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.

Final 4 Performance Night

Tonight’s theme is songs of the cinema, and the mentor is Jamie Foxx. Foxx was a mentor last season for Rat Pack week, just a couple of weeks after stepping all over his tongue in an interview about Miley Cyrus. I’ll try to keep an open mind about him, but I admit that I don’t like him much. I liked him before that interview, though. He was amazing as Ray Charles in the movie “Ray”.

I have been thinking about some titles for Idol contestants to use for their albums. Here are a few:

Didi Benami- “For Rebecca” (her friend that died in a car accident)

Lilly Scott- “Blue notes from a White Chick”

Alex Lambert- “Green Bananas” or “Songs Tim Urban can’t sing”

Janelle Wheeler- “My Guitars have Legs”

Ashley Rodriguez- “I’m gonna Stick My Boot Up Simon’s….”

Joe Munoz/Michelle Delamore- “Yeah, we were on Idol. Really!!!!”

Tim Urban- “Grooving to Donnie Osmond” or “Karaoke Classics”

Paige Miles- “Church by Day, Honkytonk by Night”

Katie Stevens- “Queen of the Prom” or “For My Grandmother”

Lacey Brown- “The Hoarse Whisperer”

Siobhan Magnus- “Screams in the Key of Life” or “Raggedy Ann in Combat Boots”

Lee Dewyze- “My Favorite Hip/Hop Anthems” or “Bang the Guitar Slowly”

Michael Lynche- “Big Easy” or “Big, Period”

Casey James- “Rockin’ the Pony” or “Bleatings, Earthlings”

Crystal Bowersox- “MamaSox” or “Crystal’s Blues Persuasion”

Ok, enough of that. The final four are singing their own song as well as being paired up for a couple of duets. Adam and Allie blew the doors off of “Slow Ride” together last year, and that performance was one of the main reasons why Adam picked Allie to open for him on his Nationwide Tour this summer.

The singers, the songs-

Lee Dewyze, “Kiss From a Rose”, Batman (Seal)

Lee had some trouble with his breathing, but he hit the notes fairly well for such a demanding melody. I didn’t much like the arrangement. It was too busy and tried to do too much. This song really needs more than a minute and a half. Lee sings pretty stock in his range, hitting his high notes the same way every time – and hitting his low notes the same every time. Give the kid a year of serious professional experience, which he is going to get, and let’s hear him sing this one again. He will be able to make it soar, soar, soar…..

The judges weren’t kind. I guess that I agree with them. Lee has had better nights.

Michael Lynche, “Will You Be There”, Free Willy (Michael Jackson)

Mike doesn’t have good rhythm in his phrasing. He tends to bite things off with grammatical inflections that sound really corny. He was singing a song by one of the true masters of dynamic phrasing, and I think that he was too aware of Michael Jackson’s version. It kept creeping into his own version, and taking him out of his comfort zone. Also, there wasn’t any emotion at all in his voice, his face or his body language. He wasn’t singing the song so much as he was lifting it like he was doing reps with free weights.

The judges were mixed. Simon was fairly positive, and very funny for Simon. He had never heard of “Free Willy”. Ryan got off a good line, asking “Dori” (Ellen’s scatterbrained bluefish character from “Finding Nemo”) to explain it to him.

First Duet:

Lee and Crystal, “Falling Slowly”, Once (The Frames)

Kris Allen did this one last season. Lee and Crystal started out a little bit tentative, but once they hit a couple of tuning fork harmonies they took off and blew the doors off of the song. They ended about as tentatively as they began, but the in between was really, really cool.Crystalis perfectly in her element as a harmony singer, and she was terrific. Lee was also very good, feeding off ofCrystal.

The judges gushed. I wouldn’t put it up there with “Slow Ride”, but it was terrific.

Casey James, “Mrs. Robinson”, The Graduate (Simon and Garfunkel)

Uh oh….

Casey brought out the Mandolyn. Uh oh, my butt. The arrangement was really good. Casey stripped it down, with the mandolyn and some string accompaniment in the background. He slowed it down, giving it more of a Paul Simon feel than the quick pop shuffle of the original; kind of like “Slip Sliding Away” or “Homeward Bound”. His vocal was tight and in tune, though I wasn’t thrilled with some of his melody choices. His eyes were a little bit wet at the end of the song; that was a dramatic contrast from the first two solos, which weren’t emotional at all.

