American Idol: Elvis Week

06/14/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Ken Levine Emmy-Winning Writer/Director/Producer, MLB Announcer

Look, can you blame them? It's the 9th season. It's hard to keep any show fresh for nine seasons. See how much you love Glee when those kids have already graduated high school and college, gotten nowhere on Broadway, and wind up back home working at Jiffy Lube and developing drinking problems.

American Idol seems to be flailing this season. Out of 181 kids flown to Hollywood they clearly did not select the best, most interesting, most diverse twelve. They assembled Fox's answer to the Smallville cast.

The judges keep hammering the contestants for not sounding "current" or "contemporary." But the weekly topics they give them are Elvis songs, old R&B tunes, the Beatles catalog, and Rolling Stones chestnuts.

How is anyone going to sound current singing "Blue Suede Shoes" when the last person who wore a pair of blue suede shoes was run over by a DeSoto in 1959?

Don't get me wrong. Singing classic vintage songs is fine. Just don't ask the kids to turn Patsy Cline into Lady Gaga.

The weekly topics always stay within the kids' limited range too. There's always a chance for Crystal and Casey and Katie and Siobhan to sing the blues. Big Mike can always croon "When a Man Loves a Woman" just with different lyrics. In the first season Kelly Clarkson had to sing a big band number. What about standards? Hip hop? Klezmer, I dunno? Just something out of their comfort zone. And if someone fails badly -- COOL! It's live TV.

And America hasn't helped this year either. They're voting off the wrong people. There's a scene in the movie Where's Papa where Ron Liebman is trying to hail a cab in a gorilla suit. Meanwhile, there's an African-American also hailing the cab. The cab speeds by the African-American and picks up the gorilla instead. That's what I thought of last week when the country kept the far inferior Andrew Gomez over African-American Michael Lynche.

Anyway, Elvis week. The celebrity mentor was recent Idol contestant Adam Lambert. Because he was so smart and original when he competed, I found myself really wanting to hear what he had to say. And I was impressed with his advice.

Crystal Bowersox opened the show with "Saved," trotting out her blues riffs. Kara thought the lyrics were controversial in their day. Oh yeah. "You know I like to lie. And cheat. And step on peoples' feet." Not sure why Kara finds that so objectionable. Maybe as a songwriter she's jealous that the author could actually make words rhyme.

Andrew Garcia was his usual terrible self singing "Hound Dog." If he survives this week look for Jessie Jackson and Al Sharpton to both get involved.

Tim Urban rose to the occasion with a lovely ballad -- "I Can't Help Falling in Love With You." Even the judges liked it, much to their utter shock.

Lee Dewyze is the contestant the judges deemed the worthy opponent to Crystal so they pretty much love everything he does. Tonight they fawned all over his rather pedestrian version of "A Little Less Conversation." I'm sorry. He's not so on the cusp of stardom that "smiling more" will put him over the top.

Aaron Kelly, whatever you do, stay off of those "blue suede land mines."

Kudos to Siobhan Magnus, not so much for her singing (although I quite liked her every-musical-style-except-Gregorian-Chant rendition of "Suspicious Minds") but for standing up to Simon and saying she sees no need to label herself. The crowd (and by that I mean the cast of Glee) went wild.

Big Mike sang "When a Man Loves a Woman" but changed the words to "In the Ghetto."

Katie Stevens to me is Crystal-light. The blues for teens. She sang "What Do You Want Me To Do?" She drew upon the angst of getting caught by a hall monitor for being tardy to a class to really sell the pain.

And finally Casey James wasted the pimp spot with "Lawdy Miss Clawdy." Jesus, the Elvis channel on Sirius plays "Clambake," "Five Sleepy Heads," "Kissing Cousins," and "He's Your Uncle, Not Your Dad" before that stiff.

American Idol needs to shake things up. Maybe they can take a cue from "the King" himself. About nine years into Elvis' career he re-invented himself. Fat Ryan in a white bejeweled jumpsuit. Yeah, I could watch that. Even with Kara.

Read more from Ken here.