Posts Tagged Simon Cowell

Idol Thoughts: Blowing Up ‘American Idol’

Steven Tyler, American Idol, Season 10, New Judges

The new opening of American Idol says it all. I’m not sure what exactly. But I suspect it’s profound.

To the beat of the familiar theme song, and the Los Angeles skyline in the background, a bright orange laser beam comes straight down from the sky and seemingly explodes the Idol stage.

It’s clearly a metaphor. They’re “blowing things up” and starting over. New judges. Changes to the age limit. And other twists coming in the weeks ahead.

That’s what I think they’re going for. But the image of the beam also reminds of of the iconic scene from Independence Day where the aliens blow up the White House. Although we humans prevailed later, the White House was never the same.

Will Season 10 of American Idol be a new beginning? Or the beginning of the end. That’s the question that’ll be answered slowly in the months ahead. Ratings are definitely down from last season’s premiere week: Down 18% Wednesday night; Down 24% last night.

That said: I love Steven Tyler! “Shit fire and save matches, fuck the duck and see what hatches!” Did Steven just say that? He sure did. And it’s not just the words, but the way he said it–with all the rock swagger you’d expect. Steven showed up ready to put on a show, singing along with some contestants, banging the table for percussion with others. He’s a joy to watch.

But there’s no getting around it for me. The show feels a little “rootless” without Simon Cowell. Kinda like, what’s the point of all this? WWST. “What Would Simon Think?”

I wasn’t sure if I was gonna blog about the show this season. I’m still not. But here’s one. What did you think of this week’s shows?

Greg Valentine
check me out on Twitter: http://twitter.com/gregvalentine

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Idol Thoughts — 05.26.10

Was the American Idol finale last night a sign of the diminishing returns to come?

Everything about Season 9 had a feel of “lesser-ness” about it. So I guess it’s not surprising the finale would go the same way.

Instead of last season’s kick ass finale teaming of Adam Lambert and KISS, last night we got one of those 60s variety show group-sings of “School’s Out” featuring the Top 12 in school uniforms and a crusty Alice Cooper. Not as cool.

Instead of the brilliant pairing of Idol winner Kris Allen and country superstar Keith Urban, last night’s eventual winner Lee DeWyze got stuck singing with the band Chicago. Lee’s from the Chicago area. Get it? Lame.

Instead of putting some thought into booking the show, it seems like they backed a truck up to the rock ‘n’ roll old-folks home and said, “Get on! We’re taking you to bingo!”

Hall and Oates. Joe Cocker. Bee Gees. Michael McDonald. I guess you can’t spell I-D-O-L without O-L-D.

Alright, so if it were up to me, I’d get a better generational mix of guests. Adam Lambert was scheduled to appear. But producers nixed his appearance after he missed his rehearsal time. For some strange reason, producers (and censors) would like to see what he’s got planned before putting him on-the-air. The “for some strange reason” is knowing sarcasm, in case that wasn’t clear.

My favorite moments last night? Crystal Bowersox performing “Ironic” with Alanis Morissette, which felt legit and relevant. Also Casey James doing “Every Rose Has A Thorn” in an emotional performance with Bret Michaels, who despite his recent health scares seems determined to not go quietly. Good for him. It was also cool seeing Janet Jackson (who’s gone natural with her new short haircut), who, despite having two microphones at one point, didn’t appear to be doing much live singing.

The tributes to Simon Cowell were entertaining, too. I’m sure some will say they were a bit overdone. But the fact is, Simon is, and has been, the show. His departure is a game-changer.

There’s a big question that needs to be asked today: Is Idol on a irreversible slide, destined to never regain the luster and pop culture focus it once had? Or will the culmination of a lackluster season be the inspiration for a rebirth and return to glory?

Right now, it’s hard to see how the later choice above would occur. The problems seem tied to the dismantling of the dysfunction family that was the judging panel: first adding the unnecessary Kara DioGuardi; then letting Paula Abdul get away; and now with Simon Cowell‘s departure.

