actually, but for some reason nobody anywhere near the Idol family knew about it. Lee’s version was kind of in the middle of the two. He was a little bit bolder than Skynyrd’s original, but well short of the boldness of the cover. My own take was that it was a nice, pleasing karaoke performance of a very familiar song. The judges all wet their pants at how great it was. Yeah, right.

Frankly, the judges were miles off on every single critique. They seem to be making sure that Lee makes the finale – and that Casey doesn’t. Everything that they said about Crystal’s performance would have been the right thing to say about Casey. They laudedCrystal for “staying true to herself” while hammering Casey for “staying true to himself”. They gave Crystal a pass for her fairly crappy performance.

Simon was the only judge who even mentioned how Casey sang. He blurted out right at the end, drowned out in the crowd noise; “you sang it well though”. This was after all four judges practically accused Casey of not caring. Practically is weak. They flat accused him of not caring, because he sang a song that would fit on one of his albums instead of singing some Whitney Houston or something. Very hypocritical, I think.

Lee, man….. He was good, I liked it, but it wasn’t amazing. Hell, it was fairly pedestrian by the standards of that song. Why didn’t they hammer him for not being as good as Shinedown? Hell, why didn’t they even mention Shinedown? Doesn’t anyone on Idol know who Shinedown is?

They hammered so many singers this season for lesser crimes (Siobhan, Didi, etc.) against previous versions of the songs. If anyone was mailing it in for this first round of performances, it was the judges.

Round Two-

I reverted back to my old format for the second round. Sue me.

Casey sang “Daughters”, by John Mayer. His vocal wasn’t perfect, but his voice sounded right and I would like to hear the studio version. The judges congratulated themselves for the song choice, but Simon called them on it. Simon was much kinder to Casey than the other judges, who seemed to have been paid to make sure that he is voted off tomorrow night.

Crystal was next with “Maybe I’m Amazed”, by Paul McCartney. Weirdly she left the words unchanged, calling herself a man and saying “maybe you’re the only woman”. The breaks in the song were a little bit weird, but who cares? Crystal destroyed the song, and those missing notes from her first performance were all there. Crystal doesn’t move comfortably without her guitar, but she did ok. She actually moved out behind the judges and blew out a couple of last glory notes from the front and center stage. The studio version of this song should be, well, amazing. The judges all gushed, and this time I agree. Not a “moment” necessarily, but a masterful exhibition of her range. She even growled some, which was new for her.

Lee closed the show with “Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohen. Is it just me, or does Lee have some Neil Diamond in his lower range? This song has been a staple on Idol, but Lee put his own stamp on it with that forceful lower range phrasing and power all the way up to some ballsy, growling glory runs. There were a couple of imperfections, probably too many to call this a “moment”, but overall this was one of Lee’s best performances of the season.

The fix is definitely in. Randy did everything but a rain dance to make sure that next week is a genuine competition. Kara and Ellen followed suit, reminding me of last season when they overdid it and accidentally swung the tide towards Kris Allen over the obvious choice of Adam. Simon wasn’t much different, calling Lee a great person among other things.

Ummm…. Nothing against Lee, but isn’t this kind of a back-handed slam at Casey? I understand that they really want a Lee/Crystal showdown, but did they forget last week? I like Lee a lot, and I would agree that Lee/Crystal is the just choice for the finale. I don’t see any reason to slander Casey like they did tonight to accomplish it, though. Casey was terrific tonight. Is it so important to manipulate the voters? They will get it right, without needing the panel to beat Casey to a pulp in the process.

Safe to in danger-

It would be an epic shocker if Crystal isn’t safe, and Lee as well. Casey probably should have gone home a couple of weeks ago, and this is almost certainly his time to go. He was terrific tonight. Let’s all remember that, and forget the manipulation from the judges.

Grades-

Casey A- and A-

Crystal B- and A

Lee B+ and A-

Final 4 Results/Power Rankings

Michael Lynche is officially out of the competition in fourth place. Here is a round up of the fourth place finishers from past seasons:

Season one: Tamyra Gray was a semi-regular on Boston Public, co-wrote a #1 song (“I believe”), starred in 2 Broadway shows and has appeared in several movies in supporting roles. She has an album coming out soon.

Season 2: Josh Gracin is a country music recording artist with a #1 single (Nothin’ to Lose). He has had 4 top 10 singles and 2 top 5 albums on the country charts. He has an album coming out soon.

Season 3: LaToya London had a 3 year run starring in the Broadway touring show of “The Color Purple”. I think that she has an album coming out soon.

Season 4: Anthony Federov has had no large scale success since Idol. He has an album coming out soon.

Aside: Actors are always “reading a lot of scripts” and “exploring creative opportunities”, while screenwriters are “in pre-production” and “talking to studio heads”, and singers are “in the studio” and “have an album coming out soon”.

Also: divorced people are “revisiting their dating options”, the unemployed are “analyzing future opportunities” and Death Row inmates are “exploring the appeal process”. I guess a guy falling off a cliff is in “pre-splatter mode” and somebody having a heart attack is “experiencing a circulation free environment”.

Season 5: Chris Daughtry you might have heard of. He is performing tonight.

Season 6: LaKisha Jones played a key role in “The Color Purple” on Broadway and was Chaka Kahn’s understudy. Also she has an album coming out….

Season 7: Brooke White is writing, recording and touring like a crazy woman. She has a movie coming out soon, and she is hosting part time on a couple of different networks. This girl doesn’t sleep much.

Season 8: Allison Iraheta is going on tour as Adam Lambert’s opening act this summer. No major chart success yet, but she just turned 18.