The judges got all over Kara about the song lyrics, and she was beet red. Simon dunned him for the song, but he stopped short of calling him in danger of going home. He stated a general distain for all of the solo performances so far.

Crystal Bowersox, “I’m Alright”, Caddyshack (Kenny Loggins)

Terrific; mini moment. What else is there to say? I loved it, loved it, loved it.Crystalis back, confident and loose tonight. Was it perfect? No, not quite. Amazing? Absolutely. We should be talking about this one for awhile. I can’t wait to hear the studio version….

The judges were positive, but not as much as I was. How could they be? Me, I love that song period, and this cover was every bit as amazing in its own way as Kenny Loggins’ original cut. Just cooooooool…

Second duet:

Mike and Casey, “Have You Ever Really Loved a Woman, Don Juan DeMarco (Bryan Adams)

Casey was a little bit wooden as they started out, worrying about his guitar too much. Mike was fine, solid as ever. They really got going when Casey joined in with Mike on the chorus, doing the harmony. They hit one really sour note together and Casey lost the harmony thread once early, but the rest of the notes were very good. I’d call it somewhat clumsy, but it had some really nice moments. They ended it very well.

The judges got a little carried away, gushing about both duets and dismissingCrystal’s moment with “I’m Alright”.

Safe to in Danger-

Crystal

Lee

Casey

Mike

Crystalis almost certainly safe, but this late you just never know. Lee might be in danger, but his momentum has been very strong towards being the second finalist. Mike and Casey, flip a coin. I put Casey on top, mostly because of the outstanding musicianship he showed off tonight.

Grades-

Lee B

Mike C+

Lee and Crystal A-

Casey B+

Crystal A

Mike and Casey B+

Why does this season suck?

Sean Kates and I have been tossing this subject back and forth for a few weeks. Today I had a thought: It’s all Kara’s fault.

Well, not exactly. I submit that the largest problem, the largest cause of the “suckiness” of this year’s finals, is that they replaced the only stage performer on the judging table with a studio producer and a stand up comedian.

The Idol judges this season ended up placing way too much emphasis on “artistry” and “being current” and being able to sound radio friendly over being able to sing and have some versatility. Because of this too many of the semifinalists were niche type singers, and too few of them were singers, period. I am going to list the final 24 below, and take a few words to give my opinion on their basic singing talent. In some cases, like Joe Munoz, my opinion is based on very little evidence. For others, like Lee and Casey, I’ve been listening to them for months so I feel like I have a pretty good idea of what they are capable of.

The singers, the styles, the tools-

Females:

Didi Benami– Singer/songwriter

Didi struggled with her intonation and rhythm when she had to sing outside of her comfort zone. She struggled with song choice, trying to do songs that she didn’t have the tools to pull off. Her lack of stage experience left her trying to learn how to move on the fly, further impeding her ability to sing her songs freely.

Paige Miles- No set type

Paige struggled mightily with vocal issues, partially because of illness but mostly because she wasn’t used to the workload that Idol puts on the contestants. Her voice broke down under the strain, because she hadn’t been using it very much before the show. She wasn’t a professional singer; she was a schoolteacher who occasionally sang karaoke. I am not bothered that they picked her, though. She was one of the few who could sing multiple styles, and when she was healthy she had one hell of a voice.

Lacey Brown– Singer/songwriter

Lacey has a pleasant voice and a very cool accent, which can work in a couple of formats, but she has no real range and even less vocal power. Because of this she was severely limited in her song choices, and she struggled to fill up the big stage.

Ashley Rodriguez– Pop singer

Ashley left after only one week, but she did demonstrate some power and range in her clips along the way to the semifinals. She was a very good choice for the semifinals, and one of the mistakes that the voters made early on. She was capable of multiple formats, and she had shown that she can sing tough songs. One “sort of” bad week and then she was gone, after being one of the front runners going in. It didn’t help that Simon basically told the voters to dump her.