Only time will tell. The same can be said of Season 9, the real test of which will come in the months and years ahead. Can Lee and Crystal sell music in comparable amounts to other Idol winners and high-profile runners-up? What about third-placer Casey? And will any others from this season’s Top 12 emerge from the pack to become successful recording artists?

Now, for the thing I wanted to put in the first paragraph–but wisely decided to stick with analysis of the entertainment last night instead of the following statistics.

There are a lot of people this morning under the false impression that Lee beat Crystal by two percent of the vote. Here’s what Ryan Seacrest actually said: “Coming into the vote last night, less than 2 percent separated the finalists.” Read those words carefully. What they actually say is that number (two percent) are the votes from every week BUT the finale. The two percent has nothing to do with the finale votes.

My gut tells me Lee beat Crystal by a margin much larger than two percent.

Once again, things seem to work out in the Idol-verse. Lee has a very recordable voice and will benefit more than Crystal from being “The Idol.” As for Crystal, she’ll have an easier time staying true her artistic vision as the runner-up. Both are in good spots. As always, it’s about what they do next with the opportunity they have.

Greg Valentine
check me out on Twitter: http://twitter.com/gregvalentine

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Idol Thoughts — 05.25.10

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.”

Greg Valentine
check me out on Twitter: http://twitter.com/gregvalentine

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Idol Thoughts — 05.18.10

Hallelujah! Someone finally answered Idol fans’ prayers for an “Oh, Wow!” moment, something that had been sorely missing this season.

That all changed last night on American Idol when Lee DeWyze took Leonard Cohen‘s song “Hallelujah” to the promised land. Lee’s epic performance solidified him as the front-runner going into next week’s finale.

Last night was crucial. I think the week before the finale is just as important as the finale (maybe more), and here’s why. When people watch next week, they want to know who they’re rooting for. So most people’s minds will already be made up. So last night was the last chance to really change some minds or win over new fans. Lee picked the best time of all to be peaking!

The Top 3 finalists performed two songs each last night: one they picked themselves; the other picked by one of the judges. I say each finalist did better on the song picked for them, which is telling. Even at this late stage, this year’s finalists still have some things to learn about how best to position themselves as artists.

Lee took a moment after his season-stealing performance to thank Simon Cowell for choosing “Hallelujah.” It seemed Lee may have had some initial reluctance about the song. Ironically, the thanks should be mutual. Simon owns the rights to the song. One U.K. news outlet even calls the song “Cowellelujah.” The song’s already put boatloads of cash in Simon’s bank account. Finalists on Simon’s U.K. show, The X Factor, have performed and recorded it. And Lee’s version will undoubtedly add to Simon’s “cha-ching.”

So “Hallelujah” for both of them: win-win.

It’s interesting. “Hallelujah” is one of those songs that has a larger-than-life reputation, but surprisingly little airplay on the radio in America. I’m not sure if I’ve even heard Leonard Cohen’s 1984 original of the song. There’s been notable cover versions by Jeff Buckley, Rufus Wainwright and k.d. lang. Yet, for the most part, radio silence. Maybe, this is the moment for that to change. If I was running a radio station, you’d be hearing Lee DeWyze’s version today.

So here we go, last night’s performances ranked:

1) Lee DeWyze – “Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohen – Reviewing what I wrote above, it seems I’ve already said quite a lot about this. Let me add that Lee got a ton of help from the Idol crew. The arrangement, the choir, the strings and the horn-section, were all spot-on. With the buzz trending toward the negative about this season, I’m guessing it was just important for the show to have this moment as it was for Lee.

2) Crystal Bowersox – “Maybe I’m Amazed” by Paul McCartney – I was glad Ellen DeGeneres picked this for Crystal. I remember singling out this song after the Lennon-McCartney Songbook Night a few weeks ago as being a song that should’ve been performed. Crystal, performing without her guitar, used this opportunity to demonstrate her full range, hitting big notes, raspy notes, and soft and sweet notes. Bonus points for not changing the gender references in the song. For starters, the word “man” needs to hit a single beat for the best emphasis. If she’d sang “woman” instead, the extra syllable would’ve made a mess of things.

