There was nowhere to go but up on American Idol season 9 last night. Last week’s performance episode went down in history as one of the worst ever. Ever!
This week, things were much better — still underwhelming as a whole, but much better for this group of contestants. The theme was R&B/soul and our top 10 got a little help digging down deep to find their inner Arethas, Marvins, and Stevies from R&B superstar Usher.
Some contestants were eaten alive by the challenging theme, like judge favorite Siobhan Magnus, who let her nerves get the best of her on Chaka Khan‘s “Through The Fire.” But others took the theme and used it to make an astonishing come back, like early fav, but recently shunned Andrew Garcia, who finally got his groove back with the help of Chris Brown‘s not-so-R&B smash “Forever.”
Here’s a rundown of how the top 10 did:
Siobhan Magnus – Through The Fire: When Siobhan rehearsed with Usher, his biggest concern was not her voice — against the piano backdrop, it was pure and gorgeous — it was her wardrobe. Out on stage, her voice and nerves became the issue. She screeched her way through the song. Not even the big high note at the end could save it. Complete bummer. This was supposed to Siobhan’s night. The judges didn’t hold back. They spent over five minutes criticizing the performance. ‘It was all over the place, she got scared, she committed man-slaughter on the song.’ But there was the feeling that while the judges were being harsh, they placeed a cushion under the blows to make sure America still votes for her by reminding everyone of her good performances.
Casey James – Hold On, I’m Coming: Casey has proven to be a rocker with soul in the past, so this should be an easy performance for him. And it was. With his electric guitar in hand, Casey confidently ripped through the Sam and David groove. That would be his “swag,” said Usher. The song was the “perfect selection,” said Randy, but Ellen and Kara, though they loved the vocals, said it sounded “generic” and he could show “more.” Not so for Simon. He thought it was Casey’s “strongest week” so far.
Michael Lynche – Ready For Love: This week was a cake-walk for Big Mike, but he didn’t just coast on by just because this theme was in his zone. He actually challenged himself by singing a tender India.Arie track. Connecting with the audience was his task, and he accomplished it by performing not on the stage, but on the platform behind the judges to be closer to the fans. Randy loved the “pulled back” performance. Ellen summed it up in one word: “Beautiful.” Simon went with “terrific,” also adding “I can actually take you seriously now as an artist.”
Didi Benami – What Becomes of the Broken-Hearted: Didi got emotional while rehearsing the song with Usher, saying it’s because she really feels it. There was no sign of feeling it when she got on stage. The performance felt cold, unconnected, and flat. There were a few accidental glorious vocal moments, but not many. Most of it was off-key and drab. “It just wasn’t great,” Randy told her. Worst is Kara telling her “you’ve lost your way…I don’t know who you are anymore.” Exactly. And it’s sad.
Tim Urban – Sweet Love: Teflon Tim chooses the big songs just to have the most talked about performances. I’m convinced of this. There’s no way he thought he could do justice to this Anita Baker classic. There’s just no way. And booooy. Did he murder it. Off-key and painful was the performance. Randy said it was like listening to a “singing waiter.” Ouch! Ellen chimed in with “good for you for taking it on, but oh boy, why?” Simon thought the song choice was like “a mouse picking a fight with an elephant,” but thought it was pointless to judge because Tim will smile and girls will vote.
Andrew Garcia – Forever: It was R&B/soul night, so I don’t know how Andrew got away with choosing the epic POP masterpiece that is Chris Brown’s “Forever.” But once Andrew got going, I didn’t care to nit-pick. He turned the dance-floor filler into a gorgeous acoustic symphony. It was a MUCH needed shining moment that finally dwarfed his Hollywood week performance of “Straight Up” in the judges’ minds. “Andrew is back,” said Randy. “One giant leap in the right direction,” Kara added. Simon was also on the Andrew train for his vocals, but decided that now Andrew is a boring guy and needs to show more personality. Andrew’s spicy mama in her zebra print vest told Simon off in Spanish. Now I want Andrew to stay just so I can see her again.
Katie Stevens – Chain of Fools: Well! So much for Katie learning to be young! She returned to the girl that made us yawn, Karaoke Katie, by choosing the sorely overdone “Chain of Fools” by Aretha Franklin. While the song choice was obviously too big for her, and a boring one, she came through with some sparkling vocal moments. For Randy it was one of the best vocal performances of the night. Kara agreed but thought she must now go back to being young. Simon found the performance “robotic.”
Lee Dewyze – Treat Her Like A Lady: Lee’s been trying to create “a moment,” and finally, he did it with this big rock meets soul combo performance. He still has a ways to go before he looks truly comfortable on stage, but he’s finally finding his groove, and his husky voice really soared. “Unbelievable,” Randy shouted. “Best performance of the night,” Ellen said. “Amazing,” added Kara. Simon, who has been one of Lee’s biggest supporters, said “this was the night your life may have changed forever.”
Crystal Bowersox – Midnight Train to Georgia: Crystal promised to change things up a little bit last week, and she did by dropping the guitar off and sitting at the piano. It was a nice change, but obviously uncomfortable stroking the ivories, Crystal didn’t look “into” the performance until she got up from the piano and started belting. “You’re never not good,” Ellen told her. “I’m so glad you took that risk,” Kara added. Simon, on the other hand, didn’t want Crystal to change a thing, but thought the choice of song was “sensational” and the vocals at times “incredible.”
Aaron Kelly – Aint No Sunshine: It’s tough to listen to Aaron perform “Aint No Sunshine” when Kris Allen’s superb performance from season 8 is still so fresh in the memory. But when you choose a popular song, it’s the price you pay. Sadly, but not surprisingly, Aaron doesn’t do the song nearly as much justice. It wasn’t terrible, but he didn’t fully immerse himself in the song and allow it to build in a believable way — something Usher warned him about. “It was kinda alright for me,” Randy said. The rest of the judges liked it, but weren’t blown away. Simon called Lee the main course of the night and Aaron the “cupcake.” HA!
Predictions: Tim is definitely in trouble no matter how much he smiles. Katie was yawnsville. And Didi was a wreck. Tim seems like the best choice to go home, but Katie might be giving the pageant wave goodbye.
The results show airs tonight with performances by Usher, Diddy and Dirty Money, and Ruben Studdard.