Kaitlyn Epperly– Singer/songwriter

Kaitlyn’s voice wasn’t the strongest or the most polished, but she was well slotted as an almost final 12 contestant. She gave us a moment with “The Scientist”. While she wasn’t an obvious voter mistake, she was one of the last performers left who could take a chance and get out of her zone without looking silly.

Michelle Delamore– Diana Ross type, soul/pop/gospel singer

Michelle wasn’t the best choice for the show, mostly because she isn’t all that good of a singer. I can’t say for sure that she couldn’t do multiple formats. Hell, she can sing out of tune on just about anything, can’t she?

Katie Stevens– No set type

Katie was a proper choice for the semis, but she was too young and inexperienced to take advantage of her versatility. She probably should have been sent home, and told to try out again in a few years. This would have allowed Idol to get another, more experienced singer in there.

Haeley Vaughn– No set type. A self proclaimed country singer

I should just type “see Katie”, but Haeley had a different bag of tricks. She isn’t nearly polished enough to sing a full performance without making a gazillion mistakes, but she has a soaring, bright, energetic voice that can probably handle several musical styles. Still, she was a poor choice for the same reasons that Katie and a few others were. She wasn’t ready for the big stage yet, and it was obvious in Hollywood. Again, give that spot to a more experienced singer and tell Haeley to come back in a few years.

Siobhan Magnus– No set type

Siobhan was the last contestant left in the competition who was a pure singer instead of a niche artist. Her nerves and inexperience took her out later, but she was amazing for the first month of the live shows. She was exactly the type of performer that Idol should have been looking for, and who knows how many Siobhans they missed in their search for “current” and “radio friendly”?

Janelle Wheeler– Singer/songwriter

Janelle doesn’t have a strong voice, and it was obvious all the way back at her audition. She wasn’t the best choice to make it through because of this, but the judges were emphasizing all of the things that Janelle does well during Hollywood week (guitar playing, “artistry”, “musicianship”, “current”, etc.) over basic vocal skills. The person that told her to sing a Heart song in the semis, with her voice, was clueless of what Janelle is capable of. That might have been the worst song choice in the history of Idol.

Lilly Scott– Cabaret type singer/songwriter

Lilly was so good that it would have been pretty obtuse to keep her out of the semis, but she should have been maybe one of a couple, not one of about ten singer/songwriters. This would have allowed her a niche on the show, instead of reminding us that there were too many niche singers.

Chrystal Bowersox– Singer/songwriter

We’ve all heard Crystal enough to be able to credit her with more of an artistic range than just singer/songwriter, but her basic persona is still just that. She sings and plays her guitar, she can add piano and harp, and she can sing harmony. Crystal is the very best of the type from this year’s crop, and she has the capability to branch out of her comfort zone and not look ridiculous.

Todrick Hall- No set style, but heavy leanings towards modern pop

Todrick was one of the better choices for the semis because of his creativity, but he was also a proper dump late in the semis because he doesn’t have a strong enough voice to compete with the best of the group.

Tyler Grady– Retro rocker

Tylerwas sooooo bad when he got on the big stage that he was an obvious dump, but I think that he was a decent enough choice for the semis. He was capable of better than that, based on his previous performances. He just stunk it up at the wrong time. He was kind of a niche artist, but he was the only one of his type.

Aaron Kelly– Country crooner

Aaron was the only one of his type as well, so he was a decent enough choice. While most of the kids really should have waited until they were older, Aaron was polished enough to make it to the top 5 mostly on merit. If it was me I would raise the age limit to 18, but Allie made it deep last season at 16 and carved herself out a career. Some kids, while not as ready as they would be if they waited, can compete at 16. Aaron did just fine.

John Park– Deep voiced crooner

John got zero airtime in between his famous audition and the semifinals. Because of this he kept his status as a frontrunner for several weeks. Once we got to hear him on the big stage it was pretty obvious that he wasn’t good enough to compete. Did they just “fodder” him because of the Shania angle? I think so. As long as the Idol producers only do this for one or maybe two singers, I think that this is ok. They get their storylines, the public gets to reject them, and by the semifinals we have all forgotten about them. Not everyone can win, so a couple of semifinal sacrificial lambs are ok with me. In a year like this, though, they might have wished that they had sent someone with a real shot through in his place.