3) Casey James – “Daughters” by John MayerRandy Jackson and Kara DioGuardi chose this one. Give Kara some credit; if she were Simon, she would’ve picked a song she wrote herself and earned some extra royalties! Casey turned in a solid, nice’n’soft version that featured more piano than guitar. As a song choice for Top 3 Week, Randy and Kara were able to insure Casey focused on his sensitive side at this crucial moment. The downside was the song’s not designed for a big vocal moment. So instead, Casey had a big “quiet” moment.

4) Lee DeWyze – “Simple Man” by Lynyrd  Skynyrd – When I went to bed last night, I actually had this ranked above Casey’s version of “Daughters.” When I listened again this morning, I revised my rankings. But it’s a close one. Lee picked this one himself, and I think it was smart move. The idea that Lee himself is a “simple kinda man” doesn’t hurt his case with Idol voters, who I suspect approve of his no ego, nice guy persona, much in the way the audience responded to Kris Allen last season.

5) Crystal Bowersox – “Come To My Window” by Melissa Etheridge – So all through this song Crystal had one of those harmonica holder/harness things around her neck. She blew a few notes at the beginning. And a couple at the end. Seemed like a long way to go for the little use it got. Meanwhile, I’m guessing Idol cameramen were running around trying to find an angle to shoot Crystal’s whole face. Ultimately, Crystal might’ve had a more transcendent performance with this song if she’d gone even more acoustic with it (even used that harmonica more) instead of staying close to the original. Crystal sounded better on the quieter beginning of the song. By the chorus, Crystal was, as the judges pointed out, “fighting the arrangement.”

6) Casey James – “OK, It’s Alright With Me” by Eric Hutchinson – Song choice. Always so crucial. Especially on the week before the finals. I don’t see any benefit to picking this song. Strike that. No benefit to Casey. I’m sure Eric Hutchinson couldn’t be having a better day today! The judges said Casey was “playing it safe,” probably because this was similar to a lot of songs Casey’s done this season. I think “safe” is the wrong word. “Risky” is more like it. The week before the finals is not the best time to give the audience a song that manages to be both unfamiliar and more of the same. That said, no complaints on the vocal. I’m a fan.

Casey James goes home tonight. Lee DeWyze vs. Crystal Bowersox in next week’s Idol finale.

Those are my thoughts. Yours? Let me know!

Greg Valentine
check me out on Twitter: http://twitter.com/gregvalentine

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Idol Thoughts – 05.12.10

So, last night Michael Lynche was eliminated (again) on American Idol. Here’s a few thoughts this morning, to use Ryan Seacrest‘s careful wording from last night, “in no particular order.”

First off, those Seacrest words were kinda an important detail last night. If you missed them, you might’ve assumed Crystal Bowersox was in the Bottom Two. We really don’t know. The finalists were sent to safety (and the Top 3) one at a time, starting with Casey James, then Lee DeWyze, then Crystal Bowersox.

We don’t know who got the most votes. We don’t know who got the second least. All we know is Big Mike got the lowest amount. Some Idol fans might be frustrated by that. I’m not. In fact, I kinda like knowing that I don’t know. It adds an element of surprise to the two upcoming weeks.

This brings up another thought. Is a Lee-Crystal finale a done deal? They seem to have been the front-runners for a while now. Is there anything Casey can do next week to change that? I don’t know the answer to that. I’d be curious what others think.

I see two sides. On the one hand, yes, they’re the front-runners and it makes sense. Casey’s been in the Bottom Two a couple times. Lee and Crystal have never been. On the other hand, the last two seasons have had guy vs. guy finales, making it seem the block of females who simply vote for their favorite “cute guy” have taken over once and for all. (And c’mon, you know that block of voters exists. Don’t hate on me for pointing it out.)

And let’s not eliminate one other scenario. Casey delivers an amazing performance next week, and America responds with well-deserved votes, sending him into the finale. I honestly like all three. So whatever happens, I’ll be sad to see one leave, but happy for the other two.

