It was Soul and R&B night on American Idol. Yep, “timing” can be a cruel jokester; The season’s last remaining black female contestant was sent home last week. So it was up to “Big Mike” and a bunch of white folk to bring the Soul.
R&B singer Usher mentored this week, promising the contestants tough love. And he was in the audience last night to watch his students’ efforts. How’d they do? Here are the performances ranked:
1) Lee DeWyze – “Treat Her Like A Lady” by the Cornelius Brothers & Sister Rose – When you add all the crucial elements up, Lee takes the top spot this week. And what are those crucial elements again? Vocals, performance, song choice, and what I call “The iPod Factor” (would I put this on my iPod?). Lee gave a strong rock vocal and is stepping up his game on the performance side of things. He makes better song choices than most of the others this season. And he did Soul last night his way–which is the artist test of all these theme weeks on Idol.
2) Crystal Bowersox – “Midnight Train To Georgia” by Gladys Knight & The Pips – Crystal promised a surprise this week, and made good by starting this song singing and playing the piano, then getting up and singing with just the mic, no guitar to hide behind. So how’d that work out for her? Pretty good. But not perfect. She’s far less confident, and proficient, on the piano. The attention required to actually play the right notes distracted from singing, and selling, the song. But Crystal made a good move mixing things up. Viewers want to see the contestants grow and stretch. Despite marking her down a tad on performance, this was the best pure vocal of the night.
3) Casey James – “Hold On I’m Coming” by Sam & Dave – This was the most joyful effort of the night. Great song choice for him. Both Ellen DeGeneres and Kara DioGuardi felt it was too similar to his recent song choices. But here’s the only thing that matters: Casey did this song much better than those others! This one I’ll put on my iPod. Casey’s best performance yet.
4) Michael Lynche – “Ready For Love” by India.Aire – A solid effort that worked its way higher on this list as other contestants last night dropped the ball. I was a little bored by the song and sit down performance. But “Big Mike” got the message of last week’s critique: less can be more. So he scaled back on the riffing, turned in a sweet soulful vocal, and did a much better job of connecting with the song and audience.
5) Andrew Garcia – “Forever” by Chris Brown – Okay. What a difference a week makes. The fact is this is what this guy does: intimate, acoustic new interpretations of songs. Andrew should have never gotten away from that. I’ve written honestly about how awkward he’s been without his guitar. But with it…it’s a night and day difference. Does that mean Andrew’s a one-trick pony? Personally, I think so. But it’s a nice trick.
6) Aaron Kelly – “Ain’t No Sunshine” by Bill Withers – Not his best. Just OK. I wouldn’t have picked this song for him. For starters, Kris Allen did it (much more) memorably in last season’s finale. Still, one of my fave voices this season.
7) Katie Stevens – “Chain Of Fools” by Aretha Franklin – Katie ranked higher than Siobhan Magnus? Yep. And quite simply, being able to stay in key for the whole song is the reason. It’s a nice step forward for Katie, who up until now, hasn’t made it through an entire song without hitting a number of off notes. The performance suffered a little from her trying to mimic Aretha’s sass. Katie should watch for that–and make sure her on-stage persona is more organic to the 16-year old she is.
8 ) Siobhan Magnus – “Through The Fire” by Chaka Kahn – Because we like Siobhan, I wonder if many people today remember this one a little rosier than it really was. I listened to it again this morning and it was all kinds of wrong, starting with being a poor song choice for her. Her lower-register didn’t carry the parts of the song that needed it. Then she belted out some high notes that were painful (especially when you hear them again). At the moment, Siobhan’s trending down. She could use a home run next week to regain some mo’.
9) Tim Urban – “Sweet Love” by Anita Baker – Wow. There hasn’t been a soul-sapping, white bread R&B effort like this since…Pat Boone changed “Ain’t That A Shame” to “Isn’t That A Shame.” Yes, the “dot dot dot” back there was me Googling music history to come up with the Pat Boone reference. Like a Vegas lounge singer. Tim’s vocal tone was decent. But, yuck.
10) Didi Benami – “What Becomes Of The Brokenhearted” by Jimmy Ruffin – The 1966 original of this song is on my iPod. And I love it! A total classic. That may be partly why this was the performance last night I’d least like to ever hear again. Her voice and this song–not a good match. And yes, Simon Cowell‘s right. Didi’s lost her singer-songwriter vibe. She’s diving into these theme nights entirely wrong. She’s trying on the various musical styles–and losing her own style. This would have never happened to Lilly Scott. I’m just saying. For that matter, somewhere last night, I’m thinking Paige Miles was watching Tim and Didi struggle with Soul and R&B. And I’m thinking that had to a rough night for Paige.
Here’s what I’m feeling for the Bottom Three tonight: Katie Stevens, Tim Urban and Didi Benami. But as a wild card, Michael Lynche‘s unfamiliar song choice could land him in there. Katie will be sent to safety. And between Tim and Didi, Tim dodges yet another bullet, and Didi Benami goes home tonight.
We’ll see what happens. Your thoughts today? Let’s hear them.
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