Andrew Garcia– Singer/songwriter

Andrew was a fine choice for the semifinals, but his limited range of styles and his horrible phrasing kept him from contending. Having Andrew wasn’t a bad idea so much as having so many other similar types was.

Lee Dewyze– Post grunge singer/songwriter

Lee was also a fine choice, and it’s not his fault that he is now in the uncomfortable position of needing to act like a trained monkey to carry the show. Lee should be a change of pace, a physically quiet but vocally potent counterpoint to the theatrical types. Siobhan was the only theatrical type left by the final 12, if not the final 24.

Joe Munoz– Who knows?

Picking a guy like Joe, who is basically a decent karaoke singer, was pointless without some back-story to give him an identity. Idol screwed the pooch on this one, wasting the slot completely.

Tim Urban– Singer/songwriter

Yes, before the slide and all the talk about his smile, his hair, his abs and his Teflon-like ability to brush off the constant critics and survive to the final seven, Tim was a singer/songwriter. He was given the spot when another contestant was disqualified, over a huge kid with a huge personality and a huge voice (Thaddeus Johnson). That kid was only 16 himself, so I can see giving him another year or three, but if they were going to give that spot to a teenager he would have been a lot more interesting than still another singer who relied on artistry over vocal ability.

Michael Lynche– Luther Vandross type balladeer

Mike was a fine choice for the semis. He might not have a ton of style options, but he was at least the only one of his type and he has added plenty of charisma to the show. While Idol shouldn’t care about the chemistry backstage, Mike hit them a homerun there as well. I never really care about his performances myself (he’s not all that good, frankly), but he has my respect as a worthy competitor on the show. Final four is a reach, but you have to take that up with the judges. We voted his happy butt out over a month ago.

Casey James– Southern Rock singer/guitarist/songwriter

Casey carved a nice niche for himself as the only one of his type to make the finals since Bo Bice, several years ago. Casey is nowhere near as good as Bo was, but his style is so pleasing that he survived fairly effortlessly to the final month of the show. I was very happy that he was chosen, because I love this style of music. I wonder how many similar types have been getting tossed over the years. There are literally tens of thousands of these guys around the country. It would be the upset of the millennium if Casey was the best of the type who auditioned, even this year alone. If it was up to me I would pick the best of this type each year and let that one, and ONLY that one, through to the semifinals.

Alex Lambert– Singer/songwriter

Alex was another newbie to our attention at the beginning of the semifinals, having received more airtime during Hollywood backstage drama than for singing. He was starting to develop some buzz for his terrific voice when he was surprisingly ousted just before the finals. Alison will probably get mad at me for saying this (she loved Alex), but Alex is one of the best examples of a singer who was passed to the semis that really should have been rejected and told to come back next year, with more experience. He has an amazing voice, but again he was a niche singer in a field of several similar types. He had no second tool. His spot could have been filled by a singer with more versatility, and Alex could have come back in a year or two with a real chance of going deep.

Jermaine Sellers– Rangy vocal athlete, church type singer

Jermaine was a decent enough choice for his versatility and upper range, but it turned out that he wasn’t nearly polished enough at using his large bag of tricks to pull it off. He was the Jermaine that they kept, and most of the Idol critics have said that they chose the wrong Jermaine. Me, I think that they should have kept both of them. The other Jermaine (Purafory) was more understated and a much different personality type. He was also a polished singer who demonstrated in every aired performance that he could change gears and sing multiple styles.

Idol chose their 24 contestants. Of those 24, 10 were singer/songwriters. 11 contestants played the guitar in Hollywood, and another played the piano. While I like the idea that the next American Idol can play an instrument (and sing harmony, hopefully), I think that too much was made of talents that are only tangentially important to the goal of finding the best singer.