Nevertheless (here comes another thought), I think I’m on board with the growing number of voices out there saying this is one of Idol‘s most boring seasons. No Paula Adbul. Simon Cowell seems like he’s already moved on mentally to his next show, the U.S. version of X Factor. And after a season featuring contestants with pipes and big-to-solid personalities (Adam Lambert, Kris Allen, Danny Gokey, Allison Iraheta), this season’s Top 12 are a bit dry.

But I think it’s too easy (and too “fashionable”) to say this is the most boring season. The fact is Crystal Bowersox is unlike any Idol contestant before, not unlike how Adam Lambert was in his way last year. In some previous seasons, the likes of Bo Bice and Diana DeGarmo made it into the finale. Heck, Taylor Hicks won the thing! I’d hope even the biggest Crystal hater would agree she’s more talented than the likes of them.

Another thought, what’s the real point of the “Judge’s Save?” Is it to give a performer another chance to win the show? I say no. I don’t think anyone who gets saved will ever win Idol. There’s some fundamental reason why people weren’t voting for that person that won’t go away just because the judge’s override America’s decision.

Clearly, the save is a ratings gimmick for the show, thought of in some brainstorming meeting as producers looked for ways to freshen the show as ratings began to dip. Whether it’s helping ratings remains to be seen. The one thing The Save does do is help a performers recording career. No doubt Michael Lynche will sell more music now then he would have if he’d gone home six weeks ago.

A couple other things we learned last night: winning American Idol doesn’t guarantee you’ll sound great my to ears six years later (Fantasia Barrino, who wowed me back-in-the-day, but not-so-much last night); Finishing fourth on Idol doesn’t mean you won’t go on to be the show’s third biggest-selling artist (Daughtry, my fave then…and now); And that Bon Jovi rocks. I guess that last one was never really in question.

Greg Valentine
check me out on Twitter: http://twitter.com/gregvalentine

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Idol Thoughts — 05.04.10

Seems like the turnaround time on these American Idol “theme nights” is getting shorter and shorter. Yes, Idol producers, you can call it something different. But I know that “Beatles Night” and “Lennon and McCartney Songbook” are the same thing. Same goes for last night’s “Frank Sinatra Night,” which comes fairly quickly after last season’s “Rat Pack Night.”

This is more an observation, and not really a complaint. There was something very satisfying, and a little different, about last night’s episode. And all the credit for that goes to guest mentor Harry Connick Jr., whose hands-on approach to the gig was the equivalent of a sit-down restaurant to the normal fast-food mentor.

Connick told Idol producers he wanted to arrange and score the contestants’ songs and perform with them, along with several members of his band, on stage. They said yes. And the end result: Harry Connick Jr., with his easy-going charm, humor, and superb musicianship and showmanship, was the real winner of the night.

The usual routine with Idol guest mentors is the famous singer meets with contestants, listens to them sing their song, and offers a suggestion or two. Connick’s approach was far more entertaining–and valid.

For starters, this sort of collaboration is what’s ahead for a few of these Top 5 finalists. When they go in to make their first album, they’re gonna need to be ready to follow the directions of the expensive producers that have been brought in to create potential hit songs for them. And in the real world, when it comes to performing standards like these Sinatra songs with a big band, this is the normal route. Singers usually defer to the expertise of their band leaders when it comes to the arrangements.

So, how did the Top 5 do? Here are their performances ranked:

1) Lee DeWyze – “That’s Life” – I flip-flopped my Top 2 after about the third listen to each of their songs. Ultimate Lee won out for “completing the assignment” while retaining his own “voice.” Lee was the only one who really manged to stay himself last night; the others took on the persona of the music they were performing. Lee did have a couple moments where he was off-beat with the big band performing behind him. I’d chalk that up to being a little uncomfortable with singing someone else’s arrangement, seeing as doing his own arrangement is kinda Lee’s “thing.” Lee also had a break-through night in getting the audience behind him. This performance was a crowd-pleaser on a level Lee hadn’t hit yet. That’s huge step forward for Lee, with the finale on the horizon.

