It was a night Crystal Bowersox did everything she needed to and a night Lee DeWyze did somewhat less than he could have.
It was the night American Idol‘s Top 2 went head-to-head at the Nokia Theater in Los Angeles.
And it was a night that I give to Crystal Bowersox. But who’ll get the Idol crown tonight? For that prediction, stayed tuned until the end of this blog.
Each singer sang three songs last night: one of their favorite songs from earlier in the season; one picked by Idol producer Simon Fuller; and a song that’ll be their first single if they win.
I’m not sure who picked the third songs (probably also Simon Fuller). But this is where Idol producers diverted from their formula of past seasons. The single has always been an original, although often schlocky, song written for the winner to sing. The songs in the past have been fairly “cookie-cutter” and not necessarily the best jump-off point for a singer’s new career. So I’m glad to see the show trying something different. Even so, the idea of a “first single” has become less meaningful ever since the show started selling studio versions of all the Top 12 songs. The real excitement for Crystal and Lee comes in about six months when the first single from their first album gets released.
Here are my rankings of the last night’s finale performances
1) Lee DeWyze – “Beautiful Day” by U2 (Lee’s single if he wins) – Right from the get, I have to admit my bias. My pick here is heavily influenced by my work in the radio biz…and my personal taste. This was the performance last night that I’d most enjoying playing on the radio. For that matter, the song last night I’d most want my iPod to shuffle into. On Lee’s third song of the night, he finally got his nerves under control, which were noticeable and palpable up to this point, and things came together. Lee stayed true to the original while hitting some nuanced vocal differences that spotlighted both Lee’s unique sound and the gorgeous arrangement of the song. The only downside, I couldn’t feel Lee’s connection to the song.
2) Crystal Bowersox – “Up To The Mountain” by Patty Griffin (Crystal’s single if she wins) – Okay, to be totally honest, my first reaction when this came on last night was, “Huh? Did someone die?” It seemed a little light on levity and heavy on gravitas–especially for a “single.” But with subsequent listens, this has become one of my favorite Crystal performances. She delivered a controlled yet nuanced vocal and seemed really connected to the song. Not to be Debbie Downer. But I still prefer Kelly Clarkson‘s version with Jeff Beck from Idol Gives Back in 2007.
3) Crystal Bowersox – “Black Velvet” by Alannah Miles (picked by Simon Fuller) – I’m with Simon Cowell on this one. I kinda dread this song–for being so obvious, such a “bar band/audition” kinda song. But Crystal did something with it, made it her own and gave us her most confident guitar-less performance of the season. Yes, she looked a little uneasy at first as she attempted to descend the staircase in her L.B.D. as she sang. But by the end, she seemed to be having fun and interacting with the crowd, which is important because there’s been plenty of times this season when it’s been hard to tell if she’s been enjoying this whole process.
4) Crystal Bowersox – “Me And Bobby McGee” by Janis Joplin (Crystal fave from earlier this season) – Crystal’s first song of the night showed that she was comfortable and confident in front of the 7,000 people at the Nokia (significantly larger than the usual Idol audience at Television City). This was solid, if, literally, something we’ve seen before. I gave the edge to her “Black Velvet” for showing us something different.
5) Lee DeWyze – “The Boxer” by Simon & Garfunkel (Lee fave from earlier this season) – This was the first indication Lee might have an off night. Nothing wrong with this version. Except that it wasn’t as good as the first time he sang it on the show. I went back and “A/B-ed” both versions. Lee sang this with much more passion and purpose during “Inspirational Song Week.” This was a good song choice; the song’s kinda his “underdog” theme song. In a way, the song here should’ve been “Hallelujah,” if the idea is to go with a singer’s best effort of the season. But that would’ve meant ended last week’s show and starting this week’s show with the same song. I’m sure show producers either did or would’ve put the kibosh on that.
6) Lee DeWyze – “Everybody Hurts” by R.E.M. (picked by Simon Fuller) – Uggg. Terrible song choice for Lee by Simon Fuller. The result was an ill-fitting, low-energy effort that played into the general criticism that this season has been nothing spectacular. Lee seemed to be inside his own head as he performed this. I wouldn’t want to say I know what was going on inside. But on the outside, it seemed like Lee wasn’t enjoying the moment.
So, who wins tonight? One of my contentions (I have many, mind you) is that people watched the show last night already knowing who they’d be voting for. That’s a good thing for Lee, who definitely had an off-night, because his fans will remember “Hallelujah” and not “Everybody Hurts” when they vote. I also suspect Lee’s a bigger hit with Idol‘s notorious “power” voters and texters–people who vote hundreds of times compared to more casual viewers. The fact that the judges seemed to pummel Lee, while praising Crystal, will actually energize his supporters to vote hard. I’ve also said in this blog that going into last night, Lee was the actual front-runner. (That’s contrary to what most of the media has been reporting.)
Tonight, Lee DeWyze is crowned the new American Idol. It will not be an “upset,” as many will call it tomorrow. However, there will be a perception that Crystal Bowersox was the better “artist,” and with these people, a sense that she was “robbed.”
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