I’ll re-list the contestants who were not singer/songwriters, the ones who weren’t “current” and “radio friendly”:

Paige Miles- Voice gave out, inexperience was also obvious

Ashley Rodriguez- Dumped first show, didn’t really get a chance

Michelle Demamore- Couldn’t really sing

Katie Stevens- 16 year old talent who struggled to sing at this level

Haeley Vaughn- see Katie, dumped early

Siobhan Magnus- Lost her way while under pressure to be “more current”

Todrick Hall- Weak voice betrayed terrific creativity

Tyler Grady- Different niche, terrible performance doomed him early

Aaron Kelly- Inability to do anything outside of his own niche

John Park- Fodder choice, not good enough for this level

Joe Munoz- Pointless waste of a spot, poorly packaged karaoke singer

Michael Lynche- Own niche, no competition and he’s in the top four

Jermaine Sellers- Lack of polish and diplomacy doomed him early

Now the singer/songwriters:

Didi Benami- Lost her way by trying to sing outside of her comfort zone

Lacey Brown- Early punching bag surprisingly survived to the finals

Janelle Wheeler- Dumb song choice got her ousted immediately

Lilly Scott- Too many chicks with guitars watered down her effect

Crystal Bowersox- Standout talent who would succeed under any conditions

Andrew Garcia- Similar types blunted his novelty; he had no other tools

Lee Dewyze- Asked to do more than he should, because nobody else can

Tim Urban- Ummmm…..

Casey James- Niche as the Southern Rocker separates him from pack

Alex Lambert- One of the best voices, but no other useful skills yet

By my count Idol flat wasted three spots among the non-niche singers; Michelle Dellamore, Joe Munoz and John Park. With 10 spots given to singer/songwriters, they can be said to have wasted at least a few of those simply by the sheer number of them. When half of your pool mostly just stands up there and sings, you lose way too much of your flexibility in your attempts to entertain an audience for the 14 weeks that it takes to get from 24 down to the final 2. Let’s pick 4 from that list, contestants who can come back next year:

Lacey, sorry girl, but there are too many strong chicks this year.

Janelle, we love you but your voice is just not quite strong enough

Tim, good luck with your life. There are other things besides singing.

Alex, get some experience, come back in a couple of years – and win this thing.

This leaves us with these singer/songwriter contestants:

Crystal Bowersox

Lee Dewyze

Casey James

Didi Benami

Lilly Scott

Andrew Garcia

Three girls, three guys. Crystal is the Janis type, Lilly the jazzy cabaret type, and Didi the Jewel type. Casey gets his Southern rocker niche, Andrew the cool Bruno Mars niche, and Lee is the grunge/pop growler. Nobody is redundant.

With seven more spots up for grabs, Idol can find more pure singers to fill out the roster. At least a couple of them might end up being serious contenders. Ashley Rodriguez would maybe get a couple of weeks to establish herself, and Siobhan would have someone else on the show to be compared to, instead of always being compared to established artists.

Why didn’t this happen?

Idol made a couple of moves, fairly trivial on the surface, that completely changed the paradigm of the show.

First, they added Kara to the judging table last season. Kara is a worthy judge, and I have mostly liked having her on the show. She is an outstanding songwriter, and she knows the business very well. She was fine last year, a rookie who mostly deferred to the veterans on the panel, but she also spent the year slipping an “artistry” in here, and a “current” in there, and a “package artist” in once in awhile while calling certain performances “radio friendly”. The cumulative effect of this was as insidious as Simon’s own brand of left handed “compliments” and outright hammering when he doesn’t understand what the contestants are singing. When Idol began the season, Kara’s opinions took a foothold. The search for a singer became a search for a studio artist. Kara can’t really be faulted for this. She is all about the studio, because that is her experience; her comfort zone.

Second, they dumped Paula and replaced her with Ellen. Ellen is funny as hell, and everyone likes her. I like her. She is fine as a judge, in peacetime. She adds some fun, and she doesn’t really hurt anything. In wartime, though, Idol needs someone who can be useful in a foxhole. Idol is losing a ton of audience share right now, for several reasons. Having Ellen saying “you look great” and telling jokes is fine when you are sailing along, but when you are struggling to maintain respect as an honest competition her lack of musical knowledge stands out like an open sore.

Losing Paula got mostly snickers from the online critics, and a lot of it is well deserved. Paula is a ditz, and she has some issues with her box of prescriptions pills and her love of Cosmopolitans. She wasn’t much for saying anything negative, so her opinion wasn’t respected much. She was the show’s buffoon, most famous for her intoxicated ranting, relentless shilling, and an alleged sexual relationship with a contestant.