2) Crystal Bowersox – “Summer Wind” – I can’t say for sure why Simon Cowell was so critical on Crystal last night. I can only say I believe Simon’s being disingenuous. There’s no way he didn’t appreciate this performance. Crystal’s voice was pure and her phrasing the best of the night. Sure, the big vocals of the second half of the song were more impressive than the quieter first half. But Crystal’s explanation of why she approached the song that way demonstrated that she “gets” this kind of music. She was right. Lee and Crystal go on my iPod this week. And I have to assume Simon’s up to something. Either making Crystal feel like an underdog again to get her enough sympathy to catapult her to the finals. Or (yikes), trying to sabotage her chances. You have to wonder what Idol producers are thinking right about now when it comes to a possible Crystal album. What kinda album would that be? And can it be the huge commercial pop success that they want it to be?

3) Michael Lynche – “The Way You Look Tonight” – Big Mike benefited from Connick’s best arrangement of the night. But that’s not to short-change the vocal, which was solid, and the presentation (old-school suit and fedora), which was fun and fitting. Good stuff. Not in danger of going home tonight.

4) Aaron Kelly – “Fly Me To The Moon” – At 17-years old, Aaron probably had the biggest hurdle in front of him last night–convincingly performing these standards from an ancient era. Fortunately, he picked a very accessible Sinatra song, and turned in a solid performance. There wasn’t much sizzle. And I agree with Simon that he was a “mouse” to Sinatra’s “lion.” But as anyone who’s tried to get rid of a mouse can tell you, they’re pretty crafty.

5) Casey James – “Blue Skies” – Rough night for Casey. Being stripped of his guitar, and having to follow someone else’s musical direction, really screwed with this guy’s head–and his performance showed it! Casey looked awkward and uncomfortable on-stage and seemed to wander without purpose as he sang. You could almost see on Casey’s face as he sang a sort of resignation to his fate; that with appearances in the Bottom Two the last two weeks, this was not going to end well for him. Regardless, Casey’s been one of this season’s faves at our house. So we’ll be looking forward to what he does next.

Predictions for tonight? Well, I kinda just made them. But to formalize, the Bottom Two tonight will be Aaron Kelly and Casey James. And it’s the end of the road for Casey James.

Greg Valentine
check me out on Twitter: http://twitter.com/gregvalentine

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Idol Thoughts — 04.20.10

Seems like Songs of Inspiration Week would be the perfect time for the Top 7 to step things up on American Idol. Well, with only a couple exceptions, there wasn’t much “climbing the highest mountain, swimming the deepest ocean” going on last night.

Inspired was the choice in mentors, though. Alicia Keys! A true artist assisting on the season with the largest number of finalists who seem to know “who they are” as artists.

Here are last night’s performances ranked:

1) Crystal Bowersox – “People Get Ready” by Curtis Mayfield – So, why was this the standout performance of the night? Was it because Crystal broke into tears at the end of the song (photo)? No. But that doesn’t hurt her cause. Crystal’s kept her emotions under wraps all season. So much, you have to wonder if Idol voters believe Crystal even wants to win. When the report came out this week that Crystal almost quit the show a couple weeks ago, I’m thinking most Idol fans said, “Yeah, that sounds about right.” Never has there been a front-runner who seems so reluctant. A sign that all this matters is what the audience wants to see from Crystal. So the tears last night were a good thing. So was losing the guitar. The instruments, whether it’s her frequent acoustic guitar or the piano a couple weeks ago, have unintentionally been another barrier between Crystal and the audience. And looking ahead to the finale, where she’d be performing three songs, Crystal’s going to need to mix things up (maybe a song on guitar, another on piano, the other as front-woman sans instrument). So it was a big night for “Mama Sox.” But why was it the standout? Because it sounded the best. An effortless greatness that also was the most inspirational.

2) Lee DeWyze – “The Boxer” by Simon & Garfunkle – This was something special. Lee continues to make inspired song choices. One of his best performances this season. And as my girlfriend said last night, Lee is “getting cuter and cuter.” I suspect that means the Idol stylists are doing their jobs, the makeover tweaks preparing Lee for a possible finale showdown with Crystal. But I’m not saying that’s a done deal. A big part in determining who makes the finals is popularity (naturally). There’s five weeks of competition between now and then. Still time for others up their games, make fans, and earn votes.

