After weeks of appearing uncomfortable, uncertain, unhappy and lots of other "uns," Lee Dewyze finally broke out of his shell (perhaps a pep talk from Usher helped) and delivered the best performance of his life on American Idol's r&b/soul night.
But first, Idol begins on Monday now. That's when the latest person to depart appears on Late Show With David Letterman. Paige Miles sat in with the band, chatted with Dave and sang a confident, winning version of Stevie Wonder's Grammy-winning song "Living For The City." If she'd sung like that on Idol, she'd still be on. Indeed, it was miles better than anything she'd done for weeks. It's always good to remember that not every artist will flourish in the cut-throat, pressure-cooker atmosphere of a prime-time competition. Maybe we haven't heard the last from Paige.
On to soul night, where Usher was a very serious mentor who focused a lot on connecting with the audience and appeared to help a number of the competitors improve.
SIOBHAN MAGNUS -- Siobhan continues to rack up accolades from outsiders, with Usher saying "I think she's got a real shot at being an incredible artist." I thought he might be the sort to say this about everyone, but in fact we heard him raving most about Siobhan, Casey James and saying "wow" over Lee Dewyze's vocals when Lee was leaving the room. Siobhan sang Chaka Khan's 1985 gem "Through The Fire," one of those tunes Khan can deliver effortlessly but most other singers will sound strained and awkward on. That's exactly what happened to Siobhan, who had a crazy braid in her hair, too much lip gloss and was piercing and off-key on the chorus. It was her weakest performance in a long time and Simon rightly echoed what I said last week: the wailing bit she always throws in is getting boring.
CASEY JAMES -- Sang Sam & Dave's iconic hit "Hold On! I'm A Comin'," the biggest of their career. No one had ever sung it on Idol before, which is surprising until you realize so much of the song is built on the back and forth of those two. But Casey nailed it, looking supremely confident and happy and delivering an exceptional cover of the tune. My only thought was that he may have peaked too soon. To my surprise, both Ellen and Kara found it a bit obvious. But Simon and Randy rightly praised it. Casey should work in the blues every week, no matter what.
MICHAEL LYNCHE -- Sang "Ready For Love" from India.arie's album Acoustic Soul. Lynche had been veering into lounge act territory, but he's righted the ship again, by sitting on a chair, strumming an acoustic guitar and nailing a song most listeners would have never heard before. The only problem was that the producers had him backlit too brightly so Michael disappeared in the light every so often. Very strong vocal and though he technically went off-key a bit towards the end, it didn't matter because the performance was convincing.
DIDI BENAMI -- Sang "What Becomes Of The Brokenhearted?" a classic Motown tune by Jimmy Ruffin and covered often but still somehow fresh. (Wikipedia says Whitney Houston was gonna cover it for her film The Bodyguard until Paul Young did it for another film and had a hit. That sent her to Dolly Parton's "I Will Always Love You.") This was a very strange segment and I'm not sure if Didi will get sympathy for it or not; she'll need it since the performance was flat most of the way, till she picked up some steam on the emphatic finale. First, she broke down in tears after singing the song for Usher. Then after the judges blasted her, Ryan tried to prod Didi into revealing some personal anecdote about why the song means so much to her but she politely refused and then looked ready to break down again. I do appreciate her refusal to mine a private moment on camera in front of millions and she looked lovely. I just wish her singing had been better.
TIM URBAN -- Sang Anita Baker's "Sweet Love," one of the great jazzy soul ballads of the last three decades. Surely tackling it was no crazier than Tim singing Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah." More importantly, Tim smiled and smiled and smiled and looked cute during the pre-song chat, in front of the judges and backstage. He's definitely ready for some acting roles after gliding through the whole process. Simon nailed it by saying it doesn't make a bit of difference what the judges say. But in fact I thought Tim did a pretty good job given his limitations and had a good strong Idol-like note at the end, the sort that plays well in the end of the show recap.