Underneath all of that, though, Paula was the one judge who most consistently got it right in the early rounds. Paula called Adam “the best singer, in any city” the first time that she saw him. Paula fought Simon to keep a young singer in the competition in Hollywood, after Simon told her that he didn’t like her. The singer was Kelly Clarkson. Paula chose correctly over and over, and she was rarely wrong even when she looked like she wasn’t all there. She picked singers, not “artists”. While Randy and Simon are basically producers, Kara is a studio hound and Ellen is a stand up comedian, Paula is a performer. What Idol is missing this year, as much as anything, is a performer at the judging table.

Not having a performer on the table might have been the one small mistake that snowballed and buried Idol this season. With no Paula to blunt the producers, Idol’s judges chose a top 24 that was top heavy with studio type singers and other contestants who filled a niche, instead of finding contestants who could put on a show. Paula was that person in the past. If Idol wants to reclaim their own niche as a respected talent show, they desperately need to fix this. Whoever takes over for Simon, this person has to be a performer.

Final 5 Results/Power Rankings

I was mildly surprised by Aaron’s elimination, but at this point I wouldn’t even be surprised if Crystal was sent home. There wasn’t a bottom three this week, just a bottom two. Casey’s voting block apparently pulled out all the stops, and kept him safe for another week. Big Mike was in the bottom two despite a strong performance. This might seem counter-intuitive, but it’s pretty logical in its own way. Casey’s voters got busy, while Mike’s and Aaron’s didn’t. Last year the top five were Adam, Danny, Allison, Matt and Kris. Kris and Adam, who finished 1-2 at the end, were both in the bottom three that week.

Aaron’s future should be bright. He is still just a kid, and he seems to have a good head on his shoulders. If I was his career counselor I would work on getting him into a high powered theater performance school and let him drop out of the public eye for awhile. One other option would be to get him down to Nashville and see if his Idol notoriety can get him in a few doors. He is capable of making a commercial country album right now, although it might not be the best idea to send him out touring yet.

Power Rankings-

4: Michael Lynche– Flip a coin. Mike and Casey are odds on to be the next two to leave

3: Casey James– He survived his first encounter with the Kraken, but the beastie won’t be gone long

2: Lee Dewyze- The same contrarian voting bloc that chose Kris last season seems to have picked Lee as their horse this season. Lee is the underdog, and we are a country that loves us some underdog.

1: Crystal- Crystal has been on the top of the rankings this season about as long as Adam was last season. Adam peaked a bit too early, and Crystal needs to watch out. She has the appearance of peaking even earlier than Adam did last season.

Final 5 Performance Night

Harry Connick Jr. will be the mentor tonight, as the contestants take a shot at ole’ Blue Eyes himself, Frank Sinatra. I know of a few of his songs, but I have no clue which ones will fit which singers. “Strangers in the Night” is probably my own personal Sinatra favorite, and I am guessing that someone will take that one on; Aaron, maybe? Big Mike is dressed to the hilt, and they are all dressed fairly formally.

Connick Jr. is going to back the contestants up with his own combo, which is kind of cool. Nothing against the Idol band members, who are terrific, but it might add some intimacy to the show. Sinatra’s daughters are in the crowd, includingNancy. She looks pretty good, but not like she did back in her “Boots” days. She looks like a NASCAR mom now, all the way up to the slick racing windbreaker.

The singers, the songs-

Aaron Kelly, “Fly Me to the Moon”

Last week might have been in Aaron’s country music wheelhouse, but this week was even more in his zone. This week he got the chance to show off his high school music program chops. He was as comfortable tonight as he was last week, doing the “other” musical style that he knows well. He was really, really good and, for the first time ever, I rewound and listened again.

I liked how he started it out slowly, next to the piano. He was a little bit awkward moving into tempo, but not terribly awkward. Once he got into tempo he soared fairly well. He did some nice upper range notes, and he was mostly in tune despite a fairly rangy melody. He avoided most of the blue notes, which was probably a good idea. His intonation isn’t mature enough to stand up to the master at his age. My only quibbles with his performance are trivial nitpicking. His voice isn’t mature enough yet, but he did his best with what he has available. The kid is good, even if he isn’t my cup of tea. I am not much on fashion, but I liked his look a lot. I’ve always liked the vest look anyway, and it reminded me of my own high school music days. For the first time I am warming to the kid. B+

The judges mentioned that he seemed to be a little bit “small” in his performance. I agree with that. His voice isn’t anything like the Sinatra that we’ve all heard from his later career, but I’ve heard some of Sinatra’s early stuff. Aaron’s voice isn’t all that different from Sinatra before the first ten thousand cartons of lucky strikes and the first five hundred gallons of Glenlivet.