3) Casey James – “Don’t Stop” by Fleetwood Mac – I think Casey’s gonna take a hit this week with Idol fans. Yes, Casey critics, I agree with you. We’ve heard the song Casey did last night several times this season. Yeah, the song has a different name. But it’s basically the same song, right? Well here’s the deal. Casey was full of energy and joy and sounded great (again) last night. Sure it was another missed opportunity. Casey would benefit from another ballad moment like his “Jealous Guy.” And Inspiration Week would be an obvious time to pull that off. But despite its not being what we were hoping for, Casey’s “Don’t Stop” simply out-shined the four less-inspired efforts listed below.

4) Aaron Kelly – “I Believe I Can Fly” by R. Kelly – Looks like Aaron Kelly has a new strategy: sing songs by artists with “Kelly” in their names. Next week, some Kelly Clarkson? I say this song with too big for Aaron’s voice, and another in an increasing long list of “hacky” song choices. But Aaron still has a voice I like listening to. He’s going to sound great in the studio. Not crazy great last night. But on a night with few home runs, this effort put him solidly in the middle of the pack.

5) Michael Lynche – “Hero” by Chad Kroger featuring Josey Scott – When they said Big Mike was singing “Hero,” I was like, “Which one?” There’s, like, 50 songs called “Hero.” So, it was the Spider-Man song.  I’m cool with that. Simon Cowell wasn’t. But c’mon, Simon. What’s more inspiring than Spider-Man? And in those months after 9/11, I remember our audience really responding to this song when we played it on the radio. Anyway, Big Mike’s version was just OK. From the way it started, I thought he might take it in a “Seal” direction. Maybe “Kiss From A Rose” the song up. I think Mike should’ve done exactly that, instead of retaining the original’s rock structure. To my ears, Mike didn’t have the fullness of voice to pull it off. But I am impressed that Big Mike has a “playbook,” a list of songs he’s been keeping in case he ever made it to Idol. That shows a desire to win that we haven’t been seeing from front-runner like, well, Crystal.

6) Siobhan Magnus – “When You Believe” by Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey – Gotta give Siobhan props for guts. Idol contestants don’t usually do well singing Whitney songs. Or Mariah songs. Siobhan did the one that’s by both! Here’s the best way I can explain what Siobhan’s problem is: during her song last night, she hit an especially bad note, then immediately followed that with one of her best. That inconsistency and unevenness sums it up. Siobhan has a big voice. But the way she uses it isn’t always pleasing to the ears. Sometimes I love what I’m hearing. Other times not. And lately, it’s been both of those in the same song. Ultimately, I can’t put half-satisfying performances on my iPod. Siobhan has got to put it all together.

7) Tim Urban – “Better Days” by the Goo Goo Dolls – This was a step backwards for Tim, who’s still striving for believability and credibility. To be fair, it was a step down from his performances the last couple weeks, still a step up from his early season efforts. Tim had trouble staying on-key last night. And the song was a little larger than what he bought to it. I’d say Tim should stick with the intimate ballad interpretations he’s had the most success with, like last week’s “Can’t Help Falling In Love.”

So, how will things go down tonight? It’s a week ripe for surprises. Before I pick a Bottom Three, let me say who won’t be in it and why. Crystal Bowersox and Lee DeWyze, because, well, duh! Also Siobhan Magnus and Tim Urban. Their fans have bought tickets to ride their respective trains. Those people are now “invested” in Siobhan and Tim, regardless of their weekly performances. And the numbers of those fans are big.

So, here’s what I’m feeling. In the Bottom Three: Aaron Kelly, Michael Lynche and…Casey James. Casey gets sent to safety. And between Big Mike and Little Aaron, Michael Lynche gets the ax.

Where’s Spider-Man when you need him?

Greg Valentine
check me out on Twitter: http://twitter.com/gregvalentine

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