ANDREW GARCIA -- Sang Chris Brown's "Forever" (which was originally written for a gum commercial!). After weeks of desperately trying to recreate his Paula Abdul moment, Andrew finally did just that. He took a dance-y pop tune and did an acoustic version, sans the kitsch value of "Straight Up" in the context of Idol. He was especially good on the bridge. I wrote down "Andrew is back!" because I knew Randy would say that and indeed he did. Still, this wasn't revelatory, just a case of Andrew not sucking as he has the last few weeks.
KATIE STEVENS -- Sang Aretha Franklin's "Chain Of Fools," a song about a woman realizing she's been duped by a no-good dog of a man. Now I don't care how old you are, if you can sing a song you can sing it. 14-year-olds can deliver a nice version of a song about a dad proud of his new-born son. Why not? But Katie was all attitude and no depth, bopping her head in that soulful manner but looking more like a kid playing at dress-up than someone feeling actual anger or pain. Randy mentioned a disconnect between the lyrics and her singing and that's what he meant: she didn't seem to have a clue as to what the song was about, attitude notwithstanding. Very beauty pageant, as Simon might have said.
LEE DEWYZE -- Sang "Treat Her Like A Lady," the #3 hit from 1971 by the sibling act Cornelius Brothers & Sister Rose. Usher actually said "wow" about Lee's singing after a rehearsal when Lee was heading out the door and couldn't see him. And no wonder. Lee's voice has always been very distinctive, but he was light years better last night than he's ever been before. In the past, he's seemed like a deer caught in the headlights and generally miserable. He's repeatedly been told he needs to have more confidence in himself. But how the heck do you give yourself more confidence in a week? Obviously, Lee knows the answer since he was confident, soulful and absolutely commanding. Since Simon had been pushing him to "have a moment" I was certain that one or all of the judges would say, "You just had a moment." Maybe the others left it to Simon. But he went one better, saying, "This is the night your life may have changed forever." Suddenly, this competition is getting very interesting and despite the judges saying it's the year of the women, it looks like Crystal will be battling Casey and Michael and Lee and Aaron for the finale.
CRYSTAL BOWERSOX -- Sang "Midnight Train To Georgia," the sole #1 pop hit by the vocally brilliant Gladys Knight & The Pips. One of my favorite songs of all, Crystal delivered it at the piano complete with backup singers before standing up to finish it off. We learned she hadn't played piano in years, so I'm not sure if I would have known why this performance was slightly off. But having that info, it certainly explained why she was a little tentative and staring down at the keyboards so intently. Plus, Crystal had way too much makeup on. She shined at moments and it was only off compared to her flawless singing every other week. Crystal was still better than all the other women combined. The song was hardly a radical departure for her, but Simon was right to warn Crystal about losing her way. Bizarrely, Simon said she should have done the song without the backup singers, which is a little like saying you should do "Hit The Road, Jack" without backup singers. I suppose it could be done but the backup singers are intertwined with the song and inextricable from its appeal.
AARON STEVENS -- Sang a Bill Withers song and as soon as I heard that I depressingly knew it would be "Ain't No Sunshine." It's a great great song, but Withers has such a good, country-ish vibe that many, many of his tunes would fit the country-leaning Aaron better than this one, which has been overdone on Idol. Aaron's been growing by leaps and bounds so it's no surprise he would stumble. It wasn't disastrous by any stretch; just much weaker than usual for him.
That brings me to song selection, often a bewildering demand from the judges. But look what happened this week. The people who chose obvious songs (often done repeatedly on Idol) stumbled: "Ain't No Sunshine," "Chain Of Fools," "Through The Fire." Those who chose something contemporary but put a spin on it did well: "Forever." Those who chose songs rarely or never done on Idol and songs most people wouldn't even know shined: "Ready For Love," "Soul Man," "Treat Her Like A Lady."
So who goes home? It seems unlikely that the bottom three would all be women, but the three weakest performances were definitely Siobhan Magnus, Didi Benami and Katie Stevens. I'll throw in Tim since he's lived in the bottom three. The bottom three will be Tim and Katie and Didi. It'll come down to Katie and Didi and Didi will go home.
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