Casey James, “Blue Skies”

Good choice for Casey, I think. It’s a very tough week for him. I won’t soon forget Leah Laurenti singing this song at her audition. Here’s a link to that:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xbMdugy5CK8&feature=PlayList&p=56EC1853A9E7A5A6&playnext_from=PL&playnext=1&index=12

Casey doesn’t have the right voice for this genre, and that reared its head in his performance. He can’t sustain notes, and he can’t vibrato. Sinatra made a career out of sustaining notes and working his vibrato. Well, also nailing starlets, schmoozing mob bosses and punching out black jack dealers, but never mind that. Casey needed to be perfect in his phrasing, and he was good but not perfect. I like Casey, but this wasn’t nearly as good as Aaron and it might be the weakest of the night when they are all in the tank. Casey was in the bottom two last week. You can do the math. C-

Crystal Bowersox, “Summer Wind”

Hold on, I have to listen to that again….

Thank you, Mr. Connick, for that beautiful arrangement.Crystalwas understated and sweet, and the arrangement was one of the best that I’ve heard this season. It was soft when it needed to be soft, and it was big when it needed to be big. It started out here, and it made its way naturally and organically to there. Crystal didn’t hit every note perfectly (she was a little bit flat when they did the key change into the second verse and she missed one of her melody jumps a bit), but she wasn’t badly out of tune and she nailed her glory note right on the tuning fork.

This performance was, like Crystal’s own journey on the show, a very nice counterpoint along the way to the blow-off. Like Adam doing “Mad World”, it was the place where the audience gets to take a breath, relax and reset themselves for the mad trip to the end. Crystalstill looks somewhat nervous on stage, which is alarming, but she also looks achingly human when she smiles right into the camera. She has incredible eyes, very expressive. Get her back behind her guitar, and let her blow something up. The last couple of weeks have been like a root canal for the kid. Give her back her toys, ok? B+

Michael Lynche, “The Way You Look Tonight”

Mike looks just ridiculously sharp tonight, with the suit and the fedora…..

This was Mike’s best performance of the season, and by a mile. He was perfectly in his element. He was understated, not over the top. He set the key of the song perfectly, and his limited range was plenty enough to make this song soar, and make his glory notes resonate. He nailed his phrasing, and he nailed every single note. It was dynamically sound, meticulously performed, with not one hair out of place. I really liked it, and I listened back for fun (I never listen back to Mike’s performances, he usually bores me). A-

Lee Dewyze, “That’s Life”

Lee went for the whole act, played the part, and he was probably more animated onstage than he has ever been; but, man…

His vocal was so rhythmically and melodically off that the whole performance reminded me of drunken kamikaze karaoke. Casey’s performance was still probably the worst of the night, but that’s because Casey doesn’t have the proper skill set for Sinatra. Lee made a mess of a song that he should be able to sing the holy crap out of, because he worried too much about his look onstage. Oops… B-, but it really should have been an A- at worst. Lee popped up a fat changeup, right down the middle.

Safe to in danger-

Casey is going home tomorrow night unless something really weird happens. I like Casey a lot, for reasons that I’ve talked about already. If he is the one in the barrel, I’ll give him a good sendoff tomorrow night. The order:

Crystal

Mike

Lee

Aaron

Casey

Last thought-

Harry Connick Jr. was terrific tonight, in several ways. He arranged the performances, and the arrangements were the best of the season, if not the best in several seasons. The man knows how to block out a song as well as anyone, and it showed. He had the contestants inspired, and he got all of them to care about developing dynamics in their minute and a half. Because of this every performance seemed to be over too soon. None of them, even the weakest ones, seemed to drag on like they do in most weeks.

Harry is also funny as hell, and just a natural at banter. He comes off at all times as cool, natural and real. I come off liking him a lot, and I want to hang around with him. He would be the perfect guy to take Simon’s place at the judging table.