I’ll get back to Mike later. First-

The show-

Fantasia Barrino started the show off, singing her current single. Has the big voiced black female church singer style run its course? Idol has had a ton of them over the years (no pun intended), but none of them have had any staying power as relevant recording artists. Fantasia sold 2 million copies of her first album. She will be lucky to sell a tenth of that with her current album. Idol didn’t even pass one through to the semifinals this season, and the only similar type, Ashley Rodriquez, was bounced in the first week.

Results-

After some preamble Casey was sent to safety. I’d rather see Casey next week than Mike, though I would probably enjoy Mike’s going home segment next week more than Casey’s. Well, other than getting to see Casey’s hot Mom again…

Daughtry performed next. While I have to respect his post-Idol success, he isn’t nearly as good a singer as David Cook is. He is more of a Casey James type, with the tendency to bleat a little bit. He doesn’t have the scratch or growl that Cook has, or the power in his vocal chords.

He is probably better than Casey will be, but I don’t assume it. He’s had several years of growth and reps onstage to lock in his intonation, and strengthen his vocal chords. I remember his voice when he was a contestant. I wrote him off the first time that I heard him as one of those guys who can’t vibrato (like Casey), who can’t hold a note in tune (like Casey), and who pushes from his throat, not his diaphragm. Like Casey.

I am not trying to denigrate Chris. Chris and his band are doing fine. I’m just saying that Casey might surprise us once he gets in the studio, and on tour. Casey’s I-tunes Studio versions of his songs are terrific, much better than you would expect from his onstage performances. He is good looking, mature, experienced, plays his own lead parts (Chris just strums), sings harmony, and he records well. Once he gets used to being the star on stage, I can envision Casey challenging the other contestants for the most successful post-Idol recording and touring career from this season’s crop. He is missing ego as a performer more than anything else, and he has plenty of ego in other areas that he can transfer. He can laugh, and he can have fun. He’ll be fine.

Ryan tried to get Ellen and Randy to explain the difference between being on the show and doing what Chris is doing now. Neither of them understood the question. He asked the wrong judges. Kara and Simon would have probably had better advice, but not the correct advice. The missing elephant in the room for this question was Paula. Paula, who toured for years and years, could have explained it in a couple of sentences.

The difference is productive time in a dedicated, professional environment. Chris Daughtry spends thousands of hours every year in the studio and on tour, living and breathing his craft. The last four years have given Chris somewhere around twelve thousand hours of dedicated productive time, with professionals to guide him, to get better at his craft. It’s that simple.

Results-

Lee is safe. Mike probably knew at this point that he was going home. He looked poised and cool. He also looked thoughtful, and I think he was in full on self-talk mode.

Bon Jovi performed next. I always saw them as the “Band of the 1980’s”. It was a weird decade, and other bands might have an argument, but I am pretty sure that they sold more albums and concert tickets than anyone. By decade, for fun, the best rock bands:

1950s- Buddy Holly and the Crickets (actually Little Richard, if you call him a “rock band”)

1960’s- Beatles

1970’s- Led Zeppelin

1980’s- Bon Jovi

1990’s- Nirvana

2000’s- Nickelback

Results-

I knew the results already, so I took the opportunity to look hard at a couple of people on the set: Mike’s wife, and Crystal.

Mike’s wife was composed and quiet, with the predictable reservoir of tears held back behind her eyes. With Casey safe, hope was pretty much gone. The wife of the condemned has to brace herself for the worst, while holding out a tiny sliver of hope for the stay of execution. WhenCrystalwas pronounced safe and Mike was done, his wife was ready to accept it. HadCrystalbeen the one that was gone, I am pretty sure that Mike’s wife would have fallen out of her chair and there would have been a lot of hugging on the floor. She. Was. Right. There. Mike was done, so she leaned back and went into damage control, blinking back the flood.

Crystalwas also very quiet, and when Ryan told them to dim the lights, she braced herself for the worst. She put on a hard mask, a face that wouldn’t melt if she was voted off. Mike was cool, calm and collected. He is a leader by nature, and he tookCrystalon his shoulder and when her name was called as being safe she melted into him. Mike just held her for a second, whispered some words to her and stood up straight, asCrystalstumbled to the soft chairs.

His exit video was a reminder of several things that I was mostly irritated at when they happened. Now that it’s all over, though, it was nice to lose the competitive edge for a second and just groove on this very nice man, and his improbable journey. His voice wasn’t as good as probably half of the 181 singers that made it toHollywood. He made it to fourth place, mostly because of his fearlessness on stage and his charisma. His personality is just HUGE, and it allowed him to overcome his comparative lack of singing power. He earned his finish, and he was an asset to the show.

Mike’s future isn’t going to be in the studio. I expect that he will explore that, though, and maybe look at Broadway. When the dust clears I fully expect him to be holding a microphone, but not performing. Mike’s future might very well be in hosting MTV shows or something similar. His personality is his best asset. Mike is driven, and disciplined. He will land somewhere, and “be” somebody.

Power Rankings-

3: Casey James– I won’t assume that Lee will beat Casey next week. I won’t assume that Casey won’t have a nice post-Idol career, either.

2: Lee Dewyze– I can’t believe that this shy, scared kid made it this far. It’s an incredible achievement for a kid with so little stage experience to make the top three on Idol. There hasn’t been a less stage salted final three contender since Carrie Underwood. She did ok.

1: Crystal Bowersox– She got rid of the nerves this week, and delivered a pair of Idol near-moments on stage. She is the standout talent of the year anyway, and those couple of lesser weeks might have helped her avoid the inevitable contrarian backlash that cost Clay Aiken and Adam Lambert their well deserved titles.